By Michelle DiMuzio, Communications Coordinator
We are still reflecting and absorbing all the beautiful sentiments, lessons and inspiration we gleaned from the 2022 Slow Seed Summit: Regenerating our Climate, Health and Connection. From May 13-15, 2022, over 150 people gathered to hear stories of seeds throughout 18 sessions. Here are a few highlights from some of the sessions. Recordings from all of the Slow Seed Summit will be available to Slow Food USA members in June 2022.
MAY 13 – SEED PRESERVATION & FOOD SECURITY
Day one explored global efforts in seed preservation on many scales, from small to large community seed library projects. We spotlighted the practice of wild harvesting as a method of gaining food security and discussed how seed preservation can ensure food security.
Opening keynote speakers Edie Mukiibi and Samson Ngugi set the tone for the summit, emphasizing the importance of seeds as part of community and giving us all access to life. Both speakers discussed how seeds have become an increasingly important subject in our debates today because there are industrial companies trying to make seeds their economic right, taking away the social and human rights of communities to share these seeds. They explained that maintaining the local seed economy is the only means of survival for many communities. We were left with a call to action to use our grassroots strength to raise the voices of people who matter and protect local communities. Edie explained, “It is our responsibility to fight against the criminalization of local seed systems and protect farmers’ rights; then we will have good, clean and fair food for all as well as food security.“
Moderator Twilight Greenaway facilitated a session with Nikki Brighton, Anna Maria Rumińska and Linda Black Elk, who taught us how to responsibly harvest in our neighborhoods, sharing the importance of foraging as a means to eat locally and a connection to the past. The speakers shared thoughts on the word “wild” and the intentionality to evoke fear when talking about wild harvesting. They explained we are taught from a young age to be afraid of things described as wild because the system does not make money on things that are deemed wild. However, we can shift our mindsets and understand that plants are our relatives; they are communicative, sentient and can smell humans. Therefore, we must build relationships with plants similarly to how we build relationships with people.
Linda Black Elk recounted a story of harvesting sandcherry. She was told you must approach the plant from downwind or they will smell you coming and turn bitter to protect themselves from predators. Although she was skeptical, she conducted research and learned that on the bark of the sandcherry plant, there are stomata that open and close; if the stomata opens and picks up the scent of a predator, it will start producing bitter alkaloids immediately detectable in the fruit. Lastly, our panelists emphasized that we should remove food from the capitalist system, because food is a human right.
MAY 14 – SEED SOVEREIGNTY, ETHICS & ADVOCACY
Day two explored how technology is impacting seed sovereignty of communities and threatening biodiversity, livelihoods, cultures and health. We discussed how to have sovereignty over a community’s seeds and how to create mechanisms to facilitate a more regenerative ecosystem.
Astrid Österreicher, our keynote speaker and a policy advisor for Testbiotech, an institute for the independent impact assessment of biotechnology, addressed the complex subject of genetic engineering of seeds. Astrid emphasized the imbalance of information and lack of interconnection, explaining there are very few research firms looking at the risks of genetically engineered seeds on the environment and health. Without this information, it is difficult for policy makers to make informed decisions. While technology advances rapidly and there may one day be a safe engineered organism, Astrid believes currently there are no GMO organisms that have benefits. Therefore, she made the recommendation to have a case-by-case risk assessment of genetically engineered organisms to evaluate both intended and unintended changes. Astrid warned that without proper legislation, we run the risk of severe damage to biological diversity and food production.
Moderator Danielle Nierenberg facilitated a conversation among Liz Carlisle, Joe Fassler and Amyrose Foll about race and regeneration beyond the farm. The speakers discussed that while several companies have tried to commodify regenerative agriculture, this is only getting us further away from what regenerative actually means; regeneration is “the self-organized creativity of every living being.” The panelists discussed how there are currently so many destructive policies that run directly counter to the spirit of reparative agriculture. Instead, we need to repair the relation to the land and the people. Several examples such as indiegnous peoples being forcibly removed from national parks and wildfires destroying lands because prescribed burns aren’t being implemented exemplified our disconnection to land and indigenous practices. The speakers also shared sentiments that inspire them within this work – human stories and land connection being at the center. They shared that food is a great cross-cultural unifier and we can use this to figure out how to advocate for better foodways – through practices such as urban agriculture collectives, community engagement, and equity in greenspaces.
MAY 15 – WOMEN, SEEDS & COMMUNITY
Day three explored women, specifically as caretakers and protectors of seeds, highlighting the work of formative women in the seed movement. We heard from visionaries, advocates, and champions of seed rematriation as well as about efforts to regenerate community health by growing, protecting, and eating seeds.
Renowned activist Dr. Vandana Shiva closed our Slow Seed Summit along with moderators Mara Welton and John Hausdoerffer. The theme of regeneration was central to the conversation discussing the importance of the renewal of our generation, emphasizing that only generative things can regenerate. For Dr. Shiva, regeneration is working with seed, the soil, biodiversity, farmers and community, and recognizing that the world around us is alive. She explained regenerative means letting nature play the creative role and allowing seeds to enact their resiliency. She also expressed that the idea of individualism is an illusion; rather, regeneration is the interconnectedness and the connectivity in every single being, which is what is being denied.
Mindfulness and the concept of slow were also themes that emerged throughout the keynote. Dr. Shiva emphasized the importance of choosing every moment with thoughtfulness, including how we choose our food – how much water did it take to make this, who is creating this food? Slow means stopping the conquest of speed throughout every aspect of life. She explained that fossil fuels gave us industrialism, which gave us speed, and ultimately the problems of speed, which in our economy are prioritized above everything else.
We also had a Slow Seed Summit first: three Spanish-language sessions curated by Slow Food partners in South America with live interpretation into English. One of those sessions, Mujer y Semillas: Construyendo Soberanía Alimentaria, focused on women and seeds as a vehicle for building food sovereignty. The session featured speakers Perla Herro and Paula Silveira from Argentina, Fernando Ibarra from Uruguay, Gabriela Pieroni from Brazil, and Dalì Nolasco from Chile. The speakers discussed how seeds have the gift that the more they are used, the more they give. They also highlighted how Indigenous women have deep knowledge about seeds, which has been accumulated over generations, but their voices and wisdom have been ignored. However, preserving and spreading Indigenous knowledge and reconnecting with ancestors have been a central part of their work. The speakers also explained that seeds are a common good and very important to the story of humans; seeds are meant to give life.
For additional resources, check out our recommended reads for the 2022 Slow Seed Summit here.