Seeding the future.

I’m feeling pretty global tonight, writing about a small town in Guatemala while I sit here in Atlanta, thinking that by the time you read this I’ll be in another small village in Haiti where Heifer International is planting more seeds of change.Speaking of seeds, here are a few kernels of truth. In our abundant American lives, we’re supremely divorced from the reality of where our food comes from, who grows it and how, and what would ever happen if we couldn’t go to the supermarket and buy gobs of whatever we want. But when you go to a developing country, you get enlightened pretty quickly.

Maize Negro (Ek Jal)

The thin veil between hunger and the food we need to survive is seeds .. pure and simple.

Isabel Lopez, the Patriarch

So it’s good to know that in the quiet little village of Quilinco outside Huehuetenango, three generations of the Lopez family have been working for years to preserve our food future. In 1999, Isabel Lopez began saving the seeds from the 150-year old criollo native corn his grandfather grew. Backed by FAO (a Norwegian company whose name nobody can pronounce), he and his son Juan (and now his son Jose) began a methodical campaign to preserve seeds that were endangered, rare, or deemed genetically worthy of preservation.

Isabel and Juan persuaded their fellow farmers to follow the trainings, and soon 100 farmers were working to plant, fertilize, harvest and preserve the seeds in a carefully scientific way – choosing the kernels of corn from cobs that have straight lines, 12 rows in diameter, and 25 kernels from the middle. Each group of seeds is kept in its own jar, labeled, cataloged and carefully protected in steel silo drums that are designed to outlast an emergencia, tormenta (hurricane) or earthquake.

Heifer's Guillermo & Carlos in the field (as always)

The field technicians of Heifer (like 20+ year veterans Carlos Hernandez & Guillermo Santizo) worked with the Lopez family to earn this contract and keep it active in Quilinco over the past decades. Why? Because The Seed Bank is a valuable source of income for the village farmers, but also because it is preserving these beautiful jewels of agricultural possibility:

Rare Sangre de Christo red corn.

Frijol Piloy Amarillo beans that are on the border of extinction.Valuable seeds from the bledo-blanco (amaranth) plant that is so packed with minerals, protein, and gluten-free Vitamin C, it’s accompanied astronauts into space.And in small jars, the seeds of countless flowers and plants that only grow in this region. When I first heard about the bank, I thought it might be kind of … boring. But I loved this project so much I couldn’t believe it! There I was in a small village in Western Guatemala, standing in a veritable Fort Knox of Seeds, supported by a bunch of distant Norwegians, surrounded by rare genetic caches of ancient seeds collected by three generations of Mayan farmers, that may hold the key to our bio-diverse agricultural future.

Juan Lopez & his seeds

Quel global amaizement!

Categories: Agriculture, Guatemala, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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34 thoughts on “Seeding the future.

  1. Absolutely fascinating. The earth has such bounty, and so much of it is disappearing. This is such a worthy project.

  2. Fantastic, thought-provoking post, Ms. Londergan. Thank you for doing some real good.

  3. Ginger O'Neill

    Dear Betty,

    These seed banks are truly Manna from Heaven. It is amazing how often how the West assumes that these uneducated farmers need enlightenment. At the end of the day, it is the meek that will lead the way out of our planet earth’s demise. Thanks for keeping us informed and broadening the our lens.


  4. I wish that your blog would be required reading at every elementary school in the USA!! You are so right about how little most American children know where their food comes from and your journey really details not only the “where” but by whom. I hope you get some serious national exposure for this blog, and eventually some awards.

    PS: I am struggling to read this font. I know a couple of others mentioned this. It was changed for a while to something I could read, and yesterday I noticed it went back. The type is all broken on my laptop.

    • Thanks so much EOSR … I wish that schools would use the blog, too — not because I think I’m such an awesome writer, but because I think children need to be exposed to the vast, different, amazing world that we are all citizens of … and how fun it is to explore! Plus, the pictures help too — right??
      I’m so grateful for your comment!
      p.s. As for the type font — I wasn’t liking the last one, and it was really bugging me, but now I’ve changed it again to one I hope everyone can read — please let me know!! wordpress — get ON this!!

  5. First, Norwegians – YAY! You know how much I love them. Second, this is so fascinating and a big “YAY” to the Lopez family, Heifer, and The Seed Bank. It is sad how we take our food for granted, but wonderful to see an amazing initiative like this one. You have opened my eyes (in person, I’d say “You’ve got my ear” – sorry, I can’t help it) to the fact that the animal kingdom isn’t the only place with endangered species.

    • AA — you always crack me up! I would second the big shout-out to the Norwegians .. and I’m happy I’ve got your ear! Always good to know….

  6. Excellent. Thanks for all this good news. I remember a plaque I bought at a flea market when I got my first apt. It was a Burpee seeds advertisement on a washboard like for doing laundry. I don’t know about you but when I go to the grocery store I am amazed at all the products, maybe I can relate as I lived in rural areas like farming and dairy areas. Thanks Betty and you live in Atlanta, well so do I.

  7. Liz Meitus

    You hit the nail on the head when you used the word “divorced” from our food source. I have friends that “try” to grow all of their own food and that alone is labor intensive — true survival. I think we’d all care a little more about seeds if it meant feeding our family through next winter.

    As always, thank you!! I miss you. Enjoy Haiti.

    • Darling Liz — your garden alone is a total inspiration to me! But truly, when you realize that in these communities, when all you have to eat is what you grow, farming takes on a whole other level of meaning. There are virtually no stores in most of these communities — so the animals, plants and fruits you grow are what you have to eat. period. it is truly an eye- and heart-opening experience that gives “food security” an entire new meaning. I loved Haiti so much — can’t wait to write about it!! Miss you, sweet heart!

  8. Deb Morrow Palmer

    I truly love this one. I am a person who loves to garden, and know the value of seeds, but this took it to another level all together. Looking forward to hearing about Haiti. Deb

  9. Betty,
    “Seeds of change” We westerners really need to get on board and realize that seeds are the Gold of the future. We have a real and dangerous problem here and his name is Monsanto, who calls himself a farmer, ha!
    Monsanto’s development and marketing of genetically engineered seed and bovine growth hormone, as well as its aggressive litigation, political lobbying practices, seed commercialization practices and “strong-arming” of the seed industry, he is single handedly destroying our crops. This is a great post, so inspiring. I’m glad to see their are people who have the forethought to have a seed project such as this.
    For more info on GMO’s go here
    Looking forward to hearing about Haiti!

    • S& S — I agree so wholeheartedly about Monsanto! You should read my post from What Gives 365 on that subject (titled “Is Monsanto the Evil Empire?”) … we’re on the same page! I loved seeing this family so deeply committed to the Seed Bank, and how about those groovy Norwegians funding it all (while Heifer provides animals to the village)?? Awesome!!

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  10. Cindie

    Betty, an “amaizing” post, as usual. Thanks for all the good info about Guatemala. Best wishes for your stay in Haiti.

  11. Can’t wait to read your posts about Haiti. Where exactly are you going? My partner and I lived in Haiti for a year after the earthquake, while she directed Habitat for Humanity’s response to the disaster.

    • WOW, Kathy – that must have been SO intense! We are in Port au Prince right now, but have spent the last four days going out to surrounding communities in Ivoire, Matouis, Degran, Cayes, Central Plateau, and I’ll go to Cap Hatien at the end of the week. It’s been incredible but by far the most disturbing stuff is what we’ve seen here in PAP — just such a total lack of decent human living conditions in the quake-affected areas!! Can’t wait to share my stories … you are your partner must have done some AMAZING things with Habitat (which I also love, love LOVE!) all the best, B

      • Yes, it was bad in PAP, especially painful to see all of the families living in the camps. We lived in Petion-ville, one of the only places in the PAP area with structurally sound buildings after the quake, and there was a camp right in the center of town–actually two of them. Blessings to you and your work in Haiti.

  12. Jo

    Erna Bennett would be so proud! Thank you so very much for letting us in on the “secrets of the Maya.”

  13. Anne Orndahl

    Bravo, Betty! I love following your adventures to visit the Heifer projects around the world. Students at Galloway, my daughter’s school, have been baking up a storm of cupcakes and cookies to earn money to contribute to their chosen Heifer animal. It is so cool to see the impact Heifer is making. Can’t wait to read about Haiti!

    • Galloway is doing GREAT work for Heifer, and I am just hoping that the kids are able to follow some of these stories so they can see exactly what the animals are doing for the communities around the world where Heifer is working!! I am SO impressed with that school!!

  14. This is fasciñating thanks!

  15. I heard about Native American’s in the USA doing this too. They have been saving native corn seeds that otherwise might not survive. I think this is such a great thing. Diversity is natures way of keeping things going.

    • I haven’t heard about Seed Banks in the Native American community – but I hope it’s true! I love the heirloom vegetables and really worry about half the living stuff on the planet going extinct … like maybe us!

  16. Dint know there were so many varieties of color corns!

  17. Let’s hope some big corporation doesn’t move in, generously “donating” patented, self-destructing, GM seed to the locals …

    Ooooops, feeling a tad cynical today.

    • Hey, Sybil — I totally agree about the GM seed – which is why I think it is so important these seeds are saved! When we were in Guatemala near the border they had gobs of GM corn from Mexico that they’d imported and were selling at a much lower rate than the Guatemalan’s own corn… it can only be sold for animal feed, but still! What a way to undercut your own farmers!!

  18. Betty: I loved this, of course. And here’s the thing–every single person can have a hand in preserving our global food diversity and heritage by choosing heirloom seeds when you plant, or buying heirloom vegetables at your local farmers market. These not only have great stories (like yours!) but they are often colors and shapes and flavors that cannot be found in any supermarket. They reproduce true-to-type so they can be saved and passed down (and they even acclimate to your particular micro-climate after about 3 years of growing and saving). To me, this is not only the important stuff regarding our food supply, but the fun stuff 🙂

  19. Pattie — the entire day I spent at the Seed Bank, I was channeling you — I wish SO badly you could have been there! I know how much you adore this idea, and what a passionate, informed gardener you are — so I really want to dedicate this post to YOU! I love the idea that in three years of growing and saving even an heirloom will acclimate to your micro-climate! I can’t wait to take you along to the Appalachian project!!!

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