By Rick Burnette
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (II Corinthians 9:6-7)
One Saturday morning in February at Misión Peniel in Immokalee, the Cultivate Abundance team threw a party; but not a birthday or Valentine’s Day party.
This celebration was focused on sharing garden seeds as well as cuttings and seedlings.
Often referred to as seed swaps or seed fairs, such activities are designed to promote the ancient and essential act of seed saving with a focus on community-based collaboration and generosity.
Among 21 participants, half were Immokalee-based gardeners who brought homegrown, non-commercial seeds to share.
These seeds could be described as heirloom varieties. Seed Savers Exchange, an organization based in Decorah, Iowa promotes collecting, regenerating and sharing heirloom plants, seeds and stories. It describes heirloom seeds as those coming from valued plant varieties with a history of being passed down within a family or community.
With refreshments on hand, those bringing seeds and other plant propagation material (e.g., seedings, cuttings) were welcomed and registered. Each type of introduced seed was cataloged and then meticulously sorted into enough labeled packets to be shared among all the participants. We ended up with at least 35 local entries of shared seeds, plants and cuttings, including squash, black bean, maize and mustard.
Even for a small event, several people were needed to help register participants, receive the seeds, catalog seed information and divide each batch into enough packets to go around.
Fortunately, the Cultivate Abundance team was assisted by Holly, the Seed Bank Manager from ECHO. It is a local organization that provides technical resources for agricultural workers around the world, in addition to three ECHO interns. We were also supported by Kelly and Kathleen, two faculty from the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) and the Family Nutrition Program.
Lisette, a local photojournalist, and Sean were also present to document the event.
As some of the gardeners came with children, Maria, a staffer with Partners in Health in Immokalee, kept the youngest seed savers occupied so their moms could interact fully.
While packets of seeds were being sorted and labeled, Lupita, the Cultivate Abundance Community Gardens and Outreach Manager, facilitated a Spanish-language forum, kicking things off with introductions. This was followed by each participant being invited to share about the seeds that they had brought.
Besides being ungrudging with seeds, the gardeners were generous with stories about their valued varieties, while also providing tips on how to best plant the seeds and tend each crop.
The forum was followed by a brief presentation and discussion led by Holly, on how to best prepare and store seeds in home settings.
The final activity was the actual swap. Seed packets, cuttings and seedlings of each shared variety, with relevant information, had been arranged on tables for participants to examine. The event concluded with gardeners choosing seeds and other plant materials to take home.
With permission from the participants, Cultivate Abundance was also able to access new seeds of local crop varieties. These will be planted, evaluated, collected and shared as we continue efforts to nurture a community of gardeners.
Sowing, Reaping, and Sharing.
Scripture never states explicitly that Jesus was a gardener, although on Resurrection Day he was mistaken for one. But based on their plant and seed focused parables and illustrations, Jesus and the Apostle Paul must have been keen observers of farming and gardening, both pointing out the divine lavishness of sowing, reaping and sharing.
In her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, botanist, scientist and member of the Citizen Potawantomi Nation states, “Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.”
We never cease to be amazed that Immokalee, a farming community that produces millions of pounds of fruit and vegetables daily, has chronic food insecurity. Somewhere along the way, our nation’s gigantic food system tossed aside the obligation to give, receive and reciprocate.
Instead, the conventional food economy operates off a scarcity model so driven by the bottom line that it fails to nurture Creation’s soil, water and plant-based abundance, even while harming those who pick our crops.
The global, industrial food system ignores reciprocity in other ways. Around the world, corporate and even academic greed has extended to taking genetic resources from smallholder farmers. Resources are stolen from those who have saved and shared seeds for centuries, without acknowledging them or obtaining their permission (see Indigenous Maize: Who Owns the Rights to Mexico’s ‘Wonder’ Plant?)
In contrast, gardeners who swap seeds offer the ultimate example of earth-connected giving, receiving and reciprocating; a manifestation of Biblical generous sowing, reaping and sharing.
The generosity of Immokalee’s seed-saving, food-sharing gardeners, many of whom have been abused physically and economically by industrial farming, is an act of love as well as a show of defiance.