Creating Connected Communities Through Seed Saving

Weavers, spinners, fiber artists and anyone working with natural fiber and cloth rely directly on seeds for fiber plants like cotton and flax. Seeds are vital in the food production for wool-producing animals like sheep and alpaca. So it is easy to imagine the importance of safe-guarding access to seeds. Seeds are the first step in our food and fiber systems.

Why seed saving is important

Saving seeds and sharing them with others has been a critical practice that helped sustain us as a species for thousands of years. Through seed saving practices, gardeners, small-scale farmers, agriculturalists and eventually small, independent seed companies specialized in open pollinated plant and crop varieties that were well suited to local environments. These practices also created a vast array of crop varieties and allowed communities to conserve, preserve, grow and promote local seed diversity and cultural heritage.

Decorah, Iowa in 2018

Attendees to WARP’s annual meeting in Decorah, Iowa (June 2018) will have a chance to visit Heritage Farm, part of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). For over 40 years the SSE has been caring about seeds through their mission to… “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food heritage for future generations…”. Seed Savers Exchange accomplishes this by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants at the farm and through a seed exchange program.

The farm curates more than 25,000 heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable, herb and plant varieties, including over 1,000 varieties of heritage apple trees. Backyard gardeners from around the world can share and exchange home-grown seeds with one another through membership in the a kind of “seed swap-meet” known as the Seed Exchange facilitated by SSE.

The importance of crop diversity

The work of SSE in maintaining plant biodiversity is vitally important today, especially in the US where a decline in crop diversity since the early 1900’s is between 75%-90%! Maintaining biodiversity is like having an insurance policy against extinction. This loss of diversity is due in part from advances in biotechnology resulting in GMO (genetically modified organism) and hybrid seeds. Multinational corporations absorb independent, regionally based seed companies to gain monopolies on seed and seed distribution. Corporations then use the notion of intellectual property rights to gain patent rights on crops containing modified traits. This directly affects farmers who no longer are allowed to exercise control over seeds produced in their fields without patent infringement and other consequences such heavy fines, lawsuits or in some extreme cases, imprisonment.

Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

In contrast, organizations like SSE and seed libraries across the country rely on a network of growers to advance their mission as they work to keep seeds in the hands of as many people as possible. We can all create connected seed saving communities where we live.

FUN FACTS: Seed Savers Exchange currently offers 8 varieties of cotton seed (brown, green and white) and 2 varieties of rare flax seed.

READ MORE about seed saving in the October 2015 WARP blog and check out these resources:
Josie Jeffery, 2012, Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds, Ivy Press Limited, UK.
Suzanne Ashworth, 2002, Seed to Seed: Seed saving and growing techniques for vegetable gardeners, Seed Savers Exchange, Iowa.
Cindy Conner, 2014, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. New Society Publishers, Canada.

Special thanks to Shea Conlan of Seed Savers Exchange for her assistance with this blog.

Gail Ryser is an Andean archaeologist specializing in paleoethnobotany. She is a seed saver, gardener and active water-harvester. She will miss attending the annual meeting this year because she will be teaching students about archaeology, plants, and people during the months of May and June in Arizona and New Mexico.

 

Dakota Mace Weaving Diné Art

Dakota Mace is a graduate student in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a 2017 recipient of the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship. She shares her work and philosophy.

Dakota discusses her artwork with WARP members in Oaxaca.

Dakota’s work “speaks about the dialogue between traditional vs. fine art and the way that the western world continues to perceive Diné weaving as utilitarian objects and not works of art. I have approached this conversation by subtly introducing western forms of weaving in combination with Diné beliefs. By doing so, I am creating an entirely new concept that translates the language of Diné weaving through the understanding of the fine art world. This serves not only as a different approach of cultural reclamation and preservation but also the importance of the meanings of the motifs used in my weaving.”

She says, “as an artist I feel that in order to understand a cultural history you must do so through design. I’ve focused on researching other artistic mediums that have a unique cultural narrative in relation to my own Diné culture. This includes paper-making, beadwork, digital weaving, quill-work and many other techniques. I continue to look to other cultures as forms of inspiration and teaching others about the importance of cultural appropriation in relation to Native American design.

Q. Do you think creating connected textile communities is important and why?

A. I think that one of the most important parts of connected textile communities is the relationships that it creates. Growing up in a craft based family, it was understood that to pass on the knowledge of my families craft we needed the interest of a younger generation. With that in mind, it is also very important to distinguish the idea of teaching others and passing on traditional knowledge. I have been fortunate to learn from various communities as well as cultures and I’ve come to realize that Indigenous communities are well aware of these practices. There is a need to create connected textiles communities for the sake of keeping the arts alive but there also needs to be an understanding that not everything about the medium will be fully discussed. I fully support connected textile communities and the amount of effort that goes into them and the understanding that there are still groups of people that have a very vibrant history to share others.

Q. What has drawn you to WARP?

A. What drew me to WARP was the fact that it wanted to connect communities with other textile enthusiasts. I support that idea of wanting to create bridges for future communities as well as continuing textiles traditions. I was fortunate to meet many amazing individuals through WARP and happy to continue my support!

Special thanks to Dakota for taking time and sharing with us. More Dakota at http://www.dakotamace.com/

On the Road with Weaving for Justice

ON THE ROAD
People who love textiles love to travel because of the many opportunities to learn and experience culture through textiles and textile traditions. Traveling is one way to create or be a part of a connected textile community like WARP. But when travel is not possible, you can often connect to textile communities in your own back yard!

Weaving for Justice founding member Christine Eber, took Weaving for Justice on the road in October. Her vehicle was full of woven textiles and handmade items from several womens’ weaving cooperatives located in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. After a stop-over in Tucson, AZ, she headed to California for the 52nd Annual Borrego Days Desert Festival. She happily connected people in Southern California to the Maya textile communities in Chiapas.

WEAVING FOR JUSTICE SUPPORTS WOMEN
For decades Weaving for Justice, a non-profit, volunteer organization headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico has worked in solidarity with women’s weaving cooperatives in state of Chiapas. The organization’s goal is to assist co-op members to continue living in a sustainable and respectful way on their ancestral lands, to honor their Tzotsil language and their cultural traditions. Weaving for Justice has helped raise public awareness about social and economic justice, threats to efforts of the Chiapas weaving cooperatives and to issues of human rights in the region.

The collaboration between Weaving for Justice and the cooperatives assists weavers in finding various ways to market their products through a model of fair trade with 100% of the sale proceeds returned to the weavers.

COOPERATIVE WORK
Connecting the cooperatives with artisan groups on the US/Mexican border is one way products are marketed. Women weave to support themselves and their families. Co-op members unite around their work as weavers and common interest in issues of social and economic justice.

STOP IN FOR A VISIT
If you are in Las Cruces, NM stop in to visit La Frontera, the all-volunteer fair trade store run by Weaving for Justice. It’s located in the Nopalito’s Galería at 125 S. Mesquite St. (lafronterafairtrade@gmail.com). You will find hand-woven items from Chiapas, as well as textiles made by women from the cities of Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. The store is open Saturdays 9-4 during the months of November and December or by appointment (contact Christine Eber ceber@nmsu.edu).

Weaving for Justice will be on the road again, returning to Tucson in spring 2018 bringing a trunk show hosted by EXO Roast Coffee Co. (403 N 6th Ave.). This is what my community looks like. What does YOUR community look like?