RIGBY — Among shelves full of books, magazines and DVDs, there are packets of vegetable, fruit and herb seeds waiting to be checked out at the Rigby Public Library.
The library is believed to be the first in the state to offer heirloom seeds to patrons — seeds of old cultivars, many that were grown earlier in human history, but no longer are used in large-scale agriculture.
It was Rigby Police Officer and resident Sam Tower who brought the idea to the five-member library board. Once the board approved the idea, Tower’s wife, Kimber — who also is the library board chairwoman — and library staff went to work putting the project together. Many others joined in the effort, some donating seed as well.
“As far as I know, there is no other public library in the state that lends out seeds,” Sam Tower said. “There is a seed bank in Boise, but it is privately funded and not public like a library.”
Tower decided that a seed library would be a good way to share not only seeds, but knowledge, too.
“I’ve been a fan of heirloom seeds and have traded them with others and learned a lot from others, too,” he said. “This was kind of like a perfect storm when I suggested it to the board. I just decided it was time to get it done.”
Growing up in Pocatello, Tower learned gardening from his parents, Jerald and Gretchen Tower.
Today, Tower and his family grow raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, beans, onions carrots and garlic, among other things. The family also has apple and pear trees. He cultivates raspberries that grow behind his home, one of the oldest in town.
“I’ve been an avid gardener and plant person for most of my life, and, today, Kimber and I grow most of our own vegetables for our family,” Tower said.
Rigby residents can check out seeds with their library cards, then return seeds they harvest in the fall. People living outside Rigby can buy a library card for $15 for three months or pay $49 for a year.
All card holders can check out five packets of seed and up to five varieties of seed per visit. The packets contain fewer seeds than typical commercial seed packets with the idea of introducing and encouraging seed-saving locally.
“There is no fine for not returning seeds,” library Director Marilynn Kamoe said. “We understand that sometimes when you plant seeds, with all the things that can go wrong, you might not have a harvest.”
The cost to get the seed checkout program up and running was minuscule, Kamoe said. Library staff filed seed packets in an old card catalog file — all they needed to purchase were seed packets and labels.
The Rigby library, as is the case with libraries across the country, is lending more than books. Many are lending everything from toys to tools to laptop computers.
“I’ve heard of one library lending out cake pans and another one has fishing poles. Things that are popular or pertinent in their areas,” Kamoe said.
To encourage gardening success, the Rigby Library seeds are labeled: easy for beginners, as well as medium and hard for more skilled and experienced gardeners. A handbook filled with helpful instructions also is available.
In addition, the library holds classes throughout the growing and harvesting seasons on a variety of topics, including organic pest control, organic gardening practices, organic composting and mulching and seed saving.
Tower suggested beginners start with tomato seeds, peas or beans because they are some of the easier plants to grow. Squash and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, are more challenging, he said.
All the seed varieties available at the library are selected because they do well in eastern Idaho’s climate.
“They are grown here so we know they will do well here,” he said. “No offense to the big box stores, but these seeds are selected specifically for this area.”
Tower prefers heirloom seeds because the crops they produce are more predictable and retain the characteristics of the parent plant. But hybrids are interesting to grow, too, he said.
“Hybrids are not necessarily bad. People have been hybridizing plants since the beginning of time,” he said. “But when you plant hybrid seeds, you don’t ever know if you’ll get the same plant.”
Tower believes in sustainability and said gardening and seed-saving are becoming popular across the country.
“It’s not hard to save seeds, collecting is easy, whatever you plant, you can reap,” he said.