In January 2013, Anne Little and a dozen or so of her fellow Missoula gardeners, farmers and permaculturists decided to create a way for growers to freely exchange locally grown seeds. The result was the Five Valleys Seed Library, a volunteer-run project that collects, houses and distributes the seeds of plants that have thrived in Missoula's soil and climate. In so doing, the library offers a free and sustainable source of plants for farmers and gardeners throughout the area.
"What we want to do is just provide seeds for free to people who are here and who will grow them here," says Nicole Sullivan, who now runs the project with Little. "So, instead of having seeds shipped all over the country and people spending a bunch of money to buy their seeds every year, we want to close that loop..."
While the library's collection of seed packets was initially housed in plastic bins, it moved in May 2013 to a large wooden cabinet in the Missoula Community Food Co-op. There, the library got its footing and gained members, who contributed $5 to join. In January of this year, the library moved again—this time to the Missoula Public Library's main branch, downtown. In its new home, the seed library has thrived.
"It seems like since we moved into the public library, it's really been kind of exploding," says Sullivan.
The library provides space for the cabinet of seeds, a weekly meeting space for volunteers, and allows for free use of the collection. The library also provides a checkout system so the seed inventory can be tracked. Borrowers are asked to let at least one plant go to seed, to collect those seeds, and to bring them back to the library. They aren't, however, subject to late fees or fines if they fail to do so. The Five Valleys Seed Library relies on an honor system—and the enthusiasm of its users—to keep its collection growing.