Seed Exchange, Sunflowers Sprout from Wilson Library

by Lucy Gellman, Arts Paper, May 20, 2021

Mark Relaford sifted through packets of seeds, studying each label. In one drawer, images of blooming collards shimmered beside bright green peppers and vines heavy with squash. Envelopes for zinnias and deep-veined lettuce sat atop each other. There were large orange carrots and small green peas, striped cucumbers and frizzy heads of fennel. He selected seeds for tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and corn. Just a few feet away, a fleet of baby sunflower plants peeked out hopefully.

Relaford is starting a garden thanks to the seed exchange at the Wilson Library, located just off Howard Avenue in the city’s Hill neighborhood. This spring and summer, the library is piloting the program in an effort to bring awareness to the neighborhood’s network of community gardens and help Hill residents grow their own food. While the initiative is housed at the library, it has gained support from Gather New Haven, which operates farms on Liberty and Ward Streets, and Common Ground High School.

It is the brainchild of Wilson librarian Bill Armstrong, who served as the literacy librarian at the main branch downtown for 24 years before coming to Wilson in 2020. He is also launching a program to cover the neighborhood with sunflowers by the end of the summer.

“It looks like an agricultural project, but it’s actually an art project,” he said. “We wanted to do something that would get the community involved. It’s there to draw attention to the neighborhood, and to urban agriculture … it’s another form of literacy.”

Armstrong was inspired to start the seed exchange after hearing about other libraries piloting it around the country (among them is the Hamden Public Library). He has dubbed it a seed exchange—rather than a seed library—because home and community gardeners are also invited to donate their extra seeds before they expire. Since it started earlier this spring, patrons have picked up seeds for basil, tomatoes, cilantro, peas, green beans, lemon balm, chives, asters, scallions, squash, radishes, and kale among other plants and flowers.

It’s also intended to double as an exchange for information. In addition to the seeds, packets of which are housed in an old card catalog, there are books on gardening in English and Spanish. Flyers list the neighborhood’s community gardens by street and announce the sunflower project. Small planter kits in fiber cups sit nearby. For patrons who aren’t yet ready to grow their own vegetables, the library has assembled take-and-make kits with a brilliant sunflower design.

[Wilson Library is at 303 Washington Ave. and is open Monday-Thursday and Saturday. For hours call (203) 946-2228 or check https://nhfpl.org/branches/wilson-library. Above are excerpts from the article which can be found at https://www.newhavenarts.org/arts-paper/articles/seed-exchange-sunflowers-sprout-from-wilson-library]

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