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2020 State of the Seedshed

Greetings from this central Idaho winter wonderland at the dawn of a new decade….2020?! The future has arrived!  Let it be bountifully seedy!!!

The seed shack is literally bursting at the seams right now, with our sweet new 100% recycled packets vying for space amongst the jars of beautiful seed friends, germination tests, orders being packed and shipped, and the four humans spectacularly orchestrating this ever-blossoming organization in my absence. In reflecting on the year, I’ve thought a lot about the stages of development of a project such as this one. The folks who birth the scrappy beginnings of an idea into the world are not necessarily the same ones who can help it grow into adulthood, and I am proud to say that I believe we have found the right crew of folks to help us through our adolescence with grace and skill.

In the beginning, we had to convince farmers to add seed crops for the Co-op to their crop plans. Now they’re coming to us. At first, we had to solicit nurseries to carry our seeds. Now they’re approaching us. It feels like all around us people are waking up to the foundational importance of seeds to a healthy local food system. In 2019 we worked with 43 Intermountain West growers to steward 350 varieties of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. We sold over 55,000 packets of seeds and donated over 4500 packets to community organizations. And all of these packets are still lovingly packed by hand in the seed shack.

Thanks to the generosity of one of our growers, Snake River Seed Co-op has been able to get where it is today by having access to the seed shack and a walk-in cooler to store the seeds under our care. We have officially grown out of both of those spaces and will in the next year need to move into something bigger. And thus we’re thrown, like so many of our Co-op growers, into the common conundrum of landless farmers struggling for access to ground amid the mad development of the “fastest growing city or state in the country” depending on the month. All of the same issues many of our Co-op growers face—finding a sympathetic landowner, attempting to negotiate a long-term lease while navigating the complexities of land succession and family inheritance—are now SRSC’s issues as well. Over the next year, we will either need to expand on our current landowner’s land or move to a new place, and we will be reaching out to our growing grassroots network to help make this a reality, so stay tuned!

I was recently forced to watch “The Biggest Little Farm” for a class and like all the other young farmers I know, the film’s glossing over of the details of how the protagonists managed to find an “investor” to finance their 200 acre farm 40 minutes outside of Los Angeles along with what must have been millions of dollars in infrastructure investment left a sour taste in my mouth. However, it also made me think that maybe somewhere someone in our network knows someone with deep pockets, a generous heart, and a savvy head on their shoulders. Someone who recognizes the supreme importance of this work we’re all doing together to grow and share a robust and secure supply of beautifully-adapted seeds for our region. If so, by all means connect us! I mean, if a couple of absolute greenhorns with no farming experience can attract an angel investor, certainly our grower’s cooperative, with hundreds of years of combined expertise in organic farming and seed stewardship in our area, is worthy of consideration!

In our ongoing efforts to educate ourselves, we’ve been reading a lot this year about some of the Native Nations who for at least ten thousand years lived and died in what is now the called Intermountain West of the United States, and in so doing we’ve come up against a hard reality—in order for agriculture to exist in the West, hundreds of thousands of Shoshone, Bannock, Paiute, and Nez Perce people were forcibly removed from their homelands and separated from their food sources. The salmon who once ran so thick through Inland Northwest rivers have been sealed off from their homelands as well by the dams that make it possible to grow food crops in this arid region. Now, just over 100 years later, another hard reality surfaces: this hard-fought agriculture that took so many lives and so drastically changed this landscape is now being traded for subdivisions and strip malls. In the faulty economics of late-stage industrial capitalism, farmland is more valuable as a Bed, Bath, and Beyond parking lot than as a farm that grows food for the neighbors around it.

Seeds are little bundles of hope in a world of immense tragedy and hubris. We at SRSC are developing deeper and more nuanced understandings about what it means to be engaging in agriculture in this land. We are actively exploring our role in reconciling the history of this place with the present and learning how best to advocate for a future that allows for nourishment and connection with the natural world around us in the dog-eat-dog, fluorescent frenzy of modernity with the catastrophes of climate change busting in the door. It isn’t simple, but I find continual comfort in returning to the seeds for guidance. They are the link between past and future, and devoting ourselves to caring for them in the present feels like a way to come into a deeper understanding of both.

Thank you deeply for supporting this work. In the coming year we will be reaching out for help in a way we never have before. In the face of uncertainty, it is humbling and intimidating to plant a seed. But of course, that’s the only way to see it grow.

With love and gratitude,