A new kind of library has sprouted in Napa, and its one that organizers hope will really take root in the community.
Called the Napa County Seed Library, there are now two “branches” of the lending source, both located outside local homes.
Napans Lilea Heine and Lauren Muscatine are the co-founders of the Napa County Seed Library project.
Seed saving “is a time-honored tradition” – and one that’s relatively simple, said Muscatine, who lives in North Napa.
“You just need dirt and seeds and the magic begins.”
“I love the idea of community sustaining itself,” said Heine, who lives in Browns Valley. Starting a seed library not only helps that, but “encourages others to get to know their food,” where it comes from and how it’s grown, she said.
So what exactly is a seed library?
“A place where a person can borrow, lend or donate seeds for free,” Muscatine explained. “It’s like borrowing a book, but you get to bring back more books in the form of seeds.”
“Our seed library looks very much like the Little Free Libraries that you see around town,” said Heine. “It operates in a very similar way.”
The mission of the Napa County Seed Library is to “collect, catalog, save and share seeds” with the community.
Visitors come to the library, scoop some seeds to take and plant or leave seeds they’ve already harvested or purchased. It’s that easy, said the women. There’s no fee or cost to participate.
Heine’s seed library is located at the corner of Broadmoor and Dartmouth Drive in Browns Valley. Muscatine’s seed library is located at the corner of Tanglewood Way and Tanglewood Court, near Salvador Avenue.
Heine said she got the idea to start a seed library during the shelter-in-place orders at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.
During her usual grocery store trips, she and her children, Pax and Valentine, noticed some of their usual staples like rice and flour weren’t always available.
At the same time, the family watched a movie called “The Need to Grow,” which is about self-sustaining food practices. Her children asked how they could help, said Heine.
“My kids came up with the idea of let’s make our own seed library” – like a Little Free Library – and the idea was born.
Unbeknownst to her, Muscatine was thinking the same thing. During the start of the pandemic, she noticed it became hard to find new seeds or starters in Napa. And she wanted to plant varieties that were proven to do well in Napa Valley, said Muscatine.
Reading about a seed library located at the Richmond Public Library sparked her interest.
“I thought that is brilliant,” Muscatine said. “I was so excited,”
However, there weren’t any seed libraries in Napa Valley – yet.
“Well, I’m going to start one,” she decided.
Working independently, both women started plans for their own seed libraries within months of each other.
Friends in common on social media connected the two, and they quickly decided to form the Napa County Seed Library project.
Heine said that there are advantages to using a local seed library.
First, the seeds are free. Second, many of the seeds are from plants already growing and thriving in our community. And a seed library is self-sustaining. She pointed out that during the pandemic, due to increased demand from people stuck at home and wanting to grow their own food. “We saw that (many) seeds were not available” to buy, Heine said.
There’s one other advantage, she said. “If you grew it or your neighbor has grown it, they have the story that goes with that seed” in that particular part of Napa Valley or even particular neighborhood or street. Does this seed need more water, or fertilizer or shade? “You’re not necessary going to get all this information from a store-bought product.”
“If someone has grown a certain type of tomato here in Napa Valley for 10 years and that tomato tastes just delicious, it’s got the genetic material that has been adapted to this particular climate and that’s special,” said Muscatine.
And the story might include more than just growing instructions, said Muscatine. There could be family traditions and stories about the person who passed the seeds down.
“This rich connection” around seed sharing and lending “builds resiliency among neighbors, fosters a sense of unity and encourages us to open up,” she said.
There haven’t been any problems or vandalism with the libraries, said the women. “Our community has been so welcoming and respectful,” said Heine. People “really see it as a community resource. I trust the community” to take care of the libraries.
One of the ultimate goals of the group is to have a collection of seeds at the Napa County Library itself, said the women. They’re already working with the Napa County Library on that plan. But the individual seed libraries will also have a role in the collection.
A wide variety of seeds and even bulbs have been left at the two seed libraries. That includes lettuce, carrots, kale, broccoli, zucchini, beans, peas, flowers such as hibiscus, sunflowers, tomatoes and corn.
Someone even dropped off some seeds from the famous Napa Valley grower Leonardo Urena.
How are the seed libraries going so far?
“It’s taken off,” Heine said. “At least once a day I see someone either dropping off seeds or picking up something. It’s fabulous.”
“It has been overwhelming” in a great way, said Muscatine. She gets numerous visitors every week. “It’s definitely introduced me to way more people in my neighborhood,” she said. “I get a lot of thanks for it.”
The group is also posting videos online about how to harvest seeds and other related topics. For example, in one video Muscatine and her daughter Lavender show how to pick and save lettuce seeds.
For non-gardeners, the idea of growing something might be a little intimidating, but don’t be afraid to give it a try, she said.
Not to mention, when you’re outside, “it just feels good.”
Watch now: a visit to the Carolyn Parr Nature Center
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or email@example.com