[WATCH] How this teen activist is promoting environmental stewardship, one seed at a time

Meet Alicia Serratos, the 14-year-old Girl Scout who brought seed library to every US state
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At just 14 years of age, Alicia Serratos is a force of nature. Having devoted most of her childhood to community service, Serratos has undertaken several environmental conservation, volunteering, and entrepreneurial projects to give back to the earth and its inhabitants.

A Girl Scout since she was five, Serratos is now a Cadette decorated with Bronze and Silver Awards and a member of the Reign Wrestling Club. She often orchestrates and leads community gardening events and classes teaching car maintenance fundamentals to fellow young girls. 

Among her many laurels, Serratos is perhaps best known for her seed library initiative, the 3 Sisters Seed Box. Serratos spent the pandemic coordinating, assembling, and distributing at least two seed boxes to each and every state in the US. 

PHOTO: Courtesy of 3 Sisters Seed Box

With environmental activist Rob Greenfield’s help, she sent 100 boxes across the US and even overseas to Puerto Rico and Haiti. Through this global movement, she hopes to encourage children and adults alike to grow their own food and preserve plant diversity for our ecosystems. 

“When you start a painting, it’s a lot of hard work, but when you see the finished result, it’s just beautiful,” Serrato said about her inaugural seed library at Viejo Elementary School. 

“It was so cool to be like, “I put so much time into it, and this is what it became.””

Serratos was chatting with INN24 via Zoom, wearing her unmistakable Dutch braids and dimpled smile. Although three hours behind and 4,000 kms away, Serrato’s buoyant energy was no less infectious through the computer screen.

Serratos with an eggplant seed box (PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

Sowing seeds of change

Serratos created her first seed library in 2014 as part of her Girl Scout Bronze qualification, a project that ignited what would become an ongoing enterprise to preserve seeds. In 2019, she decided to undertake the seed library project again for her Silver Award, only this time it would be bigger and better.

“No one really realizes that seeds are going extinct,” Serratos said about what motivated her international seed boxes. “We don’t have the energy we need for ourselves if we don’t have seeds because that’s where life comes from.”

Serratos at a 3 Sisters Seed Library (PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

So, what exactly are seed libraries?

“A seed library is just like a regular library, but instead of checking out books, you’re checking out seeds,” according to 3 Sisters Seed Box. 

Community members take the seeds home, sow them, and eventually harvest the plants, at which point some are consumed while others are “left to seed.” The seeds are then returned to the library to replenish the supply that was borrowed. 

With the seeds entirely free to the public, the seed library democratizes access to seeds and home-grown food in a continuous, self-sustaining cycle.

Each seed box, Serratos explained, is essentially a seed library in a box, containing all the tools needed to establish your very own seed library: an instructional binder, envelopes to check out and return seeds, wooden label sticks, and the pièce de résistance 20 packs of inorganic seeds.

(PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

The idea for the seed box germinated at the start of the pandemic: Serratos knew she wanted to expand her seed library movement, but due to school closures, she could no longer assemble libraries on site like she used to. So she devised a solution around these unprecedented obstacles.

“Why don’t we put all the materials that they need in a box and send it out?” Serratos asked herself. 

With 3 Sisters Seed Box, she wanted to facilitate others in creating DIY projects during lockdowns, to help others contribute to a meaningful initiative and produce something they could be proud of. 

Although gardening may seem like a daunting endeavour for the novice, Serratos suggests it is an easy hobby to pick if you start small and set feasible goals.  

“Grow something you want to grow and make it fun,” she said.

A changemaker since six years of age

Serrato’s community activism had early beginnings. If you’ve ever had a GMO-free Samoas Girls Scout cookie, you can credit its historic non-GMO status to Serratos, who made it possible with the help of her mother and troop leader, Monica. 

In 2013, six-year-old Serratos launched petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and lobbied the US’s Girl Scouts for non-GMO cookies. She came to know about the dangers of GMO foods when her troop was learning about healthy eating and researching every ingredient on a box of cookies. 

“It made me realize that these ingredients aren’t healthy for you,” Serratos reflected. “You can’t always rely on other people to do things for you, so I said, “I’m gonna do something about it.”

Serratos and her Girl Scout troop learned about GMO ingredients and hidden chemicals in cookies as part of a group activity (PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

Under their troop leader’s tutelage, Serratos and her fellow Girl Scouts put their newfound knowledge to practice. 

For three long years, Serratos and her fellow Girl Scouts crusaded for GMO-free cookies. The numerous setbacks from the local council and rejections from the Girl Scouts headquarters were matched only by the young girls’ grit and determination.  

Serratos, however, understandably took umbrage when the Girls Scout headquarters in New York slighted her troop. In some ways, this experience exposed the underbelly of the organization to a young girl who held it in esteem.  

“I was in shock because Girl Scouts are supposed to elevate each other,” she said. 

“The fact that they ignored a project that took me a long time made me realize Girl Scouts as they actually are but it didn’t stop me from being who I am.”

Two years later, at eight, Serratos starred in the food documentary, The Need to Grow (2019), about the food production system’s ravages and possible sustainable alternatives to revolutionize how humans make and consume food. With the public exposure and increased awareness due to the film, Serratos continued to advocate for her cause. 

Finally, in 2016, the Girls Scouts of the USA announced its inaugural GMO-free Samoas.

“It was so cool because people realize “Oh, these are GMO-free cookies!” and I got to say that was because of me.”

Serratos and troop amassed thousands of signatures for their petition for GMO-free Girl Scout cookies (PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

Serratos has kindled a passion for healthy eating since a young age and makes a habit of reading food labels thoroughly before buying a product, ensuring that it is organic and certified non-GMO.  

Serratos and her family have turned a health-conscious lifestyle to opportunities for family bonding: she and her grandmother frequent farmer’s markets, and her family often embark on strawberry-picking trips. 

In 2020, Serratos and her family even planted 22 community fruit trees together within one week as part of her Lake Forest Food Forest project.

Lake Forest Food Forest volunteers planted 22 trees in one week (PHOTO: Courtesy of Lake Forest Food Forest)

“You want to know where your food is coming from and how they grow it,” said Serratos, who also developed a cookbook with her mother, Recipes to Grow, featuring dishes made from organic, GMO-free, and gluten-free ingredients. 

Serratos recommended her “Easy Peasy Banana Pancakes” that she makes “almost every day” and requires only two ingredients. Proceeds from the cookbook go towards establishing organic gardens in schools through a partnership with The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano, California.

Recipes to Grow, with healthy dishes developed by Serratos and her mother, Monica (PHOTO: Courtesy of Blurb)

Where passion and activism intertwine

Serratos has recently fostered a love for fashion, a new interest that led her to research the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the fast fashion industry and textile mills.  

“I feel like a lot of people take advantage of what they have without realizing that they’re taking from others,” she said.

Serratos and boots she found at Uptown Cheapskake (PHOTO: Courtesy of Second-Hand Sister)

According to UN Environment, the fast fashion industry is the second-biggest consumer of water, and makes up 8 to 10% of global carbon emissions. The industry shortfalls are also a human rights issue, with 93% of companies surveyed by Fashion Checker failing to pay their garment workers a living wage. 

To Serratos, the hidden costs of an enticing price tag are not worth it.

“As much as I love a good deal,” she said, “I want to make sure that my clothes are not making someone else do more than they need to.”

She then founded Second-Hand Sister and RiPurpose as part of this new chapter of responsible fashion consumption. On Second-Hand Sister, she reviews thrift stores and reflects on her shopping experience. Serratos said that she is continuously learning about thrift shopping and wants to take her followers along the journey. 

Similarly, RiPurpose which comes from her nickname, Ri is an upcycling initiative for which Serratos revamps old, unwanted garments. A portion of the proceeds from general orders go to a non-profit organization of her choice, while those from wrestling-related items will be donated to Wrestle Like A Girl and Wrestling For Life.

“The idea is to show others you don’t have to throw things away,” she wrote on the RiPurpose page. “Sometimes, there are ways to give things a second life by changing them or repurposing them. I’m also repurposing with a purpose.” 

Most importantly, Serratos has committed to shopping only second hand for an entire year.

Thrift shopping has its merits too, according to Serratos. “Buying a second-hand shirt gives it a new life.” She said she has had successive shopping excursions where she discovered stylish items at a fraction of the price she would pay if she purchased them online. 

Serratos and her sister found a pair of overalls at Salvation Army for $5 plus 50% off. (PHOTO: Courtesy of Second-Hand Sister)

Serratos also enjoys the unexpected surprises from thrift store treasure hunts.

“It’s really fun!” she said. “It’s like when you get those little toys from Target in a mystery pack. You never know what you’re going to find.” 

Serratos continues to be propelled by her love for volunteering and environmental activism. She credited her mother for her tireless support in all her causes. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do this all without my mom,” Serratos beamed.

Serratos has exceeded her goal of sending 100 seed boxes across the US (PHOTO: Courtesy of Alicia Serratos)

Even though she has a lot of tasks on her agenda, Serratos still finds the time to revel in her teenage years  attending wrestling matches, spending time with her friends, and going for morning runs with her sister, when they’d identify trees they had previously planted.

Serratos admitted that her eventful calendar could be overwhelming at times, but her values and her core beliefs keep her anchored.

“It’s a little bit stressful because there’s so much on my plate,” Serratos said. “I have a passion for everything I do, so it makes it easy to fit it all into my day, my week, my month.” 

Serratos is active on Instagram, her blog, and on YouTube, where she chronicles her many causes and personal projects, serving as a template for other teens and adults who wish to effect change on an individual and even global scale. 

After all, Serratos said it best: it starts with planting a seed. 

Wiki Production Code: A0647

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