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By Jeff Quattrone

Hello from the Slow Food table. I took a seat in 2007 to read the vibrant stories of the Ark of Taste. The stories convinced me to become an advocate, but for what? In 2012, I took a seat at the international table at Terra Madre. The following year, I became an heirloom seed advocate. Here’s my story.

After Terra Madre, I spent a year researching seeds, seed libraries, and ways that I could bring seed libraries and seed advocacy to where I live in New Jersey. In 2014, I launched the Library Seed Bank to work with public libraries on establishing these libraries. I currently have two libraries up and running. I’ve implemented growing programs, and consulted with community groups on seed saving, and food sovereignty.

My goal at the time was to expand the conversation about seeds. In addition to expanding the conversation, I also expanded my role as an advocate. In 2015, food waste was brought to my attention with an opportunity to produce a food waste event, an opportunity which I took. I found myself advocating for people to save seeds to preserve biodiversity, and with this food waste event, advocating for reducing food waste as well. These two ends of a complex food system spectrum challenged me to find a local, community-based solution. As the story of 2016 unfolded, a solution presented itself.

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I’m fortunate to be involved with a dynamic, diverse and organized community in Woodbury, New Jersey. They want a food coop. I needed a community-based food system solution. Enter the Seed to Salvage food coop model, which expands a traditional, retail food coop model with current food sovereignty initiatives. This coop will have a seed bank stocked with Ark of Taste selections, along with local, heirloom varieties for members to grow, trade and save. Working with current growing trends, outdoor vertical gardening, yard farming and community gardening will be part of the mix.

Member growers will be able to trade their harvest amongst themselves, or sell to the coop. If we can make it happen, a commercial kitchen will be part of the coop for members to develop food products to sell or preserve their food. Finally, the coop will be the point of contact in the community for food waste as a hub or relay point. Potential food waste would be held there until arrangements are made with relief agencies. In October 2016, we will start moving forward with this.

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The Emilia-Romagna region in Italy produces one third of Italy’s GDP with coops. I look forward to working with Slow Food chapters there to connect with local food coops, learn what they do, and apply it here. I have a company that will benefit from a producer’s coop. When I was at Terra Madre in 2012, I had a press pass. I sat in on a roundtable. Carlo Petrini was there. Coops were part of a larger sustainability discussion. What was inspiration then is foreshadowing now for this chapter of my story.

When I first took a seat to read the Ark of Taste stories, little did I realize where those stories would take me as a food advocate. Now, I share stories, collaborate with members, and embrace the plot twists that challenge me to preserve local biodiversity, and change local, food system dynamics. It’s a great table here at Slow Food. Please, take a seat. We’d love to hear your stories, and collaborate on new ones.