New project lets gardeners pay it forward

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We’ve all heard the arguments for local food before – it’s greener, cleaner and supports local farmers – but what about local seeds? It turns out that just as your fruits and vegetables can come from the soil beneath your feet or on a tanker across the ocean, there’s a tremendous amount packed into the provenance of a little seed – and a lot of benefits to going the local route.

To help with the process, the Region of Waterloo Library has launched a new seed sharing service in the townships that will let the growers and gardeners alike “borrow” seeds from their local library, and then share in the eventual fruits of their labours.

Or rather, the eventual seeds of the fruits of their labours, as once the plants bloom, growers will be able to collect the seeds from their hardiest and tastiest plants, and donate them back to the library for use the following season.

“Instead of  composting those seeds, keep them,” says Bob Wildfong, a horticulturalist and executive director of the Seeds of Diversity not-for-profit. “Just rinse them off a little bit, keep them dry and plant them again.”

Wildfong was in Wellesley Township for the launch of the seed library, offering expert tips and tricks to select and save the best seeds from your garden to grow year after year.

“You can take the seeds from the best plant,” says Wildfong. “If you find a pepper and you think, wow, this pepper is just right: it’s just the right level of heat, or it’s just the right level of sweetness or it looks really good or something like that. Well, you slice that pepper up and you eat it, but you left the seeds next to it.”

While seeds can be purchased easily enough at the store, getting your hands on those local species can be a challenge. Most conventional seed products on the market are bred for a global market, says Wildfong, with many varieties coming from the U.S., as well as South America and Asia.

“We have lots and lots of varieties of vegetables in particular that grow really well in Canada,” he explains. “They were developed by Canadian plant breeders, but we can’t get those seeds because they’re not part of that big wholesale system. Canada is a small market within the whole world. And so we have some Canadian seed companies that are popping up that are producing Canadian varieties, and they grow better here than the usual kind.”

Canadian-bred seeds are naturally better acclimatized to our environment, contends Wildfong. But beyond that, proponents of locally sourced food have every reason to support and share local seeds as well.

“We want local food, we want to eat food that’s produced locally because, one, there’s less transportation and that’s good for the environment. Two, they’re fresher, so they’re more nutritious. And local food means that we’re supporting local farmers, which is good for the economy. These are all reasons why we want local food,” says Wildfong.

“And so the idea of having local seeds – seeds that are produced locally – and those are used to make the food. That’s all part of the package, that’s not a separate thing at all. All the arguments that make local food sensible also apply to the seeds. So we say local food, local seeds.”

Township of Wellesley Mayor Joe Nowak, who was at the seed library launch, pointed to the strong synergy of the program other initiatives in the township.

“We have a lot of green initiatives in this community right now,” says Nowak, pointing to the township’s recent designation as a bee-friendly city, as well as pond naturalization in the village of Wellesley and the township’s community garden.

“So when you get a program like this, it really aligns very well with the direction a big part of this community is going.”

The seed library is being offered out of four branches in the townships: Wellesley village, Elmira, New Hamburg and Ayr. The service is completely free for library patrons, and a library card is not required to borrow seeds.

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