CEDAR FALLS — Here are two tips for Cedar Valley gardeners who haven’t yet planted this spring — and, given the weather, that’s probably many of you.
The first: You can get free seeds at the public library.
In Cedar Falls, the Seed Library — located in the old card catalog section of the Cedar Falls Public Library — has been operating since 2014. Gardeners can check out five packets of all kinds of seeds, ranging from native plants to vegetables, herbs and flowers, for free.
The second tip: This season, patrons can take home six seed packets instead of five — if they pledge to donate their extra produce at the end of the season to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank.
The sixth free seed packet is part of a new partnership with University of Northern Iowa students in the Honors Program, and it’s called Give a Row. Its purpose is to generate fresh produce for those in need, providing a healthier option from the food bank.
Joseph Tibbs, a UNI sophomore biochemistry and physics double major, said his UNI honors group wanted to address the problem of food insecurity through healthy means. He found the Seed Library in Cedar Falls and spoke with Seed Librarian Dan Meier.
“When Dan told me there were over 700 people registered (through the library), we thought, ‘Why not crowd source?’” Tibbs said. “They already enjoy growing things in their garden. If they would be willing to plant an extra row for the Food Bank, that would be a great way to give back.”
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank has a long-term goal of getting more fresh produce to its clients, rather than just nonperishable goods, said executive director Barb Prather. Last year, it was able to distribute 2.2 million meals using fresh or perishable produce — more than double the amount five years ago, but still just around 35 percent of their total food.
“I just think that’s amazing, because most of the time our clients can’t afford that type of product,” she said of Give a Row. “And since we rely so much on community donation, when somebody wants to take on a project like this, it really helps us.”
Besides marketing the extra seed packet through the library, his group also is offering free gardening seminars in Waterloo taught by master gardeners.
“We are getting people who didn’t think they could garden the tools to do it,” said Anya Shorey, a UNI sophomore music and psychology double major.
Give a Row’s goal is ultimately self-sufficiency, said UNI sophomore Mohammed Rawwas, a double major in computer science and management information systems.
“The idea was to make gardening accessible,” said Tibbs. “The two programs are addressing the same issue.”
Meier, the seed librarian, said around 10 people had so far signed the Give a Row pledge, but noted he expected more sign-ups as the weather warms. And he said he plans to take up the program going forward, too.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Meier said. “Even if this is just a one-year thing with the Honors Program, I’m planning on working with the food bank every year on our end.”