Portland State’s Seed Library

Life without a garden is unimaginable to me, but I live in an apartment, so I have to get creative. I grow plants in pots on my balcony and patio, but it feels wasteful to buy whole packets of seeds and only use a few of them. A solution: the Portland State seed library.

The PSU Student Sustainability Center began the seed library in spring 2016 to tell the story of seeds, said Heather Spalding, coordinator for the Sustainability Center. The library is inside the Sustainability Center in Smith Memorial Student Union M104. While the library looks for organic and heirloom seeds, it accepts all seed donations to make seed sharing as accessible as possible.

The library is open and free to students, faculty and staff. While Spalding suggests individuals harvest their own seeds to donate back to the library, this is not required. It’s not only individuals that make use of the library—the cosmos growing in the garden next to SMSU sprouted from the library’s seeds.

Spalding said one of her favorite collections of seeds is a set of five heirloom organic corn varieties donated by PSU Professor Pedro Ferbel-Azcarate, who co-owns the local masa and tortilla company Three Sisters Nixtamal.

Looking at the rainbow of kernels, I happily remembered the interaction I’d had buying masa from Three Sisters Nixtamal. If I grew that corn, I’d remember that moment and this new moment every time I watered it. When I harvested it, I would pass on those stories to my friends along with some delicious heirloom corn.

This is the story of seeds. Our personal memories of people and the plants they cared for shared along with the plants themselves. Scientific information about seeds matters, but so do our interactions with plants and the way we use them to build community.

The seed library’s winter hours are 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and noon–1 p.m. Thursday and Friday.