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Idea for seed library in Carroll County planted by McDaniel College students, professor

A group of local students and their professor envision a new seed library for Carroll County.

To get started, McDaniel College environmental studies students and professor Elly Engle have paired up with the University of Maryland Extension’s Carroll County Master Gardeners program and The Keep & Till, a Carroll-based faith and farming community.

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Seed libraries are a way for gardeners to get free seeds near planting time and hopefully give back seeds from the results for their harvest for others.

A series of roundtable discussions will be held to get public input on the project as it develops. The first one took place Sunday. Roundtables will take place on two more dates: Thursday, Feb. 27 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Carroll County Public Library Westminster branch and Tuesday, March 3 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Carroll County Extension office.

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Refreshments and snacks will be provided, and participants are welcome to bring children. Those who cannot be at the roundtables in person are welcome to RSVP at tinyurl.com/seedlibrsvp to get updates on the project.

The project began when Elly Engle, assistant professor of environmental studies, decided she wanted to make a proposal for the college’s Nora Roberts Foundation Faculty Award for Community Engagement.

“I wanted to use the opportunity to build the relationships between McDaniel and the agricultural community from Carroll County," she said. “So I met with Pastor Sam Chamelin from The Keep & Till congregation, and he said if you had $1,000 to spend on a project that could bring all sorts of different people together, what would it be?”

They received the award, and the project grew from there in a class called “Changing Food Systems” in the fall semester of 2019. The course investigates how people individually and collectively enact social change through the lens of food.

The class researched other seed libraries that had failed and had succeeded in other ares. Students split into groups to study outreach, logistics, education and gardening.

Sarah Cowan, a junior and an undergraduate research assistant, finalized a proposal over the college’s January term based on her peers’ research and input from the Master Gardeners and The Keep & Till.

The library could be “a bridge between traditional historical agriculture and new ways of thinking about food,” Engle said. In many examples a seed library is about not only preserving genetic diversity, but also preserving and celebrating the stories that are behind those seeds.

One thing they hope to talk more about at the roundtables is the physical location for the library. If it were housed on the McDaniel campus, the college would be paying the power bill and it would be easier to have students volunteer there. But the campus can also be tougher to access for outside members of the community.

The students have run through other ideas, such as a mobile library housed in a vehicle, but Cowan said they really want input.

Cowan hopes the roundtables will give more insight into what others want and expect from a seed library. “When people asked me what it is, I’m like, ‘Well, really, you just come rent seeds. But if you have other ideas of what you want, come tell us what you want, because that’s the whole point.’ I want it to be a lot of other people’s ideas, just with our ideas intermingled."

Engle added, “My hope is, through these conversations, we can figure out how to make this an actual Carroll County project.”

In her past experiences with various higher education institutions, Engle said she finds that “colleges are really good at making a thing and then just giving it to the community and saying, ‘Here, isn’t this great, don’t you love it?’ But I think there’s so much more to be gained if you collaborate from early in the process and find out what people want, or don’t want, or what concerns they have or don’t have.”

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The roundtables aren’t just for experienced gardeners and agriculture professionals. The students and Engle want to hear what resources people need to get started.

“A person can not have gardened even once in their life, not even a patio tomato. And this could maybe be a way for them to become more involved if they want to learn more,” Engle said.

Attendees will be given an information sheet and a packet of heirloom seeds.

To RSVP online or learn more information, go to tinyurl.com/seedlibrsvp or contact Engle at eengle@mcdaniel.edu or 410-857-2492.

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