Bread Winners

breadwinners
Food comes from an ecosystem that’s invisible from the perspective of the bowl. We don’t see much of the interplay, growth, and decay that provides our nourishment. Congruently, the constellation of people who make it possible for us to enjoy bread and each others’ company may not be visible. The Bread Winners talk was a time to bring out the faces, the voices, and joy behind our food — the stories of womyn.
Left to Right: Jules Exum, Leyna Lightman, Nan Kohler, Kate Pepper, Me!, Roxanna Jullapat

For my part, I wanted to honor those who came before, those who gave us the most basic element for life: seed. The effort to save seed has been largely undertaken by womyn. Be it a gendered task or not, our anthropological record shows that womyn across time and cultures saved seed. We have them to thank for our biodiversity, adaptability, survival, and lives.

Ten minutes is hardly enough time to honor the ten thousand years of seed saving work. I tried my best.

In the context of wheat, I spoke of Sally Fox who grew out Sonora for ten years and gifted farmers with that heirloom wheat of the Americas. Of course, I paid respect to Monica Spiller who birthed this heritage, whole grain revival. They are part of a bigger story.

I spoke of the seeds that nourished my family and of womyn who escaped war, persecution,

Photo credi: Sonya Sharp
Photo credi: Sonya Sharp

oppression by boat and brought me their seeds. They thought to carry seeds for soil they may never set foot on and for a future they might not have been part of.

I recounted this past fall, when my newly leased land for seed saving burned in the fires. I read the passage that my partner shared with me as I hand-separated seed from chaff and wondered about whether to find new land.

“For all the blacks that get crucified or hung from iron hooks through their ribs, escapes from Surinam’s four hundred coastal plantations never stop…

Before escaping, the female slaves steal grains of rice, corn, and wheat, seeds of bean and squash. Their enormous hairdos act as granaries. When they reach the refuges in the jungle, the women shake their heads and thus fertilize the free land.” — Eduardo Galeano Faces and Masks

The answer is yes, I must find land for seed.

Seeds feed us. They are part of the commons, and we must fight to keep them in the commons. We must resist the privatization of our commons by corporations and breeders who take what’s free and slap on a fee (mostly men). Taking away seeds — our food, our staple — is criminal. It is an offense to humanity.

This means we need to give back the seed. We need to value and compensate people who know how to steward and sustain seeds. We need to provide land for seed and practicing the diverse cultivation and management methods. Summary: free seed, pay farmers, provide land.