Concerning seed-banks & resiliency
Seeds are historical record, cornerstone of fertile present and seer of unwritten future. Seeds are nodes in a complex web of growth and renewal, a process connecting us to ancient lands and storied ancestors. Seeds are shards of frozen time, representing an embedded constant in our lived experience. Their necessary vitality spreads across all cultures and civilisations. In a very practical sense, seeds are life.
As you may have inferred, I have seeds on my mind of late. A crypt-chill has begun biting at the treeline, and it'll take a few days for this old house to adjust to the dropping temperature. Like its occupants, the house must re-acclimatise to the encroaching frosts and damp mists. For now I've retreated to the comfort and refuge of wool blankets and cups of tea. Turning to the windows, I can see that all but a few plants lie dormant. The last purple flowers of the Aster are wilting, the deciduous tree's have long shed their reddening berries and are now dropping their golden leaves. The dense canopy and verdant understory have retreated, revealing a dark warren, a wooded expanse watched over by looming evergreens.
The forest is hollowing itself out for Winter, exposing its core. The land slows its rhythm in accordance. When you inhabit a space so intimately, this shift in landscape conjures pressing thoughts of the future.
We maintain a small but healthy seed selection here on the flat mountain. Mainly a mixture of heirloom packets bought when we started growing, alongside a miscellany gifted by friends and family, or stolen from other forests and gardens. This selection is now bolstered by our first harvest and the crops that we allowed to fully mature. It's always advisable to allow some of your plants to go to seed this way, in order to be stored and sown anew.
Regardless of origin, these seeds share a common bond. All have been sourced from plants that grow well here in Sweden. The concern seeping into the background of all things is the unpredictability of what might grow well here in Sweden in the future. This has gotten me thinking about the importance of building a more comprehensive and inclusive seed bank, diversifying our existing collection with a range of currently less viable varieties. Think of this as a particularly seed focused form of prepping. One way of bracing for potential climate shifts.
One aspect of this has been to look at the products we buy from the shop and explore what we can replace or off-set those with. Here we find ourselves attempting to balance our produce needs with the amounts that we can reliably grow. To this end I've been researching alternative plants for staples like flour and oil, and I hope to experiment over the next few years with some of these. Ideally I'd like to expand to a community model, where staples like flour and oil are produced collectively from a diversified range of crops, rather relying on a single source.
This speaks to my communal roots, which are planted firmly in anarchism. I hold scant belief in alternative farming movements that merely reproduce capitalist relationships on a more intimate scale. I hold even less belief in modern survivalist fantasies, which have largely emerged from a US-centric frontier mentality and a general mis-education about natural selection and survival-of-the-fittest. This informs my lack of faith in how much of a viable solution I think that the going solo off-grid model represents. Which is not to say that I don't believe we can't learn multitudes from individuals who're going off-grid, and using that sandbox opportunity to explore — or rediscover — all manner of self-sufficiency practices. This is partly what I'm doing myself.
While I'm sure it's possible that a type of individual sustainability may be achieved, I have to sincerely doubt the wider value of this approach as anything but an edge-case. Co-operation and a striving towards community has always been the defining factor in human survival and prosperity. There's a reason we spent around 95% of our history living in a variety of often egalitarian communities* able to share, diversify and adapt subsistence needs among a wide range of practices and sources. The solely individualist approach is — I feel — part of a wider pattern of learned behaviours unique to a culture which wrongly ascribes concepts of violence, greed and selfishness to human nature. This approach is necessarily limited in its scope and potential precisely because it abandons the co-operative adaptation our species excels at.
Ideological approaches to post-capitalist survival aside. Global instabilities made it hard to source certain seeds last year, which is a difficulty I expect to see repeated in time. Pandemic disruption played an exacerbating role, but an unreliable seed market is also one of the million problems tied to our exponential rate of ecosystem destabilisation, soil degradation and species decline. But right now I'm in too good a mood to expend those topics any more thought. After writing this post I'll return to reading 1,200 year old poetry beneath my aforementioned blankets. Warm, content and distracted.
As my mind drifts back towards seeds, I remind myself that I have no idea what's coming next. Whatever awaits us, I suspect that a resilient and locally accessible seed bank may become an increasingly important feature of our future communities, in the event we are forced adapt to mounting pressures of food insecurity.
*I swear this is not the appeal to primitivism that it may at first appear to be. History doesn't tell a story of a bright and noble past any more than it tells a story of a dark and viscous one. History is one big greyscale, offering us only a series of lenses through which to view ourselves, our relationships to others and the environment, as well as a way of exploring the myriad different social structures that we're capable of developing society and culture within. I feel these lenses are important for understanding how we have adapted our way of life and our civilisations many times to many different external and internal factors. History doesn't tell a story of determinism or linear progression, only a story of shifting forms of 'civilisation' picked up and dropped as material and cultural needs dictated. To believe that modern Capitalism represents a time of 'peak achievement' — as so many of our pop-narratives teach us — worth preserving at all costs, is to appeal to an a-historical mythology that takes a complex lived reality and reduces it to fit within a rigid, restrictive frame.