Thursday, July 3, 2014

Seed Stories from the New Mexico Land Office

 Here are Seed Stories from several of the fourth graders who attended the special planting celebration for Earth Day at the New Mexico Land Office.

SeedBroadcasting at New Mexico Land Office

The New Mexico Land Office hosted a special planting celebration for Earth Day in April. This event brought together the State Land Commissioner, Ray Powell, Tesuque Pueblo, Agricultural Director, Emigdio Ballon, Jade Leyva and the Community Seed Mural, SeedBroadcast and the Mobile Seed Story Broadcasting Station, and over 75 fourth graders from several Santa Fe Public Schools. This cross generational spectrum would spend the day sharing the knowledge of ancient seeds, cherishing the beauty of seeds, making sound waves with local seed stories, and in general and with specific intention planting these seeds of wisdom for the future.

During the event, Camilla Romero, who works at the Land Office in Accounting, was spending her day outside in the circular landscape beds along the building. She worked with all the fourth graders to create a healing garden of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and local vegetables, while discussing the uses of these plants and their history. This demonstration garden is meant to inspire curiosity about plants and our relationship to them through acknowledging the botanical culture which heals, nourishes, and brings such diverse beauty to the world.

Here is Camilla’s Seed Story:

Seed: A Collective Voice, Community Seed Mural completed in 2013 was on view in the Land Office Gallery for all to view, while at the front of the building the newest seed mural was underway with students helping to secure seeds to the color coded boards.

Right along Old Santa Fe Trail, the main street in front of the Land Office, a small rectangular urban garden was underway with the three sisters, which is an indigenous polyculture of corn, beans, and squash. Leading this project was Emigdio Ballon who is a plant geneticist and teacher. He spoke with the students about the importance of these ancient food crops and their cyclical relationship with people from seed to seed. The students then worked with Emigdio to plant the small rows of blue corn and squash.

SeedBroadcast had a particularly special time with the groups of students during this whirlwind Seed Story shindig. These kids were filled with great ideas and a knack to tell stories. Many contributed fantastic drawings of seeds, favorite plants, gardens, and botanical ecology to the SeedBroadcast bulletin board, while others put down a few notes on the marker board inside the van.

Seeds were the highlight of the day.

There is something special in the air when you ask a kid if they would like to take seeds home to plant and they mob you with gleaming eyes of excitement, ready to head home with a handful of seeds and get to work in the dirt. Beans, corn, melons, peas, sorghum, cilantro….and others ended up in the pockets of fourth graders to be planted somewhere in a Santa Fe backyard and be shared in bounty through a child’s love of possibility. Many of the students chose varieties or types that they liked to eat, but several had a discerning eye towards something more…there was something about the seed that spoke to them and said take me home.

A very special thanks and shout out to Max Otwell who came by to help out in the Mobile Seed Story Broadcasting Station. Without you it would have been extreme seedy madness. Thank you!

Monday, June 30, 2014

SeedBroadcasting at Pollinator Day, Albuquerque BioPark

Young seed researcher.
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transfered from the anther (male part) to the stigma
(female part) of the plant, there by enabling fertilization and reproduction. This takes place in the angiosperms, the flower bearing plants. (Definition taken from Wikipedia  Only about 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without the assistance of animals this is called Abiotic pollination and the most common form is by the wind.  The more common form of pollination is Biotic which requires pollinators. There are about 200,000 species of pollinators most of which are insects.

One of the discovery stations at the BioPark
 On the summer solstice the Albuquerque BioPark held its Pollinator Day providing many discovery stations and experiential exhibits to inform visitors of the importance of these pollinators to keep our eco-systems healthy and resilient.

Paika with her seed drawing            The BioPark Pollinator Garden

SeedBroadcast was invited to participate by Tallie Segal the education co-ordinator who shared her time and stories with us.

Tallie explained to us that the BioPark is actively saving the seeds of the Sacramento prickly poppy which is an endangered species and the New Mexico beardtongue, an important host for rare Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterflies. The park has a designated seed bank area for this conservation and works in co operation with the U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service, the state of New Mexico and the University of New Mexico to re-seed native habitats.
Exploring how seeds move!

Tallie also provided SeedBroadcast with three enthusiastic interns, who helped to facilitate the running the Mobile Seed Story Broadcasting Station by helping visitors to access the archive of seed stories on the IPads, to looking up and printing seed saving information, helping kids to explore the diversity of seeds and adding to the SeedBroadcast drawing wall, thank you Dominique, Brandon and Renne. Brandon and Renne also shared their own seed stories:

As flowers attract the pollinators, SeedBroadcast attracts the people who are willing the share their seeds of wisdom, then we share this wisdom to keep the cycle alive and resilient. The following is one of these wonderful wisdom stories and if you have not visited the Albuquerque BioPark you should.

Friday, June 20, 2014

SeedBroadcasting at Westcliffe Seed Library

The last stop on the Rocky Mountain Tour was to the Westcliffe Seed Library at the West Custer County Library in Westcliffe, Colorado.

“A Collaborative Effort of People, Non-Profits and The Public Library”

The Westcliffe Seed Library began in 2010 with the joint effort of the library director, local grower Penn Parmenter, and Colorado State University Extension Office. It brought together donated seed from BBB Seed, Tomato Bob’s, Seed Trust, and High Mountain Seeds.

All this seed provides the largest inventory available, but tucked away inside the custom made library cabinet are several packets of locally grown and saved flower, herbs, and vegetable seeds.

Like many seed library systems they use “Easy” “Medium” and “Difficult” to denote the challenge of saving seed from particular varieties and use a check out system to keeping track of the seeds and patrons.

The curation of this living archive is truly a collaborative effort between many interested gardeners, seed savers, librarians, and educators. Being local, growing local, and honoring the local is key. And this does not only apply to the seeds. It is also evident in its location among the stacks of local history, local telephone books, and local references. Local matters here.

Situated next to the Seed Library was a shelf with a potted Hoya plant and a framed picture, which seemed uncanny given the connection of sharing plants, seeds, and stories.

"This plant had grown from slips shared between historic neighbors in Silver Cliff and Westcliffe. Here is the story of this Hoya and its originator Lew Key: “This plant was grown from a slip taken from a plant that stood in the Silver Cliff laundry of Lew Kee. The Hoya plant slip was sent from California by Carolyn Anderson. Her mother (Nell) Cornelia Wadeigh attended the Westcliffe School during the time her father was the Westcliffe train station manager. Mr Key gave Nell’s mother a slip from his original plant and she in turn gave slips to her children and they to their children. These plants have traveled across the United States in places that Lew Key never dreamed of traveling.”

Current library director, Amy Moulton sat down with SeedBroadcast and shared her thoughts on the Westciffe Seed Library and their goals to make it grow. Here is Amy’s seed story:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

SeedBroadcasting with Penn and Cord Parmenter

In 2012, right before the Mobile Seed Story Broadcasting Station national tour from New Mexico to Vermont, I spoke with Cord Parmenter on the phone and he talked about the many exciting high-altitude crop adaptations and greenhouse experiments he and his wife Penn were conducting. But, the plan to kick of the tour with them in Westcliffe, Colorado had to be changed at the last minute due to retrofits to the Broadcasting Station and time constraints.

But finally, two years later, on the last leg of the Rocky Mountain Tour, SeedBroadcast meandered (slowly) up over the Continental Divide and eastwards towards Westcliffe, Colorado, to meet up with these two joyous and dedicated small scale, four season, extreme gardeners, seed savers, and greenhouse innovators.

Penn and Cord’s garden began in 1991 with a camper, woodstove, and mixed wooded-meadow land in the Wet Mountains at 8120’ above sea level. With determination to prove wrong the accusations of assured failure, Penn states, “We grow food here because we were told we could not.”

And this, they have surely done.

Over the last 23 years they have experimented with designing and building thermal-mass greenhouses, implementing biomimicry as an efficient and provocative garden teacher, passing on this knowledge to others through workshops and lectures, and developing high-altitude corn, pumpkin, and Penn’s real passion, tomatoes. This has also encouraged a life-long relationship with their plants as seed keepers.

Cord recollects his first inspiration for his greenhouse design from a book called “Food and Heat Producing Solar Greenhouse,” which someone had long ago borrowed and never returned. He remembered as much as he could and began building experimental prototypes in the garden and tweaking these to accommodate new design innovations.

The basic premise is to create a greenhouse that requires no additional heating or cooling from resource intensive outside energy inputs, such as electricity or gas. The key to this passive system is the sun, a southern facing structure with angled glazing, and the back wall lined with 50 gallon barrels of water to regulate high desert temperature fluctuations. These basic elements can pull tomatoes through a -31 degree F winter night!

This simple structure is not only hyper-efficient, it can also maximize growing potential with both permanent perennial beds and hanging gardens accommodating hundred of start flats and pots.

They have also designed many other passive structures that function as permanent bed high tunnels, half tunnels, boxes, and understory beds and hanging baskets, which are protected by the natural canopy of evergreens.

In their permanent growing areas, Penn and Cord use John Jeavon’s Bio-Intensive method of growing which allows for closer plantings, creates resilient soils, and retains moisture, reducing the need to water in this arid mountain climate.

Penn’s seed saving adventure began with her desire to grow tomatoes where everyone else gives up, in the high mountains. She attended Seed School in 2010, came home and harvested over 10 lbs of seeds, and never looked back. She now grows over 130 varieties and offers her adapted seed for sale through her seed company called High Mountain Seeds, through Seeds Trust, at the local Westcliffe Seed Library, and she is now a part of the newly formed Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.

She said, “I didn’t know I was a seed saver until it happened to me.” And this begins her life long acquaintance with not only seed, but also other seed keepers around the world.

Here is a one of many seed stories that Penn shared. This one about Pop’s Tomato, an heirloom tomato entrusted to her and the journey it took to reconnect with its lost heritage.

You can also hear more on this story at A Sense of Place, Episode 2: Pop's Tomato, by Sarah Stockdale at

Penn not only grows out all these tomatoes and seeds she also is developing an online archive with images and descriptions. She relishes this time sitting down with each tomato in hand and tasting its delicate nature, while poetically naming its characteristics.

And with all her success growing and adapting Candy Mountain Sweet Corn, Kinko 6” Chantenay Carrots, Northern Bush Pumpkin, and a motley crew of tomatoes, all this effort does not always end in success. Sometimes failures are also important, teaching us to stretch our thinking and our practices to learn and grow with seed.

In 2013, Penn agreed to grow out the instantaneously famous Carl’s Glass Gem Corn for Seeds Trust. With an unusually cool and rainy summer all the crops where thriving in green. As Penn said, “It was bizarre, but the corn seemed unconcerned about its destiny to reproduce and make seed. It just seemed happy growing and swaying in the breeze.” By late August and with the relatively short growing season at 8120’ Penn began to worry when no tasseling occurred. It just kept growing and growing, until a hail storm became its destiny, stimulating this corn's need to get moving, tassel, pollinate, and make seed…..or was it Penn’s Corn Dance?

In the end, it was too late. Even with the effort to build an instantaneous greenhouse around it, all the corn grew, tasseled, and began pollinating, but not before rains and the heavy cold of fall settled.

Penn relates this as extremely devastating, but not the end of her effort. In fact, in 2014 she is planting another trial of Carl’s Glass Gem and she is determined to keep trying what might seem impossible.

“If a ponderosa can grow out of rock, you can grow seed in soil” – Penn Parmenter

To keep up with Penn and Cord visit their garden blog at: