The idea was planted in Elise Carey's mind to create an exchange where growers could check out a variety of seeds for flowers and vegetables, grow them and return new seeds for others.

"I started working here just over three years ago, and I had heard of seed libraries from various parts of the world and thought, 'Gosh, they're a great idea,'" Elise Carey said of the seed library within the St. Clare Library on the campus of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls.

The seed library is an extension of St. Clare Library, a sponsored ministry of the Franciscan Sisters in Little Falls, a Roman Catholic congregation of religious women of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi, according to the group's website.

"Borrowers have the opportunity to 'check out' flower and vegetable seeds, plant (in spring), grow and produce-and then harvest the seeds (in fall) to return to St. Clare Seed Library's seed exchange for others to repeat the growing cycle," said Jan Roering, convent spokeswoman.

Carey said, "Another goal is for people to just have a go at gardening. Sometimes they think 'Oh, it's too expensive,' or 'I don't have the room,' and so this would provide an opportunity if they just wanted to grow a plant in a big pot. There's not a big investment as far as seeds."

As followers of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi, the Franciscan nuns are "committed to caring for the environment, Mother Earth and all of creation," and the Franciscans strive for "simplicity and sustainability in every aspect of their lives," according to the religious order's website.

"When I started working here, I thought what a perfect place to house a seed library. It's very Franciscan, it matches with Franciscan values, and so it was more the idea came first. But upon getting the position here as library director, I thought this would be ideal," Carey said.

Roering said, "It also encourages food literacy and education, increases knowledge of gardening and horticulture, helps with sustainability and promotes healthy living and eating."

The seeds circulated at lending libraries are usually regionally adapted and heirloom varieties, according to a promotional pamphlet, and the purpose of most seed libraries is to provide an alternative to genetically modified seed, increase biodiversity and build plant resilience.

"We started the seed library, but in the beginning we really didn't have any seeds, so the idea was getting the word out to people, for example, at our community gardens here at the convent and just gardeners. A lot of the lay staff and the sisters off campus had gardens," Carey said.

"I was also given two beans-so the pressure is on to grow them and multiply them-and it's a bean that was found in a cave, so it's pretty rare. They were found in a clay pot in an archeological dig, and it was estimated it was about 1,500 years old where they were digging."

Anyone can contribute seeds to the seed library. The only seeds not accepted are hybrid seeds, which change in composition after the first year's growth.

"We have maybe 12 different varieties of vegetables, but within that we have, for example, 15 varieties of tomatoes, and we have about 13 varieties of beans, 10 varieties of pumpkins/squash," Carey said.

The Franciscan seed library also includes flowers with more than 10 varieties of perennials and more than 15 varieties of annuals, according to Carey.

"Nasturtium is one of our most popular because they are beautiful and edible, and are a good companion plant. ... As for vegetables, I would say sugar snap peas, small peppers and a variety of cherry tomatoes are popular because kids like them, and parents will get them for their kids," Carey said.

"All of these seeds have come from growers, gardeners in Minnesota. We do have some (squash) seeds from the Ojibwe tribe that have been donated. They were given by the Ojibwe to the daughter of the donor. What they said to her was, 'Give these out.'"

To get started with the Little Falls-based seed library and exchange, become a registered patron of the St. Clare Library; select up to five seed packets for free; plant the seeds, grow them and harvest; return dried seeds to the library; and provide information on each variety of the seeds.

"We've also had people move from a more urban area to here, and now they actually have a little bit of land. They come here to the seed library for seeds because with it they also get a little bit of advice, and if I don't know, I pass them onto master gardeners I know," Carey said.

For more information about the seed library and exchange, call 320-632-0634 or email ecarey@fslf.org. Upon arrival at the library, patrons must contact Carey for assistance.

Seed library goals

• Provide a public source of free seeds for all.

• Instill the important principle of public ownership of seed and plant materials.

• Increase knowledge of gardening, horticulture and sustainability.

• Promote healthy living and eating.

• Contribute to developing a regionally adapted seed stock.

• Engage kids and adults in an educational and worthwhile activity.

Source: Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls