Local food citizen -Sean Chew – writes about Lancaster’s seed library and how it responded to the pandemic.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up local businesses and initiatives, putting their operations to a screeching halt as we wait out the worst. But how would one expect a non-profit organization to react?

Over the past 5 years, the Lancaster Seed Library has proven itself as a self-sustaining system that sows seed-saving skills in our local communities. Under normal conditions, anyone can choose seeds from one of two alphabetically-sorted cabinets in Lancaster Central Library for planting, as long as they record their name and what they borrowed in the log book. After the sown seeds have matured, one simply harvests them and brings a few seeds back to the Library.

However, the presence of a pandemic spelt the closure of all community-related centres, including the Lancaster Central Library. Access to the seed library cabinets was therefore blocked, which is much of how the library operates.

Managing to salvage the seeds from the cabinets just before closure, the seed library team instead opted for postage and delivery by bicycle as a way of getting seed packets into the hands of eager growers.  

This workaround meant the operations of the Seed Library could continue and as a result, has not been heavily impacted by the pandemic. In fact, the team have had more time to grow plants for seed at Claver Hill community food project.


Through it all, the importance of the initiative and local resilience was highlighted. The Seed Library’s Project coordinator, Dennis Touliatos, provides a little insight on this:

“A lot of people got into food growing during the COVID-19 outbreak. [At the start of the lockdown it became harder] to find seeds and stuff for gardening, [highlighting how our system is fragile]. Local resilience is important.”

One of the reasons Dennis is passionate about seed-saving is biodiversity, which has been severely weakened due to the commercialisation of seeds (and our wider food system) and the development of F1 varieties. Currently, only about 150 of 10,000-50,000 edible plant species on earth are cultivated for eating.

Natural resilience can be supported with increasing biodiversity, and that is what Dennis is trying to build with the Lancaster Seed Library. With the emergence of such initiatives, we can expect to see an increase in local seed saving skills and more varieties of local adapted seeds.

For anyone looking to participate in seed-saving, Dennis recommends the following website www.realseeds.co.uk/seedsavinginfo.html that contains many detailed tips for beginners, including instructions for planting common varieties. The Lancaster Seed Library also hope to run a skill share at this year’s Lancaster Health Festival – the Lost Art of Living.

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