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!