Once again, it is that time of year, when I am off to the Philippines for my annual trip! It always feels like a big push to make this trip happen, but once I am sitting (as I am now) at the gate in Seattle, the rush to get here fades away and my excitement for the next 5 weeks begins to set in.
My departure always follows our Annual Nourish Celebration and this years’ event was one for the books! On Saturday, October 26th over 130 guests gathered at the Posner Center for International Development to celebrate all things seeds, Filipino Food, and community. Sharing a beautiful Kamayan Feats guests enjoyed this communal style of Filipino eating with bare hands, which made for a festive and visually stunning experience.
It was also wonderful to have our special guest Jeffrey Sotero the Municipal Agriculture Officer in Tublay, Benguet and GSS Philippines Board Member share his experiences as a farmer, local government official, and passionate seed saver. I said it many times while Jeffrey was in the US and will say it again, if every Municipality in the Philippines had someone like Jeffrey (leading their agriculture programs) the Philippines would be in a much better place.
Hosting Jeffrey for nearly three week in my home allowed us time to share many conversations about his impressions of the US (as it was his first time here), discuss his visions for his community and country, and his personal aspirations as a role model and leader for seed saving in the Philippines. The resounding theme he kept returning to was the spirit of Bayanihan! Bayanihan is a Filipino custom derived from the Tagalog word “bayan”, which means nation, town or community. The term bayanihan itself literally means “being in a bayan”, which refers to the spirit of communal unity, work and cooperation to achieve a particular goal.
This spirit is indeed the heart and soul of our work at Global Seed Savers! Seeds, seed saving, building a community committed to sustainably feeding itself and resisting the ever growing stronger corporate and chemical take over of our food system, is only possible when done together…in community….with a true spirit of bayanihan!
We live in a time when all to often the messages we hear from heads of state and the never ending Twitter feed are messages of fear, isolation, and hate. However, seeds teach us to slow down, remember what is important, and reconnect with an essential element to our common experience…. food and community!
So as my head is racing, with all the work, planning. and travel to come over the next 5 weeks in the Philippines. I am also holding tight to this important lesson of bayanihan and so grateful to see the Global Seed Savers community continue to grow and work together to build true community that is rooted in relationships, the land, and seeds.
Thank you for being part of our growing bayanihan and I am eager to reconnect on the ground with all the amazing community in the Philippines that champions our work and collective vision for a better world, one we build together in community!
Imagine a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by pine tree and tropical forested mountains, rice fields lining the riverbank, and a beautiful organic farm just above the road that passes through this magical place! This scene is real and last week during our farm visits with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) we spent lunch and a lovely afternoon at Auntie Mary’s beautiful farm tucked away in Tublay Central. It is always grounding and reaffirming to go on farm visits with our dedicated farmer partners during my annual visits to the Philippines. While I recognize the deep importance my fundraising and advocacy away from the farms provides… my favorite days each year are spent in the fields learning, laughing, and sharing best practices with the BASS Members. They are a passionate, knowledgeable, and extremely dedicated group of farmers and each time we spend time together I am reminded of how blessed I am to get to work with each of them!
Auntie Mary’s beautiful organic farm sits along a small riverbed and she is a true organic practitioner having farmed organically the last 15 years, since a personal heath scare during her last child’s birth. She is a new member of BASS and plants a wide diversity of organic crops including okra, lettuce, beans, adlay (a Filipino native grain), and especially exciting is her native corn!! The Philippines is SE Asia largest producer of GMO Corn, with over 800,000 hectares planted around the country. Considering that corn wind pollinates up to 10 km, some studies are starting to show that all the corn in these densely GMO planted areas might be contaminated. It is a real treasure that Auntie Mary has native corn and she is excited to keep growing it out at her isolated farm and share seeds with BASS farmers and our Seed Library in Tublay.
BASS Farmer Mary poses proudly with her native corn.
BASS Farmers Mary and Pastor Jun looking at seeds.
We also visited BASS Members Fely and Pastor Jun (a new member of BASS and the current President of the Tublay Organic Farmers Association). I have known Fely for many years, since my early Peace Corps days and this was my first time to visit her farm. Set just below the ridgeline of Coroz in Tublay she has a wide and beautiful farm full of coffee (she partners with another NGO to export to Japan) and a wide diversity of vegetables including herbs and squash. We toured the area she had dedicated to saving seeds, but sadly her greenhouse was destroyed in the recent typhoons. We are still formalizing how to share the funds raised to support all the BASS members impacted by the recent typhoons. In total, BASS Farmers suffered over $20,000 USD in damages. To date we have raised just over $2,500 to support their continued recovery and any additional gifts are much appreciated and will go a long way to ensuring BASS Farmers can continue to propagate quality seeds. Donations can be made via our website: https://globalseedsavers.giv.sh/ba3e.
Pastor Jun’s Farm is located one ridgeline North of Fely’s and feels like a hidden gem as you walk the steep pine tree path into the woods and turn a corner to see a magical secret garden. Pastor is new to organic farming but already has a wide diversity of crops including dill, cucumber, carrots, beets, and more. His farm is in a perfect location for our continued seed trials and increased seed production, because it is well isolated and already proving to be fertile land. Pastor is excited to conduct carrot seed saving trails in the coming months and expand his seed saving knowledge as a new member of BASS.
Looking at Pastor Jun’s Garden
BASS Member Fely describing her coffee production with our Country Manager Karen.
GSSP Board Retreat and Planning
As you might remember, last year we registered our Philippine Counterpart NGO Global Seed Savers Philippines. It has been a fruitful year for the organization starting to gain local funding support and formalize their board roles and action steps. I have enjoyed getting to help guide this process with the Philippines Board and last week Sunday-Tuesday Karen, Padma (a longtime friend and the GSSP Board President) and I gathered in La Union at the beach for a two-day working retreat. It was the perfect relaxing setting to reflect, make plans, and brainstorm our future and continued growth. Priority topics included: local board development, an assessment of the current strengths on the board and what we are missing, we also laid out ambitions programs plans for the coming three years including:
Hosting 6 seed schools in 2019
Hosting a Philippines Wide Seed Summit in 2019
Launching at least 8 new seed libraries by 2021
Hiring more local staff to manage our growth to new regions and more!
It is an honor to be building this organization with Padma and Karen and I am excited to see where 2019 takes us after a fruitful and productive retreat. Also, special shout out to Nash another Philippines Board Member currently getting her Masters Degree in Belgium who joined us via SKYPE for day one of the retreat.
This has by far been my busiest trip to the Philippines in recent history; between conferences, travel all over the country, new partner development meetings, and lots of time spent with Karen planning, formalizing processes, and reflecting on our last three years of growth and impact! I am excited to head to Sagada tomorrow for some R and R to round off my final week here in the Philippines.
There is so much momentum for Global Seed Savers right now and I am excited to continue to support our Philippines Team and Farmers as we grow and ensure more farmers have access to locally produced non-chemical seeds!
Thank you for following along and all of your support for our work!
It has been a very busy and productive two weeks here in the Philippines. Wow hard to believe it has already been two weeks! It was wonderful to arrive and stay with my dear friend and our Philippines Board President Padma and her family. They have a beautiful oasis of an old family home right off of Taft and ESDA in the heart of Metro Manila. For any of you that have been to the Philippines you know that this is a jam packed, dense, loud, crowded area of what I affectionately call “The Big Smoke” (Metro Manila). So it was a breath of fresh air after a long journey to stay in their lovely ancestral home with high ceilings, friendly faces, and comforting delicious Filipino Food for one night.
The next day we had a leisurely drive North to Baguio City, and as we started to crest up the mountainside the air began to change and the cool pine tree breeze and familiar energy of Baguio City greeted us. While the city is ever increasing in traffic and noise it is always wonderful to return to the mountains and my second home here in the North. The following day Padma launched her book “Green Entanglements: Nature Conservation and Indigenous Peoples Rights in Indonesia and the Philippines.” A beautiful culmination of her PhD and time spent living, learning, and listening to indigenous communities about the many entanglements our modern world can present for nature conservation and IP communities. It was a wonderful book launch to honor Padma’s hard work and turned into a fantastic reunion of many Baguio City friends gathering to celebrate Padma and reconnect.
Global Seed Savers Team with Padma and Jenny at the book launch.
With our friends of Denver SilverHand that also run a coffee farm in Baguio.
2nd Philippine Permaculture Association Convergence
The next morning we rose early joined by our partner farmers Ma’am Ester and Ma’am Letty and headed back south to Los Banos (2 hours south of Manila, so 8 hours from Baguio) to attend the 2nd Convergence of the Philippines Permaculture Association (PPA). PPA has become a fantastic partner in our work incorporating seed saving into their design courses and helping support our farmers’ participation in their trainings. The convergence was a beautiful gathering of like-minded souls from all over the Philippines each doing their part to build a more sustainable future. It was wonderful to reconnect with many of our partners including our dear friends and seed sisters at Kai Farms Karla and Amena. We held a Seed School there last year and are looking forward to hosting another Seed School with them inearly 2019 and helping develop a community seed library in Silang, Cavite.
BASS Farmers Maam Ester and Maam Letty at the PPA Convergence
GSS with our Seed Sister Karla Delgado of Kai Farms
Karen, our dynamic Country Manager led a fantastic breakout session all about seed saving and the importance of our growing work. She beautifully described how seed saving paired with permaculture principles will lead to the most food and climate- resilient communities. There is indeed a growing awareness around the Philippines of the importance of saving seeds and ensuring all communities have access to their own locally produced non-chemically treated seeds. We are thrilled to be spreading this message and skill set with more partners and helping Filipino communities return to this sustainable and historic practice. It is becoming more clear as we share our work with a broader community, that there is a massive need to increase the local seed stock available to farmers and gardeners throughout the Philippines. Each time we share about our work more and more people wake up and realize the critically important role they play in this process. We are excited to see where all of the wonderful connections made at the PPA Convergence take us and thankful for the opportunity to have shared about our mission and advocacy with this wonderful community of farmers, earth healers, and friends!
Workshop participant during the Seed ID Activity
Karen teaching about seeds
Growing Collaborations in Cebu
After a quick one-night stay in Manila last Sunday, Karen and I flew to Cebu City on Monday morning to meet with our partners, the Cebu Farmers Market and their recently formed NGO, CAFÉ-I – Communities for Alternative Food Eco-Systems Initiative. We held two Seed Schools in Cebu this year and with their vibrant organic market happening three days a week in Cebu City we have been excited to explore a more long-term relationship and creation of a seed saving hub in Cebu. Cebu City is also where Karen grew up and her parents live. They were kind enough to host us while we were there and it was wonderful to spend some time with her family.
Many of our dynamic partners around the Philippines are led by strong duos of women and Cebu is a perfect example of this! Ate Bingbing is a Slow Food Advocate and has helped establish and manage the small Seed Library they started earlier this year after our first Seed School. Ate Teresa is a tireless community organizer who years ago had the vision to create access to healthy organic food in Cebu which is what formed the vibrant Cebu Farmers Market. They partner with farmers to sell locally produced healthy organic produce and products three days a week in Cebu City. Teresa is also very active in the Anti-Golden Rice Advocacy (GMO) Movement and extremely passionate about our collective work.
On Tuesday morning we met at their beautiful office space set up on a hillside with three small rooms and a beautiful deck for outdoor meeting space and a garden. Since holding our two Seed Schools in Cebu earlier this year, it has become clear there is a growing movement for organic farming on the island and desire to launch a seed saving program. We had a great planning session to prepare for our meeting with the farmers on Thursday. We also enjoyed a wonderful lunch with two of the leaders at the Cebu Farmers Market, Tita Jeidy and Kuya (older brother) Dito. They both have amazing personal stories of overcoming health challenges through growing their passion for organic farming and access to healthy and sustainable food.
Kuya Dito is a graduate of our earlier Seed Schools and a passionate seed saver, proven by the fact that within moments of our time together he pulled out seeds from his pack! A number of years ago a coconut tree fell on his back leaving his legs slightly paralyzed. He now walks with two canes and leg braces. However, this nearly life-devastating experience helped him become more passionate about organic farming. Despite his physical limitations he continues to work hard to produce a wide diversity of organic crops and help restore many local varieties of fruit. His farm is known for passion fruit production and he was kind enough to give me a bag of delicious passion fruit before we left. The humble kindness and generosity of the farmers we work with never ceases to amaze me!
On Thursday a group of 30 farmers gathered at the CAFÉ-I Office to learn more about launching a Cebu Seed Savers Group. Karen and I spent the morning sharing more about our work, the model we have created in Benguet Province, and the importance of communities returning to saving their own seeds and operating seed libraries. The participants ranged from landowners who are passionate about organic farming, smallholder farmer co-ops, young farmers as well. The average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57, so a key to ensuring a food secure future for the Philippines is encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.
During the second half of the meeting all participants located on a map where their farms are and shared more about the types of crops they are currently growing, and what seeds they would like to be producing. It was wonderful see the spread of these dedicated farms across the island of Cebu. Cebu City is the oldest City in the Philippines and used to be the capitol of the Country. Cebu is a southern hub of the country and we are strategically very excited to be expanding our work to this region to form a Cebu Seed Savers Group. All of the participants are excited to join in this effort and they will be meeting again in early January to make further plans. Karen will also be traveling to Cebu in February to conduct another Seed School and a Seed School Teacher Training Course to ensure those that wish to teach seed saving in their communities have the skills and knowledge to do this.
While we are still finalizing our plans for how the Cebu Seed Savers Group will be organized and managed, we are thrilled to see our work grow to this important Southern Regional Hub of the Philippines. We are grateful for our growing collaborations and so thankful to be building this movement with Cebu Farmers Market, CAFÉ-I, and all of their participating farmers!
This is always an exciting time of year for Global Seed Savers! Riding the wave of momentum from our 8th Annual Nourish Event held in October, me preparing to depart for my annual trip to the Philippines in less than 24 hours, and recent connections made on the ground including a TV interview with the Filipino Version of “Good Morning America” and sharing about our work with Former DENR Secretary and Environmental Activist Gina Lopez. These are each signs that we are on the right path and our community continues to grow!
Nourish Event Highlights
For those of you that attended our 8th Annual Nourish Event on October 20th you can attest to the powerful, heartfelt, and touching day we shared! Karen our dynamic Philippines Country Manager shared her personal story of why Seed Saving is so important in her country and why she believes that little by little, what we are helping support farmers to do will keep families together, restore bio-diversity, dramatically improve farmers economic realities, and build a more climate and food secure future.Karen’s passion for our work rang through and she received a well-deserved standing ovation after her keynote address. Thank you Karen for making the long journey to be with us and for sharing your story and passion for your country and for making our world a better place!
We were also honored to have our mentor, partner, and dear friend in this work, Bill McDroman, the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance share some wisdom and inspiration during the event. Bill has been saving seeds and teaching communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West to do the same for over 30 years. In 2016, he and his wife Belle along with Heather DeLong from DeLaney Community Farm joined us in the Philippines to lead and host a 3-Day Farmer Seed School and Capacity Building Seminar. This was a catalyst program for us and is what launched our now vibrant Seed School Program and grew our partnerships to include communities throughout the 7,000 islands of the Philippines. We are so grateful for our continued collaborations Bill and honored to be on this path with you to restore our diversity and food system with each seed sowed, saved, and re-planted Thank you for your mentorship and continued guidance and support!
L-R: Bill McDorman, Karen Lee Hizola, Belle Starr, Heather DeLong at Nourish.
Meta Sarmiento performs during Nourish.
In addition, local spoken word poet and hip-hop artist Meta Sarimenito brought down the house with his powerful performance describing his journey as a Filipino growing up in Guam struggling with identity and the social and environmental injustices he witnessed and experienced as a first generation Asian Pacific Islander in America. We are honored to have you in our community Meta, and thankful for skillful, passionate artist like yourself, that emboldens our work and movement from the ground up!
Looking Towards the Future
As I finish my final preparations to spend the next 5 weeks in the Philippines I always like to take time to reflect and think about how far we have come since we began this journey. For me, this started over 12 years ago in March of 2006 when I boarded an airplane for an island nation I knew very little about and began my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. This is when the foundation of what is now Global Seed Savers began to germinate and my life became forever intertwined with the amazing beauty, heart, and passion of the Filipino People. While the mission, scope, and work of Global Seed Savers has rightfully evolved and expanded in the last four years. My connection and passion for this place and people will also be centered in the quiet Municipality of Tublay (where our founding Seed Library is) and with the Cosalan Family and my time spent at their little pocket of heaven ENCA Farm. In these seemingly uncertain times in our world reconnecting with our foundations, our origins, our traditions is essential and seeds help us all to do this!!
Glass Gem Corn!
BASS Members get seeds from Seed Library post Typhoon Mangkhut.
So, while I am excited and looking forward to the: Permaculture Convergence this weekend, the countless new partner meetings that will happen during this annual trip including flying to Cebu and continuing plans for expanding our work and creating a Southern Hub for seed saving there, and spending dedicated time with our Staff and Philippines Board visioning and planning out our next 3-5 years. I am most excited to reconnect with my Global Seed Savers origins, to spend time with the Cosalan Family, to see my dear friends and fellow activists in this work, and to be with the dedicated farmers at the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) sharing seeds, stories, and visions for the future that we will all continue to build together!
Thanks for following along on this journey and helping to embolden and support our work and mission at Global Seed Savers. Next update from the Philippines!
While all of my trips to the Philippines feel short this has been the shortest trip in a number of years. It was jam packed with successful planning meeting’s with Karen and our core farmers and great connections with potential new partners and like-minded organizations throughout the country. We are in a very exciting place as an organization having spent the last two years forming our model and seeing it work in Benguet Province. We are thrilled that organizations and communities around the Philippines are finding us and wanting us to bring our Seed Saving knowledge and expertise to their communities and programs. We are truly ready to see our initial seeds planted in Benguet germinate around the Philippines!
Saturday was jam-packed with meetings in Manila. Typically, I try to avoid much time in a city I fondly refer to as, “The Big Smoke,” but as our organization is growing it is essential we make connections with other likeminded organizations and eventually local funding opportunities. I first met for lunch with a dynamic young Filipino Entrepreneur Cherrie Atilano, the founder of Agrea. Cherrie grew up as a farmer and has always seen the value and importance of farming for her country. Three years ago, she Founded Agrea with the mission to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, to alleviate the effects of climate change and to help establish food security in the Philippines. They are piloting their “One-Island Economy” model on Marinduque Island, which is often referred to as the heart of the Philippines (as the island is shaped like a heart). They have a model farm on the island that serves as a training center for new organic practitioners, they are primarily focused on rice farming using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which is helping restore diversity to the islands rice production, and they have a vibrant school garden program teaching the next generation the value and deep importance of farming. It was wonderful to connect with such a mission aligned organization and we look forward to continuing to discuss how we might be able to help Agrea incorporate seed saving into their efforts and develop a seed library on Marinduqe stocked with locally grown open-pollinated seeds!
Great lunch meeting with Cherrie of Agrea at the Salcedo Saturday Market in Makati.
Wonderful to meet dynamic young farmer leader Enzo Pinga of Earthbeat Farms.
I also met with another dynamic young Filipino farmer leader Enzo Pinga of Earthbeat Farms in Laguna. Enzo attended the Seed School we held at Kai Farms in June and it was great to meet with him and get his feedback about the program, as it was our first time teaching outside of Benguet Province. Enzo, like many of the growing young farmers and foodies in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, discovered farming out of passion and a deep understanding of the need for greater food security and sustainability. It is so inspiring to talk with these young farming leaders who are committed to building a more food secure Philippines not just in words but also by getting their hands dirty on the farm! Earthbeat is a 1,000 sq meter farm managed and worked by Enzo and a small team of about 7, mainly growing organic vegetables for restaurants and hotels in the greater Metro Manila area. We had a great conversation about the need for seeds to be the central element to restoring food diversity and security in the Philippines. We also talked at length about the next generation of farmers in the Philippines like Enzo, since the average age of most Filipino Farmers is 57, a key element to building food security and ensuring a vibrant agricultural system continues is supporting and encouraging young farmers like to stay in faming!! Learn more about the great work Enzo is doing here!
My last meeting was with Padma and Efren the Global Seed Savers-Philippines Board President and Treasurer. I am so thankful to get to work with such a strong local Board full of passionate people all committed to our collective work! We had wonderful conversations about our ambitious program plans for the year including; hosting at least four Seed Schools with new partners, hosting one Seed Forum for the entire Province of Benguet, and helping co-create at least one new Seed Library in 2018 (to name only a few of our indented programs for 2018)! We also discussed the projected local budget for the year, and talked at length about the need for the local board to start to fundraise locally to support our growing work. I am excited to have the Philippines Board take the lead to organize a fundraising screening of SEED: The Untold Story film and official launch of Global Seed Savers-Philippines sometime in early 2018 in Manila. Many of our local board members are very well connected in Metro Manila and I have no doubt this event will be a great success and opportunity to share about our work with a wider audience.
I left Manila a few hours ago and am safe to the Taipei Airport where I have about a 6- hour wait for my flight to Seattle. While it is always hard to leave the Philippines after a fantastic last few weeks with our farmers and meeting so many other like minded and mission aligned partners, I am more inspired than ever to continue on with our good work of ensuring that all communities are hunger free with access to sustainable farmer produced food and seeds.
Thank you all for helping make this work a reality and as the busy season of holiday’s approaches please remember Global Seed Saves in your, year-end giving. We are kicking off our year-end campaign next week on #GivingTuesday, November 28th! Mark your calendars and visit our website to make a donation and support our growing impact in the Philippines. Our year-end goal is to raise $2,500 by December 31st! Help us get there and ensure the next generation of farmers has the technical training and access to locally produced open-pollinated seeds they need to feed their country and replenish the land!
Thank you for your generous support and wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones!!
Last week I traveled six hours north of Baguio City to the beautiful town of Sagada in Mt. Province like I have many times before. Sagada is a peaceful mountain community that I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time in and have dear friends there. While the influx of domestic tourism from Manila has filled the town with Inn after Inn, the quiet beauty of this town surrounded by rice terraces and mountain views as far as the eye can see are always a joy to return too. My dear friend and host Siegrid, is a talented local potter and it was wonderful to spend time at the pottery studio helping direct droves of Manila tourists. Siegrid is also working on making seed storage jars for our seed library in Tublay. Clay jars create the perfect conditions for seed storage: Cool, Dark, and Dry!
A number of months ago Layog Country Farm located in Tadian, Mt. Province (about two hours from Sagada) reached out to us and expressed their interest in collaborating to bring Seed Saving Technical Training to their farm and the surrounding community. On Friday last week, I traveled to their beautiful 28-hectare family farm. The property is immaculately managed with an office, seminar venue, and lodging for trainings. The majority of the farm is protected forestland and they are cultivating about 1 hectare of the land with vegetables and a number of hectares are dedicated to dragon fruit production. The third generation to manage the farm is continuing their Grand Fathers legacy and vision for the space. They are a registered Organic Farming Field School under the Agriculture Training Institute- ATI, they have a vibrant volunteer program at the farm through various work-away programs, and they share our vision of helping farmers return to the historical practice of saving seeds and ending their dependence on purchasing chemically treated seeds from the farm supply stores and working to restore diversity and food security. We discussed the logistics of hosting a Seed School Training at the Farm sometime early in Quarter 2 next year and we are looking forward to finalizing these details and expanding our work to Mt. Province in the coming months.
I also had a great meeting with a representative from the Provincial Agriculture Office of Mt. Province (who also happens to be Siegrid’s Aunt). Auntie Hazel is very excited to bring our technical training programs to farmers throughout Mt. Province and would love to see a Seed Library put up at the Province (similar to our first Seed Library located in Tublay). We are thankful to have identified a supportive Provincial Government Officer and the combination of a great venue at Layog Farm and our expertise in Seed Saving should make for a wonderful team to expand our critically important work to Mt. Province next year!!
Yesterday, I had a final meeting with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) before I head to Manila on Friday and fly out on Monday. It was wonderful to see these farmers smiling faces again! We started the gathering with another round of seed distribution. It is always so wonderful to witness their excitement about seeds and eagerness to learn about new crop varieties. This round Artichoke made quite the sensation, I was showing the farmers pictures of artichoke on the web and we pulled out our educational materials at the seed library so they could learn more about how to propagate artichoke for seeds. The BASS members enthusiasm for learning is contagious and I feel so very honored to work with this dedicated group of farmers and seed savers that truly are our hope!!
The farmers organized our meeting yesterday so they could generously present me with a beautiful Tapis, locally woven traditional outfit complete with all the jewelry!! It was so sweet of them to give me this generous gift and was a reminder that we truly are a partnership in this work and they are incredibly thankful for the support we have generated and confidence we help instill. Farming is not an easy job but little by little all of us at Global Seed Savers are helping the farmers gain not only the technical skills they need to be successful but also restore the value of this hopeful profession for generations to come. I am thankful to know and call our dedicated BASS members friends and family!!
On Monday we woke early and headed to Tublay to meet the BASS Members and conduct field visits to some of the new members farms. The farmers’ commitment, energy, and excitement about their collective work is truly infectious and it was wonderful to be greeted with big smiles and hugs by all when we arrived! We visited four farms in total and each has their own unique story and beauty. Many of the new farms are quite isolated from neighbors, which makes for wonderful growing conditions for both seeds and vegetables. I was particularly impressed with Ma’am Anita and Sir Jornald’s 1,000 sq meter farm located in Daclan, Tublay. They have a rich diversity of crops ranging from beans, turmeric, legumes, and various fruit trees. Anita shared that in 2008 she and her husband attended a seminar about organic farming held at the Municipal Hall and after attending this program they were inspired to go organic and began farming their land. Anita is a new member of BASS but is already proving to be a leader of the group and will be co-teaching one of our up-coming Seed Schools in a new region of the country next year!
Anita showing us her fields.
Greens in seedling stage.
Field visits have become a core component of our programming and it is always so inspiring to return and see these famers hard work in action. The field visits also foster a strong sense of group unity and identity amongst the BASS members. They often trade seeds and plants and are constantly sharing ideas about how to improve their organic farming and seed saving practices. We always share a meal together during our meetings, which is another way we are fostering a sense of family amongst the BASS Members. This shows because our conversations move easily between laughter and jokes and seed saving and organic farming realities in the country. These farmers know how to work hard and play hard!!
On Tuesday we all met again for a full day of planning and reflections with the BASS Members about the successes and challenges (opportunities) from this year and their plans and goals for 2018. It was amazing to make a list all of the things we accomplished this year including the following highlights:
More than doubled membership of BASS.
Registered BASS as official Association.
Held Training of Trainers Program for 30 Farmers. Preparing BASS Members to teach Seed Schools.
Held 2 Seed Schools with new partner communities in the Philippines. Co-facilitated by BASS Farmers.
Opened 1st of its kind collaborative Seed Library in Tublay. Currently the Seed Library has over 20 different varieties of seeds all produced by BASS Members.
11 BASS Members completed a 3-Day Computer Training Course.
Wow, what an honor is has been to help make each of these successes a reality!
The BASS Members developed some fantastic goals for 2018 as well including:
By the end of 2018, BASS Members will have at least doubled the diversity of varieties available in the Seed Library.
By the end of 2018, BASS Membership will have increased by at least 50%.
By May, FY 2018: BASS will host a Provincial Wide Seed Forum and 1st Annual Seed Swap.
We are so excited to help these goals become a reality in the coming year!
We ended the meeting with a seed exchange where farmers got to select seeds they want to trial for viability here in the Philippines. Special shout out to our friends and partners at Seeds Trust for donating so many seed packets to our efforts! We look forward to sharing our second seed saving trial results with you in the coming months!
BASS Members with their new seeds.
Program Manager Karen with seeds.
We are also thrilled to share the news, that as of October 25th, Global Seed Savers-Philippines is an officially registered Philippine NGO!! I am so excited to see where this continues to take us and looking forward to investing in building our continued local capacity as we mature and grow as local NGO. Many thanks to the connections of our local Philippine Board of Directors I will be having some meetings in Manila before I leave with potential funding and programmatic partners locally. We are thrilled to see our focus on seeds resonate with so many and excited to continue to see our organization germinate and grow!
The thick humidity and warm air always fill me with a rush of excitement and intensity upon arrival to Metro Manila! My landing on Thursday afternoon was no different. It is a familiar intensity that I look forward to each time I return to my second home of the Philippines. After a quick night in Manila complete with a delicious veggie Kare-Kareng (Peanut Stew) at one of my “safe places” in Manila, Corner Tree Café and a lovely breakfast at Wildflour with our Program Manager Karen who met me in Manila on Thursday, we were off to our partners at Kai Farms.
Kai Farms is a 20-hectare farm in Silang, Cavite about two hours south of Manila. We connected with them last year and are so thankful for our partnership with these fellow seed savers and seed stewards. The farm is privately owned and they employ nearly 30 local community members and are actively organically farming, saving and selling seeds, and building our collective healed and whole earth! The vision of this sacred land is held and created by Karla and Amena the dynamic duo of soul earth sisters making Kai Farms a reality!
This last June we held a one-day Seed School with their farmers and other community members. This was the first seed school that two of our core farmers from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) facilitated and our meetings last weekend were to brainstorm and make plans for our collective work restoring seed saving, organic sustainable agriculture, and ensuring that all people have access to healthy and sustainably produced food and seeds!
On Friday we toured the farm and got to visit with the Earth Worker/Earth Leaders (what they call their farmers) and tour the beautiful grounds. Each Earth Worker tends their own garden at the farm complete with beautiful names such as Gratitude, Kapayapaan (Peace), and Freedom. Each garden has a multitude of crops and they are practicing permaculture and each garden is also saving seeds. In addition to the tour and a lovely farm lunch Karen ended up giving an impromptu germination test lesson to the farmers and staff!
On Saturday, Kai Farms was kind enough to organize a beautiful community lunch for members of the Silang community, friends from Metro Manila, local restaurant owners, University Professors, and even the Vice Mayor and Municipal Agriculture Officer from Silang joined. We shared delicious organic food, our seed stories, and held a community discussion about our work and how we might continue to partner with Kai Farms and the greater Silang Community to continue to share our knowledge of seed saving and work together to ensure all communities have access to affordable and locally sustainably produced food and seeds.
It was inspiring to be with so many like-minded people all committed to a similar vision. I was particularly impressed with the young and dynamic Vice Mayor of Silang. He is probably no older than 35 and shared a compelling message of the great work Silang is doing to preserve their agriculture traditions and ensure the next generation of farmers stays engaged in these practices. They have declared themselves an agricultural Municipality and have also opened the first Agricultural High School in the Philippines. In addition the Local Government Unit (LGU) offers scholarships to deserving students that want to attend college to study agriculture. Each of these steps are innovative and will ensure that the next generation of farmers see the value in farming as opposed to turning away from this critically important livelihood.
We are very excited to partner with the LGU of Silang and Kai Farms to bring another Seed School to this community in 2018. We are also continuing to brainstorm ways Kai and Global Seed Savers can raise awareness about our shared work in 2018, likely starting with hosting a screening of SEED: The Untold Story in Metro Manila to raise awareness and funds about this movement and engage the urban support of Manila. We are so thankful for our growing collaborations with Kai Farms and look forward to seeing how our paths and work continue to grow together.
In less than 24 hours I leave for my annual trip to the Philippines. Each year these trips are filled with different objectives, momentum, and excitement and this year’s is full of all of these emotions and more. We have had a big year as an organization: raising more revenue to date then ever before, opening our first Seed Library with our partner farmers, expanding our Seed School Technical Training Programs to new partners, and more. We have also had a very busy and big last few weeks coming off of another successful Nourish Event and announcing our new name…Global Seed Savers to better reflect our expanded mission and impact as we move into our next phase of work as an organization.
A key to our success in the last few years and moving forward is the local ownership and management of our mission, vision, and programs in the Philippines. As many of you know two years ago we hired our first Filipino Staff member and Karen, our Program Manager has been a dynamic, hard working, creative, and essential partner to the growth, broader impact, and expanding mission we are undertaking in the Philippines. We have also formed a truly counterpart Philippine NGO, Global Seed Savers-Philippines to ensure that the local management, governance, fundraising, and ownership of our continued success is in the hands of our partners. We have identified and formed a dynamic Philippine Board of Directors and we were honored to have our Philippine Board President, Padma Perez join us in Denver two weeks ago for our 7th Annual Nourish Event.
Padma delivered a compelling and passionate keynote during Nourish about the reality of food security in the Philippines. She compassionately described a common practice by many called pag-pag when families dumpster dive and then shake off and re-heat food scraps that have been discarded and then sell these for around 20 cents to their neighbors and community. This is the reality of hunger in the Philippines and while there is a growing demand for healthy and organically produced food, this is still only accessible to a small upper class minority in the Philippines. Our vision is that all people have access to healthy and sustainably produced food and seeds. This is a big task but like Wes Jackson the Founder of the Land Institute says and Padma shared during her compelling talk:
“ If your life work can be accomplished in your lifetime, then you are not thinking big enough.” -Wes Jackson, The Land Institute
The challenges we face our real and ever present; three major agri-chemical companies own the majority of the worlds seeds and input markets, land development and “modernization” continue to threaten farmers land rights, and the next generations desire to leave farming and move to the cities for “better” opportunities is ever present in our country and the Philippines. However, we know at Global Seed Savers we are slowly, one farmer, and community at a time building our own collective future one that is rooted in the land, in the soil, and in the seed! I am honored to get to work with such talented and passionate partners in the Philippines and together we are ensuring a more food and climate secure world by returning to the historical practice of saving and sharing regionally adapted and affordable organic seeds!
Please stay tuned for more updates from the field as I am hitting the ground running upon arrival in Manila on Thursday. We will be meeting with our new partners at Kai Farms where we held a Seed School earlier this year and brainstorming about our future collaborations and participating in a community lunch with other seed and food advocates near Metro Manila. Thank you for your support and passion for this work and I am looking forward to sharing this up-coming trip with you all!
Part 1: Indigenous Communities and Their Innate Resilience
I was honored to attend and have the opportunity to moderate and speak on a panel during the recent Mountain West Seed Summit hosted by our collaborators and friends at the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The panel was titled, “Working With Traditional Communities,” which was a theme of the entire Summit. The other panelists were Lynda Prim, a seasoned anthropologist that has been working with SW native peoples for over 30 years helping restore seed saving and ecological agricultural practices, to Lorraine Gray, a Mowhawk woman and Executive Director of The Four Bridges Traveling Permaculture Institute. She works to reconnect her people with the land, permaculture, and ecologically sound practices. Brett Baker, currently an organic certifier for the State of New Mexico with years of experience collecting and saving seeds throughout the SW Region. As well as, Heather DeLong the Director of DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora, Colorado which has recently transitioned into an all refugee farm. Heather joined us in the Philippines last November to help facilitate the Seed School and Farmer Capacity Building Seminar.
Wonderful to reunite with Belle, Heather, and Bill at the Seed Summit!
Beautiful altar during the Seed Swap at the Summit
A theme we all shared during our presentations was that indigenous communities have had and will continue to have the knowledge, skills, and wisdom to build resilient and ecologically sound communities. When you look at history, it is indigenous peoples around the globe, be it our Ibaloi and Kankana-ey farmers in the Philippines, or the Pueblo and Native American populations we had the opportunity to learn from during the Summit, it is their traditions and history of resiliency, stewardship of the land, and perhaps most importantly connection to seed as the root of all life and key element to our sustenance and survival. This is what we must learn from in a “modern world,” perhaps now more than ever!
For me, the Mountain West Seed Summit was a reminder of the resiliency of our indigenous peoples and that our food and seed have a sacred connection to culture, one that is too important to be forgotten and lost.
Tesque Pueblo Beautiful Seed Bank
Pueblo Managers of the Seed Bank Lead a Tour
Beautiful Sacred Seed at the Tesque Pueblo Seed Bank