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The Local Food Report
As we re-imagine our relationships to what we eat, Local Food Report creator Elspeth Hay takes us to the heart of the local food movement to talk with growers, harvesters, processors, cooks, policy makers and visionaries

Scramble for Seeds Reinvigorates Local Seed Library


Home gardeners all over the United States are having trouble getting seeds. Companies say demand is up 6 to 8 times more than usual which has a lot of us looking for alternative sources. Naomi Robbins started the Wellfleet Seed Library in 2015.

“Over several years of working at the reference desk I fielded so many questions from gardeners and from people who wanted to maybe start a garden for the first time and I found myself recommending books and then eventually bringing in seeds for them and this developed into this idea of starting a seed library,” Naomi said.

It started out small. But with the pandemic came a big uptick in interest.

“Last year we had just finished getting our seeds and packing them into envelopes when you know everything just broke loose. And we couldn’t have our typical way of getting patrons their seeds which was that usually people come into the library and go to our old card catalog shuffle through our drawers and take what they want from our seeds and that’s how the system works.”

Instead, Naomi started fielding phone calls—mostly from Wellfleet and Truro residents who suddenly had time to garden, but also from Cape Codders stuck in places like Oregon and Florida and hoping for a taste of home.

“We ended up giving out almost 2,000 packets of seeds so I felt like that was a pretty wonderful success,” she said.

It was huge—the library has slowly built up to this number with a full staff and walk in customers. Doing it over the phone and on her own —Naomi said packing the tiniest seeds, like carrots, just about drove her insane. So this year she’s recruited help. And all the librarians at the Wellfleet Library are ready to field requests and answer gardening questions over the phone. And Naomi’s spent some of her time at home over the winter building the seed library a website. The only challenge—is like everyone else, she’s had some trouble sourcing seeds.

“We have nearly 30 different varieties that are backordered right now. Some we’re just not going to get at all. One of my favorite cucumbers which is the Northern Pickling, we could not get seeds for that. We have about 120 varieties all together this year so you can see that means we still have quite a few we have been able to get no problem but the situation has been that seed companies have really been overwhelmed with orders and requests for seeds.”

In addition to the hundred and twenty varieties of vegetable seeds Naomi’s been able to get new this year, for the first time this year, the Wellfleet seed Library is also offering leftover seeds from last year. They might not germinate quite as well, but a lot will still be viable, and they’re helping to fill in on varieties that just aren’t available right now. Amazingly, Naomi’s tried almost every single one of the varieties in the seed catalog in her home garden.

“Almost all. You know occasionally I’ll have to get like a new kind of broccoli and I won’t have tried it out. There’s also a couple kales I haven’t tried because we don’t grow that much kale—but a lot of them.”

As for favorites? Naomi said she loves all the seeds.

“It’s kind of like asking me what my favorite kid is. I’ve hardly ever met a plant I didn’t like. There’s so many favorites that I have.”

Naomi’s love of seeds is wild right but it’s also infectious. So next week she’ll share the new seeds she’s excited about trying this season.

Here are some other resources that offer seeds to our community:

Nauset Seeds, students from the Nauset Food and Research Garden saving seed and sell at the Orleans Winter Farmers Market.

The Martha's Vineyard Community Seed Library.

Sturgis Public Library also has a seed library, call for info:
(508) 362-6636

Truro Public Library also has a seed library, call for info:
(508) 487-1125 or check their Facebook page.

An avid locavore, Elspeth lives in Wellfleet and writes a blog about food. Elspeth is constantly exploring the Cape, Islands, and South Coast and all our farmer's markets to find out what's good, what's growing and what to do with it. Her Local Food Report airs Thursdays at 8:30 on Morning Edition and 5:45pm on All Things Considered, as well as Saturday mornings at 9:30.