Seed Saving and Stewardship

By Elaine Bell ’16

As mornings grow darker and afternoons heighten with a crisp scent in the air, the Antioch Farm approaches autumn by seeding winter crops, planting garlic, and harvesting the end of summer’s bounty. But before putting beds to rest for the cold months to come, we’re adding in an extra step of preparation this year—seed saving.

The Antioch Farm has saved seeds in the past—mostly buckwheat and marigold. For the past two summers, the wonderful Beth Bridgeman, Instructor of Cooperative Education, has taken students to the Seeds Savers’ Exchange Conference in Decorah, Iowa. Students have returned with new knowledge and inspiration for engaging the Antioch community in the art of seed saving. Last year, a couple students came back and taught a workshop for how to control squash seed pollination to avoid crossing varieties. They also hosted an intimate seed exchange.

This year, I went to the Conference with Beth and a few other agriculture enthusiast students with an interest in learning about a vital part of food growing that I felt I had taken for granted. Most seeds that I see come in a packet, but I never considered how they got there, let alone the incredible effort to increase biodiversity through seed saving and the stories connected to their legacies. I heard the term “seed steward” for the first time at the Conference, and it piqued my interest to attend another seed engagement opportunity, also organized by Beth, happening within our own Antioch community—a Seed School, led by Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.

Seed School was an intensive seed saving workshop held in the Glen Helen Ecological Center—I was probably the youngest person there. Throughout the week we learned about seed structure, plant breeding, pollination patterns, seed selection, and processing. One of the facilitators said something on our first day that really stood out to me: “There is an agreement between plants and humans; they give us food, and we take care of them. This involves taking care of their seeds.”

By the end of the week our learning community was figuring ways in which we as Seed School students can connect with each other about seed saving initiatives such as seed protection policymaking, starting our own seed libraries, and fostering seed saving cultures within our home communities.

To be honest, before the Seed School, I had never engaged in the physical process of seed saving. One of the days we had time set aside to bring our mature late summer plants to the room and practice taking them out of their pods, separating their seeds from their shafts, shaking seeds out of their parent flowers. I chose a flowered lettuce plant from the Antioch Farm and brought it over to my group, where they were waiting with a strainer and bowl. I barely had to set the bunch of flowers down before lettuce seed started pouring from the dried petals. It was incredible—the life cycle of this generation of lettuce was complete, and I was stewarding it—being a part of it starting anew!

This idea of seed stewardship and sharing the skills we learned beyond the Seed School got me thinking about how I could get other young people involved. How can we truly understand the dangers of monotony and importance of diversity for the health of communities not just in our human world but within seed populations as well? How can people see the magic of seeds, experience how I felt being a part of that lettuce’s life cycle which we should all feel honored to be a part of?

It starts with bringing more seed saving to the Farm and bringing more people to the spaces that feed us. Farm Manager Kat Christen, the Glen, Beth, and a few other students are all interested in working together to see what is manageable on our land in regards to seed saving for upcoming seasons. Now is the time to start realizing our stewardship, in this season and in this epoch. And perhaps we aren’t just stewards of seeds; we are stewards of each other.

And I am a steward of my Antioch community.