Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rejuvenation Through Saving Seeds

"Institutions do not save seeds- humans with hearts do."
- Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan, 2013 Annual Conference and Campout, Seed Savers Exchange

This coming week I'll be attending the 37th Annual EcoFarm Conference, and I greatly look forward to spending time with organic growers and advocates. I always learn something, connect with interesting people, and return rejuvenated with a renewed commitment to my work with edibles. The theme of this years' conference is "Cultivating Diversity", as in people, as well as seeds. 
It's a theme close to my heart, as an immigrant and a seed saver.

So I got to thinking about seeds and our ancestral origins. And as I day-dream about the coming spring planting season, strong emotions are stirring within. I'm passionate about seeds- they truly stir up my emotional side. It took me a while to understand why, and to be able to put it into words. Seeds, especially for edibles, have been saved by humans for thousands of years. First Nation Peoples consider them as "living, breathing, ancestors". And in fact, viable seeds are alive, and they are handed down through families and communities to this day, although alarmingly, much less so. These are true heirloom varieties that provide a critical means by which we carry on our culture, whether it's rooted in Native American traditions, or a family group of immigrants, perhaps generations ago.

In my family, favas are a must-have spring food that I grow annually

We all have family food stories with origins in those who came before us, if we dig deep enough. For immigrants like me, those connections to our cultural foods are strong. I arrived in the USA with my parents and brother from Chile many years ago. It was years into adulthood before I realized that many of our favorite Chilean dishes we grew up with originated with Native Peoples in the region, especially the Mapuche ("people of the earth"). Many of our words in Chilean Spanish have their roots with Mapuche language.

Beans and fresh corn with basil is a typical Chilean food combination

So it's not surprising that my garden reflects my cultural roots, a mix of what the Europeans brought with them and Native foods: fava beans, different types of common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), salad greens, artichokes, squashes, and various perennial herbs are my staples, including two shrubs of Lemon Verbena for herbal tea (Aloysia triphylla), native to Chile and other countries in South America. 

Squash is another family favorite 

I have feeble hopes of finding seeds of beans, corn or squash that were traditionally grown by the Mapuche 
(which are very much alive today) that I could bring to California. The seeds would have to be certified free of pests in special packaging to be allowed entry into our agriculturally minded state, and these types of seeds are normally not available in that form, as they are stewarded by dedicated guadadores de semillas or seed savers, same as here in the USA.  I've checked. So far, no luck. 

My harvest of beautiful runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus)

My new goal is to find seeds of Native foods in this country, perhaps rare ones, and put my effort into growing and eating those- certainly a worthy cause. I'm anticipating that my passion for saving seeds will find a new fulfillment in connecting with seeds of Native Peoples, after all, those are my ancestors as well, only further south!

If you have any suggestions on which I should grow, I'd love to hear them- please use the comment section below. Many thanks! 

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke