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Keith Millea
05-14-2011, 07:28 PM
Published on Saturday, May 14, 2011 by YES! Magazine (http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/winona-laduke-keepers-of-the-seeds) Keepers of the Seeds


How Native farmers and gardeners are working to preserve their agricultural heritage.

by Winona LaDuke (http://www.commondreams.org/author/winona-laduke)


For 14 years, Caroline Chartrand, a Metis woman who recently traveled from Winnipeg, Canada, to the 8th annual Great Lakes Indigenous Farming Conference, has been looking for the heritage seeds of her people. It is believed that in the 1800s, the Metis grew some 120 distinct seed varieties in the Red River area of Canada. Of those, Caroline says, “We ended up finding about 20 so far.”

http://www.commondreams.org/sites/commondreams.org/files/imce-images/seed_keepers.jpg(Photo courtesy of Edward Gerkhe)

In Canada, three-quarters of all the crop varieties that existed before the 20th century are extinct. And, of the remaining quarter, only 10 percent are available commercially from Canadian seed companies (the remainder are held by gardeners and families). Over 64 percent of the commercially held seeds are offered by only one company; if those varieties are dropped, the seeds may be lost.

That’s the reason Caroline and about 100 other indigenous farmers and gardeners—along with students and community members—gathered in March on the White Earth reservation in Northern Minnesota to share knowledge, stories, and, of course, seeds.

In Canada, three-quarters of all the crop varieties that existed before the 20th century are extinct.

A recent article by a prominent Canadian writer suggested that agriculture in Canada began with the arrival of Europeans. Caroline had to ask her, “What about all that agriculture before then?” Caroline is a committed grower in the effort to recover northern Ojibwe corn varieties that once grew l00 miles north of Winnipeg—the northernmost known corn crop in the world. “That’s some adaptable corn,” said one of the conference participants said. “And,” added Betsy McDougall of Turtle Mountain, “We Ojibwes, Metis, and Crees must have been really good farmers.”
Indigenous farmers from the Winnebago reservation in Nebraska shared their struggles with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/a-month-without-monsanto) encroaching on their fields, threatening to alter and potentially sterilize open-pollinated corn. While native corn varieties are richer in protein and much more resilient to climate change, they are not immune to GMO contamination. The advice shared amongst farmers was to eat from the edges and save seed from the middle, where corn is least likely to be affected by cross-pollination.

Despite the challenges, native farmers are having success in preserving the resilient crops that sustained their ancestors.

“Those seeds are the old ways. They gave our ancestors life for all those years,” said Frank Alegria, Sr. The son of migrant farm workers, Frank has been gardening since he could walk and farming on the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin since he was sixteen. Now an elder, he continues to grow native varieties, including an 850-year-old squash variety found in an archaeological dig near the Wisconsin border.
Deb Echohawk told the story of the sacred corn seeds of the Pawnee. By combining efforts with the descendants of settlers who live in the traditional Pawnee homelands in Nebraska, the Pawnee are recovering varieties thought to be lost forever. Deb and others have been formally recognized as keepers of the seeds.

John Torgrimson, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange (http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/seed-savers-exchange), the nation’s largest non-governmental seed bank, talked about the organization’s humble beginning as a campout by a small group of committed individuals in Decorah, Iowa. More than 35 years later, they now preserve and grow out over 25,000 varieties of unique vegetables, fruits, grasses, and even a heritage cow breed at their 890 acre Heritage Farm.

Likewise, the White Earth Land Recovery Project, together with North Dakota State University, is working with a number of tribal members and local farmers to grow out five or six corn varieties adapted for the region, including white, pink, and black varieties. One farmer chuckled as he mentioned seeing animals strut past the more abundant GMO corn to feast on the native variety.

One of the outcomes of the conference was a working group that will plan a regional seed library. At the table were tribal members from White Earth, Red Lake, Leech Lake, Bad River, Menominee, Standing Rock Lakota, the Winnebago of Nebraska, and other reservations, as well as the Pawnee tribe’s keeper of seeds and the executive directors of Seed Savers Exchange and Seeds of Diversity (Canada). Many others joined the discussion, including a Midwest coordinator for USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, local allied growers, representatives from University of Minnesota, and various tribal colleges.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License


Winona LaDuke is a contributing editor to YES! Magazine and an author and activist who writes extensively on native and environmental issues. Her most recent book is Recovering the Sacred (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0896087123?ie=UTF8&tag=commondreams-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0896087123). She is an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) enrolled member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations.


http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/05/14-3

Keith Millea
05-23-2011, 04:21 PM
Published on Monday, May 23, 2011 by Agence France Presse (http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/greeks-mobilise-to-protect-endangered-seeds-2287669.html)

Greeks Mobilize to Protect Endangered Seeds

The remote valley of Mesohori in northeastern Greece seems an unusual choice for a stand against genetically modified crop conglomerates who are knocking on Europe's door.

http://www.commondreams.org/sites/commondreams.org/files/imagecache/headline_image/article_images/peliti.jpg

Greece - where farming tends to be less industrialised than in other parts of Europe with many farmers collecting and reusing their own seeds - is one of seven EU states that has stopped farming Monsanto's GM corn. Yet thousands of organic farming advocates seeking to bar so-called "Frankenstein" foods from the continent made the journey here to help raise awareness about dangers to seed diversity.

The event was an annual seed exchange festival organised by the Peliti alternative community, a Mesohori-based non-government organisation working to preserve Greece's vegetal wealth against an encroaching global economy.
"We are doing something important here," beamed Grigoris Papadopoulos, a 60-year-old agronomist whose "green" epiphany came a decade ago after years of selling pesticide to farmers.

"I realised that money is not as important as quality of life, I saw the dirt in farm chemicals," said Papadopoulos, who came to trade his wild peach and apricot seeds.
Started in 1995, Peliti's drive to "to collect, distribute and rescue traditional seed varieties" (www.peliti.gr (http://www.peliti.gr/)) has drawn notice among organic farming proponents across Europe.

The continent is caught between strong popular opposition to GM foods and pressure from major American GM producers such as Monsanto who say that European bans on such products are illegal as they breach global trade rules.
Only two GM-crops are currently authorised in the European Union - a maize strain for animal feed and a potato for paper-making. Decisions on a lengthening list of others are in deadlock.

An internal EU survey found half the 27-member bloc's states see no benefit from genetically modified crops, the European Commission said in April.

Greece - where farming tends to be less industrialised than in other parts of Europe with many farmers collecting and reusing their own seeds - is one of seven EU states that has stopped farming Monsanto's GM corn. And the country's agriculture ministry has hailed Peliti's effort as "positive".

Organisers said about 5,000 people showed up at this year's fair in the foothills of the Rhodope mountains between Greece and Bulgaria, 700 kilometres (435 miles) from the capital Athens.

Under a blazing sun, crowds milled around tables featuring varieties from the southern island of Crete to the northeastern region of Thrace, including tomato roots and seeds to grow organic courgettes, beetroots, melons, watermelons and herbs.

"Around 4,000 plant types were distributed to organic growers and supporters from all over Greece but also from France, Germany, Turkey and the United States," said Peliti founder Panagiotis Sainatoudis.

With the country's strong agricultural background, farm produce still features prominently among its exports.
"Due to its microclimate and the lack of rain, Greece has 6,000 plant species - half of what grows in Europe - including 1,200 unique genetic variations," Sainatoudis told AFP.

"The tradition of taste and aromas is still going strong," added Sophia Gida, an event organiser. "People come here specifically looking for Cretan tomatoes or fava beans from Santorini."
"Every seed is important but the seeds from my mother are more important, and of my grandparents much more important," said Arif Sen, a grower from Marmara in Turkey.

But even the staunchest supporters of organic living can see the difficulty in resisting the mass appeal of cheap crops.
"Those who have money eat well, but the poor will still eat modified," Papadopoulos said. "Through our behaviour, we need to force the state to respect us."

© 2011 AFP

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/05/23-3