Nestled inside an old card catalog cabinet on the main floor of the Huntington Beach Central Library lies a Garden of Eden just waiting to be planted after a long pandemic closure, the seed library is back.
Closed in spring of 2020, the special collection was fully reopened to the public in mid-March and has since seen a surge in seed seekers, as residents sheltering in place this past year have looked to enrich their living environments.
People love it. They get so excited to come in and see what we have now, said library services clerk Cynthia Flores. With spring and planting season, Ive seen all the excitement as kids come in and pick out seeds. Teachers are teaching kids about the cycle of the seed.
Flores estimates that since the library began offering to hold seeds for visitors at the front desk in January, more than 650 seed packets have made their way to area gardens a pace well beyond the 1,400 packets checked out in a typical year.
Master Gardener and seed librarian Sheryl Kellner sorts out donations to the seed library at Huntington Beach Central Library on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Hoping the trend will continue, workers may place a seasonal growing chart or gardening tips next to the seed cabinet to inspire visitors picks. Nearby book displays offer titles on related topics to help bring new readers to the librarys book collection.
Cultivating a sense of sustainability and a connection to where food comes from is a primary objective of the seed library, first brought to the Talbert Avenue branch in May 2016 through a partnership with Arizona nonprofit Garden Pool, which also builds sustainable, self-sufficient food systems for areas in need.
A key player in that relationship is Huntington Beach resident and master gardener Sheryl Kellner, a longtime plant and garden lover who became the branchs official seed librarian and now oversees an inventory of more than 50 varieties of roots, greens herbs, fruits and flowers.
With daughter Michaela Whitney assisting, Kellner restocks drawers and reaches out to see if area seed companies might have extra supplies they could lend to the cause.
A seed library at Huntington Beach Central Library allows card holders to check out four seed packets monthly. The idea is to help locals, including kids and schools with community gardens, learn more about food and sustainability.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Now, at any given time, we could have 15 different varieties of tomatoes, instead of one or two, she said, describing how officials recently agreed to include the seed library as a line item in the city budget. Were taking it to a whole different level and getting more attention.
The seed library was forced to close its drawer when Huntington Beach libraries were shuttered at the onset of the pandemic. Its closure was felt, since about that same time people sheltered in place with little to do naturally turned to at-home pursuits, like baking and gardening, to pass the time.
When Central Library began to bring some of its services back online last year, Kellner and Whitney began finding ways of putting seeds into the hands of those who made requests online even if it meant delivering packets directly to peoples homes.
We dropped off 20 or 30 small bundles as something to offer people, said the 34-year-old Whitney, who assembles handwritten cards for each seed packet. But with the library closed, there wasnt anything we could do but hang on to our stock and wait for it to reopen.
Since the seed library fully reopened in March, members of the public can check out up to four envelopes per month on their regular library cards. Many seed packets contain information on an individual variety, along with instructions on watering, sun and spacing.
Master Gardener and seed librarian Sheryl Kellner, left, her daughter, Michaela Whitney, center, and library clerk Cynthia Flores, right, each have a role in managing the seed library at Huntington Beach Central Library.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Unlike books, users are not required to return the seed materials they check out.
Still, Kellner said, many often clean up and return the seeds from what they grow or bring in entirely new varieties. A seed depository built into the cabinet collects donations that may help diversify the librarys inventory of pits, pips and stones.
The drop-offs are a good sign home gardening is continuing to thrive, even as coronavirus infections subside for the first time in more than a year.
I think the pandemic has given a lot of people a different perspective, Kellner said. Everybodys working in their backyards and finding their own oases. People have taken on a new appreciation of what home is, and gardening has taken off.
Thats what I want, the 61-year-old plant enthusiast continued. I want people to grow.
Huntington Beach Central Library is located at 7111 Talbert Ave. For information, call (714) 842-4481.
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