Chilhowie library launches Heirloom Seed Exchange | Community

Jasmin Franks | Smyth County News & Messenger

This spring, the Chilhowie Public Library will be helping to grow more than just minds. Beginning in April, patrons will have a chance to try their hand at growing vegetables as the library launches its Heirloom Seed Exchange.

Branch Supervisor Heather Carter had been pondering the idea for quite a while and decided to take the leap to align the launch with the beginning of Citizen Science Month, a nation-wide opportunity for citizens to help collect data, analyze results and report to scientists who are trying to solve real-world problems.

“I thought it would be fun,” Carter said. “I’ve thought about it for a while and this just seems like the right time, especially since we’re doing Citizen Science Month.”

The program works by supplying patterns with heirloom vegetable seeds, seed varieties that are at least 50 years old and have not been altered. After the patrons plant, grow and harvest their vegetables, they keep some seeds for themselves and return a portion to the library for distribution to other patrons in the next growing season.

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Carter said the program will be both a fun learning experience and a means to help address food insecurity.

“It’s a good way to teach kids how to grow their own crops,” she said. “A lot of people don’t do that anymore and some kids don’t understand carrots come from the garden, not from the grocery store.”

The Heirloom Seed Exchange will feature a number of tomato seeds, as well as cucumbers, beans and other vegetables.

The program also serves as a means to keep people engaged.

“People get excited about new projects and it’s a way to bring them into the library and, really when they start growing things, they’ll want to check out materials, like ‘I want to learn about this certain type of vegetable,’ or ‘I want to learn how to do this.’ It’s a way to engage people.”

She added that the library is more than just a place where people can check out reading material.

“I think people have the misconception that libraries are just for books. Libraries have evolved…Libraries aren’t static; they’re like a center for learning for people. We check out all kinds of different things now, and the seed exchange is just another addition to that.”

For the Heirloom Seed Exchange program, Carter’s been working with Virginia Highlands Community College Horticulture Instructor Ben Casteel, who’s helped identify the best plants to thrive in the area and to save seeds from.

To kick off the program, Casteel will host a presentation on April 2 highlighting the importance of seed saving and introducing patterns to the process.

Carter’s also listed the help Hungry Mother State Park Ranger Avery Smith, who will host plant-related children’s story times.

Over at the Marion and Saltville branches, children’s program directors will focus their Citizen Science programs on bees.

“It all kind of goes together because bees are pollinators. We’re all going to try to tie the subjects in together,” Carter said.

Although Citizen’s Science Month ends at the close of April, the seed program will continue throughout the year.

Carter said Casteel will hold a number of workshops in the coming months. Among other classes and workshops, she also hopes to hold a cooking class later in the year to help demonstrate ways to prepare the vegetables patterns will harvest.

Carter doesn’t expect the Heirloom Seed Exchange to be the end of the line for library gardening programs. She also hopes to begin a plant exchange in the fall, where people can bring bulbs and starts of certain plants to exchange for new varieties.

But for now, she’s excited for the library and its patrons to begin their journey into the gardening world.

The program kicks off April 2 at 11 am The Heirloom Seed Exchange is open to patrons throughout the county and seeds can be requested at any time. Those who cannot make it to the Chilhowie branch can request seeds through the Marion or Saltville branches, where they can be delivered for pick-up.


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