seed project blog

August 2021 | Elul 5781

Identity is a fickle thing by Anastasia Maier

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My cultural identity has always felt amorphous. I come from too many people. I could never grab onto one of the threads and feel complete. I was either this or that but not both. By identifying with one culture, I thought I was inherently rejecting the others.

 

My maternal line is a line of diaspora. Her mother was born of Ukrainian and Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father descended from people that came from all four corners of the Mediterranean and Fertile Crescent.

 

Life tends to further complicate our relationship with our people and sense of belonging. I remember going to a neighbor's Rosh Hashanah party and falling in love with the ceremony, the food and the deep sense of kinship I felt to be in community. It was then that my mom shared with me that "technically" I was Jewish. I became curious, what did “technically” Jewish mean? I begged to do more Jewish things and the next year, we did a Passover Seder at my grandparent’s house. However, it was my Catholic grandfather that seemed to be more attuned to the ritual than my grandmother. He relished in the custom and song (and wine). But along with his zealous joy, I could simultaneously taste my grandmother's discomfort, the fidgeting and desire to give voice to things that lied latent in her memory wellspring. My grandmother left Judaism in 1958 at age 18, the same year she married my grandfather. In the wake of their marriage, her family criticized and ostracized her for marrying outside her faith. She calls this time her orphaning and (rightly or wrongly) blames Judaism for it. The bitter memory of her past remained, informing my mother’s relationship with the faith and subsequently mine as well as my sisters - intuitively close to our hearts but no outlet to express it.

 

About 20 years after that Rosh Hashanah party, I had my first miscarriage. Filled with grief, I couldn't suppress the call of my ancestors any longer. I felt compelled to hold all of them just as they held me through that sacred sadness that follows life leaving life. I scoured histories, traditions and ancient texts for ways to create unity within myself. I was dizzy trying to uncover all the stories of my DNA.

 

It wasn't till I read this book that I was struck by how simple it actually was to honor my lineages in a way that was extremely appropriate for me - tending the seeds of my many people. The plants have always called me into their worlds and I have always escaped into them willingly. The humble act of saving the seeds and stories felt remarkable and important to my grieving process - the loss of my child, the muddiness of my identity - as well as creating new pathways to accessing and honoring my ancestors.

 

It was from story and seed that I started to see the throughlines of intersection and find that integration of being that I was unable to find through logic or ritual invocation. My heart opened and I learned how much my cultural identity was reflected in the seeds. It was comforting to know the seeds had passed through all these different hands. I started to journal their stories down as medicine, recording not only my ancestors’ relationship to the plants but my own for my descendants to maybe savor one day.   

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Image: Example of Anastasia’s seed journal from her maternal line. 

 

A friend once shared that culture “is always in a state of influencing, being influenced, molding and being molded.” It is a privilege to share in culture making guided by story and seed.  My prayer for the Jewish Seed Exchange is that we can continue to open the portals that have been dormant while finding our own holy connection to the seeds. 

Footnotes:

1. Wikipedia: Buckwheat.

2. The Contribution of Buckwheat Genetic Resources to Health and Dietary Diversity. Curr Genomics (2016). 

3. The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic  by Martín Prechtel

4. Origin, Geographical Distribution and Phylogenic Relationship of Common Buckwheat.

5. Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States by Brian K. Obach.

6. Evaluation of physical, chemical and sensory properties of Turkish flat breads (bazlama and yufka) supplemented with lupin, buckwheat and oat flours. Int J Food Sci Nutr Eng, 2 (2012), pp. 89-95

June 2021 | Tammuz 5781

By Matt Vogel, Executive Director, UVM Hillel

It's June 11th and I finally stopped kicking myself for not getting the seeds in the ground earlier. Last night after a particularly exhausting day in my full-time gig as the Executive Director of UVM Hillel, I went straight to the wheelbarrow and compost pile to dig up some additives for our tough clay soil. I shoveled, I turned soil, I schlepped, I skipped dinner to just simply get this done. With so much in my work being intractable and punishing lately, i just wanted these seeds in the ground and to feel like I had accomplished one thing fully. I was struck by the balance of how exhausting this past month has been with the unprecedented bias Jewish students have experienced because of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that impacts us and others in so many different ways. 

To be able to focus on the earth and the shovel and the water and the seeds and the chicken poop turned nourishing dirt, and the mounds and the extra wheelbarrow of dirt I needed to mound it just a bit without too much clay that I felt a bit more restored. With all the urgency of the past month in my work, my gardening has been neglected and it's been 100% on my partner. I could only do the basics of chop wood / carry water, in this case, just making sure the chickens, guinea hens, and baby chicks are fed and watered twice a day. Now that the seeds are in the ground, I can move on to the next project in the neverending journey of this year's gardens turning into next year's gardens and so on and so on.
 

 

 

April 2021 | Iyar 5781

 

By Masha Vernik, Seed Project Coordinator

 

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.