California teen Alicia Serratos doesn’t shy away from a challenge. She’s a student athlete, an accomplished Girl Scout, an environmentalist and social activist – all at just fifteen years old. She’s been involved in volunteer projects from a young age, many of which have been centered around gardening. “I’ve been learning about nutritious eating and our environment since I was five years old,” says Alicia. “In 2015, I had the idea to start an organic garden at my school to help teach other kids about eating healthy. My Girl Scout troop raised over $2,000 to get started. Then two of my favorite teachers jumped on board. They put together a layout, took some classes, and wrote some grants. Next thing I knew, we were ripping out grass, installing garden beds, and spreading mulch!”
That same year Alicia and her family met David King, founder of The Seed Library of Los Angeles. Inspired by David’s passion for sharing seeds, Alicia decided to start a seed library at her school, Viejo Elementary in Mission Viejo, California. “A seed library is just like a regular library, but instead of checking out books, you’re checking out seeds,” Alicia explains. “It’s a place for teachers, students, families, and community members to check out a variety of seeds to plant and grow on campus or at home. The seeds are completely free. Once the plants grow, some are harvested and some are left to ‘go to seed.’ Then, you harvest the seeds and return them to the Seed Library.”
Over the next five years, Alicia established seed libraries at two more elementary schools – Las Palmas Elementary and Carl Hankey Elementary – earning her a Bronze Award for community service from Girl Scouts. Alicia and her family also installed a Little Free Seed Library in front of their home inspired by the Little Free Library movement. Soon the success stories started rolling in. “Hearing the stories of people planting things with seeds from the libraries made it all worth it,” says Alicia. “My favorite part was seeing kids learn about seeds and where their food comes from.”
Taking the Seed Libraries Nationwide
In 2019, Alicia was brainstorming service projects she could start to merit a Girl Scouts Silver Award. She knew she wanted her project to involve establishing more seed libraries, but wanted to reach communities farther away from home. Alicia realized she could potentially reach anyone, anywhere, if she created a seed library starter kit that could fit in a postage box.
She decided to call the project 3 Sisters Seed Box in homage to both traditional three sisters companion planting (corn, squash, and beans), and Alicia’s two sisters. Each box would contain a binder of information on seed saving and running a seed library, 20 packs of seeds, containers to house each variety, wooden stakes for labeling newly planted seeds, and a pack of envelopes and pens for library users. She set a goal of sending out 100 boxes nationwide (including all fifty states), and then got to work figuring out how to make it all happen.
Alicia created a webpage and social media accounts for 3 Sisters Seed Box, and started to self-promote the project. Word about her stellar idea spread quickly, and soon she was getting requests for interviews and participation from across the country. Seed Savers Alliance, who had donated seeds for her first three libraries in California, agreed to supply the 2,000 packs needed for the project. Not long after, Alicia met environmental activist Rob Greenfield who agreed to help with the shipping costs. Alicia received additional support from Whole Kids Foundation and Community Seed Network, and by April of 2020 had mailed out her first box to Pennsylvania.
Over the next nine months Alicia worked to assemble the kits and vet the stream of requests coming through, ensuring that seeds were going to communities committed to establishing a library. By January of 2021 she had exceeded her goal, mailing a total of 108 seed library boxes to addresses in all fifty states, plus Puerto Rico and Haiti.
“It was a lot of work. I am a full-time student with several honors classes, and a full-time athlete. There was a lot of research involved. There were endless amounts of emails sent and phone calls made to partnerships and library hosts. At times it seemed impossible to reach my goal, but I stuck with it. While it ended up being my Girl Scout Silver Award Project, I would have done it regardless. It was important to me to raise awareness about seed saving. Any time I learn something new, it's fun to help share that information with others, especially when I feel they can benefit from it. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and feeling empowered to do more.”
Since completing the 3 Sisters Seed Box project, Alicia has turned her sights to more issues that matter to her. “Right now, I’m focusing my activism on equality for females in the sport of wrestling. I’m developing two courses to be released in unison; a certification course for coaching women's wrestling to promote best practices for treatment of female wrestlers, and an athlete awareness course to help female wrestlers recognize when they are being mistreated and how to confidently and effectively respond.” Though her focus has shifted to include equality in athletics, Alicia is still passionate about seed sharing and food equity. She continues to maintain the free seed library in front of her house and recently planted 21 fruit trees around her community with the help of neighbors and Rob Greenfield.
Alicia’s hope is that by helping establish seed libraries and sharing the practice of seed-saving, she’s helping to increase food security and justice, provide people with a deeper connection to nature, and raise awareness about the importance of seed diversity.
While it’s no longer possible to apply for a 3 Sisters Seed Box, there are a number of resources available for borrowing seeds, or starting a library of your own! A great place to start is at Community Seed Network, where you can search an interactive map for all of Alicia’s 3 Sisters Seed Libraries and other seed-sharing opportunities, and find information on starting a seed library in your own neighborhood.
If you’re interested in learning more about saving seeds from plants you already have growing, check out these videos of Alicia explaining how to harvest seeds from some common garden plants: