BRAVE NEW SEED FOR A BRAVE NEW YEAR, with KELLEE MATSUSHITA-TSENG
As a farewell to the calendar year that has been, and a welcome to the year that will be, I am joined this week by seedperson and agent of growing transformational change - Kellee Matsushita-Tseng.
Known as Brave New Seed on-line, Kellee is a Yonsei, a fourth generation, queer, Japanese-Chinese American, the farm-garden assistant manager at the UC Santa Cruz Center for AgroEcology, and a member of the seed research and growing collective Second Generation Seeds, which specializes in food seeds of the Asian diaspora.
The Second Generation Seeds collective look at seed as story, as food, as medicine and as beauty. Kellee strives to look at seed from an and/also mindset – rather than an either/or mindset, for instance experimenting with the edible chrysanthemum, known in Japan as shungkiku, now botanically known as Glebionis coronaria, as a cut flower, or trialing Asian perilla, cucumber and pepper varieties.
In our conversation, Kellee and I explore the individuals who comprise the Second Generation Seeds collective preserving and sharing seeds of the Asian diaspora, including researching and trialing heirloom and other hard to find seeds. We also discuss how to allow for time, diligence, and respectful care of seed and one another in a time of urgency.
"Botanically speaking, a perfect flower is in fact a queer flower – encompassing essential masculine and feminine characteristics." Kellee Matsushita-Tseng, Brave New Seed
Kellee’s background is in anti-death penalty work, education, youth empowerment work, and community organizing. Kellee’s work focuses on building a movement towards seed sovereignty as a means of cultivating community health and working for collective liberation. A priority is in "growing seed keepers, creating pathways for people to connect to ancestral foodways, and cultivating seed stewards that are rooted in community."
Kellee serves on the board of directors at the National Young Farmers Coalition, and organizes with the Asian American Farmers Alliance.
In June of 2021, I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing Kellee present and lead a panel on sustainable flower farming for the Slow Flowers Summit held at Filoli Gardens in Woodside, CA. In the presentation, Kellee beautifully reminded the audience that, botanically speaking a perfect flower is in fact a queer flower – encompassing essential masculine and feminine characteristics.
Happy New Year ~ here's to brave new seedings of the world we want to live in and care for!
You can follow Kellee's work on Instagram at @Bravenewseed
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JOIN US again next week, when we begin the 2022 calendar year with Diane Wilson - emeritus Executive Director for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance as as for Dream of Wild Health (a Native-led non-profit farm). A gardener and ecologist, Diane has written several books including a memoir, Spirit Car, and her 2021 novel – The Seed Keeper, about which we speak in depth for the strength of its historical accuracy and symbolic import for us as gardeners, seed keepers in our way - imaginatively and actually.
Cultivating Place is made possible in part by listeners like you and by generous support from the American Horticultural Society. Soon to Celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, AHS has been a trusted source of high quality gardening and horticultural information since 1922.
Today, AHS’s mission blends education, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship with the art and practice of horticulture. Members of AHS receive the award-winning flagship magazine, The American Gardener, free admission and other discounts to more than 345 public gardens with the Reciprocal Admissions Program, plus discounts on books, seeds, programs and more!
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Thinking out loud this week:
I am struck by the stark contrast between Kellee’s description early in our conversation of working with youth and using photography to document the memorials to lost life in these same youths’ neighborhood, compared with the lively and hopeful description of working in the community garden with Latinx mothers growing fresh food for their young families….
We face choices every day in and with our gardens - windowsill gardens, front yard gardens, community gardens, backyard orchards. What a difference a garden and gardeners can make – for me this is the message I take away from every conversation with other gardeners. Gardeners just like you and me. Together we grow the world better – and that is an actionable item to bolster your garden courage heading into 2022.
Here’s another aspect of Kellee’s gardening work that is imprinted now in my gardener brain – and which is again illustrated throughout the past year of Cultivating Place conversations. When Kellee is describing her work researching and understanding what are often grouped as “Asian” vegetables – or Asian Seeds – she tells us: “The concept of Asian it’s not in fact a monolith"– and that in the specifics of say perilla or edible chrysanthemum there might be different varieties each with their own use, their own names in different cultures, and different meaning and traditions, "and so part of the work is exposing and celebrating that." And yet each name, use, tradition, and meaning is part of the whole identity of that food or seed. In their online statement of purpose, Second Generation Seeds includes this sentence: "Through our collaborations with growers, breeders, chefs, and community organizations, we work to identify and develop desirable traits for Asian crops, in our hopes of imbuing them with relevance for the future. Through online and in-person experiences, we aim to widen our circle of dialogue about all the elements needed to pass on old stories, and imagine new ones. We want to design new forms of participatory research that excite and empower our communities. Ultimately we want to support all of you in your seed adventures, so that our decisions and practices uphold the integrity we desire for the world."
And it dawned on me that all of this is the same for us GARDENERS, and that that is part of we hope to shine a celebratory light on here in these Cultivating Place conversations: we are not a monolith – we are not from one place, not of one age, or one motivating force, or one early influence – we are a symphony, a panoply, a wondrous biodiversity of tending and growing and composting and all together we are far far more than the sum of our parts – we are the great germination - as we have heard over and over this past year – of a family of humans creating a kinder and more functional ecosystem interdependent and interconnected with kin and kindred across this generous and beautiful planet.
The world is better for caring, cared for and intentional gardens and caring intentional gardeners of integrity and relevance for the future.
Happy to be here together with you – and the dedication and intention of gardeners like Kellee and their communities of like-intentioned gardeners at UC Santa Cruz Agro-ecology farm and those at Second Generation Seeds.... and all of you.
Happy brave New garden Year.
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