Building Community: Think Outside the Seed Packet

Jeff Quattrone in his own words:

There’s the highway, there’s the road less traveled, and there’s the road you create yourself.  An artist by accident, an advocate by choice, I use my creativity and decades of communications and marketing experience to talk about the state of seeds and encourage people to join the conversation.

I'm a photographer, graphic designer, blogger, and self-published author. I founded the Library Seed Bank in 2013 and established two seed libraries in 2014, the first in Pitman, New Jersey, and the second in Woodbury, New Jersey, with a third coming online in 2015 in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. My website is

                                                                        Community seed is serious business. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Quatrone)

Starting from Seed

Growing up, I was fortunate to spend time in a seed room at Orol Ledden and Sons, a farmer supply company in Sewell, New Jersey. From the time I was six into my teens, I would take a ride with my parents anytime we needed gardening supplies. Our suburb was in the middle of farm land, and Ledden's was the only place that had what we needed

A Catalog Cover from Orol Ledden & Sons (Courtesy of Jeff Quattrone)

This seed room was full of wonder for me. Once we arrived, I would always run off to gaze at the card catalogs with seed packages in them and the full barrels of onion and potato sets. And nonchalantly, or so I thought, I would stand by the counter. At this counter was a scale where farmers would exchange hard currency with the store owner for their purchases and exchange that intangible story currency with each other about their day, their season, or that pest that paid a recent visit to their fields of glory. 

My feeling of wonder foreshadowed my future role as a seed advocate, and what I learned at the Orol Ledden and Sons seed room was the foundation of my current work. SSE has asked me to share some of the insights I’ve picked up along the way to encourage folks who may be just starting out in their community seed endeavors.

Seeds and Their Stories

Storytelling is a powerful medium and was instrumental in the creation of seed libraries. Ken Greene, the creative director and founder of the Hudson Seed Library was a librarian who used small packages of local heirloom seeds to encourage people to read the local stories that went along with the seeds.  While researching seed libraries before I started Library Seed Bank , I came across the Hudson Valley Seed Library. As an artist, I was immediately drawn to the art packs and found the relationship between seeds, art, and storytelling an inspiring match for my creative sensibilities. I met Ken at the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show when I helped him break down his booth. I asked him about how he got started and he told me the story about when he was librarian and he used small packages of local heirloom seeds to generate interest in the stories associated with the seeds. As listened to Ken tell his story, and looked around the booth with plants, art, and seed packs, it was suddenly the exhibit that was the storyteller instead of the farmers at Leddens when I was younger.

Incorporating Art into COmmunity Seed (Photo Courtesy of Jeff Quattrone)

Stories are a great way to start a dialogue with people about seeds. Most people have family stories. My family story is about my family tree, which is a fig tree from Italy. I use that to relate to people how I use heirloom seeds to grow plants that that tell the story of my family with a Family Garden Quilt.

If you know the stories of plants, and know the sources for seeds, you can use plants to tell stories. The fig tree tells a story about my family. I encourage people to grow a family garden, save the seeds to pass down through the generations with each generation adding their own plants. Talk about a true family heirloom. 

The Art of Seed Saving 

I use art to engage people about seeds.  The Hudson Valley Seed Library's art packs are a great example.  The art packs capture the essence of the plants that contain them--a short story told through an artist's eye using texture and color to reflect what will grow from the treasure inside. 

For the opening of the first seed library I helped establish, I worked with an elementary school art teacher on an art contest for the front of the #10 envelope that seed library patrons would leave the library with. The kids learned about the purpose of the seed library and had some fun being creative. The prizes for the art contest came from a hobby shop across the street from the library, which brought a local business into the fold. It was a wonderful community outreach exercise.

                                               Making seed bombs means Making a mess to clean up the environment. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Quattrone)

I worked with an art school in Philadelphia, PA, twice: once to create seed sculptures for the kids, and once with adults to create seed bombs--small clay balls coated with seeds and some kind of planting medium or sand--at a seminar about using native plants to clean up the environment. 

I want children to learn about seeds, so as they grow up they will know seeds’ value. Instead of spitting all the watermelon seeds during their summer break, perhaps they will save some to plant in their garden the following year.

Joining the Community

Seed libraries can be housed at any community-based organization.  I'm about to launch one at an arts-based community organization in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. Not only will this be outside the public library system, the county library system doesn't want to participate in seed libraries. Instead, this seed library has the full backing of the mayor, who wants it to serve as a destination for the township and the businesses there. Exciting stuff!

There are many angles to consider for expanding the conversation about seeds.  Farmer's markets are a way to reach out. Consider an occasional table at your local farmers market. Creative placemaking is another avenue for reaching people. Creative placemaking is the use of arts to drive community and business development. Take a look at your local community and see if there are artists working together. Approach them and see how you can team up. I work with a coalition of artists, historians, and sustainable design professionals that use this concept. The people in the coalition and the audience they draw are a natural fit for seed saving. 

                                                                          Seed Bomb Destruction (Photo Courtesy of Jeff Quattrone)


Look at sustainable community organizations and forge a partnership.  Find chefs who work with local farmers and who can give cooking demonstrations using the seeds in your library.  I'm pursuing this option now and want to complete the circle.  Many corporations have community outreach programs for their employees to volunteer and give back to the community.  I have passionate support from the environmental network of a company.

Not everyone can garden – or wants to – however, they can be aware and engaged in the conversation. Remember, the more people in the conversation, the better it is at every level. I'm fortunate to have had such a tremendous response.  At this time last year I was just about to launch the first seed library with a single press release. Now, my efforts have been publicized everywhere, from local TV coverage to NPR. 

Opportunity Knocks

I have an opportunity to develop a municipal-level seed library as a regional destination, and I'm writing about it all through SSE to inspire you to do your best in your community.

There's opportunity out there, and my advice to you is stay open to all the possibilities

Jeff Quattrone is a participant in Seed Savers Exchange's Community Seed Resource Program.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.