Semilla y Cosecha :: Seed and Harvest

It’s springtime here in Carmen Pampa, and after a few hectic weeks in which I’ve been everything from a sous-chef to a choreographer to a mountain climber, it feels good to slow down a bit, settle back into a regular routine of classes and community activities, and have time to take a breath and notice the changing seasons. It’s started raining more and more frequently; I’ve heard that the real rainy season comes in December and January, but we’ve had two or three days of rain every week for the last month or so. There are more flowers blooming, farmers are clearing land and planting crops, and every day the sun peeks over the rim of Uchumachi a little earlier. (The longest day of the year here will be Dec. 21, the reverse of more northern latitudes.)

lilies blooming in the coca fields

lilies blooming in the coca fields

As I take the time to observe how the seasons are changing in ways that are more subtle than those I’m accustomed to, but just as noticeable, I’m also reflecting on how connected I feel to the surrounding environment in this rural setting, outside of the city. I feel fortunate to live here this year, and that sense of fortune comes home to me in individual moments every day: waking up in the middle of the night to see bats sillhouetted against the full moon through my windowpane, catching a glimpse of a blue morphos butterfly while hiking, watching the clouds shift and change over the lush green mountains.

Many of those moments come while I’m working in the huerta, the organic garden here at the UAC. One moment in particular that has stayed in my mind for the last several weeks happened while I was helping in the plant nursery. Rosemary, the woman who manages the garden, was teaching me how to harvest seeds, and she showed me something I had never seen before: a broccoli plant that had gone completely to seed.

broccoli gone to seed

broccoli gone to seed

She showed me how to gently open the seed pod, and how to peel back the outer layer of the seed to see if it had germinated. If it had, the seeds were good for planting, and the college would be able to harvest its own broccoli from its own seed in a few months. I was amazed; I had harvested seed before, from flowers and other plants, but somehow it had never been so clear to me – the astonishing, ordinary, absolutely essential miracle that we live with every day. I know about awful things like Monsanto’s terminator seeds, I’ve read and loved Vandana Shiva’s Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed, and I’m lucky to know lots of wonderful people involved in agricultural and food justice movements. But it wasn’t until that moment, holding a tiny, germinated broccoli seed in my hand, that I really sensed how much richness and life is all around us, how much we depend on it, and how misguided so much of our large-scale industrial agricultural system is in the U.S., and by extension our larger sense of the world and our place in it.

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace, a beautiful collection of essays about agrarianism, economy, and relationships, and I keep returning to a quote from one of his essays, where he describes the difference between information and knowledge. We have an overabundance of information, he says, and not enough knowledge; the arrogance that accompanies this state of being leaves us unprepared

to live short lives in the face of long work and long time.

Earlier, he writes that “we cannot contain what contains us or comprehend what comprehends us.” I felt a sense of that, viscerally, in the humbling, loving act of harvesting seeds. It’s a moment that I don’t think I’ll forget, and I hope that it is the beginning of a deeper understanding of and relationship with the land in which we live.

P.S. I didn’t write this intending to ask for donations, but this post does coincide with a fundraiser I’ve organized to benefit the huerta. A group of students and other volunteers and I will be doing a two-day trek to raise money to build a new greenhouse, which will help even more tiny plants grow, leading to more production of local, organic produce for the community and a more sustainable business model for the huerta. Muchísimas gracias to everyone who has already donated! If you would like to contribute, please visit our donation site. Thanks!