gather and grow

Homegrown, hand-spun living in the city

seeds2

One of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Navdanya is its focus on seed saving and seed sovereignty. I’ve been learning seed saving for the past year, and have come to see this practice as an integral part of the kind of gardening I want to do. In a world where corporations are manipulating seeds and trying to patent them, seed-saving is a small political act in defense of biodiversity, farmers’ rights, and non-scary foods — to name just a few. This is particularly the case in India, where the heavy cost of the Green Revolution and GMO crops has become all too apparent: reliance on expensive external inputs (special seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides), loss of biodiversity, the vulnerability of monoculture crops, farmer suicides… Navdanya was founded as a place from which to resist, and present an alternative vision, to this model.

seeds5seeds1Visiting Navdanya’s Seed Bank for the first time felt like entering a sanctuary: within its mud-and-cow-dung-plastered walls decorated with folk-style wall paintings were rows upon rows of metal, glass, and traditional woven containers preserving seeds of many food crops that might otherwise have been lost, were it not for the work of the Navdanya movement. Beautiful seeds, of all shapes and colors, from the tiniest mustard and amaranth seeds to corn and beans. Bunches of grains and flowers are hung to dry from the ceiling. There is no mechanized climate control: the cow dung plasters keep the building naturally cool.

seeds3Over this domain reigns Navdanya’s legendary elder seed keeper (bīja rakshak), Bīja Didi. She learned the practice of saving and storing seeds from her parents, and is now passing the knowledge onto her students such as her niece Bindu, who has been training under her for ten years now. I spent two mornings with the two of them weeding the turmeric and lentil fields and learning about the work they do. They explained to me and my friend Asha the process of selecting, cleaning, drying and storing the seeds, and what they see as the significance of their work.

For someone as connected to the life cycles of plants as they are, the seed is not merely a source of food. It is a storehouse of cultural and religious knowledge and heritage, an accumulation of long traditions. When a farmer passes seeds along to another farmer, ideas and knowledge are also passed along — the knowledge of how to work with that particular seed, how to protect it from pests, how to cook with the food it yields. When these reciprocal and cooperative relationships of exchange fall away as farmers begin to buy more expensive, “special” seeds from companies, all of the cultural knowledge ingrained in the heirloom seed varieties also risks being lost. As seed keepers, then, Bīja and Bindu are keeping more than just seeds – they are protecting vast cultural knowledge, nutrition, a range of gastronomic delights, and collaborative relationships from being lost.rakshak), Bīja Didi. She learned the practice of saving and storing seeds from her parents, and is now passing the knowledge onto her students such as her niece Bindu, who has been training under her for ten years now. I spent two mornings with the two of them weeding the turmeric and lentil fields and learning about the work they do. The two of them explained to me and my friend Asha the process of selecting, cleaning, drying and storing the seeds, and what they see as the significance of their work.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: