Wells College has offered a free Seed Exchange program since 2015. The impetus for the creation of this program was a musing by a college librarian at the time, who wondered if a no longer used card catalog might be used to offer seed packets to the campus community. She enlisted the support of the director of the Center for Sustainability and the Environment to reach out to seed companies and solicit free seed. Seed companies take back unsold seed from retailers from the prior growing season – they cannot resell seed, but can donate it with the disclaimer that they offer it “as is” and cannot guarantee the same germination rates. That first year, we received several hundred packets containing different varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds from six seed companies. We organized the seed into that repurposed card catalog and located it on the 2nd floor of the Long Library, next to the circulation desk, where it was available to the public during library hours. The Library also offered several books on gardening from their holdings for checkout. We announced the availability of the Seed Exchange to the campus and area community – the exchange lasted only a few weeks before the inventory was completely liquidated.
The Wells College Seed Exchange has grown substantially each year. We have benefited from the assistance of a series of Seed Exchange Interns, who receive academic credit for taking on the responsibility to contact potential seed company donors and organizing seed packet donations once received. In Fall 2020, in preparation for the Spring 2021 Seed Exchange season, intern Kaya Perry solicited more than 50 seed companies, receiving donations from over a dozen of them, enabling the 2021 Wells College Seed Exchange to open with a whopping 6,000 packets of seed!
We had to modify our operation during the COVID pandemic, transitioning to an online inventory/order fulfillment mechanism when the campus closed mid-semester in Spring 2020. Even though the campus re-opened for in-person classes in Fall 2020, Library hours were curtailed and public access was limited, so our Wells College Seed Exchange stayed “virtual” for the 2021 Seed Exchange season, which opened February 1st and lasted until mid-May. More than 150 patrons accessed our virtual Seed Exchange this year, with local area patrons coming in person to pick up their orders. But since we were willing to mail orders out, we fulfilled requests from gardeners and growers all around the CNY region, and even supported requests from people out of state!
While we know some past local patrons of our exchange liked to be able to come to the Library and physically browse through the Seed Exchange holdings, this virtual inventory view and order fulfillment process gave us, for the first time, a better handle on exactly who was using this resource and provided us with invaluable follow-up contact information. That Seed Exchange order information was used to help us identify a list of potential local area gardeners to interview for this research project.