The Clerestory Podcast S1 E25

The Oklahoma Tenant Farmer and Me
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Seed Stewardship with Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance

Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) is a grassroots, non-profit organization working for food security, seed diversity, and climate integrity in the Rocky Mountain West. RMSA teaches seed stewardship - saving seeds that are "carefully grown, skillfully selected for saving, and securely stored" to share within community and with future generations - and ethical grain production to individuals, activists, organizations, and policymakers. By reclaiming the ancient tradition of seed stewardship, RMSA helps to build a healthier, more robust, and ecologically sound food system.

John Caccia, the co-founder of RMSA, and Renée Fourie, RMSA's outreach coordinator, share how seed stewardship heals communities and the planet and the unfolding vision for this vital work with Clerestory.

What was the landscape of your childhood, and how did this context prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

John Caccia (JC): Completely opposite upbringing growing up in the home of the head football coach at Idaho State University... Albeit my mother was an organic gardener and composter! I was aware that my family’s diet was healthier than that of my peers and this no doubt helped the three Caccia siblings to excel in sports and academics as we were growing up and later professionally as adults.

Renée Fourie (RF): I grew up in middle-class suburbia like many other people in our American culture. My father was the middle son of a family of 10 and excelled in white-collar business America. My mother, an adventurous immigrant from the Pacific Islands, understood gardening first-hand: her family needed to grow foods that would sustain them. But upon arriving at the "American Dream," she easily adapted to the immediate satisfaction provided by the grocery store. She never taught me how to garden, but she did teach me how to cook - teaching me to stay away from processed food - and always stressed the importance of family sitting together to slow down and enjoy a home-cooked meal. Together. I was not raised in a food-growing world, but my upbringing embraced values aligned with the seed-saving world: bringing people together around food, appreciating the work of preparing and cooking meals, and the joy of sharing.

I wonder if you might share the early vision for Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance? How has this vision evolved since?

JC: There was a concern from a group of kindred spirits about the loss of biodiversity and regionally adapted cultivar varieties. RMSA was founded with the intention to create a more holistic food growing and seed saving paradigm to serve as an alternative to the insurgence of trans-genetically modified seeds, the increasing use of herbicides and patented “ownership” of the majority of the world’s seed supply by large chemical companies. After seven years, RMSA has kept our core vision and mission which revolves around education and the development of program content, which serves to connect individuals and communities to the seeds that support them. Our organization has recently evolved rather significantly after nine months of “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” training. This training included the participation of both Board and Staff and resulted in the drafting of our Organizational Health Principles.

Educational programming lies at the heart of your work. What are the most important lessons learned in seed or grain school?

RF: There has been a major loss of seed diversity since the increase of commercial farming, GMOs, and seed patenting, and seed diversity means food security for the future. Saving seeds can be done by anyone. When you learn how to save seeds, you are taking part in an ancient tradition of your ancestors and contributing positively to the ecological cycles of the planet.

Field Day

Field Day

What do you wish the general public understood most about “seed stewardship”?

JC: It is not that difficult to become a very proficient seed saver yourself. If you enjoy gardening, you will love seed saving!

RF: Stewarding seeds means caring for, nurturing, and adapting seeds over time and preserving the genetic diversity of open-pollinated plants to a particular region. Seed stewardship is vital to increasing the lost seed diversity in the expanding, commercialized food system we know today. Today, as much as 70% of our intake is sourced from staple cereal crops planted in large-scale annual monocultures. Compared to individual seed stewardship, commercial systems cannot duplicate the demands and influences of all the varying regions to securely maintain a diverse food system for the future.

How does seed stewardship help heal both our communities and our planet?

RF: Seed stewardship reconnects individuals with the land, the dwindling art of growing food, and their food source. An appreciation develops while nurturing and growing from seed. The bounty is something to be proud of, and people become inclined to share the "fruits of their labor" with others.

Tarp Grain Cleaning

Grain School in a Day

Grain School in a Day

“Honoring origins” and “accountability” are two of RMSA's guiding principles. How are these principles expressed in your work today, and how do you plan to strengthen these commitments in your work moving forward?

RF: We honor the origins of seeds and their journey across time and space. Cultures and seeds have co-adapted and these stories must be heard and honored as they have produced what we grow and consume today, helping us to learn how to care for the seeds and others.

RMSA is an organization which embraces diversity, equity, inclusion, and the rights of nature - just like we appreciate the diversity in seeds. Like a seed, we respond and adapt with the changing environment. We recognize the inequities in the world and will respond justly, continue to listen, and strive to learn to grow along with the community.

What do you love most about the work you do?

JC: I love all the amazing gardeners, farmers, and seed people I meet and interact with!

RF: The people. The community of people who appreciate seeds is different from other communities I have experienced. They take pride in working with the land, being outdoors, appreciating their food, and truly love to share their bounty.

Founder, John Caccia, pictured left.

Circle of RMSA staff and members with Dr. Vandana Shiva.

Where are you finding inspiration these days?

JC: In nature, learning about seeds, bees and trees, in playing music and through creating regenerative earth art.

RF: When I see the spark in the eyes of people who understand the beauty, resilience, and spirit of seeds, I realize that we have a new seed saver in our midst. Once the magic of seeds is grasped, I know they will be building their own community of seed savers and exponentially increasing this nearly-lost art of seed saving, commonly practiced by all our ancestors..

Is there anything else you’d like to share about RMSA’s upcoming work?

JC: I am hoping we will secure the funding needed to support our innovative micro-grants program into the future and to increase our organization’s capacity so we can add a “Tree Stewards” program to our educational and interactive content.

RF: We are enhancing the online experience for education with new technology...which is very exciting! Utilizing the long reach of online education, we are able to connect with more diverse audiences while still maintaining a stimulating and fun learning experience. Grain School Online is our next 8-week online course, and the online experience is already going to be more immersive than our previous offerings.


Follow Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Learn more about Seed School, Grain School, and becoming a Seed Steward.

Join the Gathering of Grain Growers virtual call on the first Thursday of the month, or the online Seed Social on the third Thursday of the month.

Donate to Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.

Sarah James is the editor-in-chief and founder of Clerestory Magazine. A graduate of Yale and Middlebury, Sarah is a biracial South Indian-American woman of color and a writer. You can find her work elsewhere in The Porch, Darling, and Relevant, among others, or on her website.

Discover more from Sarah James.