Archive for the 'local interest' Category

What Your Neighborhood Needs is a Seed Library

Sharon April 15th, 2009

A while back I got an email from a guy named Ken Greene, asking if I knew about his enterprise – the Hudson Valley Seed Library.  I didn’t, actually, and I was just plain thrilled to hear that it existed.  Their farm and seed catalog are dedicated to preserving seeds with historical ties or specific adaptations to our agricultural region.  And I can’t think of a more valuable project.

I was lucky enough to run into Ken Greene and the Library’s founder, Doug (whose last name I was told and can’t remember, and can’t locate on the site – sorry!) at the Schenectady Greenmarket a few weeks ago, and I got to not only introduce myself, but also see their seed selection, including the flat-out stunning seed “art packs” that they sell some of their seeds in, showcasing a local artist’s works.  I took home a packet of Hank’s X-tra Special Baking Bean in a gorgeous package, and now I just have to wait for the soil to warm up enough to plant them.

I have two intentions in this post.  The first is to draw attention to their work, and membership to their seed library.  Their work is incredibly important – for most of us not lucky enough to live near a major seed company, finding really local seed sources is tough – and even if we do live near a seed company, often most of their varieties were grown a long distance away.  The commitment of the HVSL to growing out seeds locally, and choosing ones that are particularly well adapted to our region is deeply important – it isn’t just one resource, in some sense, seeds are the master resource of any regenerative future.  As Vandana Shiva writes in _Earth Democracy_,

“The seed, for example, reproduces itself and multiplies.  Farmers use seed both as grain adn for the next year’s crop.  Seed is free, both in the ecological sense of reproducing itself and in the economic sense of reproducing the farmers’ livelihood.

This seed freedom ia major obstacle for seed corporations.  To create a market for seed the seed has to be transformed materially so that its reproductive ability is blocked.  Its legal status must also be changed so that instead of being the common property of farming communities, it becomes the patented private property of the seed corporations.

The seed is starting to take shape as the site and symbol of freedom in the age of manipulation and monopoly of life.  The seed is not big and powerful, but can become alives as a sign of resistance and creativity in the smallest of huts or gardens and the poorest of families.  In smallness lies power.”

If you have seed orders yet to place, and live in this general region, I would encourage you to order through them.  If you are a small local farmer, perhaps you might raise out a seed crop for this wonderful project.  Even if you don’t garden, consider supporting them and donating their seeds to local community gardens.

But not only do I want to support this wonderful project, but I want to encourage other people to think hard about establishing local seed libraries, seed saving cooperatives and small seed companies.  We are at the beginning of a fundamental shift towards home agriculture – we see it in the garden on the White House Lawn and in the rising sales of local seed companies.  We see it in the sheer number of people who are recognizing that an access to food that depends on jobs in the public economy represents a vulnerability.

Having access to safe, affordable and most of all, adapted breeds of seed that thrive in your climate and location is a first step in gardening.  Seeing those seeds multiply in your own garden from year to year is the first step in gardening as a means of saving money – when you realize that two lettuce seeds tucked into an old yogurt container provide you with a large salad and a thousand more seeds, you begin to see the hope of real economic growth – the capacity to enrich without theft from the future. 

Fundamentally, seed is not an industrial product – it is a living thing.  It is easy to say “oh, I want to grow Black Brandywine” and order seed from a company that got its seed from a farm somewhere.  But the truth is that two strains of Black Brandywine, one grown out in a long, warm growing season in Missouri and another in a cool short one in Minnesota, will have fundamental differences.  Save it long enough, and your strain of tomato or bean will become something genetically distinct from the one you obtained, as the plants genes work to adapt to the conditions it finds.  We have become accustomed to seeing seed as something that can be standardized and produced like a factory product – but it is not – seed is local, seed is specific to its place and time and circumstances.  And thus, there is no way to get the best possible results from an industrialized agriculture that treats all places as though they were the same and all seeds as though they were destined to the same future.

I think there is no doubt that saved seed, whether bought or traded, will be a large part of any hopeful future.  So I would encourage those with the power to do so to invest their time and energy in supporting institutions like this one, and national and local seed saving groups.  And I would encourage you all to learn to save at least one or two varieties of seed, to trade and share them, and perhaps to establish local seed libraries that can hold the seed, the site of so much possibility, resistance and bright hope, in its right place of honor at the center of our communities.


Local Folks – Any Ideas?

Sharon November 5th, 2008

Well, the good news is that the Bush regime is on its way out, and maybe later I’ll write more about that, but for now, I’m hoping to use the tremendous knowledge of my readers just one more time.

You see yesterday, Eli’s school was inexplicably closed.  And in the afternoon, we got a phone call from Eli’s third grade teacher, in tears.  A water main broke at the school, and flooded the building.  The building is badly damaged, and won’t be safe for kids until major repairs are made.

Eli attends the Crossroads Center for Children, in Glenville, New York.  It is a program for kids on the autism spectrum from 2-12.  We’ve been very lucky to have him there  – it is a wonderful program, serving kids from every school district in the greater Albany area.  This year, Eli’s wonderful teacher is really pushing him, and he’s responding beautifully – he loves to go to school, and is happy every morning to get on the bus.

Now we’ve been operating for a long time on the assumption that at some point, disruptions in the system might require us to homeschool Eli – and of course, we have the luxury of one of us being home with the other kids all the time, so for us, this is a tough situation (because Eli loves school, is losing services and time, and because disruptions in his routine are not Eli’s favorite thing) but pretty doable (and a good reminder that preparedness isn’t just for Zombie attacks ;-) ).  But for single parents, two parent working families and kids who are less mellow than Eli, or who really need their PT, this is a complete disaser.  There are more than sixty kids in Eli’s school, including the little guys – and for a lot of them, this is a really bad situation – and tremendously tough on their families and the children.

When Eli’s teacher called, she said they were desperately looking for somewhere else to reopen – and as soon as possible.  But that means finding a facility somewhere in the region that can handle a large influx of kids, including disabled kids.  I have one idea, but I know those of my readers who live in the area are tied into networks I don’t have any access to – so I’m asking for your help.  If you live out this way, and you have any ideas for a facility that could handle temporary accomodations for a large number of kids who really need a place to learn, I’d be tremendously grateful to you, and so would everyone in the Crossroads Community. 

It doesn’t have to have a cafeteria, and I think the location is somewhat fungible (because the school mostly serves kids whose school districts have no placement for them, they are bused from all over), but it would need to be safe, ideally have some kind of contained outdoor or indoor playspace (this might be something that could be done without if they had to), and be able to handle 8-10 classrooms and some associated services.  People would be willing to cram, I suspect, and make do – but they do need some space.

If you have any ideas, please post them here or email me at [email protected].  Again, Eli won’t love this, but he’ll be fine – we can integrate him into our homeschool.  But I’m really worried about the kids whose parents face losing jobs while they take time off to care for them, the kids who will radically regress or suffer physical consequences, and the loss of structure, familiarity and stability with people who love and respect them for all the kids. I’d be really grateful for any help, and so would  a lot of other parents.


Vital, Ecological and Jewish

Sharon November 4th, 2008

A while back I mentioned the fall Kallah, my synagogue’s annual scholar-in-residence weekend.  We’re bringing Rabbi Everett Gendler, the father of Environmental Judaism, who will be delivering a Dvar Torah, and three lectures during the course of the weekend.  I would invite anyone interested in attending to consider joining us.  There is a charge for the meals (and advance reservations are needed, so if you’d like to join us, please reserve ASAP), but all the lectures and religious services are free and open to the public.

That said, the food will definitely be worth it.  It is a local meal, showcasing the best of local and kosher vegetarian cooking.  All events will take place at my shul, Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna, NY.  This project is going to take up a lot of my time in the next few days, and I’m really excited about it – this marriage of my faith and my principles is something really exciting.

All the details are here: - and yes, you can still reserve for the meals by emailing.

 On Friday night, we’ll have services at 7:30 pm, with Rabbi Gendler delivering a Dvar Torah (sermon) on the parsha, Lech Lecha (the journey of Abraham and Sarah). 

On Saturday there will be morning services, followed by a local foods luncheon (and the food will be totally amazing) at 12:30 and Rabbi Gendler’s first talk “Eating Green, Eating Jewishly” – addressing the questions of how our ecological and theological concerns about food are to be addressed.

On Saturday night we’ll have a special Havdalah service (which marks the end of the Sabbath) at 7pm, and then Rabbi Gendler’s second talk, “Teaching Shalom in the Shadow of Tibet: Exploring the Links between Two Diaspora Faiths” building in part on his work helping Tibetan refugees find ways to resist non-violently. Rabbi Gendler recently returned from Ladakh, where among other things, he led Rosh Hashanah services in what he jokingly calls “The Dalai Lama’s Shul” – ie, the monastary in which the Dalai Lama (who attended) lives.  The Saturday night talk will be followed by a dessert table, featuring more local foods – again, reservations are required for that.

Sunday morning, Rabbi Gendler will give his final talk, after a 10am brunch hosted by our synagogue Men’s Club.  The talk, “Let the Sun Shine In: The Eternal Light, Solar Power and the Sun Ceremony” will explore links between how we power our religious institutions and homes and the forthcoming, every-28 years ritual of blessing the sun (to be done this April) – Rabbi Gendler argues that we have a halachic (ie, following Jewish law) obligation not to power the eternal light that burns in each synagogue with fossil fuels.  This is a question he’s lived – when he was Rabbi in Lowell, MA in the 1980s, his was the first synagogue in the US to put solar panels on their roof.  Again, there’s a fee for the meal, but the talk is free and open to the public.

 If you wish to join us for any of the food, please send an email ASAP to [email protected] - when space runs out, it runs out, so make your reservation now.  And remember, all the lectures are free – we’d love to have you join us.   Directions to the synagogue are here:  I hope to meet some of you there!