New indigenous seeds cooperative aims to rebuild indigenous diets

Photo courtesy of Rowen White.

White grew up with the History of the Mohawk creation, which tells the story of a woman falling from the sky into the ocean and bringing seeds with her to start a new world. She says there was an agreement between her ancestors and the plants to co-evolve. “We would give up a little bit of our wildness and the plants would give up a little bit of their wildness,” White says. “We are the direct descendants of the food we eat. “

For these reasons, White explains, “We actually have to take care of them as if they were our parents. In rekindling this relationship, White finds himself reflecting on the fact that despite colonization, industrial agriculture and genocide, “the seeds never gave up their side of the deal.”

And yet, she adds, “Many of us have forgotten to keep our commitment to care for the seeds.” In addition to building seed capacity across the country and sharing knowledge, she says one of the most important aspects of the work is to be based on the recognition that “we all eat from the bounty of a seed. . Part of it is remembering that we cannot abdicate this relationship with multinational corporations or with industry, monoculture, [or] company ag.

Reinforcement of municipal capacities

Some seeds are easier to harvest than others, and growers know they will need to eat fewer plants to keep their seeds. This is knowledge Greendeer did not have access to five years ago. Today, as a partner of the Seed Growers Cooperative and a close friend of White’s, Greendeer says harvesting seeds is a “balance between art and science”.

Through his work at Dream of Wild Health, Greendeer has taught other native growers how to observe and care for each plant. To harvest lettuce seeds, for example, a grower intentionally lets the plant produce flowers by keeping it in the ground beyond the point where you would like to eat it. Green beans are different, says Greendeer, you can expect beans on the plant to “dry up” and “still have plenty to eat.”

Preserving corn seeds is a different process, says Rebecca webster, a seed saver and farmer who lives on the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. Webster says that when storing white corn, she looks for some ideal characteristics such as the location of the seed, whether the cob is free of bumps and dimples, and if the cob has loose husks, before choosing to save it for the seed.

Jessika Greendeer, Seed Custodian and Seed Regeneration Manager, working with youth to harvest maize on July 25, 2020 (Photo by Dream of Wild Health)

Corn harvest with the young on July 25, 2020 (Photo by Dream of Wild Health)

The whole process takes a few months. “We cut off the knotty ends and braid the cobs, then hang them in the barn to dry,” says Webster. Once they are dry, they pull out a few grains to test in a moisture meter to make sure they are dry. Then they remove the kernels from the middle of the ear – these will be the healthiest seeds for growing a new crop.

Greendeer says that at the end of 2020, she hopes to start the seed count. Greendeer and White want to know what different communities are thriving and if they already have active seed saving programs or if they should start one from scratch. So far, they have about 20 registered enumerators, aged 19 to 64.

The information will allow the cooperative to take stock, redistribute the seeds and ultimately protect the seeds that are there. “Instead of one person growing one variety, we have five growing it and that’s just to help protect the seed,” says Greendeer. If it’s in a jar on someone’s shelf, on the other hand, it might get too old and not sprout when planted. “He has to be in the hands of many people so that he continues to grow stronger and more resilient with each passing year.”

A cooperative can also help communities adapt to contemporary conditions, such as global warming and more extreme weather conditions, as well as the lack of land, topsoil or irrigation of some tribes. White says that because of “the significant loss of land, we have to adapt these old traditions to new circumstances.”

Nohemi M. Moore