Barton Public Library Wants To Help You Grow Your Mind And Your Garden

Apr 14, 2017

If you’re a gardener, there’s a good chance you’ve already started thinking about your garden. Maybe you’ve perused seed catalogs, or spent some time wandering around the seed racks at your local garden or hardware store. Or maybe you’ve been to the Barton Public Library.

The library is home base for the Orleans County Seed Library, where members can check out seeds from librarian Toni Eubanks (and maybe a gardening book too.)

It all started as a Master Gardener project for Westmore resident Pam Kennedy.

"I came into the library one fall day and said to Toni, 'I'm thinking about a seed library,'" Kennedy explains. "And she said …"

"'I've been thinking of that too,'" Eubanks finishes.

Eubanks says it’s a natural fit for the public library.

"We don’t just loan out books or videos, we can loan out other things too," she says. "And seeds, being an agricultural area, was really important. So then Pam – I just needed a prod – and then Pam came in. It just fell right into our laps."

Barton Librarian Toni Eubanks looks on as Pam Kennedy looks through the latest membership paperwork for the Orleans County Seed Library.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

They spread the word among the local gardening community, and soon a dedicated working group was on-board. And last season the library lent out its first seeds.

To get things started, Kennedy reached out to some seed producers and big seed savers.

"We have High Mowing, who’s in Wolcott, who was very generous," says Kennedy. "But we’ve also gotten seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, which is the oldest seed library. And from seed savers exchange, which is the place where everyone sends their great-grandmother’s seeds from Poland, or whatever. I mean they are really the keepers of the most endangered species of seeds."

Some of the library's stock came from seed companies, some came from local gardeners and some came from seed banks.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

And as the seed library embarks on its second season, membership is growing. Members come to the library to borrow seeds. And at the end of the season they contribute seeds if they’re able, as Danville resident Mary Ragno explains.

"And, no, we do not check but we do encourage people, if they have a good harvest from some of our seeds, to please return some of them," she says. "Because it strengthens our local crop of seeds that we know grow well here in this part of the country … We’re not going to police people about whether or not they bring back seeds. But we hope that they will if they have a good harvest."

Ragno’s specialty is heirloom tomatoes, which take a long time to be garden-ready. So she started planting seeds indoors about a month ago.

Seed library volunteers Ruth Duckless, of Derby, and Mary Ragno, of Danville, sort through the seeds.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"I have probably about 20 different heirloom identities that I save from year to year," she says, "and I look forward to sharing a lot because I end up with an awful lot of seed at the end of the season."

And who can resist the promise of garden fresh tomatoes – especially with names like "Mortgage Lifter," "Boxcar Willy" and "Prudence Purple"?

Justin Hannington, of Island Pond, says the the Orleans County Seed Library has a growing selection of seeds. And those seeds have an advantage over some store-bought varieties.

"There’s a good chance that you’d find a representative sample here of the stuff you’d find on the seed rack at the local hardware store," he says. "And these are all clean. None of these have been treated with pesticides or herbicides."

The Barton Public Library is the permanent home to the seed library, but there are also plans to bring seeds on the road to other parts of the Northeast Kingdom.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Promoting a healthy community is part of the seed library’s mission, but Kennedy says it goes beyond that.

"Our mission includes having a community of sharing and helping people be able to be more self-sufficient," she says.

To fulfill that mission, Kennedy says they’re working on ways to bring the seed library on the road, making it accessible to more residents of the Northeast Kingdom. They’re talking about bringing it around to fairs, other libraries, and places like the Old Stone House Museum, in Brownington.

"The education director, Bob Hunt, at the Old Stone House has asked that we get something together that they can have there for events," Kennedy says. "So people could sign up there and be members of the seed library and borrow seeds. And we’re hoping to do that in a few places."

Members of the seed library meet monthly to share gardening ideas and talk about topics such as garden planning and seed harvesting.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

The group also plans to offer children’s programing at the Barton library, and set up test gardens at the public school across the road.