The first sign of anything unusual in an otherwise run-of-the-mill Sawyer library conference room is a beautiful wooden cabinet with many small drawers. Atop the cabinet sit three unassuming boxes, some envelopes, and a stamp. But what makes this little cabinet truly special is that each envelope holds a few seeds, and that each box and drawer serves to sort them. This growing collection is what Nadine Nance, the Head of Access Services at Sawyer, plans to turn into the Williams College Seed Library, to accompany the preexisting community garden plots on campus. By starting this seed library, Williams will join a growing movement of seed libraries across the globe.
A Seed Library is a collection of seeds that a community can withdraw from to plant. If and when the plants flower and go to seed, the seeds can be collected and perhaps deposited back into the Seed Library to continue the cycle of community sharing and planting.
“I think it’s something on campus that everyone can rally around,” Nadine says. A few of the seed packets in the cabinet were donated by local nurseries, a good way to jumpstart the collection with seeds that are organic and not cross pollinated. Some packets donated by community members contain Indigo Corn kernels originating from SoulFire Farm, from a line shepherded by the Stockbridge-Munsee community. And, already, many of the packets were from Williams community members’ gardens: pole beans and magnolia seeds in adorable packets, countless marigold seeds in recycled bill envelopes.
The Seed Library will open to the community just after the end of Spring Break. While Nadine hopes that students will grow plants in pots in their rooms—perhaps herbs in a yogurt container, flowers adorning a dorm window—she encourages students to remember that they can also apply to have a community garden plot. She hopes that, especially amidst the exam stress of the spring, students might find a reprieve in gardening. “[Students] are all so much in their heads so much of the time. It’s important to dig down in the dirt—it’s kind of a zen experience. You don’t have to overextend your brain, you can just do it. And then you come back and you start to reap the benefits. I think it’s a good mental health exercise, for all of us, to connect with the Earth and with the community.” She hopes that groups of students might withdraw from the seed library and plant, as a group, in one of the plots together.
Zilkha Center Gardening interns Gabriela Quizphi ‘26 and Martha Carlson ‘25 have been active in supporting the development of the seed library. Nadine showed me the boxes on the top of the cabinet, where Gabriela and Martha have been hard at work sorting the packets into the blank envelopes and stamping them with a custom label stamp. Martha said, of her experience so far: “Sorting things is really relaxing for me, and since I usually need to look up some growing information about specific plants, it’s also fun to learn a bit about the seeds that people from the community have donated.”
Hopefully, the Seed Library will serve many more Williams community members with similar, meaningful interactions with nature and provide a way to give back to the community. Nadine believes strongly that a connection to nature opens the mind in a unique way. When asked if she had a favorite seed or plant, she shared,“I grew up in South Florida. When I was a kid we had these palm pods, from palm trees. They would dry out and we would shake them like a maraca. But, at one point, my mother said to me, those are seeds in there; if you open it up you can plant those. It was one of those magical things, realizing that this musical instrument also contains the potential for life. You’re just seeing something in one light and you realize—there’s so much more there.”
Isabella Hayden ’26 is a 22-23 academic year Communications intern with the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives at Williams College.