Rock County libraries traditionally have allowed people to borrow books, music, movies and toys, but a new program will let them check out something entirely different: seeds.
The hope is that by fall, patrons will return some of the seeds their plants produce.
People will be able to check out up to five packages of seeds from any of the seven libraries in the Arrowhead Library System, said Edgerton Public Library Director Kirsten Almo. Besides Edgerton, the system includes libraries in Beloit, Clinton, Evansville, Janesville, Milton and Orfordville.
Although people are not required to return the seeds, Almo said the libraries want people to check them out, plant them, harvest them and give some back for others to use the next year.
The seed choices include four types of beans, four tomatoes, two peppers, four peas, two herbs and two flowers, according to a news release.
The idea for the program came from the Rock Prairie Association of Master Gardeners, Almo said. Using UW Extension grant money and support from the association, the libraries bought seeds, books and other materials.
Some libraries, such as Edgerton’s, are already set up to distribute seeds, Almo said. The others likely will be ready over the next few weeks. Each library will run its program independently, she said.
Seed libraries operate in other parts of the country and Wisconsin, Almo said.
The first Wisconsin seed library started in La Crosse in 2013, according to the release.
The Rock County libraries had many reasons for starting seed libraries, including improving biodiversity, getting more people gardening and encouraging people to eat fresh food, Almo said. The benefits vary per person, she added.
“And it’s fun,” she said.
The biodiversity element is important because commercial plant varieties are bred to be easy to pick and transport, but they might not have the best taste, she said. The libraries can offer seeds for plants that are more suited to home gardens.
The world has experienced a “dramatic loss” in seed diversity, Almo said. A renewed interest in it means more people are saving seeds, she said, but there are still varieties that will be lost if they are not planted and grown.
All of the varieties offered are open-pollinated purebreds instead of hybrids. While hybrids can change from year to year, the Royal Burgundy bush beans should be the same color and have the same taste as they did the year before, she said.
Some states require licenses for such programs, but Almo confirmed with state officials that seed libraries here did not need licenses.
Almo’s favorite selection is the Oregon giant snow pea. They taste great, can be frozen and kids love them, she said.
Two seed options have a Wisconsin connection: a hot pepper called Beaver Dam and a tomato known as Amish Paste, Almo said.
She said the seed libraries fit into the libraries’ broader mission.
“So libraries, we see ourselves as a place to bring people together and enrich our communities,” Almo said. “And with an interest in gardening, the way people can share their bounty with others, we would like to promote that.”