Art Beat: Seed Stories

Feb 6, 2020

Vivien Sansour
Credit John Halaka

Gardeners and farmers are already thinking about the seeds they will plant in spring. They also think about those seeds throughout the winter, planning each crop and each garden row with care.


As each seed begins to grow, the story it contains grows with it: stories of its history and the cultural life that surrounds our food and the occasions that bring us together over a meal; stories of those who grow and harvest the seeds that have fed us through the ages.

Amy Newday is an organic farmer in Shelbyville and the director of the Writing Center at Kalamazoo College. She's also a member of the College’s Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee. Her partner, John Edgerton, has 40 years of growing experience that include market gardens, preservation gardens, and community gardens. He’s passionate about preserving the diversity of our plant heritage and saving seeds from heirloom varieties that grow particularly well in southwest Michigan. The two call their farm Harvest of Joy.

Both are involved in bringing Vivien Sansour to Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. Sansour is the founder of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library. It recovers ancient seeds and their stories and returns them to growers. The Seed Library is an interactive art and agriculture project that helps people through an exchange of seeds and knowledge, and telling the stories of food and agriculture. During her presentations in Kalamazoo, Sansour will discuss the work of the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library, El Beir, Arts and Seeds, and the Traveling Kitchen. All located in the village of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palestine.

“As industrialization and corporatization of our food systems and food supplies has occurred, people have lost their seeds for a lot of reasons,” Newday says. “One of Vivien’s projects in Palestine is to help people reclaim their food sovereignty, their ability to feed themselves, and to retain their cultural identity through food and through growing these crops. It’s not just the seeds that have been lost. It’s also the cultural practices of cooking and eating and sharing the food together.”

In sharing one of his own seed stories, Edgerton says, "Each seed, each variety of plant, has its own agency. We as gardeners respect seeds for the life of their own. They have their own story. The way we honor them is to replant them and tend the soil with which they do their own dance. One of the things that always struck me in the early years of seed savers’ exchange — I was in my 20's then — was that they were the last guardians of many of these heirloom seeds.”

Edgerton says these savers would often send him packets of seeds with a thank-you note, saying they had feared that no one would care to save their heirloom varieties and that their plant varieties would die with them.

Registration is required to reserve a spot in the writing workshop. For more information, email: anewday (at) kzoo.edu.

Scheduled events are:

“The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library: A Journey of Reclaiming Life in One of the World's Centers of Diversity - Palestine”

Feb. 20, 2020 | 7 p.m. | 2452 Knauss Hall, WMU (lecture)

Feb. 21, 2020 | 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. | Arcus Center, Kalamazoo College (workshop)

Feb. 22, 2020 | 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. | Arcus Center, Kalamazoo College (seed swap & ttory sharing)

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