Once upon a time,
there was an unhappy women driving home from work. Her name was Hilda. It was late and dark in the evening. Her feet were freezing and the heater in her rusty car didn’t work. She worked long hours and her boss was a mean, demanding man who always told her that he wanted ‘his pound of flesh’ when he wanted her to work late with no overtime pay.
She felt hopeless because she didn’t know how to change her circumstances. She was mentally and physically exhausted and there was not much room in her heart left for extra care.
She didn’t earn very much and could’t afford to fill a basket let alone a trolley when she did her weekly grocery shopping.
One day, she was weeping on the couch and drinking cheap red box wine. Her elderly tortoise-shell cat ,she rescued 8 years ago, sat on her lap and tried to comfort her in his own way by purring and pressing his paws against her in a kneading fashion. He was soft and calm in times like these. Hilda felt grateful for his company and concern.
She heard a knock at the door.
She was too tired for anything and ignored the knocking. The visitor knocked again. This time, the knocking was louder and sounded more determined. She got up and opened the door, and there was a familiar face. It was the neighbour she bumped into occasionally in the road, and also at the local grocery store. Her name from Saffron.
Saffron was holding a big box under her arm and asked if she could come in. Hilda, embarrassed that she was in her pajamas with slippers that were falling apart and a messy house, opened the door for Hilda to come in.
Saffron noticed that Hilda had been crying and drinking alone but decided not to ask about it. Instead, she proudly announced to Hilda that she had opened a seed library. Hilda looked confused.
Saffron enthusiastically explained that a seed library works just like a book library.
You can choose what seeds to borrow, just like you would choose a book that sparks your interest at the library. You borrow the seeds and the library makes a record of what seeds they are. Once the seeds are withdrawn, the lender goes home or to a community garden, to grow the seeds. Once the vegetables or flowers have grown, some are harvested for personal use and some vegetables are left to grow longer. These vegetables that grow longer eventually make flowers and then seeds. The seeds are then collected and dried. The dried seeds are split into two. A small portion goes back to the seed library and the rest can be kept to grow food during the next growing season.
This was all very new to Hilda and without realising it, she started shaking her head. She didn’t have a big garden which was full of overgrown weeds and uncut grass anyway. She explained to Saffron that she didn’t know about gardening and that she didn’t have any space.
Saffron placed the box on the coffee table and opened it.
Inside were lots of small brown envelopes with hand written labels and inside those envelopes were various seeds. Saffron put on her pink glasses that were hanging around her neck and flipped through the little brown envelopes. She picked three out after squinting her eyes at some of the labels.
“I tell you what, Hilda!” she said. “Here are some spinach seeds, they grow in almost anything. I see you have a few pots lying around your stoep with dead plants in them. Try growing some tomatoes and peppers in them. They do well in pots.”
Hilda responded with “Um…” but Saffron interrupted her and said, “Just try it Hilda, it will be good for you. Imagine! If you can grow these easy vegetables, you will never have to buy them again. Gardening is good for the soul!” She wanted to say that it looked like Hilda could do with some therapy and get off the couch but she decided not to. That would be unkind and would do no help in this situation.
Hilda shrugged and accepted the seeds.
Saffron made a few notes in her scrappy book filled with dog ears and coffee stains and suddenly declared that she was late and had to hurry home.
She shut her box abruptly with a loud slam and put it back under her arm. Saffron gave Hilda a firm one armed hug. Hilda almost fell over but managed to regain her balance.
Saffron was out of the door in less than two seconds and Hilda went to the threshold to call “Bye” to Saffron. “Thank you”, she yelled just before Saffron slammed her car door, started the ignition and sped off.
Hilda imagined Saffron on a broom stick with a pointy black hat and then chuckled to herself. Maybe she had too much wine. She caught her reflection in the picture frame on the wall and noticed her teeth were red. How embarrassing, she thought and then went to pour another glass of wine.
A month went by and Hilda left the seeds on the coffee table.
She saw them everyday. About 2 months later, while Hilda was cleaning the house on a sunny Saturday morning, she looked at the seeds which were still lying on the coffee table. She felt a little irritated that they were still there and decided to plant the seeds.
Two weeks later, after locking the front door and rushing to the car, she noticed small seedlings in the ground. She took a few steps back to examine them.
A flicker of excitement lit up in her heart and she felt maternal over the tiny two leaved plants that had poked up through the ground. Some still had seed shells attached to them. It was like a new birth.
She stared at the seedlings in wonder for about a minute and then realised once again that she was late for work. She thought about her new plants during the day and couldn’t wait to get home to see if they grew some more while she was working at the office.
Hilda looked after her new plants and sent Saffron pictures to show her progress.
Saffron replied with messages of encouragement which were cluttered with emoticons.
With Saffron’s guidance, Hilda left some plants to seed and harvested them. She returned a portion back to Saffron’s seed library and kept the rest for herself.
Hilda found therapy in her gardening. The care and love she put into it was meditative and it gave her a sense of peace. She realised how much more delicious her vegetables were than those that were sold at the grocery store.
Two years later, Hilda had a thriving vegetable patch. She started vertical gardening and sold strawberries at the local farmers market. Her strawberries were so popular that she started hosting workshops on growing strawberries in urban spaces. She no longer had to work in a boring and uncomfortable office for a stressful boss.
Hilda was happier
and felt like she was doing her part for the environment by recycling her kitchen scraps into compost and growing her own food.
If you would like to borrow some seeds, contact us. We would love to share them with you. We also welcome heirloom seed contributions too.
For more information about why we wrote this story, click here to read our previous blog about seed biodiversity and here about home food gardening. I recommend watching the movie SEED The Untold Story by Collective Eye Films.