Food Systems and Seed Libraries

I became interested in food systems when I began shopping for food on my own as an undergrad. Instead of opening up my family refrigerator to find shelves well-stocked with options, I would find my small dorm fridge empty because I rarely had time to grocery shop. I was lucky to have attended a college with an amazing dining hall, but when I wanted to cook for my friends while we hunkered down to study, I was apprehensive about grocery shopping on my own. On my trips home over winter and summer breaks, I started accompanying my mother grocery shopping so I could learn how to shop for fresh meat and produce. Besides being spoiled with an abundant fridge, I should mention how my parents tended a garden through the spring and summer months at my house so buying vegetables was only to supplement my family’s personal supply. During the times I spent shopping with my mother, the realization that most of the food in stores went on journeys across state and country borders to get to the check-out counter finally occurred. Having grown up in a house where food was produced only thirty feet from my front door and where meat came from the local butcher, I had been a privileged member of a transparent food system maintained by both of my parents that affected many parts of my life: at school I would bring my teachers baskets of excess zucchini, the vegetable that always flourished a bit too much; neighbors with fruit trees would trade my family their fruit for our vegetables; and our grape vine was always my first stop for snacking before going for a walk on the irrigation ditch bank. We even had guinea hens, ducks, geese, and chickens to provide eggs for us most of the year.

As I’ve grown older and gone from an inexperienced to a skilled food shopper, I try to stay aware of food systems. Enrolling in this graduate seminar and embarking on a collaborative project with my peers regarding how historians can engage with topics concerning New Mexican food can only increase this awareness. A topic that I believe would be interesting to formulate questions about and might lead to some interesting research, is the recently established Albuquerque Bernalillo County (ABC) Seed Library ( I stumbled upon the library when I was scrolling through the ABC home page and found the information that was available on the ABC Seed Library over view page very interesting. The mission, “to share and preserve climate appropriate varieties of seeds,” struck me as an attempt to link people in the ABC area with their local food system. The pages provided by the library show ways in which library patrons can check-out seeds, donate seeds, become better gardeners, and even find a community of like-minded book readers who want to discuss subjects like gardening, farming, or agriculture. There are numerous pdfs available for download on growing plants in New Mexico, watering recommendations in drought conditions, and many more subject guides. Links to other seed libraries invite patrons to delve deeper into other New Mexican organizations and even to the Seed Library Social Network.

Taking a look at the Social Network, I found an astonishing amount of seed libraries exist around the world. The ABC Seed Library was created in 2014 while other libraries in comparison have existed for decades. Since I have no background in this kind of establishment, I would like to do more research about seed libraries in conjunction with food systems. The Seed Library Social Network posits that, “the purpose of most seed libraries is to provide an alternative to genetically modified seeds, increase biodiversity and plant resilience, and reconnect local people with their food systems” ( Some questions spring to my mind for research: Where did the first seed libraries emerge in North America? Have North American gardeners and farmers used seed libraries in their food production? Is there a history of seed libraries in the Southwest? Does food system information filter through the seed library events and books at the local ABC Seed Library? My questions are a blend of grand scale history to micro-scale history, which comes from my genuine ignorance concerning the subject of seed libraries. Hopefully this is a first step towards my own research and maybe even the collaborative project we are planning in the seminar.


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Kylie Manning

Dancer, avid reader, poet, and lover of limes.

2 thoughts on “Food Systems and Seed Libraries”

  1. Can you tell me something about the history of seed saving and seed sharing, here and elsewhere? Cultural dimension? Economic dynamics? Technologies?


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