Every seed tells a story

Hudson Valley Seed Library takes a step back in the food chain

Hudson Valley Seed Library, environmental living, seeds, sustainable

Several years ago Ken Greene decided to expand his home garden. Curious by nature, it wasn’t long before he was reading about the consolidation of seed resources and the subsequent loss of genetic diversity in seed stocks.


At the time, Greene worked for the Gardiner Public Library, and he made a connection that to most people would have been far from obvious. Seeds, he realized, are very much like books. “Seeds have stories,” says Greene. “Both genetic stories and cultural histories.”


Alarmed by the realization that just a few companies control the majority of seeds planted each year and by the large numbers of native, open-pollinated seed varieties that had already been lost, he decided to take action. “I wanted to feel like I was doing something about it on a community level.”


A community approach to seed sharing


To Greene, a particular tomato variety’s history, who discovered or named it, how and where it was grown, what region of the country it was suited to, was valuable information that should be passed on as a community resource. If libraries could make books accessible to everyone, he wondered, why couldn’t they do the same for seeds?


And so, with the approval of the library’s director, Greene began adding seeds to the library’s catalogue. Just like books, patrons could check out seeds for the season, learn to save them, and return seeds the next year. The first year, twelve or thirteen people participated. In following years the numbers grew—fifty, then a few hundred. In 2008, he left the library and created The Hudson Valley Seed Library with partner Doug Muller. This year, Greene projects the Seed Library could reach one thousand members, with hundreds of non-members purchasing the company’s seeds as well. What began as a small library project has blossomed into a full-blown regional seed company.


Greene believes seed companies, like public libraries, should be based around a community, and suited to fit that community’s environment and needs. “One of the big problems with consolidation of our seed supply is that we’re primarily dealing with big corporations out west who want cheap labor and don’t care about regionally adapted varieties,” he says. Greene and Muller are devoted to these regional varieties that have been passed down through the generations. “Our catalogue is smaller than most,” Green explains, “but every variety we choose does well in this climate, in a shorter growing season.” Many varieties are particularly adapted to New York.


Anne Dailey’s work as a writer, activist, and agrarian is grounded in food and farm traditions. 

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