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SNAP Ed nutrition educator Samantha Barron and Jodi Perry of the Pine River Area Food Shelf show just some of the seeds that will be available at the new Pine River seed library. Travis Grimler / Forum News Service

Pine River to have seed library with goal of cutting food poverty

PINE RIVER, Minn. -- As part of a continuing effort to combat food poverty in the northern Minnesota town of  Pine River and surrounding area, the University of Minnesota Extension Service and other groups have started a seed library.

The Pine River-Backus Family Center is joining in the project at the Pine River Community Library.

“We run very similar to a library,” said Samantha Barron, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education nutrition educator with the Extension office. “It will be free and open to the public for those within the Pine River-Backus area.”

A variety of heirloom seeds will be available to “check out” by anyone interested, with the hope that seeds will be collected at the end of the growing season and returned to the library.

For the first year, Barron said they don't expect every participant to return seeds since not all who participate know how to collect seeds; however, for beginners, seed saving from squash and tomatoes has traditionally been very simple.

“They say tomatoes are very easy to save,” said Jodi Perry with the Pine River Area Food Shelf. “I went to the class at Back to Basics and tomatoes are very easy. Squash is also very easy. It's when you get into carrots and other things and you have to let the plant grow to a certain stage. This is all very new to me, and I'm starting with the tomatoes and squash.”

There will eventually be classes on seed collecting for those who participate.

“We might do them this year, but for sure next year,” Barron said. “This year we just kind of want to get the word out and make sure people know we have the seed library.”

The seed library is being promoted within the local food shelf; family center; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics; and other groups encouraging healthier eating, though the seed library is also open to the general public.

“We are just encouraging people to eat healthier by growing their own healthy foods,” Barron said. “It's a great form of physical activity.”

The library is limited to heirloom seeds and open pollinator seeds to guarantee uniformity of the end product.

“It's only heirloom seeds, and some of these seeds might be from plants that have been grown for 100 years,” Perry said.

Those who participate in the seed library are asked to grow only a single variety of each plant at any time, to avoid cross pollination. Cross pollinated seeds can be unpredictable, so they are not suitable to a seed library.

Unfortunately, the risk of cross pollination also means the seed library may not work with the local community garden, where each plot could have different varieties of the same plant.

The seed library so far has onions, melons, squash, beets and a unique variety of sweet corn with purple husks. Local growers have pledged to donate other seeds, including carrots and zucchini.

“I think we're just limiting to seeds this year and encouraging people only to take what they can grow,” Barron said. “We'll have the seeds organized into seed packets, and if you want to grow squash you would just take one package. That should be more than enough for one family or individual.”

The seed library will have an official open house and orientation from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the Pine River Community Library, where seed library representatives will be available to give information.