Raising Seeds

Raising Seeds

We have a little land in eastern Ontario, and a little of that land with a lot of manure seems willing to grow food for people. Those who come to our school are fed by her. The land is a glacial flood plain, sand and stone, one of those countless thousands of stretches of ground that should have been left as standing pine, spruce and cedar. Having such land is a torment. Sometimes I want to leave the whole thing go to trees again – which won’t happen in my lifetime – and sometimes I remember the sorrow in my farmer neighbour’s voice when he saw I wasn’t breaking the fields and said, “Well, I guess you’re going to let it go”. For him and for me the stone fences dividing our fields are museums of outmoded human toil, and each time I sit on them I see the generations of dirt farmers pitching them on the stone boats, every rock picked up a few times, each spring a new crop.

If you’ve the burdensome privilege of a little land whose story you know something of, you might end up where we’ve ended up most early springs: given the GMO mayhem, given that none of us pay a fair dollar for the food grown for us, given that 1% of us is feeding the rest of us and the number is falling still, what do we owe the land, the young people in our midst, the time to come we won’t live to see? My answer is: we owe them seeds.

They say that the mark of a rich culture is when people can wear all their wealth at one time. No self storage units, safety deposit boxes or basements. Any more possessions dim your treasure. We are fast approaching a time when our cultural, spiritual and ancestral treasure will be in seeds we know the story of that will feed those we love. The mad sanity of this treasure is that it will tolerate no storage. Seeds can’t survive any instinct we might have to hoard them, and their vitality fades with every growing season on the shelf. They must be spent to be precious. You have to trust them to the ground and, as land based peoples know, learn everything you can to end up a faithful witness to the spiritual larceny of these times and a midwife to what has been entrusted to you.

Now that homeless corporations own life forms the day will surely dawn when they will come after you for living outside the seed patent laws. The day may already be here. On our teaching travels we meet too many people hobbled by an impotent rage, who know enough to be sure there’s nothing to be done but tend to their souls, but not enough to find the handle of their sorrows and act as if the world needs them. Seeds are a handle. Growing good food with your own seed will one day be seditious rebellion. We are not waiting for that day. I am not talking about saving heirloom seeds. Plants notoriously long for more diversity. Their life giving power depends on ever deepening diversity. The heirloom fixation is nostalgia for a better time we’ve screwed up. There is no purity in seed. There is only life, or some kind of anti-life.

So. please consider refusing impotence and instead ask for help and permission from where all land comes from, scratch a little piece of earth, learn like crazy all you can about a handful of seeds, and then risk it all by planting and caring for them. Ask somebody young to come and bless the ground for you; you’ve got enough to do. Save some seeds in the fall – the young of the plants you cared for during the summer – and ambush someone with a handful, round about this time next year.

Stephen Jenkinson