- Jennifer Jewell
BEST OF: TO BE A SEED KEEPER: ROWEN WHITE, SIERRA SEEDS
As we head into the month of the September, and we tend toward the Autumnal Equinox later in the month, I am reminded of this being one of the best seed seasons in our gardens and in our wildlands. Ecosystems everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere are reminded by the light of the need to set seed before growing season’s end. I thought this was a perfect moment to revisit one of the episodes from our series last year entitled Seeds of September. Today we revisit our conversation with SeedKeeper, Indigenous woman, mother, writer and Seed Rematriator, Rowen White.
Rowen is a mother, a Mohawk woman, wife and seed keeper. Rowen is the founder of Sierra Seeds, the chair of Seed Savers Exchange, and a founding and leadership member of the Indigenous Seed Keepers Network. Sierra Seeds is a small, regional seed and seed stewardship cooperative based in Nevada County, California.
In the introduction to the work of Sierra Seeds, Rowen writes: “Providing access to regionally-adapted seeds that thrive in our unique conditions in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California is only one facet of our mission…..
Seeds are only the beginning: every seed we plant is a tiny loving prayer in action…..
By bridging both practical hands-on skills with indigenous knowledge and reverence, we are cultivating a way of seed stewardship that is based upon service to life and seeds. Finding ourselves again by rekindling a relationship with our food that is mutually beneficial, and truly honors the seeds for all that they continue to share with us. Writing ourselves back into the story of the sacred dance between humans and plants that is dynamic, evolutionary and resilient. Seeds are sacred.
By saving these seeds, we re-engage with a powerful lineage of Seed Keepers. I honor this responsibility from the center of my heart, and hope to share with you the deep, heart-opening aspects of these Seed Keeper traditions. Using an indigenous ecology of education via story, handiwork, and connection to place, we re-kindle a connection to our ancient traditions.
In Solidarity with the Seeds, signed Rowen White"
Rowen joins us today from the studios of KVMR in Nevada City, CA
"I also see my work on the lands with seeds from the perspective of a mother - strongly determined to feed my children with foods that are healthy, have rich story and also have ancestral connection to the long lineage of Mohawk people who we descend from.”
Rowen White, Seed Keeper
"...not only do seeds come in this whole prism of colors and flavors
and shapes, but they are intimately connected and intertwined
with story, and lineage and place and people...shedding light on this
beautiful coevolutionary dance that humans and plants
have been engaged in for millenia.”
Rowen White, Seed Keeper
Rowen is at work on two upcoming books.
This third week of Sept 2018, Rowen and her children are representing at Terra Madre/ Salon del Gusto event in Italy. Her daughter Maizie, @nativehearth, "is working with her mentor Sean Sherman and the Sioux Chef team as well as the indigenous chefs alliance, to assist in food preparation. We have over 30 native delegates, and a booth for the Slow Food Turtle Island association, which is part of the Indigenous Terra Madre. We will be featuring a selection of culturally significant foods from the diversity of native nations who will be joining us there to proudly represent our vibrant communities. It's a honor to travel to this gathering of tens of thousands of people who are passionate about unique and traditional food ways, all in celebration of our sacred foods. #indigenous #resilience #homeschool#adventures #terramadre"
Follow Rowen's work at Sierra Seeds and on Instagram: Rowen White Instagram
Join us again next week as the conversations continue two wonderful Back to School themed episodes – the first when we’re joined by Dr. Lauren Oakes, whose book "In Search of the Canary Tree" (Basic Books, 2019) is the coming school year’s Book in Common here in my hometown of Chico CA, and for our California State University, Chico.
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It's a great honor to listen to Rowen’s story and her wisdom born of this story, of her experiences and her reflection and work - there is also for me a very strong sense of my own need and responsibility and accountability to really hear Rowen’s story and hold the space and attention it deserves.
I - we all - have so much to learn from one another.
This is part and parcel of what Rowen sees happening in this seed work among and between caring, thoughtful people: reconciliation and reparations – for those people and plants who deserve so much more of both these.
When Rowen relates her understanding that our ancestors sent prayers forward that we their descendants would have good food to eat, I have to ask myself in all honesty -
WHAT PRAYERS ARE WE – AM I - SPEAKING THROUGH MY OWN EVERYDAY ACTIONS FOR THE GOOD FOOD and LIVES OF OUR DESCENDANTS?
So many of Rowen’s beautiful articulations about the importance of caring for and comprehending the power and history of seed resonated with me. I took so many notes, and starred so many thoughts: like this one: "At the heart and mission of what we do is grow good seed stewards – to help people become more familiar with the role of seed within our food system and to see seeds as teachers themselves";
And then the several references to the items of importance in her “bundle” – her bundle of tools, of skills, of values that she carries with her and puts to good use and work in this world.
The seeds – and her existential seed view - are an integral part of Rowen’s bundle of gifts that she brings to this world.
This for me hearkens back to Ira Wallace’s reference to Family Heirlooms and the ideas we could all use a moment to review – more carefully and clearly. What items of greatest value do we carry in our existential bundles? What do we value – and then – more challenging: what do we say we value and what do we demonstrate that we value?
Do I ever drive you crazy with this kind of question? I know – I drive me crazy with them too – "I thought this was a show about gardening!" someone out there might be thinking, shaking their head and selecting a disappointed 2 in the Itunes ratings and reviews.
Which as a scenario is both sad and funny to me.
Ahhhh – but this is about gardening, because for me gardening is the tiny container that holds a mirror for me all of life and its values and lessons and teachers in nature, plants, plantspeople and my own agency to lovingly and productively participate.
THIS IS is one of the well-loved gifts in my bundle that I carry and put into good work in this world.
As do you.
If there was one seed-kernel of reason that I first began the journey that is Cultivating Place with all of you it is right here, it is in this feeling I’ve had too, too many times in my life that gardening is not essential, important, or powerful and so it goes undervalued as an offering in this world. It becomes a status symbol object seen in big glossy magazine spreads (which don’t get me wrong, I like to look at but that is NOT gardening the way we're talking about it here), or it is a cheapened, replicated version of itself on this weekend’s discount flyer from the big box store – on sale now. Which is not gardening.
Thank you for carrying gardening as a gift of love in your bundle too.
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The value of conversations like these is powerful action for positive shifts in this world.
And thank you....