by Greg Schoen
Most of us are aware that there has been for years a vibrant movement regarding the preservation of heirloom seeds, or as I prefer to call them, ‘heritage seeds’. Through the thousands of years of human civilization, there was developed a kaleidoscope of variation in all the kinds of seeds of food crops—grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits. And let’s not forget fiber plants and colorful flowers. Some, like the medicinal herbs, are gathered and have remained mostly wild, while others were domesticated. As the cultures formed and people migrated around the world, they carried their seeds, along with their stories and traditions. The seeds themselves carry memory in their genetic code, along with the subtle record of all the experiences of those planting them through the many generations.
In our recent history, as agriculture has become more mechanized and centralized, and as far fewer of us are engaged in farming and related life, the types of seeds grown to produce food have become specialized, and as a result the great majority of traditional varieties have been lost—that means, extinct, as they are no longer being planted.
Increasingly, genetically engineered (GMO) crops have become the majority of our corn, soybeans and many other crops, replacing those varieties created by traditional and conventional plant breeding. These alterations, and perhaps the intentions that created them, have entered the world’s food supply.
Fortunately there are a bunch of intrepid and enthusiastic souls all over the world that are working to rescue the heritage seeds that remain, grow them in protected places, and bring them back into culture and life.
Heritage Seeds at the Southwest Sufi Community, and The Path Seed Temple in Estancia, NM
At the Southwest Sufi Community, northwest of Silver City, we are doing our part to grow many heritage seed varieties, including corn, beans, and several others. The corn has included the colorful ‘glass gem’ type, and other indigenous corns such as Hopi and Pueblo corns. Several colorful bean types, including the mysterious ‘Beauty way’ or ‘Fremont’ runner beans are grown. We are fortunate to have the waters of Bear Creek, with water rights and fields to grow in, along with spring water. An opportunity for expanded permaculture exists here and we are looking for more people who may be interested in taking part in this rewarding work.
Seeds grown at the Sufi Community lands are shared with seed banks, seed libraries, and individuals. The SSC is in cooperation with Grandmother Flordemayo’s ‘The Path’ Seed Temple project (near Estancia, NM) that hosts a seed bank for safe keeping and sharing with the local communities.
None of the seeds from the Sufi Community or The Path project are sold. All seeds are shared openly with people interested in being seed stewards. Some are volunteers who grow out (increase) seeds that are acquired and may be rare or in limited amount. Those seed varieties that perform well and produce a good harvest are chosen to be given out to folks who just want to get started.
Why not sell? Because there is a greater opportunity here with the seeds. First, I ask—on a grass-roots level, why interpose a ‘storefront’ between you, me, and the seeds? Although seed businesses can be an effective way to get the seed out there and maintain quality, the seed itself is the currency. In sharing and exchanging seeds there is a passing around of the life and culture of community. Seeds themselves carry their own ancestry, their own story. We who plant them also have our history, and that is interwoven with the seeds we carry. Seed sharing in community builds relationships, which are the true wealth. Experienced seed stewards can apply the same techniques as the professionals to produce high quality seed. Seed saving and stewardship in community can provide ‘training wheels’ for embodying the principles of a more barter-based way of life that may become more necessary in coming times.
Seed growing offers a direct communion with nature, its cycles and the elements. Young children especially benefit from growing gardens and seeds. Much like the ‘first milk’ provides a newborn baby with immunities it needs, an early connection to nature provides an imprint that will help children to later find their way in a world awash in technology and digital distractions.
For me as an adult, working with the seeds has helped to reinforce and nurture the basic qualities of spirituality (it keeps me off the streets) in a similar way that others strengthen their paths with music, art, philosophy, and healing work. If someone asks “Is seed saving is a spiritual path?” I just say that it can truly support whichever spiritual path that you are living.
Heritage seed work and the seed sovereignty movement is going strong in our larger neighborhood, such as in northern New Mexico, Tucson and Verde Valley of Arizona, and southwest Colorado. In our own backyard is the pioneering work of Joshua Cravens near Monticello, and Lee Gearhart in Gila (where Seeds of Change got started). Silver City has a seed library, located in the Public Library, where you can ‘check out’ seeds to grow and increase, and then give back a portion of your harvest to the library to perpetuate it for others. The Volunteer Center in Silver City sponsors seed exchanges and hosts demonstration and community gardens. Local garden clubs such as High Desert Organic Gardeners (HIDOG) and school groups are also working with seeds.
Here’s how to connect:
Silver City Public Library https://silvercitypubliclibrary.wordpress.com/
The Volunteer Center http://tvcgrantcounty.org/
High Desert Organic Gardeners (HIDOG)
In the Bigger Neighborhood:
The Path (Flordemayo in Estancia, NM) followthegoldenpath.org (for inquiries contact Greg Schoen)
New Mexico Acequia Association www.lasacequias.org/food-and-agriculture/seed-alliance/
Traditional Native American Farmers Association (TNAFA) www.tnafa.org
Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute 4bridges.org
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance https://rockymountainseeds.org
Native Seeds/SEARCH www.nativeseeds.org
Seed Savers Exchange www.seedsavers.org