Written by Masha Vernik
April 2021 | Iyar 5781
Our story begins with our ancestors. As Torah tells us and we recount at our Seder tables, the Children of Yisrael made their great escape from Mitzrayim, the Place of Narrowness, aka Egypt. In their haste, their bread for the long journey ahead failed to rise. Under the desert's beating sun, these newly free Jews ate their matzah – that dry and crackly matzah we still eat today – and longed for the juicy fruits they once grew. One of these fruits, qishut, was a melon, eaten like a cucumber, with hairy skin and a triangular shape. What happened to the seeds left behind? Did we carry any with us? Where are they today? Who are they? How do they taste when you take a bite? Do they crunch? What delicious meals can they be part of? How much sun and water do they need?
These are the first few of many questions the Jewish Seed Project hopes to answer.
We have plans – big plans – to find the descendants of our ancestors’ cucamelon. Our fearless leader K Greene of Seedshed and Hudson Valley Seed Co has already made headway. They searched far and wide, asking friends and Facebook groups alike: have you seen this cucamelon? Do you have any seeds? And lo and behold, they found a few that might just match. We now have eighteen varieties of the so-called 'chate' group of melons that we believe could be descendants of the qishut cited in Torah.
We are sharing these seeds with 6 Jewish farmers who will in turn grow them out, searching for the food of our ancestors. We'll listen, we'll learn, and we'll come to know the plants they become. Then we'll find the fruit that best matches the qishut described in ancient texts. We'll keep growing out that variety and share its seeds far and wide, for farmers, Jewish or not, to keep growing and sharing.
If you’re not a Jewish seed enthusiast (if you are, join us!), you might be wondering – why should I care? Who cares about some melons that people grew a long time ago?
There are a million reasons. But to start with just one – seeds are a thread that weaves through time. Seeds are memories. They are the keys to the past and messengers to the future. Our ancestors have been tending to plants for thousands and thousands of years. Farmers of epochs past bred and selected plants to fit their palates, climate, cultures, and needs. Though their lives are long over, their legacies remain. We cannot break bread with our ancestors, but we can learn about their lives by growing the plants they grew and eating the foods they loved. We can sow the seeds, harvest the fruit, and prepare the meals in the same way they did. Through the repetition, we remember. We can imagine the lives they led and the dinners they shared, and build a generative future for our children in turn.
The humble cucamelon is the starting point of a tale that will unfold for years to come. We are just beginning our collective seed-sharing journey. We are Jewish gardeners, seed-keepers, farmers, organizers, researchers, writers, storytellers, observers of the Torah, and more – bound together by our shared ancestors of myth and memory, by traditions, stories, and of course love of seeds. If this project sounds like something you'd enjoy, we'd love to have you! Together, we can remember the past and pave the way for the future.