The Seedfolks Project
Recently, a handful of the younger students at Central Vermont Adult Basic Education’s Barre Depot classroom read Paul Fleischman’s 2002 book, Seedfolks. The book had been a “Vermont Reads” selection a few years back. We had just finished reading this year’s “Vermont Reads” selection, Katherine Patterson’s excellent (and ultimately Barre-based) The Day of the Pelican, as a group. We were inclined to continue our group readings. This book didn’t take us very long to get through. It is a small thing, but surprisingly resonant. The story is written as an episodic round of its characters’ voices, each commenting on how they become one of the urban gardeners who - virtually spontaneously - create a beloved community garden out of a trash-filled, abandoned Cleveland lot. The book, at first, might almost seem too simple or too ‘young’ for these high school-aged students. And yet, a compelling story is compelling, no matter its simplicity. So Seedfolks proved for us. Each characters’ voice – some young, some aged, some in dialect, some proud, some timid, some immigrant, some bristling with wit or hurt or intelligent do-goodism or pride (at least as we meet them) – moves the story on, almost like singing a slow, beautiful song, in rounds. Characters walk offstage at the end of their own accounts and then reappear in others’ tales. The garden – never speaking – assumes center stage. It is a quietly masterful little book, and one that seems to exhort readers to Do Something. The “Depotians” response to the book was, firstly, to plant some seedlings of their own, and then to imagine creating a small CVABE garden from these. A poster storyboard, depicting gardening and the community-building it can engender, followed. The literary response I solicited from the participants, as we concluded our read through, was for each of us to create yet another character and chapter that could have been a part of Seedfolks. What the students came up with fit right in. Characters far removed from these young peoples’ lives appeared on the page and joined right in. They seemed right at home alongside the original characters. Like Jean Giono said of his classic, The Man Who Planted Trees: “I wanted to write a book to make people love trees – or better yet, to love planting trees.” Seedfolks seems intent on planting seeds both literal and symbolic. These small stories are some of ours.