Concerns about potential food shortages, stay at home orders and an unexpected glut of free time have prompted many a novice gardener and experienced farmer alike to start up a small veggie plot in the backyard.
On Friday last week, Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners Seed Stewardship Project set up "mini seed libraries" at five locations across the county to help Santa Feans access the means to grow their own food.
"We already have food insecurity and food scarcity issues in New Mexico. Then we discovered that there was so much demand for seeds this year that commercial growers are out and farmers are looking for seeds, a lot of the local nurseries were completely out of seeds," says Christine Salem. Salem and Susie Sonflieth are co-leaders of the seed stewardship project behind the new mini libraries.
Yet the demand for seeds is even higher than Salem and Sonflieth had expected. By Monday morning, Salem writes SFR by email, the seeds were mostly gone, and several of the mini libraries were completely empty.
The Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners plans to distribute more seeds to the mini library locations later this week, says Salem, but their current seed supplies are "not enough to meet demand, I'm afraid."
The Santa Fe Extension Master Gardeners program started the Santa Fe Seed Library at Santa Fe's Southside Pubic Library branch last spring. A shelf next to the reference desk held boxes of seed packets and an instruction manual that encouraged library patrons to experiment with saving the seeds from some of their summer crop to return to the library in the fall.
Many of the packets contained seeds for heirloom varieties of chiles, melons, and other vegetables traditionally grown in New Mexico, while others held seeds for popular and easy to grow veggies such as tomatoes and kale.
This year, the Seed Library opened up the day before public libraries closed in March in compliance with the governor's orders.
Salem says in the following weeks she and Sonflieth participated in Zoom meetings with the organizers of other seed libraries across the country to brainstorm ideas about how to continue making seeds accessible to the public throughout the duration of the crisis. This is where the idea for mini seed libraries was born.
As the pandemic spread in late March and early April, Salem says, "I really came to recognize that it was no longer an abstraction for me that we need to reconnect with seeds, saving seeds and growing food from your own seeds year after year."
The mini libraries are rectangular boxes that contain packets of seeds and planting calendars for the Santa Fe area. Salem says the organization has received a large donation of seeds from Las Golondrinas, and will continue to refill the mini libraries until they run out of seed supplies.
The program had initially hoped to supply Santa Fe with seeds until June 15, but unexpectedly high demand means supplies could run out early.
The seeds are free, though SFEMG asks that patrons take no more than five packets, wear masks, and practice social distancing when picking up seeds.
More guidance on how to grow vegetables from seed and other online resources are available on the Seed Stewardship Project webpage.
Normally, Salem would encourage people who take seeds from the library to save some of their seeds to return to the library at the end of the season as a way of "paying it forward" for the next year. This year, though, she says the seed library is not set up to take back seeds. But she hopes people will still save their seeds and hang on to them to return to the library whenever they are able to reopen.
Seeds can be successfully stored long-term in airtight containers if they are kept in cool, dark, dry places. A common method is to put seeds in a jar with a silicon packet to wick out the moisture and then store the seeds in a basement, dark pantry, or the fridge, says Salem.
Other organizations handing out seeds include Tewa Women United, the New Mexico Acequia Association and The Food Depot.
Mini Seed Library locations:
- County Fairgrounds, Santa Fe, 3229 Rodeo Road (outside the white gate)
Saturdays and Sundays, 9 am-5 pm.
- Southside Library, Santa Fe, 6599 Jaguar Drive (under the portal)
Saturdays and Sundays, 9 am-5 pm.
- Reunity Resources, Santa Fe 1829 San Ysidro Crossing,
Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm and Saturdays from 9 am to noon. Call to confirm (505) 490-1047
- La Tienda, Eldorado, 7 Caliente Road, Eldorado,
Monday-Saturday 10 am-5 pm.