Seeds for tomorrow

Butte College student works to establish public seed bank for school’s 50th anniversary

Kolleen Kingsley shares her love of gardening and agriculture. “I don’t mean to sound like too much of a hippie,” she says, “but playing in the soil is therapeutic on so many levels.”

Kolleen Kingsley shares her love of gardening and agriculture. “I don’t mean to sound like too much of a hippie,” she says, “but playing in the soil is therapeutic on so many levels.”

Photo by Ken Smith

Bank deposits:
Anyone looking to donate seeds to the Butte College Seed Library should contact Kolleen Kingsley at

A Butte College student working to establish a seed bank at the school was inspired by her love of agriculture and her family history.

Though mostly raised in Butte County, Kolleen Kingsley has spent much of her life traveling the world, alone and with family. Of all the places she’s visited in 21 countries, nature-loving Kingsley said she was perhaps most profoundly affected by a sojourn to Central America during her teen years.

“My family is from Costa Rica, and I’m the first generation born in America,” Kingsley, 30, said during a recent interview on her front porch in Oroville that’s crowded with potted seedlings, which eventually will make their way into her large backyard garden. “I spent some time living with my family there during the summer months; they’re all farmers and have been for generations.

“I really appreciated the lifestyle, the culture, their relationship with their environment and how happy everyone seemed. They were healthy, growing their own food, living off the land and respecting nature because of it.”

Kingsley’s experience in her ancestral homeland left a lasting impression that she carried in her future travels, which she said exposed her to “many exotic and spectacularly diverse farming methods.” When she settled back in Butte County four years ago, she decided to dedicate her life to learning more about agriculture—particularly progressive, green practices—and eventually enrolled in Butte College’s Sustainability Studies program.

Earlier this semester, Kingsley was one of seven Butte College students to land a paid internship though Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI), a nonprofit group dedicated to energy, sustainability and carbon reduction issues that partners with Butte College and other schools. Her internship program, which is called Energizing Colleges, encourages students to start projects aimed at gaining real-world experience and educating others about sustainable practices.

“The seed bank fits very well into our goals with the program, especially from a sustainability standpoint,” said John Dalgren, Butte’s faculty adviser for the internship program and chair of the college’s Computer Science, Sustainable Technologies and Engineering program. “This particular project is a great example of how one student’s passion can help us create new and meaningful programs that can help expand our existing curriculum.”

With Butte College celebrating its 50th anniversary next semester, Kingsley hoped to create a project that will last for posterity.

She began soliciting seeds in March and has received pledges from more than a half-dozen sources, including Redwood Seeds, Petaluma Seed Bank, GRUB and Treetop Permaculture. The last group is also helping to construct a secure wooden structure to house all of the seeds. The plan is for it to be situated in and cared for by the Horticulture Department at Butte College’s main campus. Kingsley hopes to have the seed bank open to the public by the beginning of next semester.

“We are collecting donated heirloom seeds from sustainable sources … to create a secure and diverse assortment,” she explained. Those sources include farms, nurseries and seed companies; Kingsley said she also hopes community members will donate “anything unusual and unique.”

The seed bank will accept seeds on a continuous basis, though Kingsley is trying to collect as many as she can by the end of May. Names of individuals and organizations who pledge or give seeds by that deadline will be engraved on a plaque installed on the seed bank structure. Beyond that, all donations will be tracked in a log.

“The creation of the seed bank is intended to provide our local community with a vast variety of seeds that could in return provide food supply and security and serve as a learning area for interested horticulturists, scientist and researchers,” she said.

Kingsley spoke highly of the school’s sustainability program, noting it takes just one year to complete and the certification offered unlocks a vast array of opportunities.

“In just two semesters you can have an umbrella of career pathways,” she said. “Sustainability taps into everything—journalism, agriculture, resource management, education. There’s just so much you can do with it.”

She said she also appreciates the experiences the semester-long SEI internship has given her. For example, last week (May 3) she attended a conference on biochar at UC Merced. Biochar is charcoal made from plant material that is used as a carbon-rich soil amendment and is also touted as a way to use less water in agriculture. During the conference, Kingsley said, she met other interns and sustainability students from as far away as Indonesia, and sat on panels with government officials directly involved in policy making.

“This program is really amazing because they encourage students to dive into these really hands-on projects without fear,” she said, adding: “In this program, you are an inventor and a creator.”