A delightful surprise for gardeners is set back in the stacks of the Carnegie Library's Lawrenceville branch: a card catalog with more than 150 varieties of seeds for vegetables, herbs and flowers, free for the borrowing.
The seed library, believed to be the first of its kind in Pittsburgh, allows members to check out as many of the seeds as they'd like. At the end of the growing season, members can replenish the catalog with seeds they've saved from the plants produced. Seeds can also be donated.
"It's a fun thing and really timely," says Mary Monaghan, the Carnegie Library's assistant director for neighborhood libraries. "There's a huge resurgence in people who are gardening and canning and trying to get back to the basics."
The library is the creation of 25-year-old Chatham University graduate student Amanda West, who is working on her master's degree in food studies, and pitched the idea to Monaghan for her thesis project.She said the seed library is her answer, at least in part, to the problem of finding affordable and locally produced food. West stocked the library with donations from several seed companies.
The tomato section contains two dozen seed options, including Dagma's Perfection (a "vigorous and abundant producer of medium-sized slightly flattened, pale-yellow fruits with delicate, light red striping," according to the accompanying notes). There are also seeds for beans, corn, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins, carrots and soybeans.
"A lot of people have never learned how to produce or grow food," West says, adding that a seed library also creates a community of people who can share advice — writing notes, for example, on the back of seed packets about the plants produced.
Launched in May, the seed library has attracted 41 members so far. Pam Kinnaird, a 28-year-old software consultant from Swissvale, was one of the first to "check out" a few seeds for the edible flower, calendula.
"It seems like a cool idea," she says. "People used to save seeds and share with neighbors." Kinnaird says she hopes to return fresh seeds in the fall from the flowers "if they don't die."
Keeping the library seeded, so to speak, will be its biggest challenge. "I'm really curious to see how many seeds come back," Monaghan says.