With a winter for the record books, it seems that spring might never come to Clackamas County. But a new program at the Oak Lodge Library holds the promise of renewed growth.
Oak Lodge's Seeds for Sharing Library offers something for everyone. For the experienced gardener, the sheer variety of free seeds available will delight. For those who have never gardened before, a series of free classes at the library is planned throughout the upcoming growing season. Garden starts are very costly by comparison, so the classes will emphasize teaching people about how to grow from seed.
"Much like the mission of the library, in general, which makes resources available to anyone, regardless of socio-economic status, this makes the capacity to grow your own food available to anyone," said Jennings Lodge resident Stephanie Kurzenhauser, president of the new Friends of the Oak Lodge Public Library nonprofit group.
Don't have your own tools and can't afford your own? Through the Seeds for Sharing Library, you can even rent gardening tools using your county library card. Just like books or other media checked out through the library, the tools will show up on your Libraries in Clackamas County account. They are renewable after two weeks, and there's a 10-cent fine per day if you return them late.
Seeds themselves are checked out on an honor system to track the number of seeds the program is distributing. You may check out up to six varieties of seeds, and you're encouraged to take only the number of seeds that you will plant.
"A seed can equal a plant, so we're hoping people just take what they need. It's good karma to return as many seeds as you take," Kurzenhauser said.
The project couldn't have come at a better time for Oak Lodge Library Manager Mitzi Olson, who noted that the Good Roots and Gladstone food pantries are well used by low-income families along the McLoughlin Boulevard corridor.
"This project provides us with the opportunity to address some of the community needs," Olson said. "We want to promote community involvement and community ownership in the library. Through this program, patrons are required to have little to no financial investment to grow good quality, healthful foods. You just need dirt, water and a little sun."
Although they have both supported the Seeds for Sharing program, Kurzenhauser and Olson credit its successful launch to the seemingly endless energies of Oak Grove resident Kay Everts, who volunteered her time to curate the seed library.
"I often hear from people that 'I hate buying a whole packet of seeds and only needing two of them,' so this is a good solution," Everts said. "We're looking for other donations from members of the public, either that you've harvested yourself, or that you've saved from last year, because a lot of seeds are good for several years."
Everts discovered the thrifty joy of saving her own seeds at her garden on River Road and says she'll never go back. Potential descendants of many of Everts' own plants are represented in the new Oak Lodge seed library.
Everts has supplemented her own seeds at the Seeds for Sharing program with donations from local seed purveyors. Some seed companies required the Oak Lodge seed library to pay for postage, but 50 seed packets were donated, along with shipping, from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Without the Friends of the Oak Lodge Public Library's newly official nonprofit status, the seed companies wouldn't have donated. Through donations of community members, the new library-friends group also covered the cost of postage for seed companies that required it.
Of the nearly 500 seed libraries in the U.S., about 40 percent are housed in public libraries. The first was started in Berkeley, California, in 2009. Bobbie Kelly at the West Linn Library started one in 2015. Everts modeled the Oak Lodge Library program after West Linn's.
"We've been lacking community involvement in this library, and we've seen an increase in community involvement recently, and I'd like to take advantage of that," Olson said. "We struggle with programming here, because of the parking and because of the space, but we always get good turnout for the gardening classes."
Christ's Light Community Church on Jennings Avenue is offering the Seeds for Sharing program the ability to use 14 4-by-8-foot raised beds to grow plants for seed to help make the seed library more sustainable. Seeds for Sharing will be able to use the seed garden as a hands-on way to teach people how to save seeds and is looking for volunteers to help plant, tend and harvest the seed garden.
"As far as what foods and seeds generally are available, there has been so much emphasis on what will ship well and store well, and not necessarily taste," Everts said. "A big passion of mine has been to keep the diversity going and boost the vitality of our food supply."
Everts said that she likes Cosmonaut Volkov heirloom tomato variety because it was the Territorial Seed Company's taste winner of 2011, and the Ukrainian varieties tend to do better in Oregon's climate.
"If it grows in my shady yard, it'll probably grow in your own," she said.
Kurzenhauser's favorite crop is Mexican sour gherkins, which she describes "like little watermelons that taste like lemon cucumbers." Her kids eat them raw, like grapes.
"I'm the mother of four children, and probably one of the most beautiful aspects of their childhood has been to get them involved early on in growing food and raising awareness," Kurzenhauser said.