by Nance Klehm for (“homegrown counterculture”)

In early February at THE SEED ARCHIVE’S “Seedy Sunday” event in Chicago, 70 people came by to pick up and learn about seeds.

It was a bit of a pile-up.

Four gallons of homemade, homegrown (last season) posole was never slurped so fast. Experienced growers shared their seeds and carefully picked through the collection, taking the most rare and unusual. The inexperienced came empty-handed and stuffed their pockets. As my friend Erik said: “Wait until they have 200 radishes to harvest and have to figure out what to do with them.”

Particularly exciting arrivals to the SEED ARCHIVE were blue lotus, mandrake and white alpine strawberries.

A public-access seed archive relies on its PUBLIC, which to me means a broad, diffuse network of folks growing seeds out and bringing them back. Completing this cycle is essential to not just the seed’s continued life but the vitality of the archive as a community resource.

Seeds require care and discipline. Many seeds can only be stored for a short period of time. Potatoes need to be grown out every year to remain viable. Lettuce seeds last only a year or two before they reach the end of their shelf-life. We can’t just stuff seed away and we can’t just grow things out willy-nilly.

Taking an informal poll here (in case any of you wish to respond, you are invited to): Why were people taking so much seed—far too much to grow and use?

The latter question came to mind as Vandana Shiva stepped up to a podium of a packed auditorium in Chicago a few days later. Here’s a picture…


Shiva comes from a farming, conservation and teaching family and as an environmental activist has a PhD in quantum physics. She is a GRANDMOTHER WARRIOR fighting Monsanto and the other four transnational corporations that control our global food supply—pushing GMO’s, toxic pesticides and herbicides affecting our seed and therefore farmers and their families, rural communities and ecosystems of plants and animals, soil quality and even us urban consumers. She uses an old form of resistance—inspiring a dedicated (read: strategized) and devoted (read heart-solid) group of people, mostly women to put their bodies on the line. Besides writing over 15 books, she has brought down the likes of Monsanto and Cargill on seeds and Coca-Cola on water rights. Shiva travels the globe extensively inserting toothpicks between our eyelids so we can see what the heck is going on. And like the toothpicks, it ain’t comfortable.

Four years ago I had the privilege of serving her on her week’s teaching residency in England. She was puffy, her breathing heavy, full of congestion. She was so unhealthy that it made me question the ability of a human, any human to hold such a large public identity and still remain whole and vital.

She looked better in Chicago, speaking about the Chipko movement of the early ’70s, an organized resistance to the destruction of forests in India. Village women organized the Chipko. It was thousands of women hugging trees that stopped the destruction, and popularized the action and use of ‘treehugging’ around the world. Chipko’s position was simple: forests support food, fuel and fodder, and stabilize soil and water. In other words, forests are integral to subsistence. That is: Ecology = Economy.

Press coverage of the Chipko movement:


Vandana Shiva also spoke about the great Bengal famine of the mid-1940s, when hundreds of thousands of Indians died due to the maldistribution of rice. Finally, women armed with broomsticks confronted the British East Indian Company to demand a lessened “tribute” of their rice crop so they could actually feed their families. Their message being: Let us keep more of the rice we grow or kill us now. Women and broomsticks, mind you. Witchy farmers, but not witches.

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