Reflection on the Seed School Teachers’ Training in Cebu

Reflection on the Seed School Teachers’ Training in Cebu

I am Elizabeth Martin. I am a seed saver and organic practitioner based here in Tawang, La Trinidad, Benguet. I am also the Field Coordinator of Global Seed Savers Philippines (GSSP).

Last August 24-26, 2022, my companions from BASS and I went to Cebu to attend a seminar on Seed School Teacher’s Training (SSTT).

 There were seven of us who attended the SSTT – three (3) were from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) and four (4) from the Cebu Seed Savers (CSS). The SSTT was held at the office of the Communities for Alternative Food Ecosystem (CAFEi) in Guadalupe, Cebu.

This is the second SSTT conducted by GSSP. The first one was held in Batangas some time ago. The goal of the training was to prepare us to become future seed school trainers.

Prior to the SSTT, I attended the seed savers training as a participant. The topics during the seed school were focused on seed saving. It included a discussion on the history of seed saving, why we should save seeds, as well as the skills needed to preserve seeds. Meanwhile, the SSTT was focused on self-awareness and communication skills. The SSTT also included a short course on seed saving.

During SSTT, I learned to appreciate myself better. I have also learned how I can better appreciate seeds and other people in my daily life. The training made me realize that by being aware of myself, I can deal better with others because like a seed, each one of us is unique.

I have also realized that in this life, everything comes in phases. Learning should not only be confined inside the four walls of the school. Learning can also come through our daily experiences. I have learned that these lessons can be used to create a more peaceful and enjoyable tomorrow.

Being Healthy–What’s Community and Sovereignty Got To Do With It?

Being Healthy–What’s Community and Sovereignty Got To Do With It?

The question was at the heart of the GSS’s invitation to sit on the BINHI community advisory board (CAB) to explore this research question. 

For a long time, like most people, I thought health was solely a personal matter. Being healthy rested mainly on individual choice and a strong resolve, while poor health was often cast as a personal failure. Community meant creating a support system to keep us motivated, such as going to the gym with a friend or doing Meatless Mondays as family. And food sovereignty? It sounded a remote concern when it came to health–how does one begin to approach it?

Needless to say, I was intrigued. Working in community-supported agriculture, we saw how essential it was to unlearn old notions and offer alternative ways of looking at our food to begin the work of change.  

For instance, growing up in a family where diabetes began to afflict most adults in their late 30s and early 40s, we grew up thinking the path to health was paved with self-denial. The list of food don’ts was long. In my mid-30s, I subscribed to a Good Food CSA farm share as a form of “health insurance” on top of an HMO membership. (Full disclosure, I joined this CSA in 2020.

…community-supported agriculture is a solidarity model where consumers agree to share the risks, rewards, and responsibilities of food production with the farmers by subscribing to a season’s harvest.

And something shifted. Yes, eating more organic fruits and vegetables is indisputably good for us, and certainly, my weekly gulay (vegetable) supply contributed to my general well-being. But the change was deeper–and it came from meeting the farmers who grew the food I was eating and encountering a whole new dimension to the idea of community when it came to food and health. 

Briefly, community-supported agriculture is a solidarity model where consumers agree to share the risks, rewards, and responsibilities of food production with the farmers by subscribing to a season’s harvest. Assured of a market under CSA, farmers can grow food in the best possible way, and eaters are guaranteed a weekly basket of organically grown fruits and vegetables.

Such interdependence helps rebuild the relationship between farmers and eaters, and the farm trips I joined had been vital to repairing the connection, which had been severed by industrialized production and global food supply chains as diets modernized, the work behind food became invisible, and individual preferences and convenience became paramount. 

 

Meeting the farmers and helping with the farmwork on those visits, we saw firsthand the backbreaking labor that our farmers did daily to grow our food. I remember joining a rice planting activity in Capas, Tarlac, and swearing at the end of it never to take any grain of rice for granted ever again. We saw the farmers’ commitment to organic production despite it being labor intensive because they knew that reliance on pesticides would make them sick and trap them in a vicious cycle of debt. They have seen it happen many times to other farmers. We heard them talk about their work with a great sense of stewardship for nature and an awareness of their responsibility to serve safe and nutritious food not just to their families but equally to their customers in the city. Indeed, if food is meant to nourish, then it should not be grown with poison. 

And oh how we looked forward to harvesting fruits and vegetables that we would then cook and eat together! So diverse and full of flavor-–so unlike the giant perfect produce in the supermarket! We learned how much delicious diversity and nutrient density were tied to how the farmers cared for the soil and bred the best traits using organic open-pollinated seeds. These days whenever people say “hindi masarap ang gulay” [vegetables are not delicious] or “walang lasa ang gulay,”[vegetables taste bland] I think, “That’s because you haven’t tasted our farmers’ gulay.”

These days whenever people say “hindi masarap ang gulay” [vegetables are not delicious] or “walang lasa ang gulay,”[vegetables taste bland] I think, “That’s because you haven’t tasted our farmers’ gulay.”

Back in the city-–where individualism and competition are prized pathways to independence, where food is among the dominant signifiers of class differences, where one person’s daily latte budget is equivalent to another person’s daily wage—I was jolted into realizing how my ability to live a healthy life and reach my aspirations of well being do not rest solely on my tenacity or my willpower or my drive to “just do it.” 

In the fields of Capas, Bauko, Tublay, and Nueva Vizcaya, there are farmers who support our wellbeing–and it starts with their ability to support their own. Their diverse, organic farms meant food and nutrition security for their families first and foremost. Partaking of the same harvest through this farmer-eater friendship secures our food and health in the city as well. That other eaters were subscribing to CSA and altering their beliefs and habits around food also showed the necessity of interdependence to support this new way of living beyond oneself and one’s household but for a bigger community, for the whole of society even.

Understanding the intersections of food, health, and community, ushered by recognizing this interdependence, helped prepare me to expand the intersections further into food sovereignty. 

Listening to the various grassroots experiences of the different members of the BINHI community advisory board in their work with small farmers and indigenous peoples, I saw how food sovereignty was essential to a whole-of-society approach and how it is critical in this age of pandemic and climate crisis, which will affect how we can feed our nation in these times of emergency.  

This was a valuable exposure given how, admittedly in the past, I would often relegate the concept of food sovereignty to the sidelines even as I saw the importance of community and mutuality in the work of food justice. 

I thought food and nutrition insecurity needed to be “solved first” before introducing the more complicated concept that is food sovereignty–a way of thinking conditioned by linear, top-down, technocratic approaches to problem-solving. I had failed to realize that the problem of hunger, poverty and nutrition insecurity were closely intertwined with a people or a community’s ability to assert their rights and power over resources such as land, seeds, water, etc., to be able to feed themselves in an ecological, healthy, democratic, and culturally appropriate manner, i.e., food sovereignty.  

Food sovereignty shows the possibility of health for all because it challenges the dominant food system, crudely described above, that entrenches the systemic issues that make hunger, malnutrition, and disease run rampant in our society. 

 

For instance, the landlessness of the majority of Filipino farmers leaves them no choice but to enter into tenancy arrangements that keep them unable to shift to sustainable farming practices and buried in debt. They become hired laborers and daily wage earners in corporate mega-farms that grow monocrops and are reliant on pesticides to be able to efficiently feed the maws of the industrial food complex and churn out ultra-processed convenience foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt, foods have been stripped not only of nutrients but of the necessary contexts that food should come with so that we can see their value beyond the fleeting dopamine hits that feed food addictions giving rise to chronic lifestyle diseases, obesity, and malnutrition, and leaving our farmers perpetually poor and hungry. 

Food sovereignty shows the possibility of health for all because it challenges the dominant food system, crudely described above, that entrenches the systemic issues that make hunger, malnutrition, and disease run rampant in our society. 

Are we truly healthy if others are not? Is it truly well-being if other people are exploited and the planet is destroyed in the process? 

Hearing about the work of the CAB members showed me how important it is to put food sovereignty in the center of conversations and actions if we want health not just for ourselves but for everyone, and that we should not be daunted by the challenges that the dream of food sovereignty opens up, and that it is the community that keeps us brave, the load easier to carry, and the dream possible. 

Wonderful Reconnections and Meetings in Cebu and Now onto the FAO in New Delhi, India.

Wonderful Reconnections and Meetings in Cebu and Now onto the FAO in New Delhi, India.

I arrived safely to New Delhi early this morning after a wonderful first five days in the Philippines in Cebu. I really hit the ground running when I arrived last Saturday and despite some unfortunate changes to our plans (due to illness of a colleague) my time in Cebu while short, was oh so sweet and productive! First stop was the Saturday and Sunday Cebu Farmers Markets. What a joy to connect in person with the entire CAFEi Team (our partner NGO) and many of our dedicated Cebu partner farmers! We shared laughs, stories of their on-going recovery from Typhoon Odette, and some talks of future plans! More to come on this all!

A warm welcome on Saturday at the Cebu Farmers Market

We also had a wonderful planning meeting with CAFEi on Monday. Teresa and her team have a bold vision for Cebu food and seed sovereignty, and we continue to be honored to collaborate with them on these cross-cutting issues. Collaboration in this work is not easy, it takes deep time and care to foster healthy working and personal relationships amongst partners, and I am so grateful that we have found a partner that is equally committed to these values and work ethic, as all at CAFEi are. It was particularly special to get such wonderful quality 1-1 time with Teresa. She is a dear friend and sounding board as a fellow organizational founder/leader and I will always treasure how the universe opened the door for more of this space during my short stay in Cebu! All roads lead to more GSS Team members to charge our vision for Cebu forward!

Planning meeting with Team CAFEi and GSS

I also traveled north on the island to Arapal to visit GSS team member Harry at our seed production site. It was very special to get 1-1 time with Harry also and discuss his plans and visions for the future with local seed production and more. I had shared with the team before I left the US that having quality 1-1 time with each team member during this trip was a key priority for me and I am so happy to have kicked this off with Harry in Arapal.

I loved seeing our seed production site in action and am very excited for our yearend report about the planting cycles and which crops did best! Larger dedicated spaces for these types of seed trials are an essential step in responding to the climate realities our partner farmers face. Not only growing seeds but studying and learning what seeds survive these changes will supply the food of the future for our partner communities and indeed the world! Thank you for leading these efforts at Arapal Harry and more seed production sites in new regions of the country to come soon!

Now, on to the FAO 9th Session of the Governing Body for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (say that 10 times fast 😉 here in New Delhi, India! Wow, what an incredible opportunity this is going to be for us this next week. Not only to reconnect in person with our mentor and dear friend Bill McDorman who connected us to this all. Bill and I have already spent the day talking for hours about our work the importance of our presence here and more, but to be an active participant in this complex international gathering that sets the policy and practices that govern our food and seed systems is truly amazing! The official session begins in a few days and walking into the main hall as they were setting up earlier today gave me chills!

The main hall for the sessions

Our world is an ever-growing complex place and now more than ever we must be able to come together to collectively solve the greatest challenges of our time. What could be more important to undertake and change for the better than the ability for ALL communities to grow, protect, and preserve their diverse food and seed systems that feed and sustain us all. That is what this treaty and the many parallel treaties and declarations of the United Nations are meant to be protecting and Global Seed Savers is humbled and honored to get to be in the room for these deliberations and play a hand in shaping their future. Most importantly as the theme for the session states, “Celebrating the Guardians of Crop Diversity.” For us, these guardians are our dedicated partner farmers at GSS and the millions of others around the globe. Ensuring their rights and perspective remain core to these treaties continued evolution will be a tremendous responsibility and honor. I am also thrilled to share that we have been accepted to host a side event on Thursday to share more about our work. This will be a wonderful opportunity for our model and efforts across the Philippines to be highlighted and to hopefully build pathways to deeper collaborations in the future.

These very beliefs and understanding of the humanity that connects us all, is what Eleanor Roosevelt brought to her visionary idea and key leadership role in the forming of the United Nations in 1945 (the FAO is agriculture arm of the UN). A deep belief that by coming together across our geographic borders, our differences in culture, identities, and belief systems we can build a better world that is committed to shared values of justice and peace. Time and time again, we have seen in our work that seeds are an essential bridge to breaking down these barriers. Nothing more fundamentally connects us all than food and the cultural connections and stories food resonates and facilitates and seeds are small, but oh so powerful common thread to this all!

Looking forward to sharing more updates and reflections as the Governing Body Sessions begins in the coming days!

Departures, Reflections, and the Familiar Yet Unknown Ahead

Departures, Reflections, and the Familiar Yet Unknown Ahead

As many of you know, I leave very early tomorrow morning (Friday) at 1:30am PST for 6 weeks of work travel in the Philippines and India. I am en-route at the Seattle Airport right now, phew… here I go!!  Preparing for this trip has been filled with many emotions as I have not been to the Philippines since December 2019. The world has changed so much in this seemingly short period of time and so much has expanded, deepened, and grown for the entire Global Seed Savers Community and me, during these challenging and beautiful years for our world.  

For me, the foundation of our work at Global Seed Savers has always been about deep personal relationships. These relationships began to germinate and take root when I sat at this very Seattle airport, 16 years ago preparing to leave for another big unknown, my Peace Corps service in the Philippines. This experience living, learning, and working side by side the Cosalan Family at ENCA Farm, and immersing myself in the culture and realities of the Philippines for 2.5 years was incredibly transformative and will always be my origin story of our evolving work and my love of the Philippines.

These last two years have opened space for lots of reflection for me personally and for us as an evolving organization. This process has not always been easy, most good things are not, it has been so challenging to watch the suffering across the world, it has been difficult to feel isolated and physically cut off from each other, and it has also been two of the largest years of growth and deepening our commitment to our mission at Global Seed Savers in our history!  

In the last two years we have: more than doubled our revenue year over year, enabling us to grow our team from 3 staff to a team of 7, and despite the many challenges our farmers and community partners continue to face, there is one thing that has remained consistent, our deep commitment to our simple but frankly very profound mission. Restoring communities’ abilities to grow their own food and preserve cultural traditions and values through saving their own seeds. Often in our sector, people want to talk about innovation and doing the “next big thing.” However, we are Global Seed Savers have always been deeply rooted in the firm belief that our work is about restoring a tradition and practice that has always worked. We are helping communities and even more so, they are helping us, remember our interconnectedness through the simple act of saving a seed and replanting them time and time again.  

I can share our impact numbers and metrics and you can visit our website to see these and learn more, but more than that, our work is about slow, steady change for communities. It is about restoring relationships to the land, to the seed, to culture, to each other. It is about remembering our interconnectedness! And for me, this is what this trip is also going to be about. Reconnecting to a land, people and place that I love!

This will also be the first time we are all gathering in person as a team! While Zoom has certainty made our global work not require travel, you really cannot replace the in person and I am so looking forward to our four day staff retreat next month and time face to face with the dedicated and wonderful people that make GSS tick and operate on the ground! We are not just colleagues, but we really are a family that genuinely cares for each other.

This trip will also be about a big new adventure and opportunity for growth for Global Seed Savers. Thanks to our mentor and dear friend Bill McDorman, we have been accepted to attend the FAO 9th Governing Body Session on the Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources in New Delhi, India in mid-September. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this exciting FAO gathering and learn, contribute, and ensure that the voices of the true heroes in agriculture are represented, our dedicated partner farmers. At this critical moment in history there has never been a more important time to advocate for the restoration of local food and seed systems. We will also be spending three days at Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s farm in outside of Dehradun.  

My wonderful colleague and dear friend Karen often says, “When you hold a seed, you are holding the past, present and future.”  This is a fitting statement for all I am feeling as I begin this journey. Just like the seeds our farmers grow, I am holding all of these things’ memories of my past trips and times in the Philippines, the current realities facing our world and our work, and also holding immense gratitude and hope for all that will unfold during these next 6 weeks.

Thank you for being part of our ever-growing community and Global Seed Savers and thank you for being a strong support to me!

Next update from the ground in Cebu!

Ingat/Amping!

Sherry