AppalachianHistory.net recently featured a post from a good friend of mine, Jonathan Winskie. For those of you unaware, Joanthan is the red headed menace on the About Me page. His post focuses on heirloom seeds and their ability to forge “metaphoric ‘bridges'” by serving as “vessels to facilitate deep and powerful connections between community members, students and potentially, the future.” The North Georgia Appalachia Studies Center has focused on heirloom seeds for a few years, presenting research at conferences and giving presentations in Washington, D.C. I felt I would give Jonathan a bump from my readership and hopefully intrigue some discussion about heirloom seeds and their communal properties. Below is an excerpt from Jonathan’s post, but I invite you to follow the link above to the original website. It has some terrific art work as a part of their presentation as well as photographs of the people involved.
For many of the students involved, the heirloom seed project served to rectify the problem by creating a dialogue between student and community member, and thus, I hope, the beginnings of a sense of mutual understanding and respect. In talking with my fellow students, many of them view this as an invaluable part of their college career. Several maintain contact with the community members with whom they worked, and I would venture to say that almost all see this project as personally and academically enriching.
Though there may have been some initial confusion as to our intentions, the reaction from the community towards our project and our students has been generally positive, with many being proud to share a little bit of their culture with those outside of their mountain town. I hope that we have built a bridge between campus and community that will continue to be mutually enriching and beneficial for years to come.
I feel that this project has the potential to build a bridge between the present generations and those of the future. In a world of growing dissatisfaction with corporate agribusiness, harmful chemicals, and genetic viability of food, heirloom vegetables offer a potential sustainable and healthy alternative. Many of our “seedkeepers” remarked that they practice heirloom gardening not out of necessity, but out of a desire to maintain some sense of autonomy and control over their food. Some practice heirloom gardening in order to help maintain genetic diversity among plant species. In heirloom gardening we can see the beginnings of social and environmental activism, and thus we have a potential blueprint for helping to create a more sustainable future for all.
I’ll let you read the rest on the original website. Personally, I think Jonathan makes some quality inferences about the heirloom seed in the modern world and how a concentration on what seems like a minuscule topic can bring people together. I believe it does more than metaphorically bridge the community of Lumpkin County to the University of North Georgia. It also bridges a generational gap, fostering connections between old and young Appalachians, as Jonathan alludes to. Additionally, it dispels stereotypes, tying the mountainous community to a more ‘mainstream’ college crowd. It allows these students from diverse backgrounds to the see world absent of prejudice and ridicule. I posed two questions on the original website to Jonathan’s post and I’d like to add a couple more to consider. Perhaps a decent discussion will formulate as a result.
1.) Given the ever shrinking minority of people who farm for subsistence and/or supplement, how many connections can heirloom seeds actually foster? In the answer is few, does that render this project moot?
2.) How many of the college students involved in the project at North Georgia, or the younger generations as you stated, are Appalachians? Will they foster that culture in Appalachia and/or take it elsewhere?
3.) Does the project help Appalachia(ns) or our understanding of the Appalachian region? Does it help to spread the culture beyond the mountains? Can this model of heirloom seeds connecting communities be applied elsewhere?
4.) How does the heirloom seed project foster growth of the North Georgia Appalachian Studies Center, and by consequence, the University of North Georgia?