The Crestone Eagle • October, 2020

The seed keepers

by Linda Spade

Yesterday, my friend Marina gave me some seeds of a plant I’d never heard of before.  Research revealed this nitrogen-fixing, humble member of the legume family turns out to be an Ayurvedic panacea. Marina is a wise woman, providing the seeds, some dried flowers, and a fresh flower to show me all the aspects of this plant as well as some lemongrass to be used in a tea made of the flowers.  She was fascinated by the glorious blue color imparted by the dried flowers in her cup of tea.  Add a touch of lemon and the tea turns violet.  It’s a show stopper, alright.

When I got the seeds home I realized we were participating in a tradition of women being seed keepers and cultural custodians since time out of mind.

Seeds have to be grown out to preserve their viability and allow them to adapt to the ever changing climatic conditions, particularly now. Women understand the co-evolutionary relationship between plants and people.  It’s hard to tell whether the plants are manipulating us or we are manipulating them for our mutual benefit.  Clearly, Michael Pollan in Botany of Desire comes down on the side of the plants.  If you’ve ever drooled over the scrumptious pictures in a seed catalog in February, you know what I mean.

Native American women made seed pots with a tiny hole in the top to protect seeds from rodents and insects for next years’ crop.  They also saved strains of seeds adapted to variable climatic conditions:  wet spring, dry spring, etc. and stored them in caves.

In the 2015 book, Seed Sovereignty, Food Security: Women in the Vanguard of the Fight against GMOs and Corporate Agriculture edited by Vandana Shiva, “women from around the world write about the movement to change the current, industrial paradigm of how we grow our food. As seed keepers and food producers, as scientists, activists, and scholars, they are dedicated to renewing a food system that is better aligned with ecological processes as well as human health and global social justice.”  (Google book review)

This matriarchal tradition of the responsibility of caring for the seeds over generations continues to this day, so they can “continue to fulfill their original agreement to help feed the people.”

The non-profit Seed Savers Exchange “conserves and supports America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.”  This is a vital movement considering the push by corporations to control our food supply.

The Indigenous Seed Keepers Network came to an agreement two years ago with the Seed Savers Exchange to identify and rematriate varieties of corn, beans and squash that originated in Native communities.

Native women continue to organize against biopiracy and corporate consolidation of the seed industry, recognizing that colonization is an ongoing, evolving process deeply tied to the machinations of globalized capital.

Seed keeping is only one aspect of knowledge being passed down through DNA, one generation to the next.  So, instead of reinventing the wheel, if we could access this genetic memory based on the XX chromosome, we can be way ahead in the “game” of life.

When you save and share seeds, you share life.