Appleton Seed Library

by OCMGA Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn, Interviewed by Master Gardener Bev Kindschy

Appleton Seed Library is a relatively new endeavor that has gained a strong following in a short amount of time. Master Gardener Bev Kindschy interviewed Master Gardener Kari Witthuhn who envisioned the program and has been behind its success.

What is the history behind Appleton Seed Library? ASL was conceptualized in the winter of 2015. Throughout the course of the next year, I studied the history of seed libraries, visited four different branch locations within our state, attended the annual Seed Savers Conference in Decorah, Iowa, worked on design elements/handouts, took seed saving courses, and created the vision and execution to open the “drawers” at Appleton Public Library. For me, I really wanted to promote community building, elevate the importance of heirloom seed saving, and engage in collecting the stories of seeds themselves. Being an artist by nature, the idea of curating a creative project like this was a great fit.

What was the need you saw? Seeds are an overlooked link to human survival. Historically, seeds have always been a shared commodity; today we face their control, patenting and stricter regulations. After listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” interview about seed libraries, it helped me understand the importance of seed biodiversity, appreciate local flavor via produce and the importance of creating a common place for like-minded folks to share in this seed based reciprocity. The ecological impact, enjoyment of growing seed to seed and the nutritional aspect all resonate with me. Regionally, the closest seed library is in Waupaca, so the need for one in the Fox Cities was present.

How did grant writing go? All seed libraries are designed, governed and established in various ways. Having some “seed money” was a clear need I identified early on. As I considered all the ways to raise money to launch the program, I was connected with the Community Foundation of the Fox Valley. Learning the grant writing process was fairly easy because I had a niche that definitely could impact a diverse array of patrons and help promote sustainability. What hurdles did you have? The biggest hurdle I face is the lack of other core members to help maintain, grow and foster the potential behind all that a seed library could be for a community.

What successes? The heirloom seed sharing community is generous; I’ve connected with an array of wonderful large and grassroots seed companies that are working hard to maintain seed diversity and heritage. I’ve successfully held a celebratory ‘Seedy Saturday’ event to celebrate the years we’ve been open to the public; both years have drawn over 100 community members. I’ve created a ‘Seed Stewards’ program that helps to maintain seed stock inventory. In 2017, we had five local growers signed up to grow our various seeds and that number is rising for 2018.

What is the status of your project today? April 2018, we celebrated our two year
of seed sharing and seed education. We’ve dispersed over 2,000 seed packets and have held over a dozen hands on learning and educational workshops. We continue to remain open to various community partnerships, and will begin working to integrate our seeds into local school garden programs.

Do you have any call to action? To impact the community as I’d envisioned, I definitely need more OCMG’s to step into various roles; organization, volunteer support, education, long range planning, seed packing, etc. I also wish to document local seed stories from people who have acquired saved seeds from a lineage of past growers. If you know an old farmer/gardener or personally have seeds that you save from year to year, I’d love to set up interviews. I’m looking to develop a core group of OCMG seed savers to assist in sustaining the seed stock which would be a more intensive mentorship than our current ‘Seed Stewards’ program.

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For more information about seed saving and the Seed Savers Exchange, read our previous blog here.

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