Seed and Plant Swap Grows During COVID

Julie Kent, Director, Erie City Public Library /

Photo of We Share table provided by Erie City Public Library

This article is published in collaboration with the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL), highlighting great ideas shared by libraries on ARSL's amazing and active Listserv (a wonderful benefit to ARSL Membership!). Thank you to Julie Kent, Director at Erie City Public Library, Kansas, for sharing her story.

Erie City Public Library in Erie, Kansas, serves a small town of about 1,085 people in Neosho County. We are a gathering place for the community. 

One of the goals of our little library is to support the community as much as we can. We do the normal stuff of checking out books and movies as well as having in person programs for our patrons. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed most of that. 

For the past two years, the Erie City Public Library has planted seeds for family gardens and raised them in the east window of the library. The first year, we planted seeds to grow about 50 plants for our community to share at the First Annual Seed and Plant Swap. On that day in early spring, members of the community brought bedding plants, seeds, bushes, trees and ground cover to swap, that more than 40 people took home that day. We had some donated seeds from Baker Creek Seeds that we shared that day. It was simply a day of sharing. 

The next year, 2020, was to be the continuation of this new program. We requested seeds from Baker Creek Seeds in Missouri, and they donated a $50 gift certificate which was used to buy tomatoes, carrots, beets, beans and other garden items to plant and give away at our 2nd Annual Seed and Plant Swap which was to be held in late April. We planted the tomato seeds and really went overboard. When we were done, there were more than 150 plants to share. And then COVID hit.

Photo of We Share table provided by Erie City Public Library

Our library shut down on March 18, 2020. There were still tomatoes to look after so every couple of days, we would come by and water, and shift the plants around so they grew tall and strong. We took the remaining seeds and divided them into small plastic bags so that the limited number of seed packets would cover many family gardens. Seed potatoes and onion sets were purchased to round out the packets we wanted to make available for the families we serve. We were afraid this summer would be a time of hunger for many of our low-income families who rely on summer lunches and frankly, we did not know what food items would be available to them.   

On April 10, we passed out bags of seeds, onions and potatoes to families to make a Stronger Together Garden to help feed their families. We handed out 100 plants with planting instructions to about 35 families on that day. When we were done, there were still about 40 very small plants that the director took home and planted in her garden. The plan was to raise these tomatoes and bring them into the library during the summer to share with our community.

In the middle of the growing season, produce was abundant for our community. During the summer, our school also passed out boxes of produce and dairy to anyone in the community who wanted it. Many of our older folks were overwhelmed with the amount of food so they would bring in the excess to the library for our We Share table. But with COVID's interruption, the We Share table has grown to include the various harvests from our adapted Annual Seed and Plant Swap. We are also getting squash, fresh corn, green peppers, and of course tomatoes from the Director’s Garden to share. We have had families bring in produce they raised in their little Stronger Together Gardens, and the Mayor has brought by cucumbers and yellow zucchini to share!

Today on our We Share table we have nectarines, red Anjou pears, green peppers, corn and squash for anyone to pick up. We believe that our Plant and Seed Swap has been very successful and plan on it continuing for years to come. We would love to have a real greenhouse to start these plants in but are content to continue window gardening for now.

UPDATE! The Erie City Public Library was awarded a SPARK Grant to expand their We Share program, and will be installing a community greenhouse. "Now families who don’t have room for a garden at their homes can plant and pick their produce in a community greenhouse." Read more.

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