My interest in seed saving is relatively new compared to my interest in growing food, which may seem counterintuitive. How can you grow food without seed? Why haven’t I been interested or been practicing seed saving and seed conservation throughout my years of growing food? Maybe it’s reflective of my previously transient lifestyle—growing for a season here, working on a farm for a season there, but never spending the required time in a place to appreciate the adaptiveness of a crop to an area. Now, as I find myself doing work that I feel matters and having settled in an area that requires a certain hardiness or adaptiveness of plants to grow well, I am realizing the importance of saving seed to promote the health and adaptability of food grown in the Chihuahuan Desert.
Native Seed/SEARCH, a nonprofit seed-conservation organization, biannually holds an introductory course on seed saving at its conservation center in Tucson, Arizona. The course covers seed-saving traditions and the modern seed industry, as well as botany, flowering and pollination, seed biology and germination, basic genetics, planning your garden for quality seed production, wet and dry seed processing methods and simple seed storage. I attended this course, as well as an additional, day-long workshop that offered a more in-depth look at creating and maintaining a seed library or seed bank.
The workshop was introductory and drew a diverse crowd of gardeners, educators, nonprofit workers, community workers and organizers, and environmentalists with varying degrees of experience. For some, the sections of the workshop covering sexual reproduction of plants, pollination, parts of a seed, genus types, and genetics may have just been a review, but the hands-on portions that involved the wet and dry processing of seed was clearly exciting to all. To create a space in which 20 to 30 adults are all engaged and enthused in the simple but sometimes tedious threshing and removing chaff from seed is no easy task. The education team at Native Seed/SEARCH can be proud of that. It was through these actions that I learned the most—experiencing the equipment, the various ways of threshing and realizing the scale at which I can implement these practices in my work with La Semilla Food Center.
The work La Semilla is doing at the schools in the El Paso del Norte region is expanding. As our program grows, it makes sense to me to begin to utilize the accumulating garden space and teacher/student work-power to add more dimensions to the program. Next year, we will have functional gardens at roughly 20 schools. Although we already discuss and promote local, regional or culturally relevant foods and the seed-to-table cycle in our curriculum, the idea of saving seeds that are adapted to our environment and make sense ecologically and culturally can only reinforce these notions to the students. I plan on using what I learned at the workshop to introduce seed saving and, eventually, a functional seed library.
Seed saving can be a tricky prospect, especially for some crops. But with a bit of experimentation and practice, I think that this is a project the schools could take on and get interested in, especially as they begin to look for ways to sustain their farm-to-school and garden programs.
Josh Jasso has a B.A. in anthropology from Vassar College. He is a first-year service member at La Semilla Food Center in Anthony, New Mexico. Farm to Table and UNM’s Community Engagement Center serve as FoodCorps New Mexico’s host sites. www.farmtotablenm.org/programs/foodcorps-americorps/11