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Saving Culturally Significant Seeds | MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Saving Culturally Significant Seeds | MOTHER EARTH NEWS


Planting a seed is a sacred way for a hungry soul to walk the path back to their ancestors and reconnect with the Earth. Each seed is a gift in our hands, given to us by the generations of farmers before us who held the ancestors of that seed. As modern seed keepers, we stand upon the shoulders of those farmers, and we must ensure future generations will know these seeds. Our gardens are the legacy of those farmers — their seed song. These seeds are our ancestors’ ecological knowledge that we’re tasked with holding at this moment in time.

When you begin your journey by saving the seeds from plants you’ve grown and planting them again in subsequent years, you become part of a ritual that’s thousands of years old. That ritual gave us the bounty through which each and every one of the world’s unique culinary traditions was born; and it developed all the food we eat, passed down from the plants’ wild ancestors. When we look to the past, none of us, from any heritage or walk of life, has to go back many generations to find a farmer in the family and a connection to seeds. By saving seeds, you’re living your farming ancestors’ legacy of strength and resilience, and protecting that sense of place that grows out of our shared traditions.

It’s never too late to begin saving seeds. Starting with something easy, such as squash, can be delightful and fulfilling. Seeds make a wonderful gift, and you may just light the seed-saving fire in a fellow gardener. When we save seeds, we’re not only preserving the past for future generations, we’re also keeping money in our pockets. Saving seeds is inexpensive, and if you locate a seed library or seed swap, you can procure additional cultivars while also depositing your own seeds into the collective system.

As a native seed keeper and member of the Abenaki tribe, I occupy that liminal place between the present-day world and the sedulous care and reverent safeguarding of our ancient foodways. Keeping an endangered culture (or cultivar) alive for future generations is a great honor that I don’t take lightly. The balance between keeping the old ways relevant and living a practical daily life in modernity can be challenging.

 Abenaki ceremony is closely intertwined with our agricultural calendars. All major observances revolve around the binding of food and family. When North America was first colonized, we weren’t crude savages simply wresting life from the wilderness in constant struggle. In fact, we had a sophisticated agricultural system in place that saved the lives of those who came to this nation as colonizers, settlers, and religious refugees. Our verdant food forest had already been carefully stewarded and curated by generations of farming mothers, feeding millions. Our neigh­boring Hau­denosaunee siblings were also well-documented as supreme masters of food storage and preservation, with years of food and seed stores in their cache.

In today’s society, we must redefine Indigenous gardens, agriculture, and food sovereignty by our new standards of modernity. In some cases, it may be necessary to research and rediscover traditional practices that have been absent in our lives, because they were forcibly taken from many of our ancestors through acculturation practices and policies.

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