The View From The Summit
We just returned from the Mountain West Seed Summit, put on by the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. I've long been grateful to RMSA for forming around the unique set of opportunities and challenges we have in the Intermountain West, tucked as we are into the high desert. White the West coast enjoys a mellow growing climate, progressive politics that benefit and support the working class, and millions of potential customers nearby, once you head east of the Cascades, much of that richness dries up along with the water.
Having the opportunity to attend a conference with fellow high desert organic farmers and seed people is so validating and helpful. I want to highlight a few of the most profound insights and inspirations I gained for how to keep us moving along the scrumptious path toward food and seed sovereignty.
- The Grains!
At Los Luceros, we heard from a group of amateur bakers and small farmers who had become enchanted with growing, milling, and baking with diverse and ancient grains on a small scale. They were trialing plots the size of a kitchen table of emmer, einkorn, Tibetan barley, amaranth and more, and then milling their tiny harvests with a little mill that fits on your countertop and baking it into complex and flavorful loaves of bread and other desserts. Seeing and tasting an array of diverse loaves of bread adorned with cards that announced their provenance blew my mind. As I sampled loaf after loaf with our newest Snake River Seed Co-op employee Henry, who is getting into growing grains on his small farm, it became easy to envision a farmer's market booth brimming with a diversity of beautiful whole grains a customer could simply mix and match and mill right there (maybe with a bicycle-powered mill--Henry's working on one!) or take them home whole and mill them themselves with their own home-scale mill for the freshest baked goods imaginable. Our diets will get a whole lot more interesting and healthy, and our farms will benefit from all that diversity. Where vegetables are perishable and constitute a smaller percentage of most folks' diets, grains are shelf-stable and feed us the majority of our calories, so having this visceral demonstration of a way to start small with multiple grains was extremely empowering.
- Land and Seed Rematriation
Several of the sessions at the conference for me, a white woman living far away from regular interactions with Native folks, brought home the immense tragedy of imperialism and how many diverse, vibrant, functioning cultures crumbled almost completely under its brutal hand. The legacy of what replaced them is the cold, isolating dysfunction of Western modernity, with interlocking and broken food, health, and social systems. Throughout the conference we heard stories of people rising up and rebuilding their ancestral communities through food work, and I glimpsed ways that SRSC could potentially advocate and be of use in their efforts as we learn more. From Rowen White we learned about ancestral land that was recently returned to the Pawnee in the wake of a cross-cultural seed rematriation project. From Reyna Banteah at T'suyya Farm we learned of a unique collaboration between the city of Albuquerque, the county, and tribal governments to establish a community-serving teaching farm on ancestral land that had been stolen. From Indra Singh, a seed saver from India, we saw examples of communities devastated by imperialism and the Green Revolution reclaiming health through food, land, and seed sovereignty initiatives. As a seed person I've often wondered about what role we might play in Idaho, where to my knowledge the tribes historically engaged more in forest management than crop agriculture, at this time where reparations and reconciliation are being called for. Obviously the Boise Valley where we farm and run the seed co-op is stolen land, so the concept of land rematriation projects offers me a starting point for how we might advocate for reconciliation work in our own community.
- Tesuque Pueblo Seed Bank
A visit to the seed bank at the Pueblo offered us an en vivo example of the type of space we would like to someday build for SRSC. We are quickly outgrowing our seed shack, and we saw at Tesuque an inspiring passive solar structure that housed ample cool, dry space for the community's beloved seeds as well as a large strawbale room that doubles as office and classroom space, all attached to a greenhouse for temperature modulation and a space to do seed processing work during inclement weather. We have started a savings account with this vision in mind, and while it won't happen anytime soon, it feels good to be squirrelling money away for the day when we can finally make our ideal co-op headquarters a reality.
There are so many other highlights of the conference, from an inspiring youth seed stewards panel to some excellent tips for small-scale on farm plant breeding and stock seed selection. Great conversations with fellow seed stewards doing good work in our area and around the world reminded me of the value of these types of gatherings that bring folks together around common work and goals.
I'll leave this blog with a quote from farmer Miguel Santistevan of Sol Feliz Farm in Taos, New Mexico. In a conversation about weed control, he said, "Hell, you already put your pants on. If you're going to pull one weed, might as well pull five." Hear hear!
Thank you to Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance for creating a space for all of us to come learn together, and thank you to everyone who played a part in helping our little SRSC contingent get to the conference! We intend to put what we learned to very good use here!