Books, movies and music are available for check-out at libraries across Dane County. Now, you can add seeds to the list.
A group of Dane County libraries announced this week the creation of the Dane County Seed Library, which will debut at five locations around mid-March.
The program, funded by a $5,000 grant from the John A. Johnson Fund and an anonymous donor from the Madison Community Foundation, will allow library users to “check out” up to five seed packets to take home and plant.
The idea of checking out seeds might seem odd, but gardeners who use the program are supposed to plant the seeds, grow the desired vegetable, harvest the seeds and return some of them at the end of the growing season.
But unlike books and other media, people using the program shouldn’t expect to be punished if they don’t return their borrowed seeds.
“Anybody who gardens at all knows things happen in the garden that you can’t really anticipate and certainly it’s possible many people are not going to be in a position to return seeds. There aren’t going to be any overdue fines or anything like that,” said Dane County Library Service director Julie Chase, who is leading the seed effort.
Chase estimated the Dane County program has purchased close to 200,000 seeds for the first year.
The seeds will be divided into about 7,500 packets. One hundred packets of 15 different vegetable varieties — including tomatoes, peas, lettuce, spinach and beans — will be distributed to each participating library.
The libraries are Fitchburg, McFarland, Oregon, Madison’s Goodman South branch and the Dane County Bookmobile. The Bookmobile will extend the program’s reach into 20 of the county’s smallest communities, Chase said.
Participating libraries will also host workshops on gardening as the growing season approaches.
“We’re looking to connect with people who use public libraries for a variety of reasons and we think that providing seeds, as well as gardening books and other resources, is a logical thing because they can be saved and they can be returned and other people can benefit from that, not differently than the way that more than one person can read a book,” Chase said.
There are a limited number of similar seed exchanges at libraries around the country. Dane County’s program was created after consulting with La Crosse Public Library and Pima County Public Library in Arizona, both of which have seed exchanges.
Chase said the hope is that Dane County’s program eventually will be self-sustaining, but she said variables such as the return rate on seeds and interest in the program will be factors. La Crosse’s program started last year and reported about a 30 percent return rate, she said.
“We’re not really making a lot of predictions about the future. It could be that it goes the way we envision it and we’ll get a good return rate on seeds … and it will be a self-sustaining project, but you never know,” she said.
The seeds will be catalogued so reminder notices can be sent out in the fall.
Chase said the libraries will have a booth at this weekend’s Wisconsin Garden Expo, where they will be distributing brochures and giving out free carrot seeds.
The expo runs Friday through Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall.