Seed saving is the most secure way to ensure sustainable food systems and healthful food access. By adapting this habit of conservation we are not only fostering biodiversity, but the notion of multiculturalism as well. Saving and planting seeds allows us to gather and conserve what we share culturally: food. Food access is an extensive issue that we currently face. Do we know where our food comes from? Do low-income families have the resources to obtain healthy food? The Seed Library can become a beacon in addressing these issues, while considerably weeding out existing problems. The seed library has similar dynamics to other seed libraries, such as The Hudson Valley and Monticello, where you apply for a card, check out seeds and plant away.
The Heirloom Seeds
Similar to family heirlooms, heirloom seeds have been passed down from generation to generation. How did we get the seeds? Our initial launch of the Seed Library contained many of the seeds grown in the Hull-House farm from plants and flowers that are native and/or adaptable in the Chicago region like, tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, marigolds, basil, and echinacea. The museum obtained gomphrena, gomphacarpus, carnival squash, and habanero peppers from local farmers at farmers' markets. The land that once housed the Hull-House farm is now managed by the UIC Biology department to enhance student learning with hands on (non-farm) related experience. The Seed Library currently acquires seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange, a 501c(3) member supported non-profit organization. Through collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, the Seed Savers Exchange works to conserve and promote cultural crop diversity.
As a Jane Addams' Hull-House Seed Library, we aim to not only provide seeds, but a historical background of each plant. By documenting the seeds journey from the original farmer to a seed borrower to the plot of dirt, there is an appreciation and comprehension of what heirloom signifies. We ask that each seed borrower document their process from planting to fruition through pictures or even in an urban farming diary.
Is there an alternative to purchasing food from big name grocery stores that conserves the unique spirit of neighborhoods, conserves the remaining diversity of our planet's seed stock, yet conforms to modern urban living? The mission of the Hull-House Heirloom Seed Library emulates Jane Addams' belief that healthy food access would lead to more peaceful communities. Not only will the Seed Library promote a healthier democracy, but a more sustainable world.
The Seed Library asserts the connection between social, environmental and economic systems within the Chicago community. By providing free and regionally adapted seeds to any seed library card holder, there is an opportunity for people to grow their own heirloom vegetables and to know where their food comes from. The library provides as a network as well, allowing urban farmers and gardeners to share their interest in sustaining a diverse bio-culture and educate novice farmers about the dangers of a monoculture. Hull-House Heirloom Seed Library seeks to confront food related issues and works to build a community through food.
* All views expressed are those of the guests and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum or the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Architecture and the Arts.