Shelter Island is starting a seed-lending library.
Shelter Island is starting a seed-lending library.

Have you ever stared down a row of seed packets on a store’s shelves, overwhelmed with the choices but determined to try to grow as many varieties of plants as possible?

Shelter Islanders now have a chance to overcome that dilemma. The Shelter Island Public Library has teamed up with the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm to create a ‘seed library,’ where anyone with a Shelter Island library card can check out a variety of vegetable, flower and herb seeds.

If possible, gardeners are being asked to save the seeds from the plants to bring back to the library at the end of the season, but if they don’t, there’s no need to worry.

“There are no overdue fines. It’s very low-tech,” said Adult Services Librarian Jocelyn Ozolins, who will be overseeing the distribution of the seeds at the Shelter Island Public Library.

“It’s an agricultural community. It’s about building a network of people,” she said. “The idea is that you borrow them, and we’re not saying people have to return them right away unless they can save the seeds.

Ms. Ozolins had been mulling over the idea of a seed library when Sylvester Manor’s vegetable growers, Maggie Higby and Kurt Ericksen, approached her with the proposal.

“They said, ‘hey do you want to do a seed library?’ It was a coincidence that the day before, the library director and I had said ‘wouldn’t a seed library be a good idea?,'” said Ms. Ozolins.

Seed lending libraries aren’t unheard of, but the Shelter Island one would be the first on Eastern Long Island.

Sylvester Manor Executive Director Jo-Ann Robotti said the vegetable growers have chosen heritage seeds that are known to grow well locally, beginning with about 40 varieties this year.

The seeds range from flowers such as asters, cosmos and zinnias to vegetables including peppers, tomatoes, carrots, beets, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, eggplant, peas, swiss chard and lettuces.

The library held an introduction to the seed library and the basics of saving seeds on Friday night, and plans to hold more events about gardening and seed saving throughout the year.

“We’re starting small-ish with more easy-to-grow things, then we’ll see how people respond and get more,” said Ms. Ozolins. “We will have seeds and envelopes for people to return them, and we eventually want to have programming around it, maybe seed swaps. The idea is to grow what’s viable locally and to keep the tradition of sharing growing.”


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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