Transition Town Collaboration I: Seeds

Investigators: Louise St. Pierre and all the students in the ecoTANK core studio; Village Vancouver
Collaborators: Ross Moster and the Village Vancouver Transition Community, Kay Cahill and Noni Mildenberger, Vancouver Public Libraries
Students: Fall 2014 ecoTANK core design studio, Emily Carr

DESIS Emily Carr collaborated with Village Vancouver to design seed libraries to support the practice of seed sharing in the lower mainland. Village Vancouver is a Transition Town. Along with other transition communities around the world, it is devoted to supporting the transition to a low-resource economy. Seed sharing has many benefits. It lowers the costs of gardening, fosters the selection of locally adapted plant species, and allows independence from big seed corporations. Village Vancouver supports this practice by providing seed libraries throughout Greater Vancouver that are points of exchange and learning at Street Fairs, Farmer’s Markets, Community Gardens, and Public Libraries.

Emily Carr DESIS students spent time immersed in the grassroots culture of seed sharing. Then, taking the redundancy approach rather than the traditional design approach, developed a diversity of seed libraries to be manufactured and shared locally. With the wearable Seed Apron, a roving volunteer carries seeds throughout a Farmer’s Market to have conversations about the importance of exchanging seeds. The product supports a performative and social function. The Market Box is suitable for street fairs. The Book of Seeds is designed to fit into the Public Library context, and the DIY Seed Storage is a low-cost instruction kit for Community Gardeners to build their own storage. This multiple solution approach allowed Village Vancouver to find a variety of locations within the local urban fabric willing to host seed libraries. This diversity provides for emergent social engagement among different types of communities.


Village Vancouver is a Transition Town community that focuses on food security and local food production as key to sustainable, low carbon communities.


Our work in PHASE ONE focused on how to support local seed sharing initiatives. Seed sharing can take place in public libraries, community centres, community gardens, or at fairs and community gatherings.


Seed sharing is a community centred practice that is politically charged. In many places, antiquated laws prohibit sharing seeds. Corporations like Monsanto take communities to court to prevent seed swapping. Forcing gardeners to buy seeds drives up costs for gardeners. Even more, it impedes local gardening practices that involve years of careful seed selection to grow locally adapted varieties that thrive in a specific region.


Creative research involved the iterative development of several ‘seed library’ prototypes for feedback and discussion with community stakeholders. This included Village Vancouver volunteers and librarians from the Vancouver Public Library. At a community gathering, several prototypes were shown to the community for discussion.


Outreach, Artifiact

Designed artifacts can empower community members to engage more widely. Aprons allow seed collectors to rove through a market or street fair and talk to others about the importance of sharing seeds.



Social innovation is about stories; stories of people, activities, communities and events. Designers work to gain a deep understanding of context and use design skills such as illustrations, video and storyboards to communicate stories of use.


locally manufactured, local materials, low-technology methods
locally distributed, locally used


design for context, research and testing, product development

Students practice a range of skills from high-level contextual research, community and co-creation methods, through to production detailing and design communication. The students actively participate and help guide the project, choosing how to engage with members of the community.


entrepreneurial. new contexts. outreach

Designers in British Columbia increasingly creating create their own jobs. This project supports students in reaching out to local communities to generate conversations about where their unique skills might be useful in entrepreneurial or unexpected contexts. As a corollary, members of the community come to understand design and the value of working with designers.