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.

 

Textiles and Economic Development in Ghana

This month Jackie Abrams is our guest blogger. She writes about her work with textiles and economic development in Ghana and how it has impacted her basketry.

 

My earliest recollection of being intrigued with Africa was in 3rd or 4th grade. I built an African village as a class project. I remember one of the huts – cardboard wrapped with raffia. I kept that hut with me for many years but somewhere along the way it got lost.

 

In the 1970’s, I started to collect African baskets, and books of West African painted mud homes. They spoke to me in so many ways. Both the colors and the designs started to influence some of my work. One piece in particular caught the eye of a good friend and fellow WARP member, Steve Csipke. We recognized our mutual interest in Africa. He was the man who helped my dream of working in Africa become a reality.

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My first trip was in 2005. I had the incredible good fortune to make eight trips to Africa, most often to Ghana, primarily for the purpose of helping to develop micro-craft industries with women. My last three trips, in 2008 and 2009, were in the town of Pokuase, Ghana, teaching women to crochet bags using discarded plastic bags. The goal was for their crocheting enterprise to be sustainable and for them to be able to sell their work without being dependent on me. This project was possible because of the existence of Global Mamas which is a wonderful organization that supports women making handmade products. I would say we were moderately successful in achieving our goal.

 

I learned an enormous amount about fair trade, cultural mores, and how much I will never understand about Ghanaian culture. These trips changed my life and my (art) work. The word, “simplify,” best describes these changes. I could plainly see that having any kind of joy in one’s life was not dependent on ‘stuff.’ We need enough, but we don’t really need more than that. (Who can define ‘enough’?) I feel the same about my work. I have moved away from complex forms and techniques, challenging myself to express what I want to express with more simple / straightforward techniques and materials.

I was most intrigued by the women I worked with. Informed by their lives, fabrics, and stories,  my “Women Forms” series began to develop. Each vessel tells the story of a woman. Some of them stand alone, either in strength or in sorrow. Others rejoice in the company of other women – daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. The forms contain and are shaped by the woman’s layers of experience. The inside of each piece reflects her inner strengths – strengths not always visible, that may require careful looking.

 

Textiles and economic development in ghana
Jackie Abrams

I went to Africa with the hope of enabling the women I met to create better lives for themselves and their families. In the process, they did the same for me.

Jackie Abrams just ended her term as a WARP board member. After many years as a travelling instructor, she now focuses her time on her studio practice.

Please enjoy more information about Jackie’s beautiful work at- www.jackieabrams.com

And many more stories at- http://www.jackieabrams.com/africa.html