We’ve been finding things in the garden—old things. A crowbar, antique marbles, bits of china and glass, barbed wire, links of a chain, parts of old farming contraptions I’ve never heard of or seen. It’s hard telling how old these things actually are, and they surely differ in age among themselves. But finding fragments of long-ago dishes or scraping at a soil-clad object to discover its shape—these things stir a curiosity, which for me takes off like wildfire. I can’t point to the exact era or the people that surround these objects, and all I’m really doing is touching something someone else once touched or made, but still…a stirring. It’s nostalgia with origins I can’t quite place; I’ve only been here a short while and know less about the history of this town than I’d like to admit. Vicky told me that there was probably a homestead where the school garden now stands. With North Powder’s rich ranching and potato-farming history, its nearness to railway and river, its pre-1930s icehouse that supplied refrigerator cars for the Pacific Fruit Express—it isn’t hard to imagine a homestead once stood here.
In these last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on stories and histories and the many things that precede and follow each human life. In May my grandfather passed peacefully at 90-years-old, years rich in love, experience and family. My dad’s family, my Canadian side, is enormous—I have seven aunts and uncles and 18 first cousins. We’re up to 12 great-grandchildren. At the last family reunion my grandparents stood in front of all of us for a toast, in awe that the two of them were responsible for this room full of lives and hearts and stories.
In all of these reflections and findings, I’ve also been thinking about heirloom seeds and how they are the botanical expression of history, stories, culture, connection. Easily defined, heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties that were grown in a different era and have been saved by gardeners—some are over a hundred years old, some are younger. In and of themselves, these seeds contain a bounty of flavor, color, nutrients and, more abstractly, the many human hands and creatures that have kept seeding them throughout history. There is a movement to protect these seeds—conserve the biodiversity, knowledge and culture they bring—through efforts like Seed Savers Exchange and Navdanya, organizations that create seed banks and lead farmers in conservation training. Dr. Vandana Shiva, who founded Navdanya in 1991, is a pillar of knowledge, advocacy and action when it comes to seed sovereignty (take a couple moments to watch this video “Seeds” from the Lexicon of Sustainability; it features terms like seed swap and seed sovereignty and what they mean). The essence of seed sovereignty is much like other sovereignties we’ve come to know and define: the right of people and communities to define and control their own agriculture. On their page about seed sovereignty, the Anishinaabe Seed Project quotes Rowen White: “These seeds become symbols, reflections of the people’s own spiritual and aesthetic identity and that of the land that shapes them.”
In the garden we’ve planted several heirloom varieties with plans to collect the seed after harvest. But there is so much more happening than the seemingly simple acts of tying a paper bag over a broccoli flower or squishing the seeds out of a juicy tomato. As a community we are planting, harvesting and saving stories—some of which are only just beginning.