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Given an opportunity, I take it. Given an opportunity to combine both of my passions, art and seeds, I become the luckiest guy around. Thrown in doing it at an institution with a special place in my heart, well, as the title says, it doesn't get any better.

Fleisher Art Memorial is a Philadelphia, PA art school that is a source of inspiration, creativity and community. It's in the Bella Vista neighborhood of Philly, right by the famous Italian Market. That neighborhood has long been a haven for immigrants starting with the Italians, and now with south-east Asians, and Mexicans. In the center of it all is this wonderful institution whose mission revolves around the humanity in all of us.

Fleisher's Mission Statement

The mission of the Fleisher Art Memorial is to make art accessible to everyone, regardless of economic means, background, or artistic experience.

I can attest to this, and Fleisher being a source of inspiration, creativity and community. In the '90s, I volunteered there. At that time, I was pursuing millinery as my medium for creative expression. I had hit a brick wall in my work, and I didn't know what to do. The artist that I was working with on an installation and performance art piece, and his assistant, a teaching artist at Fleisher, offered me advice at an informal critique one day that inspired me to continue my work. As it would be, I ended up having two hat shows at the Sanctuary, an old church which is a beautiful and dramatic space for events.

I can't say enough about what Fleisher means to me, so when a friend emailed me, and asked for recommendations for seeds that he needed for a seed bomb craft project there, I was overjoyed that I could give back to this wonderful institution. I let him know that the Library Seed Bank would be donating the seeds they needed, and I would be there to lend a hand. A volunteer tagged along with me on Staurday, and it was wonderful. What I experienced was exactly what I did in the '90s, and what Fleisher states as that it's a source for inspiration, creativity and community.

The project was to make seed bombs which are used for aerial reforestation. Seeds are bound into small balls with organic material that hold the seeds in place and provide nutrients as the organic material decomposes, These seeds can then be dropped into remote, arid of off-limit areas, usually done by airplanes. A seed grenade, as it was know when the concept originated in 1973 by Liz Christy as part of the Green Guerrillas, which became known as the guerilla gardening movement. These grenades were balloons filled with fertilizer and tomato seeds, and were thrown onto empty lots as a way to enhance the look of a neighborhood. There is a problem though with doing this with vegetable seeds if there is no one to care for them. The fruits can draw rats, and that only serves the rats.

Flowers though are a different story. That's they type of seed bomb we created on Saturday. Straw flowers and zinnias to be specific, as recommended to me by a Master Gardener with a thumb as green as they could be. When I arrived at Fleisher, the event was just starting, and the teachers were molding clay into these really neat sculptures as you can see from some of the photos below. Turtles, bunnies, birds nests, all of which that could be found in or around gardens in nature, The teachers encouraged the children to make the sculptures their own, and the children responded well as they sat, stood and created in the spirit of the community table.

It was a great day of inspiration, creativity and community, which is what Fleisher is all about. Hopefully, there will be events like this to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page of old seed catalogue.Research, like any process has a life of its own. When I came up with the idea for the Historic Seed Map, it was a simple one. I thought a reference tool  for everyone to use for when and where vegetable seeds were sold, would fill in some gaps of missing information. Since a lot of varieties have vanished, this map could illustrate that be contrasting what was sold, and what is presently available. If a grower or a seed librarian wanted to procure available seeds of historically grown local varieties, then they had tool to use for that information.

The map will be a nice complement to seed banks and seed libraries. The tag line for the Library Seed Bank (LSB), seeds and knowledge, nourishment for your soul, focuses on seeds and knowledge. Seeds are the storehouse of knowledge about of the plants they produce. Libraries are the storehouses of the knowledge that society produces. It was natural for me to work with this duality because nature has many dualities, and nature is my ultimate inspiration.

Once that inspiration kicks in, and as with everything in life, once you're  start something new, you bring the energy, and the story brings the content. I had no idea of what the story of the seed map would tell me. I just knew I was fortunate enough to listen and become its storyteller.

Since the first seed library is going into the McCowan Memorial Library in Pitman, New Jersey, it was logical for me to start the research into what New Jersey seed companies offered to the public is bygone eras. Three miles from the McCowan library was Oral Ledden and Sons, a farmer supply company with a large seed room that I spent time in as a child. The foreshadowing of that a number of decades ago in this story is awesome, and not in the slang use of the word. I knew had to honor that, and the fact that suddenly, I just happened to procure two catalogs, each from a different decade. Wink.

Immediately, those catalogs dealt me a straight flush which in poker is the best hand possible. My inclination to see the biggest picture possible, and this time it seemed the picture was bigger then that. From there I pivoted to Wm. H, Maule Seeds, a seed company which had its seed farm seventeen miles to the south from the library in Newfield, New Jersey. Next up, the Johnson & Stokes Seed Company, which became Stokes Seed company with their seed farm twenty five miles to the northeast of the library in Moorestown, New Jersey.  And finally, I found that Burpee had their Sunnybrook Acres Farm in Swedesboro, New Jersey eleven miles from the library. Tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers were grown at Sunnybrook.

Quite a start, and a good one at that. Along with the way, I've found some great anecdotes about the history of farming and agriculture in New Jersey, and the map will feature this kind of information when possible.

As I evaluate what I've come across, and see the gaps in the knowledge that's been lost in the past, and plan for the future, I see this project as one that will thrive and flourish like plants that will grow from the seeds that's it's about.

The results of this process do far has led to the following;

  • A collection of authentic Jersey tomatoes seeds at the seed library in PItman. We burst with pride here in Jersey about our tomatoes. Every  gardener will tell you they grow THE best tomatoes in their garden. And they do. Seriously, they do. The tomatoes they grow reflect what delights their senses, so like all gardeners, they grew the best vegetables for themselves because they grow what they like. It's just that here in Jersey our tomatoes are the best, period.There were three major seed farms within 40 miles of each other. Each one had their own development team working on seed lines. This lead to a decent number of tomato varieties being developed. This collection of authentic Jersey tomato seeds will reflect that.
  • I found varieties of tomatoes that are no longer around, but their parent lines are, and were listed in some catalogs. That's some information I didn't expect to find. This offers an opportunity to revive some vanished varieties. That's exciting to me.
  • In this previous post, I wrote about the Garden Journal, which will capture current information about people grow. If they submit them to LSB, a collection of local journals will become a large source of information for research. It will help prevent the missing information gap in what's been grown locally, and hopefully help with preservation projects.
  • I found some interesting information about a growing community here in southern New Jersey that appears to have demonstrated the principles of social businesses today. I have to follow this up. I wrote a three-part series, here, here, and here about what Lavazaa coffee is doing on a global level, and what Valley Girl Foodstuffs is doing at a local level as social businesses. This growing community seems to have been ahead of the curve.

So there you have it. I'm in awe of where this project will go. For now, that's all I have, and I couldn't be happier.