Skip to content

Photo and graphic of plant seedsProfits, by their nature are positive. According to Merriam-Webster.com the first definition of profit is 1. :  a valuable return :  gain. In general, profits are associated with business, and for some, that has a negative connotation. In his book Creating a World Without Poverty,  Muhammand Yunnus presented the his case for social businesses. He lays out a foundation a business can have a social impact and it's a matter of the choices that people make when setting and running their business on how they generate profits, and what they do with those profits. This book, and this theory has had a tremendous impact in my life. It inspired me to look up the definition of profit where I found there was another meaning that didn't apply to money. That has stuck with me, and now I have the application for it with my work here at the Library Seed Bank (LSB).

I've spent decades working in communications, most of it implementing marketing plans that were for monetary profit. That's business, and the strategies that are used, when done right, are very effective. It didn't occur to me how the research I was doing for the Historic Seed Map (HSM), and these business-based strategies would merge into a divine application where biodiversity would be the profit.

Market Research
A lot of time and money is spent on market research. Collecting data about your audience is important. To be effective, you have to know what appeals to your audience so you can deliver to them your message using the proper words, tone, fonts and colors.

I've realized the research I'm doing for the HSM by using old seed catalog, provides a lot of data about biodiversity. Old seed catalogs are a wealth of information. According to the Agriculture Almanac for the Year 1945 from John Bae's Sons, Inc of Lancaster PA;

The seed catalog is therefore a current encyclopedia of gardening, revised, and brought up to date each year. Some are so complete as to be preferred reference books in agriculture schools.

The wide array of seeds the seed companies offered is biodiversity in black and white. Throw off all limitations and conventions and follow me here. Let's look at biodiversity as an audience and think how can the successful marketing communication strategies that businesses use to generate monetary profits be used to provide profits, such as a valuable return or gain, for biodiversity by saving seeds. By removing the conventional definition of profit relating only to money, this opens up a new playing field. It allows for a new way to position seed saving advocacy, and my part in it.

Applying the market research
From the research for New Jersey, the first state for the HSM, I discovered that there were three major seed farms within a 40 mile radius of the first seed library connected to the LSB. These seed farms were active in the early 1900s. While not a native Jersey boy, I've lived here 95% of my life. I grew up around farms, and gardens, and in the course of it all, I've learned a lot about the agriculture history here. I didn't know about the seed farms, and from conversations with some locals, neither did they. To me, these seed farms are a significant piece of history. History is information. Information drives marketing plans. So, put this information behind the wheel, and let it drive. And, I'm glad I did.

Here in New Jersey, we have the Sopranos. We have Bruce and Bon Jovi. We have exits off the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Garden State Parkway that a lot of natives use to identify where they live. We also have our beloved Jersey Tomato. Local pride is a wonderful thing, and even more so, when that pride is grown in the native soil. While tomatoes didn't originate here, we love them, and they love it here. You can tell they do by the way they grow here. It's a great symbiotic relationship. Tomatoes have also played a significant role in New Jersey's agricultural history.

Thanks to a chemist named Dr. John Dorance, who invented the condensed soup process, and who grew  tomatoes on his farm in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, we have Campbell's Tomato Soup. For those who aren't familiar, Campbell's is headquartered in Camden, New Jersey, and Cinnaminson is approximately ten miles away. Camden is 15 miles from the Pitman where the first seed library will be.Cinnaminson is also 5 miles from on where one of the seed farms were. Dorance also saved his tomato seeds, and gave them to farmers so there would be a consistent crop.

Campbell's Soup drove tomato production in southern New Jersey in the early 1900s. Without Jersey tomatoes, there wouldn't be Campbell's Tomato Soup, which is a iconic American food product. It's the soup most frequently associated with the condensed soup process. Also, paired with a grilled cheese, it's a top choice of comfort food. When Andy Wharhol immortalized this American icon with his Campbell's Soup Cans in 1962, in a way, he immortalized the Jersey tomato with them.

Product development
Enter the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection. A seed collection based on local history is by no means unique. What's unique about this collection is that tomatoes, or vegetables, are generally not categorized by where they originated, especially with varieties that were developed with 20 miles of where gardener are acquiring the seeds.

These seed farms developing varieties of a source of local pride (the Jersey tomato), is a bridge from the pre-industrial food complex past to the current focus of locally sourced food, is a product development dream come true.

I don't know how many other areas had a such concentration of seed farms in a local area, and as I mentioned above, it's not common knowledge in this area that these seeds farms existed. Looking at the research about the seed farms, with biodiversity as my audience, and with profits being the valuable return or gain, provided the base for product development, in this case the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection.

Consumer touch point – Point of purchase or POP
This is where the market research and product development come together. When someone checks out a package of seeds, they are the consumer, and the seed library is the point of purchase. Since we're using the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection as our model, let's take a look at how this information will be delivered to the consumers, with the greatest impact being a profit for biodiversity.

A list will be presented to consumer about the seeds from this collection that are available. Included on that list will be the tomatoes varieties that are extinct. Seeing this in black and white will have a big impact to the consumer. Included will be a brief explanation about how important their role as a seed saver will be in providing the profit (a valuable return or gain) for biodiversity. Simple, direct and effective. As is the end result of all successful business marketing techniques that drive monetary profits.

A solid model for community building with seeds emerges the closer I get to the launch of my first seed library. It's been a fascinating process, and it provides a good path forward future seed libraries. Each community is different, and this model is guide that could be adapted to reflect the community the seed library will serve.

This seed library in Pitman, New Jersey started out as a seed library for lending and collecting seeds. As libraries have evolved into community centers in the digital age, seed libraries offer an opportunity for community building. As I explored the possibilities of building the Library Seed Bank into a more comprehensive project beyond the lending and collecting of seeds, one of the more intriguing part of this story so far is Pitman's location to a couple major seed farms that existed in the area in the early 1900s. Pitman is within a 40 mile radius of where the seed farms for Wm, H. Maule, Stokes Seed Farm, and Burpee were, and just three miles from a farming supply company, Orol Leden and Son, that had a wonderful seed room. Researching the catalogs from these companies led me to the fact that a lot of authentic Jersey tomatoes were bred around here. It seemed only natural to me that the seed library reflect this with the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection.

Since this seed library will be the first in New Jersey, and house this unique collection of seeds, also the first of its kind, I wanted to celebrate this with art. I approached the local school district with a suggestion for an art contest. It would be a good way to foster a relationship between the school or schools that would participate, and the library. The contest will let the parents of the kids who would participate  know about the seed library. I broached the subject of art contest with the school district, and intended to collaborate with the teachers about the specifics. Let the teachers teach. They are the professionals in education, I respect that, and what they could offer would be best for their students.

As it turns out. the teacher that I'm working had a wonderful suggestion for a contest for the seed package design at the seed library. SInce we're celebrating the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection, that's worthy of original art for the package. We're having a contest with 3rd to 5th graders for a generic seed library package design, and a design for the Authentic Jersey Tomato Seed Collection. I'm a graphic designer by trade, so this opportunity to work with young artists is a real gift to me.

An art contest need judges. Another opportunity for community building. The submissions for the art contest will be on display at the launch of the seed bank. Let the community vote for their choice. It's their seed library. It also adds to celebration of the what we're doing with the Seed Library. For the launch, generic coin envelopes will hold the seeds until the labels for the envelopes are printed with the art contest winners.

Will there be prizes? Yes, there will. We have a local hobby shop here that sells hobby and art supplies, so the prizes will be gift certificates from there. This brings a local business into the community fold. I should ask if we could display the art in the windows of the store after the exhibit is done at the library. There is a long section windows on the main street that are used for displays, and the store is right across the street from the library. See what the story did there. It presented that opportunity while I was telling it.

We had a soft launch of the Seed Library at the end of September at a book sale during an annual Craft Show. I got good feedback from the community. During my conversations with residents, they told me their ideas of what they wanted from the seed library. To follow up on that, we're having a listening session in the beginning of January 2014 for more feedback. The local community has already donated seeds. We've been embraced already, and we're just getting started.

We have a garden club here too, and they've been invited to participate with the Seed Library. To recap, we have the library, the town elementary school, a local business, a community group and some residents already involved. For a town of less than 10,000 residents, and less than 3 miles in diameter, that's a good reflection on the community here, and it creates the model for future seed libraries. Perhaps, I can figure out a way to get produce locally grown from seeds from the seed library to supply the food bank, and restaurants here. Perhaps the local V.F.W. chapter can use seeds to help their members. See, the story did it again. It gave me more possibilities I love possibilities. They make my day. That's why I listen to the story for the possibilities it has. It knows so much more about it them then I do. I'm just the lucky guy who makes them happen.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

USA National Phenology Network logoI'm excited to announce a collaboration with the USA National Phenology Network. The story of how this came about follows.

The more I work with this project, the more it shows me the direction it wants to go in. While developing the documents for the Library Seed Bank (LSB), I decided to include a garden journal for many reasons. First and foremost journals provide a tremendous amount of first-hand information and insight. When I think of all the local historic gardening knowledge that's been lost, specifically what plants were grown, I think about the difference a collection journals would've made. Just think about the rich content and wonderful stories that we would have today.

cover image Library Seed Bank's Garden JournalTo follow that through on that thought, I decided to include a Garden Journal as a pdf form in LSB. This is so people who wanted to could keep a journal of their observations for themselves, and hopefully, submit them to LSB as part of the seed map since that will have a local focus. Also, if the public libraries that are participating want to keep them as reference, all the better. Since libraries are the original storehouses of knowledge. I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from that fact for this project, and the concept of this journal is a tribute to that. Concurrently, seeds a storehouse of genetic knowledge of the plants they are from. I find this synergy between seeds and libraries as storehouses of knowledge very cool.

The gardening seasons in my corner of New Jersey were quite odd weather wise. Enter climate change. It's here and now, and I have no time to waste with the deniers. This made think that it would be a good idea to include a section about the weather in the journal since it's plays such crucial role in how the gardening season turns out.

It was that point that I thought since I'm asking people to collect data about weather, why not see if it could help out the scientists who are studying climate change. I knew of the USA National Phenology Network. For those who don't know what phenology is, I'll  let the people at USA NPN explain it by this quote;

Phenology is nature’s calendar—when cherry trees bloom, when a robin builds its nest and when leaves turn color in the fall.

People are aware of these of wonders of nature, yet as I admit, until about 3 years ago, I didn't know it was a branch of science devoted to the study of them. In my daily conversations when I use the word phenology, most are not familiar, yet if I say something like quote above, or mention Henri David Thoreau, people get it right away. By the way, Thoreau's writings have been the basis of many experiments, and he's a tremendous inspiration for LSB.

I took a step back to observe. You see, I let stories of my life write themselves. It's taken a long time to learn to get out their way when they appear and still be aware of them. When they do appear, like this one, I saw a golden opportunity. Climate change is here. With its impact on our planet the rules are changing. I thought if I'm asking people to write their observations in their garden, like Thoreau, why not ask them to collect data for the good people at USANPN.  And that's what's going to happen. USANPN has a Nature's Notebook;

Nature's Notebook logo

Nature's Notebook gathers information on plant and animal phenology across the U.S. to be used for decision-making on local, national and global scales to ensure the continued vitality of our environment.

While the data points that USANPN uses are not agricultural, gardeners garden on many levels, so I'm sure there will be some data points in and around gardener's yards that they can observe and collect data. I see LSB's Garden Journal as a bridge to learning about phenology, encouraging people to collect data that will help scientists understand the impact of climate change, and fulfilling the original intent of collecting local gardening information and having it readily available.

To say I'm over the moon about this is an understatement.

 

Vandana Shiva is at forefront of seed advocacy. Please watch this video where she gives a thoughtful and passionate explanation of why she chose to become a seed advocate. It sums the state of the seed business and the challenges that seed collectors and farmers are up against.