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VOL. 131 | NO. 98 | Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Check This Out: Memphis Library Visitors Can Now Access Seeds

By Andy Meek

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Thanks to its many books available for perusal, a library can be thought of as a veritable garden of wisdom, scholarship and literature for visitors to sample and enjoy.

Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library business sciences office manager Jessica Marshall oversees the new seed library in partnership with GrowMemphis. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

At one Memphis library, though, the metaphor is much more literal.

Thanks to a new seed collection at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library that now makes fruit, vegetable and flower seeds available to be checked out for free, visitors can tap this garden of knowledge to plant an actual garden of their own.

The Grow Memphis Seed Library, one of only a few of its kind in the state, will give library visitors a taste of local farming with help from master gardeners. Director of Libraries Kennon McCloy said the program fulfills each of the Memphis Public Libraries’ three objectives – to help customers “connect, learn and grow.”

The way the seed library works: Visitors sign a logbook noting what seeds they’re taking. They take them home and plant them. After harvest, which produces plants with new seeds, the customers bring new seeds back to the library for other customers to use.

The Seed Library is being maintained by the GrowMemphis organization, the mission of which is to help communities build gardens to improve access to locally grown food in their neighborhoods.

“Libraries are all about looking for something that’s needed in the community, that will benefit the community,” said Jessie Marshall, the main library’s business and sciences department manager. “We were approached by GrowMemphis, which is partnered with the Tennessee Extension Master Gardeners program. This was a great thing for us, because it’s something that reaches all across the board to the community. It’s for all ages, all abilities.”

Part of the deal, she continued, is that master gardeners will be on hand at the library one or two days a week to replenish the seeds. They’ll also sit at a table and be available to answer questions.

GrowMemphis launched almost a decade ago as a project of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, with community gardening projects in Hollywood-Springdale and South Memphis joining an existing one in Orange Mound. Benefits of the organic community gardens include serving as a source of healthy food in neighborhoods and bringing vacant lots to life.

GrowMemphis has continued to grow since then with new partner garden projects.

Meanwhile, as part of the new Seed Library and in addition to master gardeners being on hand each week, they also will host Explore Memphis 2016 programs like one coming up next month.

GrowMemphis staff will lead a program June 22 at the main library focused on teens and small space and container gardening. Among other things, Marshall said, they’ll be giving participating teens things like flower pots and bags of soil, as well as packs of seeds.

A similar program for adults – “Seed Saving and Starting 101” – will take place June 28.

“There are a few ways this fits in with our mission,” Marshall said about the seed library. “The library is here to serve the community, and this is first and foremost a virtually free source of nutrition to customers. The Binghampton area around us is considered a food desert, and this provides free access to seeds so people in the area are empowered to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

“There’s also an educational aspect to this. You might call it botanical literacy. If parents brought their children in and they chose to check out some seeds, the children would learn what it takes to make a plant grow, what it takes to make a plant thrive. It’s really kind of an exciting thing. The library has been sharing books and information for a very long time. Now we’re sharing seeds for the community as well.”

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