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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Gabriel

Letter from the Editor - Seed Issue





The inspiration for the theme of this issue came last year after reading an article about seed shortages during the pandemic. I was reminded of the empty seed racks at the stores in my area. Some seed companies only sold to farmers or limited the quantity an individual customer could buy. For some reason, though I can think of almost no resilient human-made systems, the lack of resilience within the seed system struck me. Farmers are some of the most forward-thinking and ingenious people I know. A good farmer designs redundancy into their systems in a variety of ways, such as by succession planting and planting a diversity to ensure harvest, by having multiple sources of water (ponds, swales, rainwater collection, and wells) in case of a drought, or by stockpiling hay or fodder crops in case forage is poor.  Yet, most farmers don’t save seed (I don’t. I’m a livestock farmer, so I'm not dependent on seed for my business, but I do grow a garden and rely on seed). This realization was striking. This means that most farmers are dependent on others to provide the backbone ingredients of their business - a risky and tenuous strategy.


The importance of seeds cannot be overstated. Yes, they are critical to a vegetable farmer, but more importantly, they hold generations of stories and cultures. They are an imprint of the past and a blueprint for the future - if we listen, watch and care.  


Reading through the submissions for this issue, I must admit it’s my favorite since I’ve been TNF’s editor. The love exuding from the articles is palpable. This love is not just for the miracle of a seed, but it’s also within the respect the storyteller/seed keeper holds for the seed, the ancestors of that seed and the people who have cared enough so that that seed is here today. It’s obvious that as Petra Page-Mann typed the words to explain the new baby cabbages her team developed, there was a smile of absolute joy and affection on her face and exuding from her fingertips (p.xx). Frank Morton's detailed essay on growing lettuce seed (p. xx) displays almost a courtship with this seed that can only be described as intimate. 

  

The thread that comes through so vividly when reading about seed is connection, a relationship of synergy and mutuality. As Rowen White, a Seed Keeper and farmer from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and founder of Sierra Seeds, described in a podcast, “Seed keeping is a Connection in this time of Collective disconnection… Do we know who we are? Is who I am what I write in a bio or who I want to be? What does it mean to be connected to who I am, in place, in community and to ancestors? Seeds seem to do this for so many - connect us to the past, the present and future, which feels like a magical reciprocal relationship, unlike most others.”  Bill Braun describes a similar phenomenon as he writes, “[the seed] at once embodies memory (past), latent possibility (present), and the promise of mutual care (future)”  (see pxx).  


Tragically, 93% of seed diversity has disappeared, and much of this destruction was intentional. History is filled with story after story of seeds being taken from people, destroyed by colonizers, and people prevented from growing seeds of their choosing and from their culture. In the US, this is part of the pattern of land theft from Native Americans and of enslaving Africans, chosen in part because of their knowledge of plants and ability to cultivate food, to build the agricultural basis of this country.  Rowen continues, “This grief of Connection … is from an accumulation of people not being able to grieve their sense of disconnection from place and their ancestry… it is in this concept of a diaspora of disconnection. I don't think there's a single one of us here who is untouched by the grief of that disconnection of living in diaspora.”  Bonetta Adeeb, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, explains,​ “There is a healing that takes place in telling seed stories” (p B9).


History continues to repeat itself on a global level. Today, in Israel and Palestine, horrible violations of human rights are taking place.  Critical economic crops are among the victims of the war. India’s agrarian crisis continues, sending farmer suicide rates to an all-time high as a result of Western seed corporations’ monopolistic control. The list goes on. The global seed economy has been designed to be one of control, patents and privatization. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a professor, member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and author of Braiding Sweetgrass, observes, “We’ve surrendered our values to an economic system that actively harms what we love.”  


And so it is that all of us farmers need to reclaim our values. 

So, where do we start?  


For some of us, we start by reclaiming a connection to ourselves by asking, who am I, where am I, and where and who did I come from? As Danielle Palaez from Soul Fire Farm describes, for her, seed keeping is a way to honor the great great great grandmothers of enslaved Africans who wove millet and okra and sorghum into their hair before being forced on the Transatlantic slave ships (p.xx). Members of the Jewish Seed Project (p.xx) are inquiring about and saving seed from foods connected to biblical times in the diasporas of the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, South America, and beyond. For participants in Seed Travels (p.xx), the tiny amaranth seed, with its story of resistance, has become a catalyst for profound personal and collective growth for many from Central America, Mexico, China, India, the Philippines, Congo, Sudan, and the Haudenosaunee Territory.


For all of us, we can learn the stories of the seeds we work with. Start with one of them. Commit to growing a few varieties from Truelove Seeds and learn their history. Add these podcasts to your queue: “Seeds And Their People” by Truelove Seeds and “Behind the Seeds” by LuAnna Nesbitt. Dig deeper into the work of the authors who offer articles in this issue (more will also be published in the Spring of 2024 TNF issue). As Bill Braun offers (p.xx), “Simply set aside [y]our predispositions and enter [y]our farms and gardens with an open heart,” and let the seeds teach you patience, resilience and hope. Cultivate deep gratitude and respect for the seed.  


As Indian scholar, environmental activist, ecofeminist and anti-globalization author Vandana Shiva said, “When you control the seed, you control life on earth.”


I’d like to thank LuAnna Nesbitt for co-editing this issue and connecting me to many of the authors who provided content and, because of her vast seed knowledge, helped ensure we had a thorough collection of seed-related topics.  Additionally, seeing so many authors refer to each other’s work has been a joy. There is clearly a unique humility among seed keepers and a strong community of respect and encouragement. And, on a personal note, this group of writers is the most responsive I’ve ever worked with, which made my job a little easier.


With respect and gratitude, 


Elizabeth


Resources to Dig In:

Janisse Ray, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food

Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, southernexposure.com

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