Jennifer Sah-Loeung believes gardening has the power to bridge gaps between cultures, generations and communities.
Sah-Loeung remembers a family friend who invited her family over to pick pigweed — a green leaf vegetable unknown to her at the time. "They made a fabulous Korean dish, so then you're learning cultural and generational foods, and it's free."
Sah-Loeung, her daughters and her husband, longtime gardeners from Gresham, were thrilled when they discovered the Sandy Seed Library earlier this summer.
"It's like checking out a book," Sah-Loeung says.
That's no surprise, because Susie Jenkins, the Sandy Public Library clerk, got the idea last April to create the library — a collection of donated seeds from companies, gardeners and farmers.
Community members who take advantage of the seed library are asked to donate some of the harvested seeds back to the library to keep the supply abundant.
The variety of seeds — many from food plants — are available to all Sandy Library cardholders. The program is aimed at teaching people how to save seeds through educational classes, and to promote healthy eating and sustainability.
"I'm really excited about the program, too, because it's educational," Sah-Loeung says. "I was calling (the library) and was like, 'where are the seeds on the radish, I can't find them?' And they're like 'come to the class in August, you'll find out.' "
Though she grew up on a farm and her dad saved cucumber seeds for 45 years, seed saving was still foreign territory to her.
"This is our first year trying. We're learning, reading books on seed saving. It's always nice to learn something new."
Tips on seed saving
Jordis Yost, the Portland metro master gardener program coordinator, advises beginning seed savers to start harvesting seeds from vegetables like peppers, green beans, peas and squash, because they're easier than other food plants like tomatoes.
Food plant seeds are best saved in a variety of ways, depending on the plant, but storing methods are similar.
For beans, Yost says to choose a few pods on each plant that are healthy and mark it with a colored piece of yarn to remember not to pick it. Let it go through its entire life cycle until it dries up. Then open the pod and collect the seeds.
For people who are saving seeds such as tomatoes that grow in a moist environment, scoop out the pulp-covered seeds and place them on a paper towel to go through the fermentation process. When they are dry, rinse the seeds in room-temperature water. The good seeds will sink to the bottom, so Yost says collect those and place them on a paper towel to dry.
To store seeds, Yost says make sure they are completely dry and place them in an envelope inside of a glass jar, and put them in the refrigerator.
Benefits of seed saving
"I think (seed saving) is important because if you find a variety of something you like, you can continue having that variety," Yost says. "If you save seeds from the healthiest plants over and over, then you are selecting healthy plants that will accept your growing conditions."
Sah-Loeung already has about 25 different plants in her garden that she got from the seed library.
"The ultimate goal of this program is sustainability," Jenkins says. "When we think about it, what are the basics of life? We've got to be able to eat, eat healthy food, stay strong and live a long time."
Sah-Loeung agrees. She knows children who are selective eaters and will be more likely to eat the food if they've grown it themselves.
"I think it's really nice to be sustainable, healthy for your kids, and (seed saving) is probably cheaper than having to go out and buy stuff," Sah-Loeung says. "What happens if you have a food shortage? I just think it's good to have some good, solid food that is not genetically modified all the time because we don't know the long-term impacts of things yet."