Chatham News

Check out these seeds! Chatham Food Studies student and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh present the Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library

PITTSBURGH (June 1, 2012) … Pittsburgh residents have greater access to local seeds, urban gardening resources, and Pittsburgh’s gardening history as told through fellow community members thanks to the Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library, a partnership between Chatham University Food Studies graduate student Amanda West and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP). The program aims to provide a public regionally adapted seed bank, gardening and seed saving classes, and a place to hear and share some of Pittsburgh’s vibrant gardening history.

“When seeds are grounded in the same area year after year, they develop stronger resistance to disease and fluctuations in the weather,” says West. “Many modern seeds are bred for things like hard skins for transportation purposes or for longer shelf-life, while heirlooms have been carefully bred throughout the years for things like beauty and flavor.”

Seeds are available at CLP-Lawrenceville (279 Fiske Street, 15201) to “borrow” or “check out” with the hope that library customers will plant the seeds and grow the crops past harvesting stage, letting them go to seed. By returning these new seeds to the Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library, others will benefit and the local seed supply will grow.

Free classes will also be offered to educate the public in basic seed saving with crops such as beans and tomatoes as well other gardening skills. Community members with particular expertise and interest in gardening and seed saving are encouraged to share their knowledge and teach a class. In addition, the story library will feature video interviews with community members on topics ranging from their gardens growing up to how gardening has made an impact on their lives.

“One of the major issues that we study in the School of Sustainability’s Food Studies Program is biodiversity and environmental resilience that’s lost through monoculture agriculture and corporate control over existing seed stocks, says Alice Julier, director of Chatham’s Master of Arts in Food Studies Program. “Programs like Seed Savers, Slow Food Ark of Taste, and the new Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library counter that by working with the variety of seeds that exist in people’s personal supplies, swapping and spreading varieties that have a history of doing well in a specific place.”

“The seeds that are donated to the library come from people who grew them in their gardens the year before — because the plant made it all the way to seed, we know it did well in this geographic climate and soil,” says Julier. “So ‘checking out’ that seed from the library means ‘checking out’ and planting something that has a greater chance of doing well in your backyard garden.  And chances are that these seeds have a story, not only written in their genes, but in their social history, through families, neighborhoods, and communities that planted, grew, and ate the produce that these seeds generated.”

“My hope is that the Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library will be a community resource that eliminates barriers to starting a garden and growing one’s own food as well as a place where people can go to learn about seed saving and urban gardening — all with an eye towards encouraging community and sharing; whether that means sharing their stories about gardens they’ve had or sharing a bumper crop of tomatoes with a neighbor.”

The Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library will be conducting interviews throughout the summer with community members as part of the ever-evolving oral history project about Pittsburgh’s gardening history as told by those who grew up with Pittsburgh gardens. The CLP’s YouTube channel will eventually feature community members’ garden and seed stories. To tell your gardening story, volunteer to share your gardening expertise, or for more information, contact Amanda West at awest2@chatham.edu or 757-635-6320.

About the Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library
The Pittsburgh Seed and Story Library strives to be a source of knowledge and community building with seeds as the catalyst and to preserve local garden stories and knowledge while promoting the growth and expansion of a local, free, and regionally adapted seed base.

About Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: Engaging our Community in Literacy and Learning
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh contributes to the educational attainment, economic development, and cultural enrichment of the region. Through critical services such as early learning programs for children, job search assistance and computer and Internet access, the Library fosters lifelong learning and is a renowned leader among the nation’s libraries. With more than 2 million visitors and 3.5 million items borrowed each year, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is the region’s most visited asset and one of the largest public libraries in Pennsylvania.  Established in 1895 by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie as a public trust to be funded by the community, the Library derives approximately 90 percent of its annual operating budget from public or government sources, including the Allegheny County Regional Asset District (RAD), the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of Pittsburgh.

About the Master of Arts in Food Studies at Chatham University
The Master of Arts in Food Studies is one of the few graduate food studies programs in the United States and the only one to offer both sustainable agriculture and culinary arts and cuisine within a liberal arts environment. The Master of Arts in Food Studies at Chatham takes a holistic approach to food systems, from agriculture and food production to cuisines and consumption, providing intellectual and practical experience from field to table. As part of Chatham’s new School of Sustainability and the Environment, the program emphasizes the global and the local in economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable food and agriculture.