It was during the height of the gardening craze at the beginning of the pandemic when Marie-Pierre Bilodeau had an idea.
So many people had suddenly taken up the hobby that some seeds were hard to come by. So Bilodeau put up a little wooden box in the middle of the roundabout at the corner of Wall and Eton streets in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood.
The goal was to create a seed library for her neighbours to share their bounty and create more of it.
“What inspired me was to help people who have never gardened,” said Bilodeau, the founder of urban farming enterprise Refarmers.
“I think everyone should garden because it’s really therapeutic.”
Urban farmers working in tight spaces often end up with extra seeds from the packets they buy, Bilodeau says, and the library is an easy way to share them.
The project has been so successful that people now come from across Vancouver to share and take seeds, she said.
Those who conserve and share seeds say seed libraries are a great community resource that can encourage gardening, promote biodiversity and strengthen food security.
Bilodeau’s coaching and encouragement was helpful for Yazmín Vázquez.
The little seed library allowed her to try out several varieties of vegetables that Vázquez found a bit intimidating.
Vázquez’s seven-year-old son, Oliver, helps her a lot with the vegetable garden.
“He eats a lot more vegetables now,” she said.
“I think it’s a good way to inspire children to eat veggies and to develop contact with nature and the process to grow this food.”
Vázquez says it’s important for her to be able to contribute to the library and to learn how to garden.
“It’s all a process and it takes a lot of patience,” she said. “But in the end, it’s very gratifying.”
In Cumberland on Vancouver Island, Savanah Laplante started to salvage her own seeds with help from her sister, who had maintained a seed library for the Richmond Food Security Society.
Laplante says seed libraries are just as necessary as libraries filled with reading material.
“It’s important to be able to grow our food for free,” she said.
By the end of this summer, the apprentice seed conserver hopes to get a seed library started with organic and native seeds.
“When we harvest our own seeds, it gives us varietals that are better adapted to the local climate,” Laplante said.
Time and space are both essential to preserve seeds. Laplante says it’s important to keep the seeds in a space that is cool and dark.
She also recommends starting with self-pollinating plants such as sunflowers and tomatoes.
Back in Vancouver, Bilodeau recommends that beginners start with seeds from beans or peas, which she says are easier because gardeners can leave them until the plant is brown and cracks easily.
Some plants, such as parsley, produce thousands of seeds, she said.
“A good reason to share them,” Bilodeau said.