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One Seed, One Community
by Hillie Salo
Master Gardener, Founder of Silicon Valley Grows, Silicon Valley, CA, USA
Silicon Valley Grows! One Seed, One Community aims to strengthen our community by providing a shared experience that teaches people how to grow nutritious food and save seeds. The project began in 2014, as a collaboration between five libraries and a
Master Gardener. In 2015, it expanded to include other gardening and sustainability-focused organizations. The One Seed, One Community Project is based on "one book, one city" or "community read" programs such as
Silicon Valley Reads. Instead of uniting a community in reading a single book, we find common ground by growing the same seed.
Sign in Palo Alto Demonstration Garden
Urban gardens are usually too small to grow the minimum plant numbers to maintain the genetic stock of many seed varieties. Choosing one seed for many gardeners to grow and save builds a greater diversity into the genetics of that variety, as we share those seeds with one another through the vehicle of our seed libraries. Over time, this process has the potential to build local adaptation in these seeds and strengthen our local food systems.
Local food begins with local seeds!
The first year of this project, I bought 50 pounds of Cherokee Trail of Tears beans for five seed libraries in the Silicon Valley area in Northern California. Since then, we've expanded to six seed libraries. The initial year seeds were mostly given away with few returns. Education is important; I gave a lot of seed talks.
The next year we considered cool weather crops because it is a season when kids are in school. We saved the Amish Deer Tongue lettuce in the spring. Though easy to grow and easy to save, lettuce seeds are small. They are not really child-friendly for a growing experience, compared to peas and beans. So, our third year we saved the Green Arrow Pea, another cool weather crop.
Every year, we started with the purchase of a bulk seed variety for distribution to the various seed libraries. The seeds were given away and few were returned. More often than not, seed libraries have more patrons borrowing than returning seeds. According to an academic paper by Daniela Soleri,
Civic Seeds, "Every year about 4776 people borrow seeds from seed libraries, and 238 people return seeds to the California seed libraries."
Last year I made a change of focus. I have found seed libraries that are part of public libraries due to patron privacy do not collect or ask for personal data that can be followed up on.
With so little returns to seed libraries, I decided to focus on finding a group of dedicated gardeners, whose commitment would be to
"Grow a Row for the Seed Library." This idea was based on the American Garden Writers'
"Plant a Row for the Hungry."
I gathered a list of about 50 gardeners who I had given a local heirloom bean, the Petaluma Gold Rush Beans, to grow and save. For the next year, we would have a locally grown heirloom seed with regional significance to offer our community. These 50 people were found at seed exchanges, garden talks, and other related events, such as Slow Food meetings. My list included names and emails. This year I have added zip codes in order to better track data.
I sent out several timely emails addressing how to grow beans, answering questions, and harvesting. The October weekend closest to
World Foods Day, October 16 , we had the Great Silicon Valley Bean Weigh Off. Though our goal last year was fifty pounds, we all grew together closer to twenty-five pounds.
The better part of the harvest was produced by less than a handful of gardeners. Probably ten to fifteen people raised all the beans. It is hard to tell because I know some beans were returned directly to their local seed libraries or shared with friends. Not everything got weighed. In the end, the bulk of the seed was grown in Redwood City by Sonia Picone. She is the daughter of Maska and Mario Pellgrini, whose family's garden story is featured in the book,
The Earth Knows My Name. The Petaluma Gold Rush beans were grown in the very same garden! She grew over eleven pounds in her prolific garden.
She and her daughter are amazing gardeners!
I originally purchased three pounds of the Petaluma Gold Rush Bean. So for an initial 3 pounds, harvesting 25 pounds was a huge success!
With One Seed, One Community, even gardeners that offer just a few treasured handfuls generate greater diversity in our contribution to the seed libraries. Many expressed their appreciation of being part of something greater than themselves, making a contribution to their community at the spiritual level.
Garden Party at Sonia's Garden where 11 lbs. of beans were grown!
Nuts and Bolts
Determining the quantity
As far as how much seed is needed for a community grow out...
Let's say you have a pound (lb.)of beans = 1000 beans. Note: This will vary a bit depending on the size of the bean.
How many people do you think you will serve or want to serve or have money to serve?
So figure out how many beans per person i.e. Per packet. Some libraries do ten seeds per packet. i.e. 10 seeds/packet => 100 packets/lb. => 100 people/lb. (220 people/kilo)
I was giving away 50 seeds per packet and if it was too much, I encouraged sharing. The difference was the seed libraries were giving them away. Whereas I was exchanging seeds for name, email, zip code and the hopeful promise of returning seeds.
Many patrons of seed libraries are not only novice seed savers, but novice gardeners as well. It helps to limit your seed selection to those crops that are self-pollinating. This will reduce concerns of cross-pollination, and they are easy to grow. Consider lettuce, peas, and beans. If you are considering activities for little people, peas and beans are larger seeds, making them a little easier to handle.
You may find suspects for a community grow out among Master Gardeners, community gardeners and others, those that lurk around garden talks. They may be lured into a grow out with the bait of a free or small donation pack of the said seeds, especially if you pick a plant with a story or cultural significance. Get them signed up. Make a list.
After you have gathered your list, keep folks engaged. An email from time to time or other form of communication with your group, to keep them posted as to the timeliness of when to plant, and other basic information to allow the participants to be successful, including watering, pests, and how to harvest.
Great Bean Weigh Off
At the end of the season, gather for the Great Seed Weigh Off. Perhaps set a goal for so many pounds (or kilos) to be donated to your local seed library. Party with your success. Have a picnic, potluck, or a seed exchange.
Featured Seed Library
Annapurna Seed Library
Location: Jorhat, Assam, India
Number of branches: 1
Organizers: Individual citizens
Founder: Mahan Borah
Demographics:I belong to the Assamese community from the state of Assam in the Northeastern region of India. I belong to the proud category of the farmer class and being from the state of Assam, I feel honored to say that we have a wide diversity of different tribes all having different cultures and traditions but despite all these superficial differences we stay united as one and are only known to people by the term "Assamese". Reason for opening a library:Most of the indigenous seeds disappeared from farmers' fields due to the incoming hybrid and other new improved varieties. Rice is our main food crop. We had many rice varieties which had the capacity to grow in drought seasons as well as in flooded conditions. Some varieties showed resistance to pest and disease infestations while others have medicinal values. However, nowadays all these varieties are not found in farmers' fields. I am therefore conserving 250 varieties of paddy in order to preserve our indigenous rice varieties. Farmers can get these varieties free of cost from our seed library. Words of Wisdom to other seedbrarians: A golden proverb for a farmer is that he should know that "Diversity is Security". Also, all these varieties can serve as a future insurance policy for a farmer as preserving these varieties will overcome any issues regarding climate changes. Successes: I am currently working with school and college students and they are very interested in this work. They are learning how to identify a seed variety and what conditions are favorable to different varieties. They are also learning traditional seed breeding. Apart from this, they are also learning about organic farming. Greatest challenge:
The greatest obstacle in maintaining my seed library is the financial crisis.
Help Annapurna Seed Library continue to save biodiversity in Assam, India. Recently they experienced a bad storm that damaged their seed library. Your donations can assist them in repairing their library and continue to bring educational programs to youth and farmers.
Money can be sent to Annapurna Seed Library via Bijit Dutta, who is a farmer and works with Mahan Borah, the Founder of the seed library. Donate to keep this valuable work thriving via
PayPal. Use the
PayPal ID firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make a note that the donation is for
Annapurna Seed Library. (PayPal does not do currency conversion into Indian Rupees, INR. Please send donations in US dollars or Euros.)
They also need
educational material and are accepting
any new or used books/ magazine/ newsletters regarding seed saving and organic farming in English. Please send printed material to:
Annapurna Seed Library
c/o-Manan ch. Borah
village - Meleng kathgaon
district - Jorhat
Kindly mention the phone number in the address.
Your donations will be greatly appreciated by the Assamese youth and farmers!
Featured Seed Saver
Mahan Borah_ Founder of Annapurna Seed Library_ Assam_ India
Featured Seed Saver is a new section starting this issue of
Cool Beans! We are honored to feature Mahan Borah, Founder of the
Annapurna Seed Library.
How many years have you been saving seeds?
What inspired you to start saving seeds?
My father was a farmer. I saw lots of seed diversity in my childhood, but it has disappeared. So I decided to do something for our society, culture, and for the farming community.
Did anyone in your family save seeds that taught you?
Yes, my father taught me about the value of local seed and its medicinal properties.
What seeds do you save? Do you feel like you have a seed saving speciality in a particular crop(s)? Rice.
What do you love most about seed saving? Do you have a seed saving philosophy?
Starting with a little amount of seed and getting a large quantity - I love to do that. One seed can be enough to feed a nation.
Which question(s) are you most asked by other seed savers?
People ask me about the type of method I use to save rice varieties.
What was the most important piece of advice you received when you were getting started? Or, what single piece of advice would you give a new seed saver?
We have the responsibility to keep the seed for our future generation. Work with the young group. They should know about our seed property.
Are you doing any active seed breeding? If so, which seeds?
Yes. Particularly rice.
You can follow Annapurna Seed Library and the work of Mahan Borah on Facebook.
In the Arizona Desert, Tuscon Models Affordable Food Access
Republished with permission of Civil Eats By Cat Modlin-Jackson
UNESCO's first City of Gastronomy in the U.S. relies on its built-in biodiversity and a wide network of food justice organizations to feed its most marginalized residents.
Tucson is a foodie town. But rather than artisan breads and local avocados drawing crowds of tourists, it's the relationship between diverse plants and people that earned it the distinction of being the first
UNESCO City of Gastronomyin the United States in 2015.
The UNESCO distinction came as a result of Tucson's long agricultural history and its wide-ranging efforts to preserve its food heritage and increase access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods for all residents. And a recent report from the University of Arizona
Center for Regional Food Studies, on the "
State of Tucson's Food System," delved further into how the city can use its UNESCO designation to further improve its food system.
"We didn't get the City of Gastronomy designation because we have 40 gourmet restaurants with James Beard Award winners," said ethnobotanist and report co-author
Gary Nabhan. "We got it because we're trying to deal with the basic food security and food justice needs that any community in America is really dealing with."
Poverty is rampant in Tucson. By various estimates, between
20 and 25 percent of the population cannot afford to pay for basic needs. But while many people live in so-called "
food deserts," the term may be a misnomer in the arid but fertile city where flourishing plant life defies global trends from habitat destruction to biodiversity.
Because of protective farming traditions that span the last 4,000 years, more than 2,000 edible plant varieties thrive in Tucson-from prickly pears to mesquite pods and Pima Lima beans. "Where[as] most of North America lost two-thirds of pre-Columbian crop varieties, the Southwest has retained most of those," Nabhan said. The ancestral foods that still thrive today, offered Nabhan, have survived much in part because of Native farmers like the
Pascua Yaquiand the
Now a host of community gardens, organizations like seed saving cooperatives, and institutions including the regional food bank are working in their own ways to nurture the region's rich agricultural traditions. "It's complementary stuff. It's not like we all get together ad hoc, but they're bright people," Nabhan said of the those whose efforts are at once conserving the native ecosystem while also stemming food insecurity.
The Damaging Effect of Western Food on Native Health
The correlation between the encroachment of western diets and prevalence of food-related disease among indigenous people, like members of the Tohono O'odham Nation, is glaring-and drives many of the city's food justice efforts.
Nabhan estimated that about 10 percent of the 2,000 edible plants that can grow in the Tucson area are a part of the dietary traditions of Native people in the area, whose diet, culture, and health have been eroded by what he calls, "food imperialism."
"In 1960, no Tohono O'odham had ever been diagnosed with adult-onset Type-2 diabetes, and now an estimated 60 percent of adults over 35 and kids as young as 5 and 6 years old have the disease," said Tristan Reader, a researcher of Native American food sovereignty issues who spent 20 years on a Tohono O'odham reservation."Those are the highest rates in the world, and that's almost entirely a result
of the shift from the traditional diet to a more mainstream American diet," Reader said.
The degradation of Native diets has been deleterious to
the health and culture of Native people whose traditions are rooted in agrarian foodways. "Food is really the core element of [Tohono O'odham] song, ceremony, legend," Reader said. "All of that is really based in the food system, so as the food system declined, so too did many cultural practices."
The mission to rebuild Native foodways drives agricultural organizations like the San Xavier Co-op Farm, where sacred Tohono O'odham practices nurture traditional crops, and the
Native Seeds/SEARCH seed bank, through which Native American gardeners can access discounted indigenous seeds.
But in spite of the progress made by these and other grassroots organizations, Native voices still go unheard by the state policy makers who determine farming practices and, by extension, food policy. The Arizona Depart of Agriculture governing board has yet to include a Native American, Hispanic, African, or Asian member. Without representation, advocates say that those whose diets are most likely to be compromised by systemic inequality will continue to go without the fresh desert food once enjoyed in abundance.
For thousands of years, the oft-dry banks of the Santa Cruz River have provided fertile ground for growers like those at the
Las Milpitas Community Farm. An extension of the local food bank, the six-acre farm is nestled between the river and two trailer parks in a low-income neighborhood on the western edge of Tucson.
It is one of at least five community farms scattered across Tucson and an important source for otherwise out of reach organically grown, native food like tepary beans and yellow watermelons. But Las Milpitas isn't just a place for harvest; it's also a space for change. While vegetables sprout among pollinator plants and mesquite trees, gardeners convene for sustainability workshops or potlucks.
"We're offering this to the Tucson communities for free to build skills around food cultivation and food growing ... and to give them a sense of confidence and self-sufficiency," said community coordinator Elena Ortiz.
Stewarding Seeds for Well-being
A group of Tucson librarians have also developed a system of distributing seeds-using the extensive reach of the public library-as a means to improve the health outcomes of residents who struggle with food access.
In 2012, the Pima County public library system began distributing heritage seed packets-once a luxury good for hobby gardeners-to anyone with a library card.
"The desire of our community members to reconnect with their food and its source was palpable," founding librarian Justine Hernandez and her colleague Sharon Holzman-Cox explained in an email to Civil Eats.
According to the state-of-food report, those without financial means benefit from diets rich in diverse plants. "Hunger and food insecurity are often exacerbated in communities where diets are chronically monotonous because many nutrient-dense foods are priced beyond their citizens' reach," the report reads.
Not that giving people access to more plants is a cure-all.
"We don't want to give the impression that simply by making more seeds available to people that we can solve the root cause of poverty," Nabhan said. "But ... given that reducing poverty and food insecurity is such a complex and long-term project, we are giving people ways to have more self-determination and solve problems rather than just relying on Band-Aid approaches."
Seed packet circulation in county nearly quadrupled in the five years since librarians began offering the seeds.
Now, the Pima County seed library is one of the largest in the world, serving more than one million residents through an inter-library seed loan system operating across all 26 branches.
Moving Forward, One (Food)way or Another
Making space for local, affordable, and culturally appropriate food is not an easy undertaking, even in an UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Those working to reframe Tucson's food system are doing so on their own terms and with varying degrees of support.
Most grassroots groups go without the kinds of resources that are available to larger institutions like the food bank or the public library. Without space for more community gardens or capital for projects like restaurants that offer meals prepared with traditional food, advocates are waging an uphill battle. But the community remains as resilient as the plants that blossom on the banks of the Santa Cruz River.
"It reminds me that innovation always begins on the margins [and] the necessity-is-the-mother-of-invention thing is absolutely true here," said Nabhan.
A new online platform works to provide the best seed-saving information and networking resources to seed savers and organizers.
Have you ever found yourself struggling with exactly how to deliver all the programs and services your seed library members are asking for, with so few resources at your disposal? You're not alone. According to a 2017 poll of over 350 community seed initiatives, organizers reported among their top challenges: meeting demands for their services, attaining an adequate budget, and finding sufficient staff time.
The good news is that the community seed movement is growing! Across the US and Canada new seed libraries are being established, and quickly expanding their memberships. 80% of respondents to the 2017 survey indicated they were established in the last 5 years! This highlights a growing need for seed in our communities!
The community seed movement can include everyone who engages with seed in a non-commercial way - growing seed, conserving, sharing, and educating about it. The community seed movement is expanding, evolving, and still defining itself. Whether you are part of a formal seed organization or project, or an individual, you may be part of this inspiring and blossoming movement.
Seed libraries and other community seed initiatives - such as seed banks, seed swaps, Seedy Saturdays, seed celebrations, seed saving community gardens, and more - are part of this vibrant emerging seed culture. Their activities help educate the public about seed and its connection to food, keep seed freely accessible and in the public domain, and provide vital seed diversity conservation services. And they're having a major impact! In 2016 these projects were responsible for disseminating tens of thousands of free seed packets, and reaching over 25,000 people through their events and activities!
Part of what makes the community seed movement so vibrant is its diversity and the passion of its leaders, instigators, and organizers, many of whom are volunteers. What if we could maintain this distinct character and diversity, while also providing some institutional support to reduce leaders' burden in finding resources and creating systems from scratch? What if we could also provide them with some welcome connection and solidarity from the wider movement?
Enter the Community Seed Network.
This is a new initiative being launched to do exactly that - a web platform where the community seed movement can gather to share, learn, and connect. The site will provide free access to resources and references on how to save and conserve seed, and how to organize successful seed initiatives. Community Seed Network members can put themselves on the map, literally, building and offering up a profile for themselves as seed savers, or for their projects so that others can find them and share with them. Members can even chat with other online members right on the site. The site's integration with Facebook gives members another level of connection through a closed group where they can share resources, create events, and swap ideas and strategies! The website is also integrated with a national seed exchange to take sharing to the next level! Members build one profile to access the whole site. And membership is free.
The web platform is facilitated at the national level by Seed Savers Exchange and USC Canada, two organizations that have been witness to the blossoming of seed saving and community seed initiatives over these last many years, on both sides of the border. But the Community Seed Network by no means started with them. A truly grassroots initiative, it was conceived at a gathering of seed libraries in Tucson, Arizona, in 2015 where everyone recognized the need for an online platform providing support for seed saving and seed sharing efforts. Seed Savers Exchange supported the group by hosting regular conference calls until the next in-person meeting, which was attended by 12 seed library representatives in 2016 at Seed Savers Annual Conference. There, SSE and USC Canada formally adopted the project and broadened the initiative to include seed libraries, community seed banks, seed swaps, and more! Two representatives from the initial group continue to work in partnership with SSE and USC Canada and a working group comprised of about 10 seed movement representatives from Canada and the USA.
As a part of the evolution of the Community Seed Network, Seed Savers Exchange has also opened up their online seed exchange (membership in SSE used to be required to participate) so that community seed groups and interested seed savers can list and share seed with one another.
Like so many things within the community seed movement, the Community Seed Network is an evolving experiment! Its organizers hope that by developing these tools, resources, and communication functions they can offer the community seed movement a virtual home - a gathering place - that will increase their visibility, amplify their impact, and give them even greater satisfaction doing the work they're doing. Because it is so important.
Blurbs, Photos, & Articles Needed We need your help for our next issue of Cool Beans! Inspiring Youth. We want to share what you have done to involve youth or youth that have inspired you. You can send us a short blurb about a project or a resource you've used with children. Photos are great! Get inspired and write a longer piece! Here are some ideas of things you could share about:
Youth seed projects
Seed Libraries in schools
Seed saving curriculum for schools
Children's books about seed
How parents engage kids in seed saving
Children's Book Review Needed Most issues we also have a book review. Help us by writing a book review for a seed related children's book.
Submissions can be emailed to
email@example.com. Feel free to email us saying you are interesting in writing so we can remind you to submit. We know how busy volunteers are! We're all volunteering too. Our
deadline for submission is June 1st.
News from the Field
Tips from Seed Libraries
What do you do to grow community?
We have seed packet prep parties.
We have planting parties, making seed bombs workshops, seed swaps, and plant swaps.
We have our Seed Exchange in January, our Plant Exchange in May, and a Fall Festival in October. That way there is always a big get together coming every few months. Some smaller groups meet to swap iris, day lily, etc. Everything is posted on the Facebook group page. All our annual events and monthly classes are posted on the website.
Next Issue: Helping Youth Steward Seeds - June 2018
Feedback for this Issue? Ideas for Next Issue?
This Issue: Growing Seeds & Community This issue is Growing Seeds & Community. Do you do other things? We'd love to hear from you.
Next Issue: Inspiring Youth Seeds Do you have a great project involving students and seeds. Let us know. We are looking for ways to support other communities to uplift youth to become seeds savers.
Let us hear from you!
Fill in this survey. Tips on what you do will be included in News from the Field to benefit others.