• Saving seeds helps improve your future food crops, and it can be an act of defiance

 

Container of kale bolting (going to seed)

Container of kale bolting (going to seed)

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Collected kale seed

Farmers have been saving seeds for thousands of years, but in recent years saving seeds also has become an act of defiance. Saving seeds is a way to preserve and improve the biodiversity of your crops, while also thumbing your nose at agribusiness giants such as Monsanto who have made it difficult and even illegal for small farmers to save their own seeds.

In Sitka, saving seeds means preserving the best crops that grow in our rainy climate. You also can share seeds among friends to help them get the best varieties of a particular crop.

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Kale seed pods ready to be split so the seeds can be extracted and saved

So how do you do it? Saving seeds isn’t that difficult and there are many resources available online that can give you the basics. Here is a primer on saving seeds from the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service, and the Seed Savers Exchange provides these resources.

The John Trigg Ester Library, located in the town of Ester just outside Fairbanks, provides a list of Alaska resources for saving seeds. The Growing Ester’s Biodiversity program is believed to be the state’s only official seed library, where saved seeds are collected with the intention of sharing them with other gardeners and farmers. That’s different from a seed bank, where seeds are collected and stored, but not for sharing. Here is a FAQ page about how people can borrow seeds from the Ester seed library, and here is a tutorial from the seed library about saving tomato seeds.

Deirdre Helfferich, who also is the managing editor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station, coordinates the Growing Ester’s Biodiversity seed library at the John Trigg Ester Library. This is how she explains the difference between a seed library and a seed bank, and this is why she says we need to save seeds:

A seed bank is a depository for the owners of its seeds or germplasm. So, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (in Norway) is a seed bank. Until recently, Native Seeds/SEARCH  (in Tucson, Ariz.) was a seed bank with limited availability for growing. It now has a seed library program.

The basic difference is the mode of preservation and distribution: the bank holds the seeds for its depositors, and as though the seeds are in a museum, to be regenerated only every so often to keep the line going. Seed banks won’t just share the seed with anyone, and will store their seed in deep dormancy as long as possible.

A seed library, on the other hand, preserves through distribution and growth each year. This means that the plants tend to adapt to the local where they are grown over time, of course, and don’t remain unchanged.

Seed libraries are also usually focused on the traditions and human context associated with the seed: what it means, the stories associated, the uses, the histories, etc. Seed libraries have to do with the cultures in which their charges were domesticated, preserved, passed down, donated. This can be as simple as “We traditionally use this tomato in grandma’s lasagne recipe so we call it Grandma’s Lasagne Tomato,” to “This tomato has been in our family for generations back when we were living in a little village in Italy and tomatoes were first introduced from the New World.”

The other thing about seed libraries is that they are libraries, and a library is grounded in sharing, in the abundance mentality. One gives away, trusting that good things will come back. And that network of relationships builds a community of trust. Contrast this to a bank, which holds its contents at bay from a hostile world.

Of course, we need things like Svalbard because there ARE nuts out there running our regulatory agencies and monocropping everything to the point where we simply may not have the variety we need. Seed libraries and seed banks offer two kinds of bulwarks to the crazies.

In an earlier conversation, Deirdre said part of the mission of the Ester seed library is “to inspire other seed library programs or variations on the theme.” With that in mind, I decided to see if I could save some seed.

HangingKaleSeedPodBagphoto

My bag of kale seed pods hanging in my living room to dry

I’m not the most experienced gardener, but this year I had a container of second-year kale that bolted after growing all winter (see photo at top of article), providing me with a nice crop of seed pods instead of leafy kale this summer. So, rather than toss the kale, I decided to collect the seed pods and see if I could save some seed.

Since it’s so rainy in Sitka, I couldn’t dry the seed pods outdoors. So I threw them into a plastic shopping bag and hung them in my living room for a month or two (out of the reach of my cats).

When the seed pods were finally dry enough so you could split them like shelling peanuts, I took the bag down and started collecting the seeds in a plastic margarine tub (see third photo). It can be somewhat tedious work, splitting all the seed pods to get the seeds loose, but it also can be meditative. Once you have all of the seeds separated from the seed pods, you should store them in a cool, dry place until you are ready to germinate them. Hopefully, these kale seeds will sprout next spring.

 

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• Wilcox family of Sitka completes cross-country run from California to New Jersey to raise awareness about GMOs in our food

WilcoxFamily25thAnniversary

WilcoxFamilyRunMapAfter nearly 3,000 miles and six months of running, the Wilcox family from Sitka reached its finish line Saturday, July 19, in Ocean City, N.J., to complete its cross-country run across the country to raise awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food system and the roles of large agribusiness companies, such as Monsanto, in making it difficult for consumers to know which food contains GMOs.

Fifteen-year-old David Wilcox decided he wanted to run across country back in 2010, when he read about another teenage runner to complete the USA crossing, so he and his father, Brett, 53, started training. In January, Brett quit his job as a behavioral health clinician and David’s mom, Kris, put her cleaning business on hold, and the family rented out its home in Sitka. Brett and David started the run on Jan. 18 in Huntington Beach, Calif., and started running about 20 miles a day, six days a week. While Brett and David ran, Kris and David’s younger sister, Olivia, 13, drove ahead on the course in the used pick-up truck and trailer the family purchased for the trip. Along the way, Brett and David took turns pushing a runner’s stroller loaded with their supplies for the day, water bottles, lunch, some GMO-free lettuce seeds, GMO literature, a few copies of Brett’s book, We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie After Lie, Book One, and the 15-year-old family dog, Angel. (Note, after awhile, Angel decided she didn’t like riding in the stroller and preferred riding in the truck, so the Wilcox family adopted a new dog, Jenna, while in Texas.)

DavidAndBrett“Being able to run 20 miles with David is a good thing,” Brett said. “Running with him for 20 miles a day, day after day for six months across 13 states is a great thing. I got to know David far better than I would have in our routines back in Sitka. I have a lot of respect for David for sticking with it even when it was tough going. Of course our run would not have been possible if Kris and Olivia had not been there to support us. Our last day’s run included a big radio interview and a police escort to the beach. Kris and several other runners joined in and ran with us. We passed through a cheering crowd as we entered the boardwalk. It was a special moment. Of course, the fact that Kris and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on the same day we finished our run gave the whole occasion a fairy tale sort of ending.”

The Wilcox family decided to use the run to raise awareness about our food supply because the family is vegetarian, and they don’t like seeing more GMOs enter the food supply, and consumers not being able to find out which foods have GMOs. “Running For a GMO Free USA was the perfect cause for us. We learned that virtually all people — regardless of location — oppose chemically-saturated genetically modified organisms,” Brett said.

Trying to find GMO-free food on the run did become an issue for the family, and for part of the trip they stopped eating corn tortillas because of how much of our nation’s corn now has GMOs (they did find some Navajo corn tortillas they decided to try). GMOs also are in soy, sugar beets, and several other plants, and they may soon be coming to potatoes used by large fast food corporations. Along the way, the Wilcox family passed through St. Louis just in time to participate in the annual March Against Monsanto (an international event on May 24 this year) right outside Monsanto headquarters. Last year, the Wilcox family hosted a March Against Monsanto event in Sitka.

BrettWilcoxAtMonsantoHeadquartersWhen they planned the run, the Wilcox family hooked up with several anti-GMO groups across the country, and those groups helped connect the family to local media outlets and runners where they could spread their message. The anti-GMO groups helped the Wilcox family raise some funds and find places to stay for the trip, and there were two Indiegogo crowd-funding campaigns coordinated by Owen Kindig of Sitka (the first campaign raised $7,500 when it closed in January, and the current campaign still has 40-plus days left to run and has raised roughly $1,400). Along the way, Brett and Kris regularly updated the family’s Running the Country blog and Facebook page. Different media groups covered the run (here’s a link to our story before the run), and the media coverage increased as Brett and David neared the finish line. In recent weeks there has been coverage from small media outlets and large ones, such the Philadelphia Inquirer and Runner’s World magazine. Here is a link to the KCAW-Raven Radio story that aired July 21 about the Wilcox family run.

DavidWHIZNewsInterviewBrett and David trained for the run, but soon realized their training was a little lacking in LSD (long, slow, distance) runs. David won the Southeast Conference (Region V) cross-country running title in October, but most of his runs during the season were about five miles. Brett, a regular bike commuter, also ran shorter distances, and he and David had one or two longer runs a week. Running 20 miles a day, six days a week resulted in a lot of blisters, several worn-out pairs of shoes, and a couple of injuries along the way. Brett was hobbled early in the run by a bad foot, David had a bad leg, and Brett said he plans to have minor surgery in the near future for another injury.

“I had a couple of months where I couldn’t run, so instead I just walked,” David said. “Probably the best day for me was the day the fourth chiropractor fixed me. He was really nice to us, he let us take a shower. I told him where it hurt, and he told me what was wrong and he told me he was going to fix it and I was sort of wondering if he could really fix it. A muscle that’s supposed to be on the inside of my hip was on the outside. He pulled it over and told me I was fixed. Then he adjusted something else that I didn’t even know was wrong. He also worked on my mom and dad.”

As the miles piled up, the Wilcox family enjoyed the scenery. But sometimes the weather was a bit too hot for folks used to a temperate rain forest and then there were the ticks.

“Pennsylvania was probably the most beautiful state, but I could never live there because it’s too hot and humid,” David said. “I can’t wait to get back to Sitka so I can run the trails and not have to worry about ticks.”

WilcoxFamiyFinishesCrossCountryRunNow that the Wilcox family is done with the run, the next plan is to go to Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress and various agencies about GMOs. They already have meetings scheduled with Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and hope to add a meeting with Sen. Mark Begich. “It will be fun to pass on to them what we learned from our cross-country run,” Brett said.

The family also will be doing more fundraising to help pay for the trip. “Our run is now over but we’ve spent far more than we’ve received from donations,” Brett said. “If you’d like to help us out with our expenses, please donate online at RunningTheCountry.com or at Indiegogo.com. The name of our Indiegogo fundraising campaign is ‘Help the Wilcox Family Finish Strong.’ Thanks to all the people who have helped us help David achieve his big dream to run across the USA.”

• Wilcox family prepares to run across country to raise awareness about Monsanto

Fund Run

DavidWilcoxSpeaksAtMayMarchAgainstMonsantoRallyA Sitka family is gearing up for a cross-country run in January to raise awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and the dubious practices of agriculture giant Monsanto.

David Wilcox, 15, and his father, Brett, will begin their 3,000-mile from Huntington Beach, Calif., to Cape May, N.J.,  with stops in St. Louis (home of Monsanto) and Washington, D.C. David and Brett will receive support from mom, Kris, and sister, Olivia. The current Southeast Conference-Class 3A high school cross-country running champion from Sitka High School, David is hoping to become the second-youngest runner to complete a run across the United States (he recently found out there was a younger runner who did a similar run back in 1928). The family hosted March Against Monsanto events in Sitka in May and October as part of an international movement against the company’s practices.

“Running across the USA! Wow! David and I are growing more and more excited to pound pavement, run trails, meet people, and advocate with millions of like-minded Americans for a GMO free USA!” Brett Wilcox said.

Even though the run won’t start until January, the Wilcox family has several activities planned for December to help publicize and raise funds for the project. Brett recently self-published a book, We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie After Lie, Book One. Brett and the rest of the Wilcox family will be at Old Harbor Books for a book-signing from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7, and he will give a reading and book-signing at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 15, at Kettleson Memorial Library.

BrettWilcoxWithBookIn addition, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, David will run 100 laps of the Moller Park track as a fundraiser for the trip. People can pledge per lap, or pledge lump sums at this event. Other runners are encouraged to join in the fun by running in Sitka or wherever they are and recording their laps. Also at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 14, the Wilcox family will have a table at the Elvis Monthly Grind at the Sheet’ká Kwáan Naa Kahídi.

“The topic of genetic modification can be heavy and confusing–confusing primarily because Monsanto and other chemical giants don’t want us to know about the problems associated with modern chemical-based agriculture,” Brett Wilcox said. “We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie After Lie is a fun, fast and creative approach designed to cast light on Monsanto’s products, poisons and lies. I wrote We’re Monsanto to give mainstream Americans the power to say no to Monsanto’s GMOs, say no to agricultural imperialism, and to say no to Monsanto’s lies. Once we understand that Earth’s natural biodiversity and agroecology are the true solutions to feeding a hungry world, we free ourselves from Monsanto’s poison-saturated false promises.”

To learn more about the run, you can read this Dec. 2, 2013, article from the Daily Sitka Sentinel or go to the Wilcox family website, Running The Country. The family also has created a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo.com, Running for a GMO-Free USA, where it hopes to raise money to help pay for the trip. In addition, Brett moderates a Facebook group, March Against Monsanto SE Alaska, and a group page about the run called, Running The Country.

• Sitka joins communities around the world to host a local March Against Monsanto on Saturday, May 25

March Against Monsanto Yellow 72Millions of people around the world, including several in Sitka, will take a stand by hosting a local March Against Monsanto. The Sitka march takes place at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 25, at Castle Hill. So far, more than 370 marches around the world are planned on May 25.

The Sitka March Against Monsanto is being organized by Brett Wilcox, who has created a Facebook page with more details. Brett and his 14-year-old son, David, will take things a step (OK, many steps) further when they start a transcontinental run across the country in January to raise awareness about some of the ethically challenged practices of the agri-business Monsanto. These include creating GMO (genetically modified) foods that are unlabeled and untested, putting patents on crop seed so farmers have to pay high fees to plant food, and more.

In addition to the march, various Sitka residents will speak on a variety of topics, such as how GMO-food causes health problems, the number of former Monsanto executives who now work for our government, farmer suicides in India due to Monsanto practices, the Monsanto Protection Act slipped into the recently passed US Farm Bill, etc.

This month, Brett hosted free Monsanto Movie Nights at 7 p.m. on Fridays, May 10, 17 and 24, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

According to a press release about the event:

Sitka’s March Against Monsanto will be held on Castle Hill, the location where Russia sold the vast territory of Alaska—land it did not own—to the U.S.A.

March organizer, Brett Wilcox, chose Castle Hill for Sitka’s March Against Monsanto for its symbolic significance. “There are many similarities between the original ‘Land Grab’ that took place with the first European expansion and Monsanto’s current global ‘Seed Grab,'” Wilcox states. “Both involve the privatization of Nature, a concept that was largely foreign to Native Americans and Alaska Natives. And both have resulted in loss of freedom and loss of life. The difference is that Monsanto’s seed grab not only further disenfranchises Native Americans; it disenfranchises all nations and all people. The citizens of the world are, as it were, sitting in our canoes in Sitka Sound, watching powerful people and corporations claim and repackage life as their own, thereby stealing our seed sovereignty and seed freedom.”

Chuck Miller, a Tlingit “Elder in Training”, will preside at the event. “My grandmother used to teach my family that we need to treat our food with respect or it will not provide for us,” Miller states. “My ancestors’ teachings are still a very big part of my life and I want to be able to pass that on to my children, grandchildren and those yet to come. GMOs are not the way to treat Mother Earth and the generations yet to come. I urge all the Native people of Alaska and our non-Native brothers and sisters to come and support this cause.”

“Sitka’s March Against Monsanto will not be a traditional march,” says Wilcox. “Sitka’s event will be a ceremony to honor nature as well as the indigenous people of Alaska and the Americas. We will stand on Castle Hill united with the people of the world in defense and protection of life and nature.”

For more information about the Sitka March Against Monsanto, contact Brett Wilcox at 747-7437 or brett@runningthecountry.com, or contact Chuck Miller at 752-9955 or cohomojo25@yahoo.com. KCAW-Raven Radio aired a story on Tuesday, May 21, about Brett’s and David’s plans to run across the country and to host this march. Brett also recorded a commentary for KCAW-Raven Radio.

• Wanton waste of deer meat, a record high herring quota and other local foods stories in the news

Over the past couple of weeks, at least 10 Sitka black tail deer corpses have been found in Sitka with lots of edible meat still on the bone but the prime cuts missing. According to the Anchorage Daily News, state wildlife officials are searching for the hunters, and wanton waste charges may be coming for those involved. There were six deer found off Green Lake Road, then four deer were found near Harbor Mountain Road five days later.

The Sitka Local Foods Network encourages the responsible and sustainable harvesting of traditional subsistence foods, such as deer, but we must respect the resource and use the entire animal. Not only is leaving edible meat in the field wasteful, but the last couple of years have been down years for deer survival and the actions of these wasteful hunters may mean fewer hunting opportunities next year for hunters who need the deer to feed their families. Anyone with information about the cases is asked to call Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 747-3254 or, to remain anonymous, Wildlife Safeguard at 1-800-478-3377.

In other local foods news, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game established a record sac roe herring quota for the 2010 season, a quota of more than 18,000 tons (more than 4,000 tons higher than last year’s then-record quota). The commercial herring fleet is very happy with the higher quota, but KCAW-Raven Radio reports local subsistence gatherers worry that the record quota will harm their ability to gather herring eggs on hemlock branches, a popular subsistence and barter food for local Tlingít and Haida residents. They also worry two straight years of record quotas will hurt the resource, since herring also serves as a key forage food for salmon, halibut, whales, sea lions and other species in the region.

The Juneau Empire reported that the State of Alaska asked for an extension to reply to an inquiry on subsistence management from the federal government. The federal government took over some management of subsistence in Alaska more than a decade ago because state laws weren’t in compliance with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which calls for a rural preference on subsistence in times of shortage, and the federal government may be expanding its role in subsistence management.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on Alaska pork being ready for the freezer at A.D. Farms, and that pork will be sold at the indoor farmers market at Anchorage’s Northway Mall. The story included a wrap-up of other local foods available at the market, and it had a recipe for crock-pot cod.

Laine Welch’s Alaska fishing column was about how more local fish is appearing in school lunch menus.

The Anchorage Daily News Alaska Newsreader feature reported on several Arctic travelers getting trichinosis from eating undercooked bear meat. The National Post of Canada also had a story on travelers eating undercooked bear meat, while the New York Times had an article about how trichinosis is common in bear meat that isn’t cooked properly.

The Anchorage Daily News had an article about how Alaska’s rhubarb probably first came from Russia.

Miller-McCune magazine had an article about how Alaska’s complex salmon politics can serve as a model for sustainable fisheries elsewhere in the world.

The Alaska Public Radio Network reported on a woman from Aniak, Dee Matter, who has taken freezing her food to a new level. The story also was on APRN’s Alaska News Nightly show.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had a feature article about Kotzebue hunter and trapper Ross Schafer and the “Eskimo” way of life.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner had an article about a conflict between farmers and hunters over the future of the Delta bison herd.

The Juneau Empire ran a story about glaciers providing an important food source.

Anchorage Daily News garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels wrote about magazine gifts for gardeners.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an Associated Press article about Monsanto’s role in the business of agriculture, especially the way it squeezes out competitors in the seed industry.

Finally, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences blog featured an article about a new study about food security challenges in Alaska.