Seeds with a Sense of Place
By Belle Starr
Prominent in Europe for centuries, the local food movement is at last blossoming in the United States… and just in the nick of time. With so many current health and social issues linked to the industrial foods we eat — diabetes, attention-deficit disorder, autism, celiac disease — eating fresh, local and organic has never been more important. The proliferation of farmer’s markets are proof-in-point, almost doubling nationwide since 2006 according to the USDA with equally dramatic increases in attendance.
There is a new realization that with local foods comes a local identity and flavor. Terroir is not only a term used for wine these days to describe the tastes that originate from the land in which crops are grown—it is now connected to the variety of foods we savor from wherever we live. The southwest is no exception. In fact, it offers a cornucopia of mouthwatering conservation unlike anywhere else. Chiltepins (the wild relative of chiles), white Sonoran wheat, and tepary beans are southwest staples that speak to the ancient agricultural tradition of this region.
But aside from our culinary heritage, we still want our dinner table staples like lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, kale, chard and so forth. Fortunately, most are available at our local farmer’s markets. But wait, with all this focus on local foods, what about the seeds from which these foods are grown? Oops. Somehow we missed that. Ask your farmer where he/she sources their seeds and they are likely to tell you “from a company thousands of miles away.” Why is that a problem? It isn’t sustainable.
Most of the seeds sold by seed companies are sourced from elsewhere —sometimes as far away as Europe and the Middle East. Secondly, there are so many missed opportunities when seeds come from so far away. When farmers save their own seeds, they are in essence taking the best from this season into the next as they learn to select for resilience, early harvest, and resistance to disease and insects. It also allows them to select for flavor, bringing us back to the wonders ofterroir.
In our modern world, like so many other things, we are led to believe we need to leave this seed-saving business to the experts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Seed saving and humans have been inextricably entwined since the beginning of civilization. In many ways, the act of saving seeds (and no longer relying solely on hunting and gathering) created who we are today: people of place.
Without getting into today’s huge health and political implications of what is happening with our food and the seeds that sustain us, our take-home message is that everyone can save seeds.
And whether you are a farmer or not, Seed School is the “go to” program that will clearly outline steps to take to create a new seed paradigm. Founded by former Native Seeds/SEARCH co-directors Bill McDorman and Belle Starr (now directors of the new Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance), this nationally-acclaimed training has graduated over 450 seed stewards from around the world since its inception in September of 2010. The next opportunity to attend Seed School is June 1st through the 6th in Prescott at the Prescott College Campus and Farm.
Twelve seed companies have been launched as a result of students attending Seed School. Nationwide, seed citizens are learning not only the science and craft of seed saving, but the politics, the history, and spiritual underpinnings of this ancient ritual.
Interestingly, with so many educational institutions leaning toward biotechnology and virtually eliminating traditional agricultural studies, Seed School stands out as one of the only trainings of its kind.
This broad-based curriculum is applicable wherever you live. In his book Desert Terroir, Gary Paul Nabhan posits: “Whether it’s the volatile chemical compounds that a plant absorbs from the soil or the stories and memories of places that are evoked by taste, layers of flavor await those willing to delve into the roots of real food.” And real food comes from plants grown with seeds from our own local region. Attend Seed School!
Editor’s Note: Check out this Special Urban Farm Exclusive Discount – Seed School for ONLY $400 – That is $300 off the going rate!
This is a very special offer only to the readers of the Urban Farm Lifestyle Newsletter. There are only three spaces available at this price and they will go fast. Then reach out to Belle@SeedSave.org and introduce yourself. Remember to get this price you must pay in full $400 by May 9.