Clemson Extension School and Community Garden Program

Growing A Seed Library: Clemson Extension and Charleston County Public Libraries Team Up to Sprout Seed Libraries Statewide

Written by Amy Dabbs, Clemson Extension, and Michel Hammes, Charleston County Public Library.

The Clemson Extension ‘Seed Fairy Program’ has distributed free seeds for community-based educational programs for many years thanks to a generous donation from Botanical Interests. Due to the growing shipping and labor costs associated with the initiative, we needed to find an innovative way to continue the program to get the seeds into the hands of the communities that needed them most.

Vegetable and herb plants growing in a Lowcountry community garden bed.

Charleston County Public Library’s Adult Services Librarian, Michel Hammes, has requested free seeds over the years. She shares her passion for gardening with patrons at the John’s Island Library. She hosts horticulture classes, grows native plants, and demonstrates vegetable gardening at the branch. Michel was the ideal person to help brainstorm the idea of a statewide seed library program. Our aim was to distribute the free seeds while helping library patrons connect to educational resources and other services in their local communities.

The result was a pilot program with Charleston County Public Libraries to support seed libraries in communities with limited access to fresh food. After a training session, eleven CCPL branches and the mobile library got busy putting together creative, innovative displays to educate, engage and encourage gardeners!  (Learn more about CCPL’s Free & Fresh Community Fridge Program.) 

Seed Library and accompanying book display at the St. Paul’s Hollywood Library branch. 

The library staff provided bookmarks highlighting resources, books, and more. Clemson Extension’s Tri-County Master Gardeners offered companion gardening programs throughout the system. Library customers shared pictures of their seeds sprouting and plants growing. One grandmother reported, “With the seeds we picked up, my granddaughter created a garden bed at home and is fascinated with growing her own vegetables. She is a shy child, so this spark of interest has been incredible to watch.”

The idea of a statewide seed library program grew with a meeting with South Carolina State Library staff. They loved the concept, and together we planned a training that would serve two purposes- provide an overview of available community-based horticulture, health, and youth services and put seeds directly in the hands of county-based library staff.

On April 26, Clemson Extension and the South Carolina State Library welcomed over fifty librarians and staff from eighteen counties to the “Growing A Seed Library” training in Columbia. Participants were excited to hear Michel share the ideas from the CCPL pilot program. I spoke about creating a seasonal seed library with an emphasis on cool-season gardening to help the participants plan for a fall seed library kick-off.

hydroponics display and seed library on a table.
Otranto Regional Branch Library added a hydroponic station to its seed library display.

Guest speakers included Jimmy Wooten, Community Engagement Manager with Greenville County Library System, who highlighted the impressive seed library program at the  Berea Branch and  Bookmobile that was created in partnership with Greenville County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Five program presenters standing beside a banner that reads School and Community Gardening. Growing a Seed Library Presenters, 
Left to Right: Michelle Parisi,  Rosemary Martin Jones, Michel Hammes, Jimmy Wooten, & Amy L. Dabbs.
Program Speakers 
Left to Right:
Michelle Parisi,  Rosemary Martin Jones, Michel Hammes, Jimmy Wooten, & Amy L. Dabbs.

Michelle Parisi, Ph.D., RDN, LDN, Director of the Division of Health, Nutrition, and Youth Development with Clemson Extension, shared the vital health benefits of gardening and invited participants to tap into the health and nutrition programs available through the Clemson Extension Rural Health and Nutrition team.  Rosemary Martin Jones, 4-H Youth Development Agent, Richland County, gave an excellent overview of the many ways 4-H agents support library programs for youth, including gardening and more!

After the presentations, the excitement was palpable as attendees received a Read, Eat, Grow tote bag from state library staff and began selecting Botanical Interests seed packets to start seed libraries this fall. Supporting the effort to combat food insecurity, Eden Brothers generously donated gift certificates as door prizes. We look forward to sharing updates about this initiative as it grows throughout South Carolina!  

Looking for a seed library near you? Check out our website for a list. If your library or organization is not listed and would like to be included on our website, please email Amy Dabbs at Program sponsorships are also welcome. 

Delighted door prize winners with gift certificates generously donated by Eden Brothers flower bulbs and heirloom seed company. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *