The Maricopa Native Seed Library features free food plant seeds and a story
Initially, the sabbatical project of Danielle Carlock, a faculty member at Scottsdale Community College, was aimed at tackling student food insecurity. This was to be done through a farmers market style event at CSC, where Carlock would distribute free vegetables and edible plants from the campus vegetable garden.
But when SCC shut down due to COVID in the spring, it had to abandon that plan. The students were not on campus. She therefore expanded the other part of the project: the free library of indigenous Maricopa seeds. Now Carlock is tackling food insecurity for the whole valley… sort of.
“My main focus in the seed library is to support pollinators,” says Carlock, dressed in outdoor gear, speaking near a small, fenced-in plant on the Red Mountain campus of Mesa Community College. “If we don’t support pollinators by conserving the plants they use, we won’t have anything to eat.
Carlock’s project focuses on native plants – ecologically specific even to Maricopa County – and seeds that are not readily available in nurseries in the valley. She collected seeds in the Tonto National Forest (under license), the SCC Garden, some donations and her own backyard.
These native seeds are free to students and faculty at Maricopa Community Colleges, as well as to the public, through the library she founded. They come in packs of 20-25 (and no, you don’t have to return them after three weeks) in a few places.
The Gateway Community College Seed Library has been open since August, but is only accessible to students and GWCC staff. Carlock has also been present at farmers’ markets like Old Town Scottsdale, Carefree, Chandler and Sun City to distribute packages. And, along with a few volunteers, Carlock sent packages for $ 1 just to cover the postage.
So far, food plants like kale, lettuce, and bean varieties have been quite popular at GWCC (the penstemon Firecracker being by far the most popular desert landscaping plant). Other food seeds include Sonoran winter wheat, salt river pima pea, and desert chia. Participants are also picked up after pickup; Carlock says there is basic information about the plant on the packages, including whether it is easy, medium, or difficult to germinate, and a small URL redirecting gardeners to the plant’s profile page on the website. from the seed library.
In early December, anyone can take up to three packs from Phoenix College’s Fannin Library and Mesa Community College’s Red Mountain Library. MCC Red Mountain also offers curbside pickup. There is also a recently established ethnobotanical garden in Red Mountain with a grant from the Arizona Lottery Gives Back awarded through the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation.
“It means pretty much any human use of a plant,” says Carlock. “Almost all of the plants found in the Sonoran Desert have been used by various groups of people and are still used for all of these purposes. ”
Carlock pulls out a one-leaf guide to the small, fenced plants found on the tiny Red Mountain campus. The companion oat gamma has dietary and fiber uses in the Apaches, Kiowas, and Tewa. Goji, a shrub producing small tart berries, was the food of the Yuma, Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Piipaash (as well as hikers). The Blazing Star of Adonis (which Carlock really must have hunted down) has food, medicinal, and ceremonial uses with the Keres and Dine (Navajo) people.
While walking through the small wild habitat in the middle of the campus, Carlock points out the host plants for future seeds. MCC’s Red Mountain Campus has now become a sort of exhibition hall for the Seed Library. She points out the goji, a few others and the mustard plants which she is really delighted with.
“These are one of the few perennial mustards in the Sonoran Desert and they tolerate butterflies, so I’m a little crazy about these as they’re not that common in the desert.” I’ve only seen them a few times, ”she says. “I want everyone to have this mustard in their garden; this is my dream.”
It’s clear that Carlock thinks a lot about other people’s yards, patios and balconies. There is a good reason for this: Compared to the natural environment, residential areas are more sheltered from forest fires and have reliable water sources.
“As we figure out how we’re really going to tackle climate change, the more of these plants we have in our landscapes, it’s going to be a plan to keep them and conserve them in the meantime,” she says. “Maybe one day that could be a source of seeds to bring back to the burnt areas.”
Personally, Carlock has planted over 150 species of plants over the past 10 years in her home, attracting birds, bees and more. She says it brings her joy, especially during the pandemic. “It’s about distributing seeds, it’s about education, but it’s also about inspiring people to bring wildlife to their own landscapes,” she says. “Even five or ten plants added over time makes a huge difference. ”
The MCC Red Mountain plants are in their infancy, they were just planted in October. But Carlock still has more to do as they grow older and before her sabbatical ends in August 2021 (when she returns to CSC as a full-time librarian). In January or February, she wants to organize workshops on growing food plants in pots, as she assumes that many students are in apartments. She may wish to hire students. And further into the future, she wants to gift the five to 10 most valuable plants for wildlife as plants, not just seeds, in the SCC Big Sale of Plants.
But aside from all that and the dream of a mustard factory in every yard, Carlock still has even bigger plans. She wishes to distribute native seeds and plants along a corridor, building a route for pollinators from the Superstition Mountains in the East Valley to the White Tank Mountains in the West Valley, crossing the entire Phoenix area.
“Imagine connecting each college, then parks, and filling it with family landscapes,” she says. “It’s kind of a dream I have.”
For more information and a list of available food plant seeds, see the Maricopa Native Seed Library Website. Or contact [email protected] Or follow the Native Maricopa Instagram Seed Library or the hashtag #seedsuccesses.