Visitors to the Española Public Library may find a surprise in the drawers of a repurposed vintage card catalog: packets of non-genetically engineered seeds. Library members can check out seeds, just like any other library materials. They plant them, and at the end of the season they are encouraged — but not required — to donate harvested seeds.
The vision for the Healing Foods Oasis Seed Library began eight years ago from community discussions led by the Environmental Health and Justice Program of Tewa Women United. (Tewa Women United, or TWU, is a multicultural, multiracial organization founded and led by Native women.) At that time, participants were exchanging their work in farmers’ fields for knowledge and donations of heirloom and traditional seeds. In 2016, TWU broke ground on the Española Healing Foods Oasis, a food garden with perennial herbs, seasonal food and fruit trees.
TWU’s program partnered with the Española Public Library and Emily Arrasim, a local Tesuque youth farmer who had received a fellowship to support youth-led agricultural endeavors in traditional farming and seed protection work. Through twelve workshops, middle school and high school Seed Library Youth Leaders — many of whom were from local farming families — expanded their knowledge by helping design and implement the seed library. They gathered wild seeds and participated in a cultural exchange with Guatemalan farmers that was designed to honor traditional trade routes and to learn about and receive amaranth seeds. (Certain species of amaranth are cultivated as grain and greens plants.) Community members and farmers have also donated seeds, sometimes growing extra to harvest seeds for the library.
In March 2020, the seed library celebrated its grand opening. It sits across the parking lot from the community garden, which serves as an outdoor classroom. Beata Tsosie-Peña, the TWU environmental justice coordinator, says, “We don’t use the word ‘bank’ because that’s the system we’re trying to move away from.” The seed library is part of a larger vision of food and seed sovereignty. Though the coronavirus pandemic has halted the timeline of some aspects and development of this project, the project holds plans for expansion through its community education, seed-saving gatherings and harvest celebrations. “COVID-19 has reminded us we won’t always have access to the things we expect, but we do have the ability to grow our own food. I encourage people to grow as much as you can this season and save your seeds.”
Meg Peralta-Silva was born in Baltimore and lived in many states and countries before moving to New Mexico three years ago. She has worked as a youth advocate, creative expression instructor, program director and farm intern. She enjoys learning from others’ perspectives and challenging her own biases.