HAZEL PARK — The Hazel Park District Library will soon launch its Seed Library, where patrons can check out seeds to take home and grow their own flowers, herbs and produce. The plants are organic or heirloom, meaning they have no genetic modifications. They’re as close to the originals as possible.
“Heirloom and organic gardening have become the ‘in thing’ to do, with all the concern about GMOs and franken-foods,” said Corrine Stocker, HPDL director. “People are returning to basics.”
Connie Firestine, an HPDL librarian and master gardener, spearheaded the Seed Library, inspired by similar programs around the metro Detroit area. She reached out to several seed companies, who donated seeds. Pat and Debbie Lynch, staffers at the Grosse Pointe Public Library, helped guide the HPDL and make arrangements for the donation of an old-fashioned card catalog from South Lake High School in St. Clair Shores. Keith Raynor, an art teacher there, also helped. The card catalog will organize the different types of seeds.
When the program launches March 4, all one needs is an HPDL library card — or any library card in The Library Network system — to check out seeds. The seeds are yours to keep, but patrons are encouraged to harvest extra seeds in the fall and bring them back so the program can keep going. It’s similar to the Little Library stands set up around Hazel Park, where people can borrow books and keep them, but are encouraged to return them so that books are available for others.
Also on March 4, there will be a kickoff event from 1 to 3 p.m. featuring guest speaker Ben Cohen, a seed library activist, owner of Small House Farms, and a proponent of living healthy and simply. He will demonstrate how to save seeds. Those interested in attending should call the library to reserve a spot, since space will be limited. The library can be reached by calling (248) 546-4095.
A large number of seeds were donated by High Mowing Organic Seeds, in Vermont, and Seed Savers Exchange, in Iowa. Many seeds are heirloom varieties from Europe, Asia, New Zealand and other areas around the world. Some date back to the 1700s. The seeds include ever-popular Michigan crop seeds like tomatoes, corn, beans, lettuce, carrots, squash, onions, basil, chives, oregano, dill, sunflowers, cone flower, hollyhocks and more. There will be more than 300 different types of seeds available.
Some of the more interesting varieties include purple tomatillo, a rare seed, sweeter in flavor than green tomatillos, which Firestine said makes for an attractive purple salsa; cup and saucer vine, a rare white flower from East Germany; huckleberry and sunberry fruits, perfect for jam; Joe’s long cayenne pepper, a seed from Calabria, Italy; white icicle radish, from the early 1900s; fin de bagnol green bean, an old gourmet variety of French string bean that’s pricey when purchased in markets; black plum tomato, a Russian heirloom with oval fruits that make for richly colored spaghetti sauce; and New Zealand spinach, first brought to Europe by Captain James Cook in the 1770s.
Hazel Park certainly has its share of green thumbs. There are currently two community gardens in Hazel Park: one on Kennedy Street, with 14 plots coordinated by Tina Caudill, and one on Merrill Street, with 17 plots managed by Leigh McLaughlin. Firestine said she hopes the community gardens will encourage people to get outside, enjoy gardening, develop friendships and promote a sense of community, especially for those who don’t have yards large enough for gardens, or those who live in apartments. And she hopes the Seed Library will create interest in gardening.
Firestine said that seed libraries have been around for a while, one of the most famous being a seed library in Norway dedicated to collecting every kind of seed so that nothing is lost should something happen to the food supply.
“But the goal for most seed libraries is to get people out to garden and bring it back to the library to share with others the following year,” Firestine said. “We don’t want to put pressure on people to share seeds, but we’ll welcome it. We’ll just be very grateful and happy if they take seeds to make crops. If they bring back seeds, that’s a bonus. Our hope is that this will promote a sense of community and collaboration.”