I am a farmer’s daughter, and though all thought I would marry a farmer, I became my own farmer. We can trace farming back more than 7 generations in my family, back to those who left Ireland so long ago. So why do I mention this? Because as of late the idea has been weighing heavily on my mind. At last week’s GMO round table, here in Hawaii, I watched people’s head dip low in shame when I mentioned my family legacy with the earth. You see, I don’t “look” like what they think a farmer should look like, and that makes it evermore easy for the pro-GMO clan to dismiss my optimism as the result of being young and silly. But the next generation of farmers looks an awful lot like me, and many, like me, want to return to the farming ways of our own ancestors.
The way I look at it, just by living and breathing all of that farming knowledge throughout my childhood has put me above the rookie category from the get go. So ever more often, when the topic of GMO vegetables comes up, I notice that more are averting their eyes, and changing the subject. I know where my ancestors would stand on things. They were proud of their “family” tomatoes, beans, potatoes and the like. My Brother continues to garden and he grows the same variety of tomatoes that my Grandmother did. Needless to say, that is a wonderful link to a woman that shaped our childhoods. The downside is that kind of seed connection between generations may not always be a possibility.
One issue that never gets brought up by any of the Big Island GMO panel discussions is that when we lose our tie to the seed, we shatter our ties to the many thousands of years of food knowledge that bonds us to both our human family, and to the plants that feed us. This link to ancestral intelligence, along with the pride in growing the food that they did, is what helps people get through hard times. You are never alone, as you carry your ancestors with you. Sometimes we have physical reminders like a pocket watch from a grandfather. At other times, the tie to a people and a place are contained within a tiny seed. The Native Hawaiians and other First Nation Peoples get it, as do many regional farmers who pride themselves in growing what their ancestors did. Any farmer who ever left their homeland did so with seed in their pocket, guaranteed. My family is no exception.
When people ask “how long am I going to farm?” I never have an answer, because farming is a gift. It is a calling. I think about seed a lot these days, and I have to say that I feel successful as a small farmer, because people hug me a lot. I mean a lot. Sometimes I get hugs everywhere I go. It isn’t so much me, but it is my actions, and my interest in their family history. By seeking out the ancient and historic seeds, I am using my skills with the land to rekindle people’s ties to their own ancestors. By planting, nurturing, and harvesting the food of their ancestors, I am tied in with their family. That is why they hug me, and that is why I keep speaking up for those who came before us.