At the Hudson Valley Seed Library in Gardiner, New York, books aren’t the only things patrons can borrow. They can also take out tomatoes. Or sunflowers. Or purple-podded peas.

OK, OK, it’s not exactly the plants they borrow — it’s their seeds. Three years ago, Ken Greene, now 34, founded the seed library, which is housed inside Gardiner’s public library. “Patrons look through the seeds that we have,” says Greene. “Then they grow the ones they choose. They find the ones that produce the most flowers and save the seeds from those. Then, at the end of the season, they ‘return’ those seeds to the library, the same way you would a book.” What’s the most popular seed? According to Greene, it’s the heirloom Brandywine tomato. “The smell and taste — it’s like what you fantasize about when you think of the perfect tomato,” he says. But you won’t find Brandywines at most supermarkets, since they bruise and split easily and often have odd skin markings.

Right now, only about a dozen patrons use the seed library, but Greene expects that number to grow as word spreads. “The more people get involved with the project, the more I feel like we’re actually doing something,” he says. “It’s backyard activism.”

Story by Kiera Butler. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2007. This story was added to in June 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2007.

The seed library
Patrons grow seeds "borrowed" from a Gardiner, N.Y., library and return seeds from productive plants at the end of the season for next year's use.