Monea Monroe and her son, Elijah, look through the seed library on Thursday at Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo.
Monea Monroe and her son, Elijah, look through the seed library on Thursday at Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo. (James Fenton / The Daily Times)

AZTEC A group of seed-sharing local food growers is opening a different kind of library this weekend.

Southwest Seed Library, a new regional group of growers, farmers and local food enthusiasts, is opening its first seed-sharing library on Sunday at the Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo. On Saturday morning, Monea Monroe, a founding member of the seed library, will speak at the Aztec Public Library on the benefits of communities creating a seed library.

"This is about helping further the future of local food production and supporting local food sovereignty," said Elisa Bird, director for Sustainable San Juan, a local group that will host the event Saturday. "We're trying to spread the word and get up some interest for a seed library in San Juan County."

Patrons of a seed library check out seeds from the collection for free, grow them and then return the harvested new seeds to the library the following season.

Monroe said she's like to see a seed library open in every town. She said people in Bayfield and Pagosa Springs, Colo., have expressed interest in libraries.

"It's about getting people reconnected with the food system," Monroe said. "We're looking for people who want to donate seeds, who want to share, who have wisdom to share with us."

Monroe, 35, an herbalist, has a background in permaculture, the development of sustainable agriculture ecosystems. The idea of a seed-sharing library took root last fall when she attended the Colorado Permaculture Convergence, in Carbondale, Colo., and asked a simple question to the people she met there: "Hey, does anyone know anyone who saves seeds?"

By January, Monroe and 20 others held a meeting at the Durango Public Library to introduce the idea of a seed library. Monroe's 6-year-old son, Elijah, spoke at the meeting on the value of sharing seeds and supporting local food growing.

"Starting a seed-saving library, one that is entirely free and self-sustaining, I was thinking, 'I could do this. I could make it happen,'" Monroe said. "In December, I put out fliers, and within two days I had a group of volunteers that wanted to be a part of it. It's grown really fast, actually."

Prunus persica, or peach pits, are stored in a bottle at the Southwest Seed Library on Thursday at the Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo.
Prunus persica, or peach pits, are stored in a bottle at the Southwest Seed Library on Thursday at the Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo. (James Fenton / The Daily Times)

Soon, a name and a website sprouted for the Southwest Seed Library, and Monroe cleared space in her house to collect and label seeds for a library. She wrote letters to nurseries, seed companies and food-based organizations to solicit donations of seeds and supplies.

The Durango Discovery Museum agreed to permanently house the library, giving Monroe's group access to the museum's outside garden area. Monroe also re-purposed a large, 20-drawer map cabinet that a Durango architect donated into a seed storage case.

"We want people to come together in the community and swap information, seeds, teach others, have events, workshops," Monroe said. "My big goal in Durango was to incorporate permaculture into the seed-saving program. To show that we save seeds and why is it important to our region, to be able to take care of ourselves."

On Thursday, Monroe was busy labeling seed packets and filing them in the wood cabinet. More than 200 seed varieties were already filed away before the library's debut on Sunday.

With help, Monroe would like to establish a digital database of every seed the library stores, its scientific name, variety, location of harvest, maturation time, rate of difficulty and notes on effective growth practices. For now, that information is on paper, on hundreds of seed packets Monroe has painstakingly hand-labeled this year.

"When people bring in seeds they've harvested, we want to know if the flavor was good, how they grew it," Monroe said. "The beautiful thing about seeds is that they genetically adapt to their environment — they get hardier — so after saving the strongest seeds, you get better quality (crops). Your success can be something to share."

Monea Monroe, a permaculture designer and founding member of Southwest Seed Library, shows a handful of beet seeds on Thursday at the Durango Discovery
Monea Monroe, a permaculture designer and founding member of Southwest Seed Library, shows a handful of beet seeds on Thursday at the Durango Discovery Museum in Durango, Colo. (James Fenton/The Daily Times)

She said her group has far reaching ambitions.

"We're doing this region-wide. In a perfect world, everyone would have their own seed library to share at home. It's looking like that they're popping up all over the place. It's really important that each community has its own," Monroe said. "We have big dreams."

IF YOU GO

What: Seed-sharing library presentation and discussion

When: 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday

Where: Aztec Public Library, 319 S. Ash St. in Aztec

Cost: Free

More info: Call Sustainable San Juan at 505-716-3915 or go to www.sustainablesanjuan.com.

 

What: Seed Library Grand Opening

When: 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday

Where: Durango Discovery Museum, 1333 Camino Del Rio in Durango, Colo.

Cost: Free

More info: Call the museum at 970-259-9234. To contact Southwest Seed Library, email southwestseedlibrary@riseup.net or go to southwestseedlibrary.wordpress.com or facebook.com/southwestseedlibrary.

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.