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WVU geographer establishes Morgantown Seed Preservation Library

A West Virginia University heirloom seed expert is working to increase access to Appalachia’s heirloom seeds through a new seed preservation library. 

Mehmet Oztan
Mehmet Oztan

Heirloom seeds are seeds grown by home gardeners and farmers prior to 1940s, before industrial agriculture became the more prominent model. They rely on isolation of plant varieties and have mostly stable genetics, allowing their seeds to be saved and stewarded year after year.  

Mehmet Oztan, a service assistant professor of geography, has created the Morgantown Seed Preservation Library in conjunction with the Morgantown Public Library, WVU Libraries and WVU Food Justice Lab. The seed library will be housed in the Morgantown Public Library beginning Friday, April 12.

“The seed preservation library will focus on documenting the stories of the regional seeds and their stewards,” Oztan said. “Many of these seeds have been stewarded by home gardeners, families and small farmers across multiple human generations, and they help us reflect on and understand the regional practices and traditions.”

The seed library will make Appalachian heirloom seeds available to the greater Morgantown community as part of its mission to preserve regional agrobiodiversity, culinary and farming traditions. In the coming years, Morgantown Public Library patrons will be able to check out Appalachian seeds in the same way they check out books, movies, music and other resources. Citizens will also have an opportunity to donate seeds to the library in the future.

The library’s seed collection will be curated by Oztan.

“It is an education-based seed preservation center as opposed to a seed-lending library with minimal community involvement,” Oztan said. “As a result, the educational mission of the seed preservation library will help develop a cohort of community seed-savers, which will make the library self-sustainable in the long run.”

The library will also supply books and organize workshops in collaboration with community partners to assist patrons in learning how to save seeds.

The opening ceremony of the Morgantown Seed Preservation Library will be celebrated on April 12 in conjunction with Food Justice Day and a series of events at WVU’s Downtown Campus Library and the Morgantown Public Library.

A panel session on seed sovereignty and seed/food justice will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. in the Downtown Campus Library’s Milano Reading Room.

The session will open with a welcome speech from Barbara Hengemihle, associate university librarian. Panelists include Sarah Cranstoun Palfrey, director of the Morgantown Public Library; Jonathan Hall, assistant professor of geography at WVU; Joshua Lohnes , food policy director at the WVU Food Justice Lab; and Mike Costello, chef, farmer and co-owner at Lost Creek Farm. The panel will be moderated by Oztan.

The panel session will be followed by a seed swap from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Morgantown Public Library. The swap will be hosted by Ira Wallace, a renowned seed steward and educator; Costello; and Lewis Jett , commercial horticulture specialist with WVU Extension Service.

After the seed swap, Wallace will give a keynote lecture on her involvement with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a 75-acre egalitarian farm in Louisa, Virginia, and her journey with heirloom seeds at 6 p.m.

The talk will be the first in the series, “Seedy Talks.” The series is an educational and community-oriented speaker series organized by Oztan in collaboration with the Morgantown Public Library as part of the new Seed Preservation Library. Topics covered will include seed sovereignty, seed justice, seed documentation, sustainable farming practices, artisan food production and the culinary, historical and cultural significance of heirloom seeds.

“Learning how to save seeds will be an important educational experience for the citizens of West Virginia,” Oztan said. “It also will help the community members reflect on the cultural diversity involved with seeds.”