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The Value of Diversity

We've just finished the eye-rolling chore of "strategic planning" for our organization, and while I balk at it, the process has been helpful in defining who we are and where we are going. Strategic planning is a way to prepare for the future, and in the process, we had to identify our core values. Some of them, like the Sacred Human Relationship with the Earth and Producer-Driven Economic Models, came easy. But one, Diversity, continued to perplex the person who was facilitating the process for us. He thought it was too broad, possibly too abstractly political and not grounded in our day to day work, and he wanted us to be more careful in clarifying what it meant. This is my attempt.

Seeds, being the foundational component of our interconnection with our food, have for millennia been stewarded by different groups of people in different areas with different goals. Generally in our seed saving, humans have selected seeds for crops that are bigger, sweeter, and less bitter, but not always. Of course, in that selection, we have inadvertently selected against all sorts of other traits, like insect-resistance (because what bug wants to eat a bitter-ass plant?). As our agriculture has gotten more industrialized, there is a greater focus on uniformity so that plants can all sprout at the same time and ripen at the same time, at the same height, to be mechanically cultivated and harvested. This quest for ever-greater uniformity has reduced the diversity in our seeds dramatically, making them ever more vulnerable to variations in weather, insect and disease pressures, water availability, and the like. At this point,     it is no secret that these large-scale agriculture systems have become very fragile, which spells disaster as climate change accelerates. At Snake River Seed Co-op, we strive to steward seeds with more diversity in their genetics, and select them each year for their overall fitness rather than for strict uniformity.

Not only do we want diversity within populations of seeds themselves, we also want diversity in the variety of seeds we steward so our bioregion can eat a varied and delicious diet through our efforts. That keeps us healthier and makes local, seasonal eating able to compete with the glitz of grocery store culture that whizzes goods from all over the world into our lives at heavy environmental and human costs.

We also want diversity in the seed stewards we work with in the Co-op. We believe all scales of farming are valuable, from the mechanized large-scale down through the mid- and small-scale farms and into our backyard gardens. Each seed steward is uniquely poised to steward certain crops and we work to establish models within our organization that work for seed stewards of all scales.

By their very nature, seeds are abundant and generous. They are light, easily portable, and able to travel great distances. Their generosity has spread them all over the world in trade routes spanning millennia. Each seed in our collection carries with it a unique history and story of the ways it has traveled, the hands it has passed through and the families it has nourished. However, in the migrations of humans throughout history there have been innumerable injustices, wars, and displacements that have happened alongside these seeds, meaning their giving nature is inextricably woven together with our own human history. The acknowledgement and reconciliation of this reality with the seeds under our care is an important piece in the quilt of this core value of diversity.

In our stewardship of seeds, we come up against the reality that indigenous people have faced centuries of genocide, oppression, and marginalization that has created a very real need for indigenous seedkeepers to be protective of their seeds. Our corn project has bumped up against that need. At present we are awaiting direction from the Oneida Nation on how best to proceed with a white corn in our collection that bears their name. As a white-owned and run company we are grateful these Oneida seedkeepers have reached out to guide us in the direction that best serves their Confederacy in service to the seeds, and we welcome guidance from others in this matter as well, understanding that in the process we will fumble and make mistakes. We apologize for those missteps and commit steadfastly to showing up to listen and follow your guidance.

As the coalition of migrants seeking asylum marches north from Central America through Mexico toward the US border, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the value of diversity and the way it intersects with the seeds we all care for. Seeds are exponentially abundant. The concept of scarcity is borne from human greed and all the interlocking systems of privilege and power keep resources in the hands of some while systematically keeping them out of the hands of others. We desire to use our work with the seeds as a small part of the larger work of dismantling oppressive systems and to spread their abundance in ways that help with that goal.

We welcome ideas, models, and methods for doing that, however unconventional they may appear. Now is the time for unconventionality.