Aug 25, 2020

Little Libraries, Big Change

Debbie and Mike with their Seed Library
Debbie and Mike with their Seed Library

Hi folks,

First, thank you to all of our early supporters! With COVID-19 challenging global food security, this project (and others like it) is more important than ever. We have already seen that families want to be able to grow their own healthy food in the safety of their home. Food security panic peaked In the beginning months of the pandemic. Seed companies were experiencing unprecedented seed shortages, and families who relied on growing their own food found it difficult to access seed. These shortages not only affected gardeners in developing countries, but in the US as well. 

While seed companies have started to recover their inventory , the need for seed remains. Unemployment rates continue to rise in the US, and stay-at-home orders dramatically limit families’ ability to access fresh, nutritious food. For those most at risk of hunger and malnutrition, seed for home-based "resilience gardens" provides safe, essential nutrition.

It’s rare for us to partner so close to home, and we’re proud to be partnering locally as an addition to our international work — we believe local leaders are essential everywhere. This report introduces several new partners: Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Ashe County Library, and Watauga Seed Library in North Carolina.

Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture helps build an equitable, sustainable High Country local food system by supporting producers and cultivating community connections that educate, inspire, and increase the demand for local food.

Part of the Blue Ridge Seed Library Network, the Ashe County Library and Watauga Seed Library make free seed available to promote food security, build community resilience, and create a culture of sharing. They aspire to encourage and educate their community to grow healthy food by gardening, preserving seed adapted to the area, and gathering historical seed stories of Appalachia.

Together, they are meeting the needs of their communities at the grassroots level. 

Little Free Seed Library 

Watauga County is located in an exceptionally mountainous region of Western North Carolina and is home to roughly 51,000 residents. Watauga Seed Library, created by Debbie and Mike Bauer, provides residents with a contactless way to pick up seeds for home gardens by erecting Little Free Seed Libraries throughout the county. These libraries contain bundled, garden-sized SPI seed packets that include a variety of vegetable types. Operating on a self-serve basis, people are welcome to pick as many seeds as they need and are encouraged to leave any excess they might have from their own supply. This exchange keeps a variety of nutritious seeds for participants to choose from. 

Ashe Seed Library 

Ashe County is located in the very Northwest tip of North Carolina bordering the Tennessee state line. It is home to roughly 28,000 residents and the Ashe Seed Library. The Ashe Seed Library was founded in the fall of 2016, and is a collaborative partnership between the Ashe County Public Library, the Watauga County Public Library, and Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. The idea for the seed library was born out of the region's long history of seed saving. 

“For many years, growers have gathered at the High Country Seed Swap and Growers Exchange to share varieties and stories. Community members approached Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and the Appalachian Regional Public Library about forming a Seed Library in Boone and West Jefferson in 2016. This effort easily fit within the area's Cooperative Extension office's programming to encourage gardeners of all skill levels to grow their own food and save seeds.”

- Ashe Seed Library Committee 

Participants can “check out” seeds from the library for their gardens. Information on seed saving is provided so that people can “return seed” after their harvest so that the library remains self-sustaining. When COVID-19 hit the area, seed library organizers noticed that less and less gardeners were bringing in seed from their gardens, but more new gardeners were reaching out for assistance. It was at this point that coordinators reached out to SPI, and we were happy to add our seed types to their library. 

Moving Forward

We at SPI are excited to do our part to ensure food security in these uncertain times, and we are looking forward to new partnerships, both in the US and overseas. With access to quality seed resources, community engagement, and support for training and tools, gardeners are being positioned to build a strong network of self-reliant food production. Whether gardens are planted for supplementary nutrition and income or as a part of a new livelihood, they can form a foundation for greater health, economic growth, and resilience to crisis.

This project helps provide this kind of direct support — your donation has made this possible! From the Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, The Ashe and Watauga Seed Libraries, and the team here at SPI, thank you!

 

Watauga Little Free Seed Library
Watauga Little Free Seed Library
Ashe Seed Library
Ashe Seed Library
Aug 18, 2020

Peace Corps Morocco: Growing Community

Planting boxes are ready to go
Planting boxes are ready to go

Hi Folks, 

This update comes from our Peace Corps partner in Morocco, who you may remember from a previous report in June of 2019. Peace Corps Morocco focuses on empowering youth and local communities in remote, mostly rural areas. Gardens are created on the grounds of youth centers and boarding schools where Peace Corps volunteers use seeds as an opportunity to demonstrate lessons about the environment and agriculture. This keeps people linked to their land by nurturing an understanding of botanical life. 

Students lead the planning and production: cultivating soil, constructing garden beds, and planting seeds. During this process, the young gardeners learn about agricultural practices and environmental issues. Between their work in the gardens and accompanying lessons, they leave prepared to start their own local garden project, encouraging the community to start growing food of their own. 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the safety of students and teachers has become paramount. Planting and regular classes have been put on hold at the youth centers and boarding schools. However, one garden at the Dar Chabaab was completed prior to the pandemic. One Peace Corps volunteer writes:

“I just want to follow up with a few notes about the Community Garden and our Environment Program, which I'm proud to say we were able to launch before life changed. Although everything came to an abrupt halt for all of us, I believe we will still be able to share with the kids some of the vegetables they planted during the season of Ramadan.”

- Mary-Elizabeth, Peace Corp Morocco Volunteer

The Community Garden and Environment Program was launched through collaborative efforts from Peace Corps Morocco and professionals at the Dar Chabaab to increase availability of local community gardens and provide education on environmental awareness and stewardship. Seeds play an integral role as an educational tool. Mary-Elizabeth continues:

“Our first class took place on Sunday, March 1st at the Dar Chabaab with planting. The planting boxes were in place and filled with compost donated by a local family. The students were assigned planting partners if they didn't already have a buddy. Then they were assigned their vegetable, given the container with the pre-soaked seeds and instructed per the manual on how to plant their vegetable in their box. Each student was also given a notebook to document through drawings and notes the development of their plant/s on a weekly basis. They were told that there would be a contest for best vegetables grown and instructed to water their plant every day. It was a wonderful little get-together for everyone”

More projects were planned to highlight local talent, like a field trip to a farm and a lecture series, including: an artist in Marrakech who uses recyclables in his art practice; an engineer working on a big dam project in the area; an engineering PhD student whose agricultural project cuts down on water use by strategically delivering water to growing crops; and a visit to the local landfill to learn where household waste is managed. 

The good news is that all of this (and more!) can still happen in the future. Dar Chabaab has the space and desire to plant a larger, community garden to complement the student planter boxes. 

We are pleased to continue our work with Peace Corps Morocco through this time of in-door confinement. They have succeeded in joining efforts with the local community leaders to provide an environmental learning project to youth center students. They have planted the seeds of change, which we believe will continue to grow after normal life resumes. It is through support like yours that SPI can continue partnerships like these all over the globe. Thank you for your trust and support of SPI and our partners.

With gratitude,

The SPI Team

Seedlings beginning to sprout
Seedlings beginning to sprout
Starting seedlings for the garden
Starting seedlings for the garden
Growing progress!
Growing progress!
Jul 24, 2020

SSNK: Seed Is the Origin of Life

SSNK farmers at harvest.
SSNK farmers at harvest.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Daniel Wanjama, Seed Savers Network Kenya (SSNK) Founder and Director. SSNK is a grassroots NGO headquartered southeast of Nakuru in Gilgil who works with resource-poor farmers to promote sustainable rural livelihoods. SSNK has strong support for local community groups, providing access to agricultural training, good vegetable seed, tools, and other resources. We recently connected with Daniel who told us about some of the work he’s been doing with the village of Emkwen. 

Emkwen Village

Emkwen Village is a farming community located in the Loboi area of Baringo District in west central Kenya. Arid rocky terrain, acacia trees, and shrubs cover the majority of the District. The natural landscape makes this area prone to drought and food shortages.

Farmers in this region predominantly grow maize because they can easily access maize seed from a local seed company. After harvest, farmers sell back every seed they produce to the same company. This creates a monoculture farming structure, limiting the development and transmission of farming knowledge for non-maize crops. Since farmers are not growing nutritionally-diverse crops, they need to fill this gap by purchasing nutritious food at the market. Maize farming leaves farmers with some money, but not enough to purchase the nutritionally-diverse food needed throughout the year.

“We only do farming because we are at the farms, not because of the profit we get.” - SSNK Farmer

Last year, more than 200 farmers from over 50 farming groups from the Loboi and Sandai areas of Baringo District received seeds from SSNK for farming and to start seed saving. With your support, our partnership with SSNK was able to provide farmers with kale, spinach, tomato, cucumber, cassava, cowpea, sweet potato, pumpkin, sorghum, amaranth, and vegetable other seeds. In addition to providing seed, SSNK trained farmers on seed production and pest control to enhance future seed multiplication.

The Emkwen Farmers’ Group meets every Thursday to coordinate their collective finances and share farming ideas. As part of a strategy to diversify their crops and improve nutrition and income, they have taken to saving seeds. Tthe group participated in an SSNK seed saving training in April 2019 after meeting with an SSNK extension officer during a project launch in Kiborgoch. (Kiborgoch is a conservancy in their area where seed savers are invited to share knowledge and learn new skills.) By putting this training into practice, farmers are growing and consuming locally-produced vegetables, saving seed, and gaining extra income from selling their harvests and seeds.

Miriam

Miriam is one of the officers for the Emkwen Farmers’ Group. She is 76, and her homestead sits on one acre of land where she lives with her husband, six children, and three grandchildren. Miriam depends on this farm to feed her family. Through SSNK, she has learned how to raise vegetable seedlings and keep her garden healthy by managing pests and diseases and maintaining soil fertility.

Early on, Miriam volunteered a portion of her farm as a demonstration garden for tomato production. This investment yielded both tomatoes for her family and seeds that she can plant in future seasons or sell to nearby farmers. Miriam testifies that seed access and training have greatly impacted their family’s health and income. The sale of her tomatoes and seeds allows her to pay the school fees for her grandchildren, and she can purchase the food she needs that she does not grow herself. 

I hope to plant more and more vegetables that I have gotten through Seed Savers. I can now plant tomatoes anytime, because I have saved enough of my own seeds. Seeds are expensive, but now farming has been made easy through Seed Savers. Come next time, you will see the diversity in my farm. We are happy now, because we will be seed secure.  - Miriam 

Seed Is the Origin of Life

When families have better access to resources like training, food security, and nutrition, they tend to invest more in education, and the health of their family. This causes a ripple effect of benefits that strengthens the entire community.

As another farmer, Grace, shares:

“The program has really changed the lives of many farmers. If they were all allowed to share their stories, there would be too many to tell. Surely seed is the origin of life, and the program has allowed farmers to gain food security and improve their health through nutrition.”

We will continue to report on this community and others, partnering with SSNK as their farming projects continue to evolve. 

For now, thank you from our partners, who have improved access to water, seed, and tools as a result of this project. And always, our thanks to everyone who has supported this project — we truly cannot do what we do without your support.

The SPI Team

SSNK farmers groups.
SSNK farmers groups.
Tomato harvesting.
Tomato harvesting.
Saved tomato seeds.
Saved tomato seeds.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
 
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