This week I received several deliveries of seeds from seed folk near and far. Admittedly, this has been an emotional year for me. I have been questioning many of the basic assumptions I’ve held about work, my role in our community, and the sensibility of hope amid a seemingly unstoppable tsunami of status quo exponential growth and bottomless consumption. My adolescent self-righteousness gave way to practical, skill-based satisfaction almost a decade ago and I’ve been plodding along fairly contentedly since then, doing whatever tiny part I can to care for the Earth and our community in small but valuable ways. But now this new middle-aged angst looms large, set against the overwhelming backdrop of our “Fastest Growing State/City in the Nation” banner. A 4th generation Boisean, my home city has been growing for my whole life, but all of a sudden it feels like it’s not mine anymore. The traffic is bigger, the drivers meaner, the prices higher, the pace quicker, the aesthetic more chic. I feel confused by my emotions about this–a mix of guilt, powerlessness, and most unsettling for me, apathy. One of my dearest friends has been working tirelessly to save some of the last remaining pieces of agricultural land in the valley from development and I can barely get it together to sign a petition, let alone lend a hand in their coalition’s efforts.
A package arrives in the mail, from a new Co-op grower who wild harvests native plant seeds to help in restoration work. The seeds are to me like old friends. Showy Goldeneye, Lupine, Penstemons. These are the plants I first fell in love with. Before I traded backpacking for farming, the wild for the domesticated. They are the Idaho of my soul, along with their majestic conifer and sagebrush counterparts.
Another package arrives. Corn seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH for our ongoing corn trials project. Grown for thousands of years and adapted to countless small farms and villages, the partnership between the corn and its ancestral stewards is the most stunning example of sustainable domestication I can think of. 60-day flour corn planted by the Tohono O’odham with the summer monsoons, grown and harvested entirely in concert with the rhythms of their place. White corn from the Santo Domingo Pueblo. Dia de San Juan dent corn grown and used by the Mayo. My European ancestors violently drove Native people from this valley and the legacy of systemic racism keeps people like me on top even though I don’t want that to be the case. Who am I to say people shouldn’t move here? Is it possible to develop a sustainable agriculture here as a relative newcomer with foreign crops to this land? Is it prudent? Complicated questions that don’t have simple answers.
Now another delivery, this one from two new seed steward friends in Ogden, Utah. Several of their current favorite varieties, along with a couple ongoing breeding projects. Hand labeled, with meticulous notes and stories about each. How much care has gone into this little gift package! I feel an overwhelming surge of gratitude for these new acquaintances, and for all who sow and harvest and deeply care for the seeds.
Lastly a delivery of 25 pounds of Magic Manna corn from Wayne. With this deepening friendship I explore the particulars of scaling up, of feeding more than yourself, of being of use in the larger agricultural community. I know only a tiny part of this corn’s ancestral story. Wayne got it from Carol Deppe, who bred it out of Painted Mountain, which in turn has been bred by Dave Christensen out of over 70 varieties of Indian corns, each with their own remarkable story, journey, and legacy of seedkeepers who are anonymous to me. It goes back through the millennia to Teosinte, and before that, who knows? A farm intern last season said the most profound thing she learned on the farm was that the seed is a bridge between the past and the future. It holds within it all the generations of seeds and their stewards past as well as the hope and potential for all the generations to come. It is truly a gift to hold and plant a seed, to add my life as a small link in an awesome chain across cultures and borders, between families and friends and even enemies. Perhaps there’s still some hope in me yet.