Initiated by Transition City Lancaster and Incredible Edible Lancaster, Lancaster Seed Library started in 2015 with the aim of bringing back the lost skill of seed saving. It aims to re-skill local growers in how to save seeds whilst developing a living bank of locally adapted seed.
The project is based on the principles of permaculture – applied systems thinking with an ethical framework. One of permaculture’s principles is to get the biggest possible outcome with the smallest input, so the project tries to be as low maintenance as possible.
The Seed Library’s vision for the future is to have a range of resilient, locally adapted seed varieties available for people to use. These will be used to grow food locally in order to feed into FoodFutures’ wider vision of creating a resilient local food system.
How the seed library works
There are two main elements to the Lancaster Seed Library:
1: The Seed Library Cabinets
Two cabinets are located in Lancaster’s Central Library. These are open to everybody to take and grow seed. One cabinet is for incoming/ donated seeds and the other is for outgoing seeds that people can borrow. Both are sorted alphabetically.
Beside each cabinet is a log book that captures details about people who borrow or donate seed.
The system is very low-maintenance, relies on trust and is open to everyone.
Seeds are also exchanged during a seed swap at Lancaster’s Annual Potato Day which takes place on the last Saturday in January.
This system has been working well for the last five years. The flow of seeds has been steady and people leave notes and say thank you. Keeping the cabinets in the central part of the library has increased the flow of seeds and a notice board has been put up to post things related to seeds and community growing. The cabinets have also visited local food events such as LESS’s seasonal markets and Lancaster’s Annual Potato Day to facilitate seed swaps and stimulate conversations about seed saving. As this is a living library, with a high turnover of seeds, there is no need for fridges etc. to support the long-term storage of seed. During the Covid-19 lockdown seeds were distributed by post and via Sew and Sow Libraries.
2: Links with other projects
The Seed library has built raised beds at Claver Hill Community Food project to function like a living lab. Plants are grown, mixed and matched, and seeds are saved to supply the seed cabinets. For the past four years it has been growing and saving seeds from a range of crops that include quinoa, bean and pea varieties, giant sunflowers, rainbow corn, beetroot, chard, rocket, tomatoes and chillies.
It has also built links with a couple of other seed libraries around the world and has exchanged seeds with seed savers in Greece, Bolivia, Palestine, Spain and Bradford!
It also has links with different seed saving groups in the UK, including the UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme.
Why save seeds?
FoodFutures’ vision echoes the fact that everything starts with seed, both metaphorically and literally. Lancaster Seed Library believes that seeds should belong to everyone and should be freely available.
Those who own our seed essentially control our food system. In addition, genetic diversity of agricultural seed has declined over the years and many varieties have been lost.
Seed saving is therefore important for regaining control over our food, and for developing locally adapted seeds, genetic diversity and ultimately food resilience.