In Indigenous America, the custom of taking time to sincerely honor food sources is an ancient one. Many cultures offered prayers and petitions to animals they hunted or held ceremonies of thanksgiving for the abundance of crops, and happily, this tradition continues amongst many Native Peoples.
Vegan eaters do not have to contend with the experience of taking the lives of other animals to sustain their own. Instead, we take the lives of plants for this purpose, and in this article, I would like to introduce the subject of acting with grace in this matter. You will find many other fine articles on the Internet and in books about the methods of saving specific kinds of seeds; this piece will be different, in that I want to take a more holisitic look at developing enough sensitivity towards the lives and needs of plants so that we are reciprocating their life-giving friendship and partnership with mankind. I hope you can give some thought to this topic and see if it makes sense to incorporate this kind of honoring in your own life.
Our lives are inextricably bound together
I once read a very thought-provoking and unusual piece of writing in which the author suggested that corn is one of the cleverest plants on Earth. Unlike most plant species, corn cannot re-seed itself. Its kernels stay wrapped tightly inside the thick husk until a human being or other animal peels it off. For some 12,000 years or more, corn and man have had to walk side by side for existence, and this author suggested that what corn had done in making this interdependent relationship had insured its survival. Essentially, corn succeeded in colonizing the majority of South, Central and North America and was so beloved by so many people, it played a central role in countless Indigenous religions. Corn was, in other words, very smart.
Looking at corn this way – as a being with agency – will be something of a revelation for many people in the modern western world. In the absence of Native traditions, we may think of plants as having no intentions, no aims or needs. I would suggest that if you are a vegan, and especially if you are homesteading and farming for your family, you start considering that each plant in your garden has a story and a destiny and that, as farmer, you are playing a very significant role in this tale.
Every spring, my heart gets a scalding seeing ignorant people in my region spraying herbicides on their properties. A few days later, living grasses, wildflowers and other beautiful green plants lay in an eerie, dead orange-brown heap. Apart for the damage these neighbors are doing to their own health, the soil, the air and the water, it is truly disturbing to see the plants die from this chemical assault. I believe that most people who spray herbicides do so out of lack of education, and unfortunately, they are playing the ultimate bad guy in the story of plants.
On the other side of the scale, there is the small, organic farmer who invests the light of his mind and the sweat of his brow in every aspect of growing and caring for plants. He composts and builds up strong, healthy soil. He is out there watering his plants, talking to them, singing to them day after day. He is exuberantly thankful at harvest time, and as a final act of appreciation, he saves back some of the seeds from this year’s plants for next year.
I have come to feel that it is the spirit of appreciation that counts in the story. These plants which give us both intensely gratifying visual beauty around our homes as well as life-sustaining nourishment deserve our utmost consideration and gratitude. Every year, I become so attached to the plants on our farm. I spend hours and hours amongst them and can truly sense their goodwill towards me. In regarding plants as beings with agency, you might think that they would fear and hate we humans who take their fruits and often their whole lives so that we can eat them, but I sense that this is not true. From my years on the farm, I sense that plants are holding out a hand to us and asking us for an agreement:
“We’ll give to you, so please ensure that our story continues.”
What better way to make a covenant with life-giving plants than to promise to save some of their seed so that their history continues on Earth? In fact, I assure my plants of this – especially those corn plants who have come to seem to me like a family of wonderful beings standing in my yard, arms uplifted, hands waving. We not only bring beautiful rocks to our corn as a present when we pick the first ears of green corn, but I tell them that we will definitely be saving some of their seed so that their people can continue. If you’ve never thought of plants this way, this all may sound a little funny to you, but give it a try and see if you can feel some kind of response from the plants when you tell them this. I think you will.
Homesteaders who begin saving seed will quickly realize just how abundantly the plants are providing for this. Open a pumpkin or winter squash and you will think you have enough seeds to plant the whole globe! Corn, too, is truly astonishing. For every kernel you plant, you get a return of hundreds. Arugula sprouts almost as soon as you sprinkle it on the ground and spinach plants allowed to flower will literally shower you with their seeds for next spring. Soon, you will have jars and envelopes from one end of your home to the other, and you will know that keeping your promise to the plants means an embarrassment of food riches for next year.
We have not gotten this worked out perfectly yet. The photo at the beginning of this article includes our saved seeds from pumpkins, corn, mustard, peas and spinach. All of these have been utterly easy to collect and save. We are having more trouble with lettuce and summer squashes and need some help from other farmers to figure out exactly how to save these trickier seeds. We’re working on it, and I think you will be as proud as we are when the year comes that you buy very little of your seed from vendors because you have saved enough of your own, making your farm ever-more self-sustaining. This is an excellent goal for any homesteading family and one you can reasonably achieve with effort and time.
And the plants, I feel confident, will love you for it.
A Few Technicalities
- Plant heirlooms if you want to save seeds. Hybrids will not come back true to what you grew the first year because they are – well – hybrids. Heirlooms will come back more or less the same year after year.
- Be absolutely careful in choosing your initial corn and beet seeds, because of GMO contamination. We recommend FedcoSeeds.com for these seeds because this company has been right at the forefront of fighting genetic modification and we put more trust in their GMO testing than we do in that of other seed companies.
- The ease with which you save seeds may depend on where you live. We are lucky enough that even our first attempts to save seed were successful with an extremely high germination rate. We’ve saved our seeds in nothing fancier than regular mailing envelopes and they have sprouted right up and produced fabulous plants. Your success may vary, but as you gain farming wisdom, you will find out what works for you. It helps to find and talk with other local organic farmers to see what they do.
Standing Witness To The Miraculous In Everyday Life
Today is Easter – the paramount celebration of the promise of new life in the Christian calender year. No matter how many years I live, the miracle of seeds in spring never grows old for me. In the hills around my home, the verdant grasses are garlanded in ethereally lovely wildflowers – lupines, poppies, mallows, delphiniums, sages and a delicate rainbow of other charming blooms. The fruit trees have been laden with clouds of blossoms, brimming with promise. On the farm, the tomatoes stems are fattening and glistening, the grassy spinach is up and the peas are popping out of the earth just days after the seeds were sown.
Once again, you and I are witnessing just exactly how abundantly the Creator provides for us, if we know where to look and what to do. A handful of seed means a year of plenty, and our grateful response to this miracle lends a grace and dignity to our lives. Taking without thanking means we are unaware of the value of the gift. We can develop a better wisdom than this, just by living side by side with our plants and striving to understand their wishes and provide for their needs. They will provide for us in return with the very stuff of life.
Wishing all readers a Happy Easter and a green and growing Spring.
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