Libraries’ bountiful harvest

Councils and community groups are cultivating a trend as seed libraries
flourish across the Hunter

Growing your own food at home is hardly a new trend – but the opportunity to “borrow” the seeds to start your vegetable patch from the local library has sparked a flourishing new crop of gardeners in the Hunter. Seed libraries have been popping up across the region since last year, with Port Stephens Council and a community-led group in Lake Macquarie the latest to join the locations set up by local councils in Maitland, Newcastle and Cessnock.

The trend tapped into one of the unexpected outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw a national surge in the number of people discovering the joys of growing their own fresh herbs and vegetables at home.

The Hunter’s first seed library was established in Maitland in March 2020 as a partnership between Maitland City Library and Slow Food Hunter Valley.

The initiative was piloted at East Maitland Library where seed packets were available for loan. Library staff provided borrowers with information on how to care for and grow the vegetables as well as harvest the seeds, with community members encouraged to return a seed deposit to the library for others to borrow.

The community has thrown its support behind the trial, with 1,121 seed packets issued so far this year alone. “The take-up of seed library membership is reflected in the 410 library members who have registered for this service,” a Maitland Libraries spokesperson said.

“The most popular seeds have been the seven different types of garlic that were available in 2020 and 2021, with 237 seed packets issued. The carrot seeds have also been quite popular, with 124 seed packets issued.

“In return the Maitland community have been so generous with their seed donations that library staff are struggling to keep up with processing them. But with the support of volunteers from Slow Food Hunter Valley, many new seeds are about to become available.”

So much on offer

While the seed library began with carrots, turnips, beetroots, peas and swedes, donations from the community have expanded its stocks to now include basil, beans, corn, pumpkin, tomato, okra, radish, chives, oregano, parsley and coriander, as well as a few flower varieties. Seaham resident Jacqui Purcell has been growing her own vegetables at home for more than three years and is a passionate advocate for the Maitland seed library.

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Michelle Meehan