Garden Musings · Vegetable Gardening

Rowen White – A Gardener You Should Know

Rowen White delivers keynote at Chicago Botanic Garden

I was invited, along with a small group of other garden bloggers, to a luncheon with Rowen White before she presented the keynote lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden as a part of their Super Seed Weekend. If you want to be inspired, read on.

Rowen White is the director and founder of Sierra Seeds, serves on the board of directors of Seed Savers Exchange, is a member of the Mohawk community of the Akwesasne, and a passionate advocate for seed sovereignty.

She shared the personal story of her journey over the last 20 years to reclaim ancestral and heritage seeds. She spoke eloquently about the restoration of her cultural heritage through seed saving.

Original Territories of the Iroquois

The small dots of color are all that remains of Haudenosaunee Communities.

Her great grandparents grew up on a farm on original tribal lands, but generations following were relocated. They attended boarding schools where they weren’t allowed to speak their native language and were taught new ways of farming the crops of settlers.

As a child, Rowen always had an interest in growing plants. At age 17, she left her home community and worked at an organic farm while attending Amhurst College. At the farm, she was given an heirloom tomato project. She immersed herself in the project, growing, tasting and saving seeds of heirloom tomatoes. While reading stories of heirloom seeds, she realized she didn’t know the food of her own ancestry and “felt a hole in her heart”. This realization sent her on a quest to discover the food and tastes of her ancestors.

She traveled to communities throughout the Haudensaunee Confederacy, collecting seeds and their stories. She planted them, cooked food from the harvest, and saved their seeds. The seeds became Rowen’s teachers in the “co-evolutionary dance between people and plants.”

Along the way, Rowen began Sierra Seeds, a regional seed company based in Nevada County, California. Sierra Seeds offers seeds that thrive in the region, provides support to seed growers, and delivers educational programs.

Rowen and her ancestors believe people do not own seeds. Instead, they are borrowed from their children in order to feed them and to share cultural teachings. They view plants and the food they provide as their relatives and treat them as such.

She wishes we all would appreciate the reciprocal relationship between people and plants. “People take care of plants and plants take care of people.” Rowen asserts we can only be as healthy as our seeds and stated, “GMO seeds are broken-hearted seeds planted by broken-hearted people.”

Rowen wants us to understand the urgent need to protect seed sovereignty, warning the seed industry may not be doing what’s best for our society and a healthy ecosystem. She worries we are losing our agricultural diversity.

Mohawk Red Bread Corn Seeds
There was just one cob of seeds left before Rowen found it. This variety of corn was almost lost forever.

Delivering her keynote lecture, Rowen had the crowd on the edges of their seats as she spoke passionately about her seeds and their stories and how they helped her learn about her ancestral roots. She spoke poetically about seeds becoming a “beautiful living bridge between yesterday and tomorrow.”

Rowen’s mission continues. She describes herself as “one thread in a glorious tapestry of human hands tending the seed and the soil.” She continues to weave stories on her blog, Seed Songs. I, for one, will be following her journey and hope you will, too.

Garden with me!

4 thoughts on “Rowen White – A Gardener You Should Know

  1. Excellent article Diana. Would be nice if more people understood living relationships like she does, especially the broken hearted gmo’s. Glad she is helping Seed Savers Exchange too.

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