by Gingko Biloba.
Permaculture as a path to discover community and your own personal inner garden.
This is a story about “why permaculture?”. My short answer is “because community”. A deeper side of the answer is that permaculture gardening was an unexpected companion while I was on my path to discovering who I am: who I am as a woman and who I am as a human being, living from the soul and trying to bring a contribution to this world.
feeling part of a community
I was, and somewhat still identify with being a landscape architect, but on a more superficial and conversational level. I did projects with other colleagues, or alone for private clients or public parties (like schools). Yet something in my heart was aching, something was missing, and the worst was, I felt alone in my endeavours to discover what. Also I felt like I was somehow wrong or crazy, never satisfied with what I had. This struggle, this itch did not go away.
And then I discovered the concept of permaculture. And please do not take the word “concept” lightly. Concept means it’s still something very vague, something like a presence of interest hovering ghost-like over my head. But I was young(er) and this was enough to give me a spark of hope, of energy and enthusiasm.
Synchronicity came into action and I was given the opportunity to start exploring the practical side of permaculture, without much diving into the theoretical side (which I loved, because I was so full of what academia and theory had to offer). I worked as a volunteer in small community gardens. Was so excited, and so in awe of discovering community work: working together, hanging out, not for any established purpose, but just spending time together outside, with our hands and knees in the dirt, just being, being together. There was a sense of communion, of simplicity and the child like joy of discovering a seed, a veggie, a bug, or just plain dirt.
⎻I felt more sure of myself, of handling things, of being present.⎻
I started discovering what community means in the sense of work and play, and a small seed was laid for me to unravel who I am. This seed was still in its infancy, and it manifested very timidly in the sense that I felt more sure of myself, of handling things, of being present and intuitively finding resources for what was needed. After more than a year of such on and off experiences, and after some struggles separating from a more conventional path, I made a decision. I decided to live for one year in a community and work in a permaculture garden daily. This meant living separately from my partner, but there was a lot of support, so it did not feel like I am giving up on anything, but more like I was going on a big, soul uplifting adventure. And so I did.
Growing my soul
Discovering the woman
The timid seed of me unraveling who I am grew so strong, so bright. I was discovering who I am as a woman, in a beautiful medium with very few distractions or interferences: the place was somewhere in heavenly nature, not many people living there, and everybody mostly minding their own business. I discovered my body strength, I started doing things I never thought were possible. I felt free, like I didn’t need anybody or anything, like there was no need to please. Of course we had schedules, of course we had conflicts, tension, tears but also compassion, patience, love.
⎻When my hands and knees were in the dirt, it sometimes felt like a prayer.⎻
The way we gardened was reflected in the way we treated each other and ourselves, and vice versa. When my hands and knees were in the dirt, it sometimes felt like a prayer, like an immense wave of gratitude was washing through me for being able to work in this divine temple of nature. Well, I felt like a goddess, taking care and giving service to this temple. My intuition, my emotions got more sensitive and simultaneously my tolerance to noise and distractions got increasingly smaller. I was digging deep in myself, and loving what I found.
The return, diving deep in darkness
Finding what I was missing
And then the experience ended, the permaculture gardening year was over. Just like that. I said goodbye, thinking everything will go back to normal when I return to my “old life” in the city. I had some second thoughts regarding my reintegration because of my increased sensitivity to exterior stimuli, but did not mind them much.
And guess what, it was terrible! Everything around me started to crumble, my emotional and mental health, my relationships. I felt trapped, unable to move, and was constantly nagging myself as to “where did that confident woman go?” and “who is this weak, sad, small and scared being I have become?”. I was trying to escape, and at the same time holding myself down. Needless to say there was a big struggle in my self, and I was diving deep into darkness, the darkness of humanity, the darkness of relationships and the darkness of my soul.
The struggle continues, and I am finding out more and more about myself, my dark side and my light side. And I ask myself why? Why the struggle? I know the stories I tell my self: that I am still not there yet, I have not found “the” garden, “the” place in nature or “the” people. And I have gone so many times on this path of trying to change places, people, gardens. Yet something makes me feel that I am at a dead end: this exploration has served me so far, but now it can only go one way, inwards.
⎻It’s so easy to admire the beauty of a permaculture garden…Yet how easily do we admire the beauty of our inner garden?⎻
What’s my inner garden like? The truth is I am terrified about the dark sides of my inner garden. Woah! It’s so easy to admire the beauty of a permaculture garden: the variety, the colors, the beautiful bugs, even the weeds (and yes! I know there are no weeds for mother nature, but for the sake of contrast I will use this term) are so lovingly blended together. Yet how easily do we admire the beauty of our inner garden? Do we have many dark spots, which we consider ugly and would “lovingly” blast off if possibly, or have we seen them, acknowledged them and integrated them in the bigger system of our garden? Buried emotions, unsatisfying relationships, do we keep them in the shadow? Yes, because it is more comfortable this way, our self image is based on the “plants” we do like. Yet “weeds” keep popping up in our inner garden. What would I do in a permaculture garden? I would find a way to integrate them, sometimes maybe pulling them out, or even moving them. What do I do with my inner garden? I go crazy, try to blast it out, try to run away, try to think for months about strategies to make them go away.
Permaculture has been a companion on my path, has taught me how to work in gardens, how to appreciate communities, and now it is side by side with me as I am diving deep in my inner garden. And the path continues…
#permaculturewomen #emotionalpermaculture #invisiblestructures #socialpermaculture
On urban permaculture, eco-activism and co-creation of space with non-human animals — a conversation with Becky Ellis
by Gosia Rokicka.
A conversation about urban permaculture, social justice and space for non-human animals with Becky Ellis.
You’re a permaculture practitioner and teacher and at the same time a city dweller. What would you say to people who see permaculture as a land-based design system for growing food and sustainable living on a large scale?
I would say that permaculture is a way to design your life, a way of thinking about how you want to live in balance with non-human nature and with other people as well. It doesn’t require owning private property. While doing my own Permaculture Design Course I lived in a co-op with a communal space and for the following few years I was renting apartments so I didn’t have access to my own piece of land. I got involved in a lot of community projects instead, including a community garden which had certain rules that got in the way of some of the permaculture practices I wanted to do. But learning how to work with other people and how to convince them that some things are worth changing constitutes a part of social permaculture. I was also volunteering for gardening projects for children where I tried to incorporate as much permaculture as possible and it turned out that many people were really interested in the stuff I was so passionate about. Some things I’ve done over the past few years were not related to gardening, such as Mantis Arts & Eco Festival which I put together in my neighborhood, but I still consider them a part of permaculture — bringing people together, helping them to connect and be in community with each other.
The Permaculture Women Guild’s online PDC you’re currently involved in has additional modules on social and emotional permaculture which are not common in other PDCs (both in person and online). Do you reckon this is something women in particular bring to permaculture?
I think women are definitely raised to have more skills for this kind of interpersonal work with other people. We also tend to take on more of the burden it entails — in our relationships, workplaces, communities.
But knowing how to work cooperatively with others is actually a valuable and important skill. I don’t think our biology has anything to do with it but definitely there is something about the way women are raised in most cultures. Social permaculture is something all people need to practice, especially in an urban setting. Even if you have your own backyard most of your surroundings, even if privately owned, are visible to other people.
Speaking of visible… You’ve written about your neighbors worried your “hippie ways” would devalue their properties and about the fact you’re not allowed to keep chickens in your suburban backyard in London, Canada. Do by-laws make it more difficult to practice sustainable living in some places around the world? Are we heading towards the “war on lawns”?
Some people in North American cities are really attached to lawns and to the lawn aesthetic. I think to them it’s more than just an aesthetic. It’s tied to issues of race and class, so challenging it can be really complicated, especially in predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods where such aesthetic can be a part of someone’s identity. There is a really interesting book on that subject, “Lawn People”, written by Paul Robbins, a geographer.
For some, having a well kept, visually attractive lawn can be an expression of what they think a good neighbor and a good citizen is. Disrupting this aesthetic can be contentious but it’s important as it highlights the issue of neighborhood segregation.
And neighborhoods in North America are very segregated by class and also by race.
Another thing worth mentioning is suburban mentality — everybody seems to be self-enclosed in their life. “I’ve got my backyard, maybe even a pool in it, I can get everywhere in my car, I don’t need to go out into the community and do stuff with other people”. I see it as a negative thing — in North America we don’t really know how to work together with other people in a cooperative way.
Urban permaculture is promoting community projects in spaces that are public or open to the public. It can be messy, there can be disagreements but working through that is a really important part of learning how to live together with other people. Some big cities like Toronto, Montreal or New York City have diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. But suburbia are harder to reach in that way.
That may come from the fact that in crowded cities people live close to each other, in apartments and townhouses so they are more likely to go out and actually want to share activities with their neighbors.
Absolutely. They also move around by means of walking and biking. But the further out from the center you go, the more people are using their cars. There is this movement to get people on their bicycles more but it requires a shift in attitude. If the only cyclists that are seen are those that do it for fitness reasons, everyday people won’t get inspired.
We need to see more people doing things as a part of a different way of living with other people and with the world. Probably there are some significant cultural attitudes and ideas that prevent people from doing that and also by-laws that seem to be more prevalent in North America than for example in Europe.
There are some communities in Canada where the rules of housing development ban outdoor clotheslines. It’s just this weird idea what belongs in a city and what doesn’t. I think a great aspect of the PDC I’ve done and also the Permaculture Women Guild’s PDC is the part about activism. We can’t change ridiculous by-laws on our own so it’s crucial to know how to get together with other people to work towards a cause.
And another great aspect of the online PDC is that the teachers live in quite a few different countries so it’s a good opportunity to learn how permaculture can adapt to various conditions — no only climate-wise but also society-wise.
People in our society right now are lacking imagination — we can’t see how the world could look like from a different perspective and how we could build it and live in it collectively.
Dystopian visions usually concentrate on quite a grim future but what I love about permaculture is the idea that people don’t necessarily have to be disastrous for the environment.
There are positive ways in which we can engage with non-human nature. As Arundhati Roy wrote: “Another world is possible”. It’s great to see how people live in other places in the world because sometimes North America feels like it’s the center of the universe. The fact that our continent is a superpower that overshadows the world is problematic, so it’s particularly important for us here to be able to imagine different ways of living — and getting there through social movements.
Even if those other places and different perspectives belong to some parts of the world that seem to be completely detached from us — or us from them, I guess? You’ve written about Zone 5 seen as a wilderness from a social rather than environmental perspective. Can you tell us more about it?
One of co-teachers on my PDC, Rain Crowe, came up with the idea of Zone 5 as the wild we have a responsibility towards, whether we visit it or not. And if you are a North American, you would certainly impact those parts of the world you would probably never see. They are a part of your everyday life. In capitalism we are in relationships with people all the time — even if we’re drinking coffee for example. There were people who grew it and people who picked it and people who were involved in the whole process of production and sale. There were animals that were involved in the development of the plant itself. All of this has become invisible in our consumerist society but to me it’s important to highlight these relationships, to make people think about Zone 5. We are a global international community and we have responsibilities to each other: to people and to non-human animals as well.
Animals seem to be quite an important part of your life and work: your Ph.D. thesis is about honeybees, recently you took part in the Minding Animals conference.
I grew up on a small family farm. When I was 15 I moved to a city and have been living in cities since then but I always felt connected to the different animals that lived on the farm with us — both wild and domestic. Early on in my life, at about 11, I became a vegetarian, partly because I did feel a real connection to the animals. I particularly bonded with lambs who quite early were going away to a slaughterhouse.
When I started doing permaculture I wanted to incorporate animals into my design but as a vegetarian on a mostly vegan diet I wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t involve harm or exploitation. And then animals came into my academic life as well. My Ph.D. in geography was meant to pertain to a completely different subject but as I have honeybees and I garden in a way to cater for other pollinators, my supervisor suggested switching to bees because for a Ph.D. you have to be completely obsessed with the topic to stay with it for years.
At the time when I re-entered academia the area of critical animal studies was gaining momentum. It aims to bring together animal activism and academic theory to think differently about the way we live alongside non-human animals.
There are some challenges to be tackled, I touched on one of them in my article about backyard hens.
There are animals that have lived with humans for thousands of years. We have very dramatically altered their genetics and we co-evolved with them in many ways. Chickens are a good example of that and to a certain extent honeybees, although honeybees can go feral without people quite fine. Dogs are another obvious example. We can live in community with these animals benefiting and enriching each other’s lives. I don’t eat animal products but I don’t see why chickens wouldn’t enjoy living alongside a human who provides them with nutritious food and safety from predators, while in return the chickens would help to break down compost and eat some of the insects and slugs which people don’t necessarily want in their gardens in large quantities.
I know not every animal rights activist or vegan would be won over by this idea but that’s how I feel, especially with bees. There are ways to create some really fantastic habitats for bees where they can thrive and flourish. Climate change is a reality and native wild bees are really going to suffer as a result. They need people to create habitats and places for them to forage. On the other hand, we can get honey from honeybees in a way that is not harmful to them. The movement for gentle beekeeping is growing. There are many ways we can live with non-human animals in mutually beneficial ways and that include wild animals. I’m not sure exactly what wild animals visit London, England…
In London, Ontario we’ve got skunks and raccoons. Many people, even those who are into organic gardening, spend a lot of their time going about how to keep animals away, maybe even by killing them — how to get rid of the animals instead of how to live with them. But permaculture spaces are wonderful opportunities to live in relationship with other animals — the domesticated and the wild ones as well. Some of them really thrive in cities, alongside humans.
I like the concept of co-creation with the animals. I try to start to break down this idea that I own my outdoor space and that it’s only mine. Other animals live there and it’s their space too.
We have skunks under our deck. It’s their home, they live with me and we co-create our space together.
In my urban backyard I’m not growing all the food for my family. I understand farmers might have different struggles but in my case I’m happy to share with any animal that visits my backyard. Some of them, like native pollinators, really do need help and cities are actually sanctuaries for them because North American countryside is full of monocrop fields of corn and soy. Honeybees are unhealthy in America, but beekeepers manage the population. But solitary bees are in decline. They have a special relationship with specific plants or they don’t go very far from their nests to get food so monocrops are terrible for them. Cities with their diversity of native perennial and annual plants, trees and shrubs in people’s backyards come really useful, especially for native bees. All the honeybees in North America are non-native.
I’m originally from Poland and in Poland more and more boars are coming into cities to look for food.
We’ve got coyotes here. They thrive in cities but people see them as scary. They don’t really pose a risk to humans but they do to cats and small dogs so people get really upset with them. But this is their home too! And in order to have a balanced healthy ecosystem we need predators like coyotes and wasps. People keep complaining about shrews and moles and voles… Foxes are their natural predators so if you wish the population of rodents was kept under control, create a safe space for these predator animals. Foxes sometimes can make a den in your backyard — for a mama fox it could be safer to stay close to humans than out in the wild where coyotes may prey on her babies. My neighbors try to get rid of the skunks, while I hope “my” skunk will have babies this year. It’s hard to convince people to have that kind of a different relationship with non-human animals but I keep trying.
People seem to be happier to care for endangered species, such as hedgehogs for example in Europe, than for those they see as vermin.
I absolutely agree and I think humans really have to learn how to live with non-human nature in a way that’s not completely destructive but they seem to be resistant to this knowledge. Again: this is about these strange concepts what belongs in the city and what doesn’t and what private property really means.
We put up fences to mark what’s ours and what we want to keep out but it doesn’t work for non-human nature.
But I see a glimpse of change in attitude: theoretically front yards are private but in a way they are a pseudo-public space. Sometimes you can even engage with your neighbors over what they don’t like in your front yard! In mine we put up a little free library. In the spring we put seeds in there as well. There is a bus stop just outside so we built a bench where people can sit and relax while waiting for a bus. They use it a lot! There are many ways to break down boundaries that have been put up.
That brings us to another issue: in North America we are a settler society, created out of violent colonialism, which continues in many ways in Canada and the United States. So the whole idea of property ownership here is… problematic at least. I’ve been trying to get people to think differently about being a steward of land rather than its owner. In cities some people say: “I don’t have a piece of land, I can’t do anything” but that’s not true. Think about your local park: it’s yours. It belongs to people in the neighborhood as a collective. This is what makes permaculture quite revolutionary in cities. There could also be a link to movements against racism and injustice. You don’t need to own a backyard in the city. And even if you do, you should also engage in other community undertakings because this is a really impactful way to make a huge difference. This is permaculture activism.
#urbanpermaculture #foodnotlawns #permaculturewomen
Becky Ellis teaches the Urban Permaculture module in the Permaculture Women’s Guild online permaculture design course. Learn more from her there or catch up with her at her website, www.permacultureforthepeople.org.
by Gosia Rokicka.
A conversation with Rowen White about seed stewardship, permaculture and her Native American heritage.
You are a Seed Keeper — that’s a pretty cool job title. Can you tell us more about what you do?
I come from a place called Akwesasne, which is an indigenous Mohawk community near the Canadian border. Traditionally, we are an agricultural nation so caring for seeds and for the Earth in general aligns with our cultural values and has been handed down from one generation to the next over millennia. There’s a lineage of people cultivating relationship to their food and to the Mother Earth. We have quite a number of heritage and traditional varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, tobacco and other plants that have been specifically handed down through many generations over the last several thousand years as a part of our traditional food ways. I have the great honor of being one of the seed keepers of the Mohawk people which means that, together with others, I am making sure that the seeds stay alive and healthy and that they’re given freely within our community, as well as passed down to the next generations.
Sounds like a true passion.
It is a real passion. Due to the impacts of colonization and acculturation many of native North American food systems have been dismantled and unfortunately, they are not a part of our everyday life anymore. As a teenager I didn’t really have access to a lot of the traditional foods and to the cultural memory that goes with them. As a young woman I became interested in traditional farming and wanted to learn more about where our food comes from and to create more sovereignty and freedom through cultivation. That’s how I opened this Pandora’s box of the world of heirloom seeds… and wow!
It turns out that not only do seeds have this incredible diversity — a prism of different colors and shapes and sizes and places where they grow best and communities that they come from — but that they also carry stories and beautiful lineages of relationships.
For Mohawk people agriculture was historically at the center of our culture and I was very curious why it no longer was a significant part of my life and how I could reengage and restore that relationship and connection to the land. So I began to ask people, gather seeds and learn more and more about my responsibility to care for them. It led me on a 20-year-long path to being a seed keeper. Being an educator and a mentor constitutes a central part of this role. I am helping people who are in a similar situation I was 20 years ago — curious but not having access to knowledge or seeds. I am passing this knowledge I received from the elders and mentors of mine within the community because I honor the importance of keeping these traditional seeds alive together with the cultural memory that is attached to them.
It is. I run a seed co-operative. We have a 10-acre farm that focuses on stewardship of seeds and education of people about seed care and growing food in holistic ways. I am also the national program coordinator for the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network — a program of the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance, which works with a number of different tribal communities to create seed libraries and banks and also to build mentorship networks to leverage resources around policy for protecting our seeds against biopiracy, biocolonialism and patenting. I travel all over North America to see tribal communities and facilitate workshops and conversations around how communities are creating these resources in their lives. So that’s my work in a nutshell. It’s complex and multilayered but it’s also a beautiful path to follow. The seeds have guided me well along my path.
So would you say that seed keeping could be seen as a decolonization
To me decolonization is the foundation of the seed sovereignty movement. But I also like to put a positive spin on it: it’s re-indigenising.
We are claiming back our traditions and rehydrating those original agreements that we had with the plants and with our ancestors but also with our descendants. It doesn’t happen only in Native American nations. Across the globe communities start to recognize the importance of durable, resilient, local food systems. Local engagement has been growing the incredible momentum in the last several decades. The Seed Freedom Movement is a part of it because we recognize that we cannot have a durable and resilient local food system if we don’t have locally adapted seeds that are a part of it. Seeds are the foundation of agriculture but they also encode a memory of the land, the climate, the weather, as well as people’s cultural values, aesthetics and stories. And now people of all generations are coming together to recognize the importance of seed heritage, to create new ways to counteract the globalization and industrialization of our food systems, to resist monocultures. At the heart of what I do is the creation of the seed literacy. Even if you’re not a farmer or a gardener, seed is a vitally important thing in your life because we all eat.
Among Mohawk people the women were traditionally responsible for seed keeping. Is it still the case within this modern growing movement?
Historically in most cultures — although I can confidently talk only about the Mohawks — seeds were considered feminine. It relates to our own reproductive system — it’s the woman who carries the seed. If you look botanically, it’s the female part of the plant that is creating the seed, so this is a feminine expression of the plant’s life cycle. In our tradition and in many cultures and traditions across the globe seeds have traditionally been considered a feminine aspect of the agricultural system and largely it’s been the responsibility of women to care for them.
In your writing you are using this beautiful word — rematriation.
We’ve been using it in a lot of different contexts. Primarily it’s about restoring the feminine back into our lives through our food systems and recognizing that many of the industrial global food systems are very patriarchal, so it’s about creating that balance. Our traditional knowledge wasn’t about women being more powerful than men or the other way round. The point was to maintain that egalitarian balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Rematriation in relation to seeds is about bringing the seeds back home into their original context and into their communities of origin. Speaking more broadly, rematriation is about restoring that feminine energy back into our lives and our communities.
I learned of the word through a man named Martin Prechtel. In my latest blog post I quote a piece from his book “The Unlikely Peace of Cuchamaquic” — he speaks very eloquently about the idea of rematriation, about that holy feminine being restored back into our lives. Among native peoples we talk a lot about repatriation of things back into our communities. So in this case we decided to use a more feminine word. It’s inspired by the work of Martin Prechtel but also by the legacy and lineage within indigenous communities.
Is it relatively easy to engage young people in such work?
For many years there had been this generation gap. Older people were keeping traditions and seeds alive but younger ones didn’t engage, didn’t see it as relevant. But now I’m witnessing a resurgence of the movement among the younger folks in tribal and farming communities but also in a more mainstream culture. People are waking up to the fact that the monocropped way of life and industrialization of everything is damaging not only to the nature but also to our relationship with the world. Young people these days are inheriting a world that is deeply troubled. In a way they know they have to do something and they are enraged. Stewarding seeds is such a powerful, beautiful and inspiring path to follow. It’s a hopeful form of activism. It’s very tangible and it creates something positive to work for instead of working against something else.
We have to be good future ancestors and responsible descendants, so it’s our responsibility to care for the seeds to make sure that younger generations and future generations that we might not know yet have them.
I have a teenage daughter who’s been growing up on a seed farm so this way of eating is her life from day one. She has a great passion for the culinary arts. She wants to be a chef. There’s a spectrum of ways in which young people can engage in this kind of work. If you’re interested in farming or gardening, that’s great but you might as well be a chef, an artist, an activist, a public speaker. There are many different ways to contribute. A lot of our work in the seed sovereignty movement evolves around inclusivity — how we can acknowledge the gifts that different people can bring to the table and how to make sure that a well-rounded resilient food system has many people contributing in various creative ways so it’s not only about growing food.
You also say that seeds are living beings and our relatives. Can you unpack it a bit for people who haven’t grown up within a Native American community and may have a problem with relating to it?
Sure. All of us — and that includes everyone who is reading it now — descend from a lineage of people who had a very intimate relationship with plants. It’s just in the last couple of hundred years of human history we’ve been looking at seeds and food in general as a commodity as opposed to something that was an integral part of our life that we shared. It used to be a commons, a collective inheritance. A long time ago our ancestors — mine, yours, everyone else’s — made agreements with plants that they would take care of each other. There is this intimacy, there are familial relationships that are encoded in creation stories that are held within many different ancestries and bloodlines.
So when I say that seeds are sacred because they are living relatives, I mean it wholeheartedly. That’s how I view seeds and that’s how pretty much all of humanity saw seeds up to a certain point.
Then it started to get industrialized and commodified and our collective view of what seeds represented has changed. I like to remind people that 200 years ago in the United States and in Europe there were no seed companies. People shared and traded seeds instead. I like to tell people to think deeply about their relationship with their food and with the seeds that make this food. If you trace back different cultural lineages, you’ll see that plants and seeds played significant roles in cosmologies and worldviews. In the Mohawk creation story such foods as corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and strawberries figure prominently. They grew from the body of the daughter of the original woman as a gift to her sons. These foods would then sustain them for the rest of their time here on Earth and they literally grew from her flesh and bones. So in our cosmology we see them as our relatives. We have an agreement with them that they would nourish us every day but we have to give back. That’s a reciprocal relationship.
So now, in North America but also globally, we need to rethink and rewrite the narrative of our relationship with food and seed. At the moment there is a dominant narrative in the Western world that sees plants as dead inanimate objects that we just grow, harvest, mechanize and exploit. But that dominant narrative is really just a shallow facade around a much deeper relationship that humans have had with plants for a lot longer. So in our educational seed co-operative Sierra Seeds we challenge that dominant narrative.
This is a radically different view to the one held by mainstream agricultural companies. You are promoting it now not only through Sierra Seeds in the US — recently you joined the faculty of over 40 women who teach the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Course where you run a module on seed keeping. It is not a regular part of the PDC curriculum, is it?
It isn’t indeed. Permaculture is a fantastic curriculum and a beautiful pedagogy — a wonderful system of knowledge that has been distilled down from a much larger traditional ecological body of knowledge originating all around the world and I think many of us within the movement acknowledge that. There is a very particular curriculum of 72 hours of teaching that accompanies the PDC and seed stewardship isn’t a part of it but then… how can it not be a part of it? Seed stewardship should be an integral part of every farmer’s garden and it was — until a hundred or two hundred years ago. So when we’re talking about permaculture and creating holistic food systems, the seed has an inherent place within it. People need to know how to steward seed and how to cultivate seed that’s regionally adapted to a very specific place and to their own unique low input permaculture system. So I approached the creators of this course and said: “Hey, what if we include a module on holistic seed stewardship?”.
The seed is the beginning. It’s so vitally important to the foundation of all food systems but at the same time most seeds available now aren’t adapted to low input polyculture or permaculture systems.
They have been bred and selected for monoculture in a very different farming system. That’s why I think that for people who are meant to obtain a certificate in permaculture design it’s important not to forget about saving seeds. I feel super thrilled to contribute to this course and hold a little corner of that space to really honor the seeds and all that they give us.
One more thing… I’m sure that everyone who got to this point of our conversation feels like me. I buy the majority of my vegetables from a local farming co-operative so the veggies I eat are local, culturally appropriate and organic. But as a city dweller with a small garden I throw away most of these really good seeds and now I feel super-bad. Any advice for folks like me?
The beautiful thing about this growing seed sovereignty movement is that there are many different community projects and initiatives that are springing up wherever people come together to think creatively about how we can develop more access to good seeds within our communities. So in a lot of places, especially in urban environments, there are seed libraries and seed exchange — places where people help to facilitate the distribution and collection of these seeds. So I would recommend that folks, who don’t have a lot of capacity in their life to do a lot of seed stewardship in their own garden or allotment, connect with the wider community. Seed libraries are popping up — it’s worth to look for a local one and share your surplus of seeds there.
The beauty of a seed is that it multiplies exponentially. It is a wonderful example of the natural abundance of the Earth and I think it is also a beautiful expression of the gift economy. Even keepers like myself always have more seeds than we need. It inspires me to be generous and to give seeds outside of my own home farm. The seeds teach us to be generous and to share our abundance with other people and this is really the true nature of things. We live in a society where the dominant narrative is based on scarcity and austerity, so we need to start paying attention to seeds because they remind us of the inherent generosity of the Earth and of our own inherently generous nature.
#seedstewardship #permaculturewomen #seedsaving #decolonization
To find out more about Rowen and the projects she’s involved in, have a look at the Sierra Seeds website. Rowen is also one of the tutors in the Permaculture Women’s Guild Online Permaculture Design Certificate course.
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