Sowing sustainability: Michelle Boisvenue-Fox keeps the KDL seed library growing

Ask any good library patron and you’ll likely hear that it’s bad form to toss your books in the dirt, leave them out in the rain, and hold on to them for months.

Ask Kent District Library Assistant Director Michelle Boisvenue-Fox and that idea might not fit into circulation anymore.

With the KDL’s new seed library, a self-perpetuating collection of heirloom seeds, borrowers are entreated to take seeds, propagate them in their personal gardens, and then properly dry and return new seeds to the library after harvest. Those lacking a seasoned green thumb won’t have to fear a visit from the library cop, though, as traditional library law doesn’t apply.

“While we have a generic library record for the library seeds in our library catalog, we didn't intend for people to check them out like they would a regular library item. They register to join the seed library and we will use their contact information to remind them about saving seeds in August,” Boisvenue-Fox said. “Rest assured, no one will get overdue fines for not returning seeds to us.  We also won’t be put out if beginning gardeners take seeds and don't save seeds.  If we get them started growing their own food, sharing their harvest bounty with family and friends that we have started them down this road, that's a great thing!” 

Suggested by a KDL patron, the seed library is new this year and hasn’t seen its first influx of new seeds, Boisvenue-Fox said, but community interest has been substantial.

“Several seed savers in the community have stepped forward and shared their saved seeds with us,” Boisvenue-Fox said. “I think it's this type of sharing that will help us the most. It may be necessary to return to the companies that we contacted for the 2014 growing season and ask for donations again next year but we will have to wait and see what response we get this year.”

Boisvenue-Fox comes from a gardening family and, although she doesn’t consider herself an expert, understands the importance of connecting people to their own food.

“I will admit that while seed saving is a traditional form of gardening, I have never done this before and my mother only did it generally with marigolds and sunflowers,” she said. “I will learn something new this year!

If anything, learning something new about gardening and growing their own food is all that’s hoped of seed library patrons, Boisvenue-Fox said.

“We hope they learn the importance of saving seeds and building stronger seeds that are acclimated to our region,” she said. “The library is a natural place for this to happen since it's our role in the community to connect people to information that will improve their lives.”

Explaining the difference between heirloom and GMO seeds is another facet of the program. With the help of Bear Lake-based nonprofit NoGMO4Michigan, co-founded by Tanya Lach Hawley, the KDL hosted a seed sharing event at the Kentwood Branch Library in the spring to bring awareness to the issue.

“The more I learn about GMOs and the genetic pollution they are creating, the more I worry about the future of our seeds,” Lach Hawley said. “Our founding fathers brought seeds over sewn into the pockets of their jackets. They knew the importance of seeds. Life cannot be owned, and seeds are life.”

Lach Hawley serves as the vice president of NoGMO4Michigan and also plans all educational efforts for the Grand Rapids chapter.

“Our nonprofit is funded only by donations so I went on the hunt for seeds to be donated and a venue to hold the seed exchange of 2014,” Lach Hawley said. “The previous year I held some educational movies at KDL and had heard mention of the seed library, which stood out in my mind as a wonderful opportunity to expand and market the new seed library as well as the seed sharing event.”

Lach Hawley gained the cooperation of Baker Creek Farm, Annie’s Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange with donations to the seed sharing event. All of the seeds were organic and/or heirloom seeds. Boisvenue-Fox was impressed with the popularity of the event and hopes to see it repeated in 2015.

The Krause Memorial Branch of the KDL in Rockford has seen substantial interest in the seed library since a community garden near the library was started a few years ago, Boisvenue-Fox said. According to the Krause Memorial Branch’s adult services librarian Mark Dunham, the library has distributed over 25 packets of seeds since the program started.

“Many gardeners are finding new seed types and excited to try them out,” Boisvenue-Fox said. “The Library will be offering seed saving programs this fall for people to learn how to do this in case they are like me and haven't done it before.  We also have lots of resources both in print and online to help people.”

A KDL seed harvest event is planned from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 30 at Earthkeeper Farm in Kent City. Rachelle Bostwick, of Earthkeeper Farm, said the event should be fun an informative for farmers or gardeners of any skill. 

“We'll start with a short talk about the importance of seed saving and the basic how-tos, followed by a harvest of our organic parsley seed for the KDL seed bank,” Bostwick said. “Participants should wear closed-toed shoes, bring garden gloves, and hand-held clippers or kitchen shears if they have them. They are also welcome to take some of the seed home for their own gardens.”

The KDL offers a guide to using the seed library, established at 13 branch locations and not limited to KDL cardholders, on its website

Photography by Steph Harding

Signup for Email Alerts