The question asked most often of Ken Greene, founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library, is: “What is a seed library, anyway?” In a regular library, you join, take out books, consume the stories, and return the books intact. In a seed library, you join, purchase seeds, plant and grow them — and hopefully return some newly produced seeds for the next patron to grow. This concept is at the core of what are known as “heirloom” seeds, ones that have been passed down for generations with their stories, and their genetic identity, intact.
And why do we care about heirloom seeds? Greene happily rattles off a list of reasons, including cultural diversity (“preserving the stories that came with those seeds”), as well as more practical considerations. “Heirloom vegetables tend to be much more flavorful than ones grown from conventional seeds,” he says. “And a lot more nutritious, too.”
Greene worked at the Gardiner Library in 2004 while getting his master’s in special education: “I met a lot of farmers coming into the library, asking for books about organic farming. I was interested in sustainable agriculture.” He soon learned that much of the seed power was in the hands of large biotech corporations. These companies created hybrids that would only bloom for one year, thereby controlling seed production for all farmers. After having an a-ha moment, he started the library.
A lot has changed in the past nine years. Greene now works at the seed library full-time, and is happy to report that the business has grown “tremendously” every year; he and his partner now employ three full-time employees, and the small garden on their Accord property has grown to two acres. This year, a new trial garden was added. “It’s exciting,” he says. “It’s a place to try new things and see how they grow in our region, and also to taste them.” Thousands of people all over the country buy his seeds (vegetables, herbs, and flowers), which are carefully researched using antique seed catalogs, as well as the stories of people who’ve grown them for decades. About 1,000 people have also committed to the Library’s “Community Seed” Program. Members receive one variety of seed each year, and then send back the same variety to the library; these seeds are then distributed to local school and community gardens.
Greene loves to find out which seeds will be most popular. “It is completely unpredictable,” he says. “One of the best-selling packs this year was the Brilliant Beet Blend. Believe me, beets are not usually a big seller. But I think it was something about the artwork that really inspired people.” Each year, Greene commissions artists to design his seed packets. “About 300 artists applied, and I had 20 new varieties of seeds,” he says, noting that there is a yearly show of their work.
Membership in the library costs $5 per year, and packets can run from $2.75 to $3.75. Every Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. during the month of July, the Flavor Farm Store in Accord features fresh heirloom vegetables, cut flowers, seedlings, food, art, and more. For more information, visit www.seedlibrary.com.