Salem County resident Jeff Quattrone is this month’s Agent For Change feature. Jeff is the founder of the Library Seed Bank. He uses innovative ways to promote community sustainability and to preserve plant lines with unaltered genes.
SCH: What is a typical day as an “Agent for Change” like for you?
Jeff: A typical day involves checking my Twitter feed, planning and implementing something with the next step for my Library Seed Bank project, and watching the dynamics of the seed business. Some days there are giant leaps forward, some days an evaluation of what’s working and what’s not, and other days, a simple email to keep the process flowing. Being an agent for change is like being an artist. With anything creative, you should do something creative everyday to keep the process going, same thing with being an agent for change.
SCH: How did you get involved with Library Seed Bank?
Jeff: I started a blog where I wrote one story a day about someone or some organization that was doing something to change the world in a positive direction. I found myself coming back to environmental stories, and came across Slow Food USA’s Arc of Taste, a living catalog of threatened local food. About that time, the opportunity to start gardening again presented itself, so I started another blog about vanishing varieties of vegetables. I got a press pass to Slow Food International’s 2012 Salone de Gusto Terra Madre food conference in Turin, Italy, and that cemented my commitment to do more. Shortly after that, I saw seed libraries were coming into the mix, and I jumped on the opportunity to bring them to this area of southern New Jersey.
SCH: What are some of the biggest challenges or barriers that you’ve faced? How have you dealt with them?
Jeff: Anytime something new comes into fruition, you face a degree of resistance. Change is a big challenge for a lot of people. When you start to talk to them about sustainability, and in my case, a stranger talking about seeds and food, reaching people on the level they are comfortable with, is a challenge. Everyone has their own way of communicating, so I find being an intensive listener is the key.
Also, building something from the ground up with no local structure in place as a model is a very big challenge. Overall, I live my life like a story I write everyday. Challenges are plot twists, and I look at them as content in this story I’m writing. Sometimes they are dead ends, which is fine because they stop wasting time. Other times, they bring more depth to what I do. I like those times a whole lot better.
SCH: Dream Big! If you had no constraints, what would you like to see happen in five years?
Jeff: A regional heirloom seed bank with locally grown seeds that have genes which are adaptive to the local growing conditions. It would be stocked with locally bred varieties of vegetables, and there would be an Edible Seed Bank Garden.
SCH: It’s important an Agent for Change stay inspired too. Tell us about an experience you’ve had recently that really energized or moved you.
Jeff: I just started to tweet earnestly in April of this year. I was approached by an interesting and innovative British charity that focuses on environmental and sustainable fashion issues. They asked me if I’d bring a food waste festival to New Jersey known as the #pumpkinchallenge. Well, you challenge Jersey, and we rise up and take it. It’s our spirit and pride.
The #pumpkinchallenge is about looking at pumpkins as more than a Halloween decoration. In England, Halloween has grown exponentially over the last decade, and so has the tonnage of pumpkins that get wasted. Hubbub, the charity, staged a #pumpkinchallenge in 2014 in Oxford, England. It was quite successful, and they expanded it in 2015 to 15 locations in the UK, including London and Belfast. Our version, the Don’t Waste the Harvest Festival & Barn Dance will take place at Triple Oaks Nursery in Franklinville, NJ on October 17, 2015. The Jersey Corn Pickers, a blue grass/Americana band will close out the festival with a barn dance in the evening. We are one of two locations in America putting on a #pumpkinchallenge.
If at any point of my life before April you would’ve had said, “Jeff, you’re going to be asked to address the food waste issue with a cool and innovative British organization, and have a barn dance to cap it all off,” I’d tell you, you were crazy. It’s an honor, it’s humbling and it’s amazing to me that this came my way.
SCH: How have you connected with SCH in your Agent for Change role? What ideas do you have about how we might work together in the future?
Jeff: It’s a new and exciting connection for me. I live in Salem County, and I see potential to bridge the counties, including Gloucester County in some way. There are a lot of great people involved with SCH and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with them.
To learn more about visit: www.libraryseedbank.info