Seed libraries in the U.P. serve as community resource for food system resiliency

North Central UP

Portage Lake Seed Library. Photo courtesy of Portage Lake Seed Library.

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) – Seed libraries are a resource for anyone who wishes to grow a garden from seed.

The seed libraries encourage gardeners to save seeds at the end of each growing season for the next and share extra of what they have to a seed library for others to use as well. Mike Riesterer is a volunteer with the Queen City Seed Library which is located inside the Peter White Public Library in Marquette. He says seed libraries are similar to regular libraries.

“Instead of having books we have seeds,” said Riesterer. “The idea is that if you come to the seed library you can withdraw seeds and then take them home, plant them in your garden, and then at the end of the season we ask that you set aside a couple plants that are in that group of plants you planted and let them grow out entirely until they create or develop seeds and then there’s a process to allow those seeds to completely mature and then those seeds can be harvested and then we ask that you bring some of those seeds back to the seed library as a way to replenish the seeds that you took out.”

Riesterer says it’s not a one-to-one ratio when it comes to seeds, if someone borrows 12 seeds it’s likely they will receive tenfold the number of seeds back.

“It’s really a unique opportunity to gain a lot and also have plenty for yourself and to replenish the seed library,” siaid Riesterer.

The Queen City Seed Library is completely run by volunteers. Riesterer says they see the seed library as a community resource.

“In times that we are in right now there are a lot of questions about resources and having access to not only stuff but also food,” said Riesterer. “Since you know we live at the end of a very long truck line if things were to get bad we may not have access to the kind of food that we’ve become used to.”

A seed library gives people an opportunity to take control of their food source according to Riesterer.

“When you have seeds that were actually grown in your geographic area and you use those seeds again and again they become stronger they become better adapted to your environment, to your climate and to your local situation with weather and you know all those things, and then they produce better,” said Riesterer.

Reisterer says they also try to help people with their growing and seed saving.

“We have a Facebook page, we have an email address that we use that we field questions from people who are having trouble or we encourage them to contact us if they’re having trouble,” said Riesterer. “We’ve also since last year done some kind of emergency activities where we provided gardening kits for people and gave them soil and seeds and guidance on how to use all of that.”

They did a plant swap earlier this year and will do a crop swap in the fall. Queen City Seed Library has also done seed saving workshops and hosted seed swaps as well.

Queen City Seed Library was inspired by the Alger County Seed Library and the Queen City Seed Library inspired another seed library in Portage Lake Seed Library. Rachael Pressley was inspired to start one in her local library after a presentation by Riesterer.

“I felt strongly that making seeds available for free was a really important missing piece of our local food
system,” said Pressley.

The Portage Lake Seed Library is located inside the Portage Lake District Library in Houghton.

“(Queen City Seed Library) has been incredibly supportive – really giving with the information that they
provided,” she said. “I didn’t really know that much about seeds before that. I gardened a bit, but only
transplants, until this year. So it was under their incredible direction that a beginner such as myself
could move forward.”

Queen City Seed Library helped get the Portage Lake Seed Library started by donating seeds, helping secure grant funding and connecting Pressley with seed donors.

“It’s important to provide land for people to garden on, soil and seeds,” said Pressley. “Those caretaking
relationships we all once had, for each other and for the land, we’ve become distant from. Everything is
now more about the individual than the collective. Seed libraries start to break down those barriers and
invite the community back into the food system.”

There are 8 seed libraries in the Upper Peninsula:

  • Alger County Seed Library at Munising School Public Library – 810 M-28, Suite A in Munising, MI
  • Bessemer Public Library – 411 S. Sophie St. in Bessemer, MI
  • Calumet Public-School Library, 57070 Mine St. in Calumet, MI
  • Ojibwe Community Library, 409 Superior Avenue in Baraga, MI
  • Pickford Community Library – 210 E. Main St. in Pickford, MI
  • Portage Lake Seed Library at Portage Lake District Library – 58 Huron St. in Houghton, MI
  • Queen City Seed Library at Peter White Public Library– 217 N. Front St. in Marquette, MI
  • Seed Library at Bay College – 2001 N. Lincoln Road in Escanaba, MI

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