Richmond seed lending library celebrates 14 years of seed-sharing

Richmond seed lending library celebrates 14 years of seed-sharing
Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library Co-Founder Rebecca Newburn is raising funds to buy seeds and supplies for the upcoming year.

Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library, a non-profit that provides free seeds through the Richmond Public Library, will celebrate its 14th anniversary on May 1.

At a seed lending library, patrons can” borrow” seeds to plant, let some go to seed, and then return some of the next generation of seeds for others to borrow. 

Richmond Grows focused on offering locally grown seeds through their seed library. But when pandemic lockdowns closed the library, they realized many people were stuck at home and wanted to connect with the earth.

Anticipating a surge in demand for homegrown food, Richmond Grows purchased a large stock of seeds and envelopes. Unable to operate from the library, they created a network of 15 satellite seed libraries across Richmond.

Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library Co-Founder Rebecca Newburn's seed library.

“We knew there was going to be a massive need for people to grow their own seed,” said Richmond Grows co-founder Rebecca Newburn. “People were going to be at home and wanted to get their hands into the earth to calm their nerves."

The seed library provided 20,000 seed packets the first year of the pandemic and 13,000 the following year, but now needs to raise funds to buy seeds and supplies for the upcoming year.

“At the moment, we are completely broke due to that, and we’re running out of envelopes, and it’s not even May,” Newburn said.

Newburn, a middle school science teacher who lives in the North and East, designed the seed library as a model replicated by communities worldwide.

Richmond Grows doesn’t get a lot of seeds returned, but among the few dedicated seed savers, they can give excess seeds to other seed libraries. Arugula, cilantro, lettuce, and beans are some of the more popular seeds, but having more people growing seeds would mean having a greater variety of seeds available.

One seed Newburn is really excited to share is an East Bay heirloom: Great, Great Aunt Rosie’s Italian Pole Bean, which was grown by a local Italian family and is named after the woman who passed it down to her family.

“It is a super delicious pole bean. It has been grown on my block for decades, and it was grown by their family for generations. It is a really fun one we like to share, and it is one of the best-tasting beans,” Newburn said.

The idea for the seed library came when Newburn was taking a permaculture design class at Merritt College. Inspired by concepts like natural building and sustainable agriculture, she began looking for a project of her own.

“I had not really saved seed and really didn’t know anything about seeds,” Newburn said. “But I understood that if we don’t have seeds, being able to feed ourselves would be really difficult.”

Newburn said that while sustainable energy and housing are important, we need to ensure we have the means to sustain ourselves with food. Newburn decided to create a seed library. 

Rebecca Newburn displays some of the seeds available at Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library.

Her teacher at the time, Christopher Shein, founded BASIL, the Bay Area Seed Interchange Library at the Berkeley Ecology Center.

“It was easy for me to say I love what you guys are doing at the Ecology Center. I would really like to do that in Richmond,” Newburn said. “I designed it as a replicable model that any community could open up a seed library, and now there are thousands of them around the world.”

Newburn also runs the Seed Library Network, which held its international conference in 2023 with 2200 participants from 35 countries. 

“I’ve been spending my time getting that organization up and running as a separate entity. I have not had the time to do any fundraising for Richmond Grows,” Newburn said.

To contribute to Richmond Grows’ campaign to raise funds for the library, visit

Read more