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MECHANICSBURG — Libraries aren’t traditionally associated with Earth Day, but the Joseph T. Simpson Public Library’s new seed-gardening initiative isn’t a traditional library program.

The Simpson Seed Library — which will allow residents to “borrow” seeds and replace them with new ones at the end of the year — launches Saturday, April 26, as part of the Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival.

To access the seed library, residents need only have a Cumberland County library card with their current address, or a card and proof of their current address, librarian Rebecca Swanger said.

Residents will then be able to select their choice from about 2,000 vegetable, herb and flower seeds available.

Seed libraries are a nationwide trend, but the idea came to the Midstate through two local residents. First, Cumberland County Commission for Women board member Tina Dorsey convinced the commission to propose a seed library after reading about their success elsewhere.

“I’m a backyard garden hobbyist, and (I liked) the idea of being able to share seeds,” she said. “If there are heirloom varieties that folks in this areas are growing, I would love to grow them myself.”

The commission approached the Cumberland County library system about a location to pilot the program, and that’s where Swanger came in.

“I really loved the idea, so I was really aggressive with it,” she said. “Personally, I’m an environmentalist, so I thought it was a great idea. I just thought it was a great community resource, and that’s what libraries are all about.”

The library is intended to be self-sustaining through return donations of new seeds after the plants grow, she said.

“There are no late fees or anything like that, but when you check out seeds, our hope is that you collect some of them and return them to the library,” she said.

Dorsey stressed that the program will work only if borrowers donate seeds in return. In particular, they would prefer non-hybrid, heirloom seeds native to the Midstate, which provide a greater variety than those available from large seed companies, she said.

For those who do not know how to or are unable to garner seeds from their plant, they can purchase a pack of seeds to return to the library in exchange for the seeds they borrowed, Swanger said.

The commission donated $300 to help with purchasing the initial seed library, and corporate donations filled out the starting selection, she said.

The library also will host a series of gardening workshops in coming months in consultation with Penn State Extension master gardeners, she said. The next workshop will focus on growing plants from seeds will be from 1-2 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. May 21, she said. While the workshop is free, participants are asked to call or email the library ahead of time to reserve a spot, she said.

Based on the frequency with which gardening books are checked out from the library, Swanger knows it’s a community interest, she said. The seed library and gardening workshops adhere to the Simpson Library’s mission to be a “community center for learning and leisure,” she said.

“I love the idea of libraries reaching out to be more of community meeting places, where people can get together to learn and relax together,” she said. While libraries still emphasize academic learning, they have broadened their focus to include other services that communities find helpful, she said.

Attend this year’s Earth Day Festival

The seed library launches Saturday, April 26 during Mechanicsburg’s sixth annual Earth Day Festival, a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. event that will also feature live music, food, vendors and children’s games.

Another part of this year’s festival will be Mechanicsburg’s participation in the Great Cloth Diaper Change, a worldwide attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most cloth diapers changed at one time.

“Cloth diapers are environmentally friendly because they’re washable, and you can use them over and over again,” said event organizer Susanna Reppert-Brill.

There also will be a silent auction of five rain barrels painted by local artists, Reppert-Brill said. Educational presentations will include information from the Cumberland County master gardeners about native pollinators, a display on solar energy, and a workshop to create banners raising awareness about the Yellow Breeches Creek Watershed.

The Earth Day Festival is organized by the Downtown Mechanicsburg Partnership. More information is available at