Nourish Celebrates Bayanihan Spirit!
Once again, it is that time of year, when I am off to the Philippines for my annual trip! It always feels like a big push to make this trip happen, but once I am sitting (as I am now) at the gate in Seattle, the rush to get here fades away and my excitement for the next 5 weeks begins to set in.
My departure always follows our Annual Nourish Celebration and this years’ event was one for the books! On Saturday, October 26th over 130 guests gathered at the Posner Center for International Development to celebrate all things seeds, Filipino Food, and community. Sharing a beautiful Kamayan Feats guests enjoyed this communal style of Filipino eating with bare hands, which made for a festive and visually stunning experience. (more…)
Farm Visits, Board Planning and More!
Auntie Mary’s beautiful organic farm sits along a small riverbed and she is a true organic practitioner having farmed organically the last 15 years, since a personal heath scare during her last child’s birth. She is a new member of BASS and plants a wide diversity of organic crops including okra, lettuce, beans, adlay (a Filipino native grain), and especially exciting is her native corn!! The Philippines is SE Asia largest producer of GMO Corn, with over 800,000 hectares planted around the country. Considering that corn wind pollinates up to 10 km, some studies are starting to show that all the corn in these densely GMO planted areas might be contaminated. It is a real treasure that Auntie Mary has native corn and she is excited to keep growing it out at her isolated farm and share seeds with BASS farmers and our Seed Library in Tublay.
We also visited BASS Members Fely and Pastor Jun (a new member of BASS and the current President of the Tublay Organic Farmers Association). I have known Fely for many years, since my early Peace Corps days and this was my first time to visit her farm. Set just below the ridgeline of Coroz in Tublay she has a wide and beautiful farm full of coffee (she partners with another NGO to export to Japan) and a wide diversity of vegetables including herbs and squash. We toured the area she had dedicated to saving seeds, but sadly her greenhouse was destroyed in the recent typhoons. We are still formalizing how to share the funds raised to support all the BASS members impacted by the recent typhoons. In total, BASS Farmers suffered over $20,000 USD in damages. To date we have raised just over $2,500 to support their continued recovery and any additional gifts are much appreciated and will go a long way to ensuring BASS Farmers can continue to propagate quality seeds. Donations can be made via our website: https://globalseedsavers.giv.sh/ba3e.
Pastor Jun’s Farm is located one ridgeline North of Fely’s and feels like a hidden gem as you walk the steep pine tree path into the woods and turn a corner to see a magical secret garden. Pastor is new to organic farming but already has a wide diversity of crops including dill, cucumber, carrots, beets, and more. His farm is in a perfect location for our continued seed trials and increased seed production, because it is well isolated and already proving to be fertile land. Pastor is excited to conduct carrot seed saving trails in the coming months and expand his seed saving knowledge as a new member of BASS.
GSSP Board Retreat and Planning
As you might remember, last year we registered our Philippine Counterpart NGO Global Seed Savers Philippines. It has been a fruitful year for the organization starting to gain local funding support and formalize their board roles and action steps. I have enjoyed getting to help guide this process with the Philippines Board and last week Sunday-Tuesday Karen, Padma (a longtime friend and the GSSP Board President) and I gathered in La Union at the beach for a two-day working retreat. It was the perfect relaxing setting to reflect, make plans, and brainstorm our future and continued growth. Priority topics included: local board development, an assessment of the current strengths on the board and what we are missing, we also laid out ambitions programs plans for the coming three years including:
- Hosting 6 seed schools in 2019
- Hosting a Philippines Wide Seed Summit in 2019
- Launching at least 8 new seed libraries by 2021
- Hiring more local staff to manage our growth to new regions and more!
It is an honor to be building this organization with Padma and Karen and I am excited to see where 2019 takes us after a fruitful and productive retreat. Also, special shout out to Nash another Philippines Board Member currently getting her Masters Degree in Belgium who joined us via SKYPE for day one of the retreat.
This has by far been my busiest trip to the Philippines in recent history; between conferences, travel all over the country, new partner development meetings, and lots of time spent with Karen planning, formalizing processes, and reflecting on our last three years of growth and impact! I am excited to head to Sagada tomorrow for some R and R to round off my final week here in the Philippines.
There is so much momentum for Global Seed Savers right now and I am excited to continue to support our Philippines Team and Farmers as we grow and ensure more farmers have access to locally produced non-chemical seeds!
Thank you for following along and all of your support for our work!
Beautiful Reunions, Permaculture Convergence and Cebu Collaborations
It has been a very busy and productive two weeks here in the Philippines. Wow hard to believe it has already been two weeks! It was wonderful to arrive and stay with my dear friend and our Philippines Board President Padma and her family. They have a beautiful oasis of an old family home right off of Taft and ESDA in the heart of Metro Manila. For any of you that have been to the Philippines you know that this is a jam packed, dense, loud, crowded area of what I affectionately call “The Big Smoke” (Metro Manila). So it was a breath of fresh air after a long journey to stay in their lovely ancestral home with high ceilings, friendly faces, and comforting delicious Filipino Food for one night.
The next day we had a leisurely drive North to Baguio City, and as we started to crest up the mountainside the air began to change and the cool pine tree breeze and familiar energy of Baguio City greeted us. While the city is ever increasing in traffic and noise it is always wonderful to return to the mountains and my second home here in the North. The following day Padma launched her book “Green Entanglements: Nature Conservation and Indigenous Peoples Rights in Indonesia and the Philippines.” A beautiful culmination of her PhD and time spent living, learning, and listening to indigenous communities about the many entanglements our modern world can present for nature conservation and IP communities. It was a wonderful book launch to honor Padma’s hard work and turned into a fantastic reunion of many Baguio City friends gathering to celebrate Padma and reconnect.
2nd Philippine Permaculture Association Convergence
The next morning we rose early joined by our partner farmers Ma’am Ester and Ma’am Letty and headed back south to Los Banos (2 hours south of Manila, so 8 hours from Baguio) to attend the 2nd Convergence of the Philippines Permaculture Association (PPA). PPA has become a fantastic partner in our work incorporating seed saving into their design courses and helping support our farmers’ participation in their trainings. The convergence was a beautiful gathering of like-minded souls from all over the Philippines each doing their part to build a more sustainable future. It was wonderful to reconnect with many of our partners including our dear friends and seed sisters at Kai Farms Karla and Amena. We held a Seed School there last year and are looking forward to hosting another Seed School with them inearly 2019 and helping develop a community seed library in Silang, Cavite.
Karen, our dynamic Country Manager led a fantastic breakout session all about seed saving and the importance of our growing work. She beautifully described how seed saving paired with permaculture principles will lead to the most food and climate- resilient communities. There is indeed a growing awareness around the Philippines of the importance of saving seeds and ensuring all communities have access to their own locally produced non-chemically treated seeds. We are thrilled to be spreading this message and skill set with more partners and helping Filipino communities return to this sustainable and historic practice. It is becoming more clear as we share our work with a broader community, that there is a massive need to increase the local seed stock available to farmers and gardeners throughout the Philippines. Each time we share about our work more and more people wake up and realize the critically important role they play in this process. We are excited to see where all of the wonderful connections made at the PPA Convergence take us and thankful for the opportunity to have shared about our mission and advocacy with this wonderful community of farmers, earth healers, and friends!
Growing Collaborations in Cebu
After a quick one-night stay in Manila last Sunday, Karen and I flew to Cebu City on Monday morning to meet with our partners, the Cebu Farmers Market and their recently formed NGO, CAFÉ-I – Communities for Alternative Food Eco-Systems Initiative. We held two Seed Schools in Cebu this year and with their vibrant organic market happening three days a week in Cebu City we have been excited to explore a more long-term relationship and creation of a seed saving hub in Cebu. Cebu City is also where Karen grew up and her parents live. They were kind enough to host us while we were there and it was wonderful to spend some time with her family.
- With our partners in Cebu Teresa and Bingbing of Cebu Farmers Market and CAFE-I!
Many of our dynamic partners around the Philippines are led by strong duos of women and Cebu is a perfect example of this! Ate Bingbing is a Slow Food Advocate and has helped establish and manage the small Seed Library they started earlier this year after our first Seed School. Ate Teresa is a tireless community organizer who years ago had the vision to create access to healthy organic food in Cebu which is what formed the vibrant Cebu Farmers Market. They partner with farmers to sell locally produced healthy organic produce and products three days a week in Cebu City. Teresa is also very active in the Anti-Golden Rice Advocacy (GMO) Movement and extremely passionate about our collective work.
On Tuesday morning we met at their beautiful office space set up on a hillside with three small rooms and a beautiful deck for outdoor meeting space and a garden. Since holding our two Seed Schools in Cebu earlier this year, it has become clear there is a growing movement for organic farming on the island and desire to launch a seed saving program. We had a great planning session to prepare for our meeting with the farmers on Thursday. We also enjoyed a wonderful lunch with two of the leaders at the Cebu Farmers Market, Tita Jeidy and Kuya (older brother) Dito. They both have amazing personal stories of overcoming health challenges through growing their passion for organic farming and access to healthy and sustainable food.
Kuya Dito is a graduate of our earlier Seed Schools and a passionate seed saver, proven by the fact that within moments of our time together he pulled out seeds from his pack! A number of years ago a coconut tree fell on his back leaving his legs slightly paralyzed. He now walks with two canes and leg braces. However, this nearly life-devastating experience helped him become more passionate about organic farming. Despite his physical limitations he continues to work hard to produce a wide diversity of organic crops and help restore many local varieties of fruit. His farm is known for passion fruit production and he was kind enough to give me a bag of delicious passion fruit before we left. The humble kindness and generosity of the farmers we work with never ceases to amaze me!
On Thursday a group of 30 farmers gathered at the CAFÉ-I Office to learn more about launching a Cebu Seed Savers Group. Karen and I spent the morning sharing more about our work, the model we have created in Benguet Province, and the importance of communities returning to saving their own seeds and operating seed libraries. The participants ranged from landowners who are passionate about organic farming, smallholder farmer co-ops, young farmers as well. The average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57, so a key to ensuring a food secure future for the Philippines is encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.
During the second half of the meeting all participants located on a map where their farms are and shared more about the types of crops they are currently growing, and what seeds they would like to be producing. It was wonderful see the spread of these dedicated farms across the island of Cebu. Cebu City is the oldest City in the Philippines and used to be the capitol of the Country. Cebu is a southern hub of the country and we are strategically very excited to be expanding our work to this region to form a Cebu Seed Savers Group. All of the participants are excited to join in this effort and they will be meeting again in early January to make further plans. Karen will also be traveling to Cebu in February to conduct another Seed School and a Seed School Teacher Training Course to ensure those that wish to teach seed saving in their communities have the skills and knowledge to do this.
While we are still finalizing our plans for how the Cebu Seed Savers Group will be organized and managed, we are thrilled to see our work grow to this important Southern Regional Hub of the Philippines. We are grateful for our growing collaborations and so thankful to be building this movement with Cebu Farmers Market, CAFÉ-I, and all of their participating farmers!
Onward with Seeds!!
Seeds Represent our Past, Present, and Future: Reflecting on our Origins as we Move Towards the Future
Image above: L-R: Karen Lee Hizola Philippines Country Manager and me at our 8th Annual Nourish Event.
This is always an exciting time of year for Global Seed Savers! Riding the wave of momentum from our 8th Annual Nourish Event held in October, me preparing to depart for my annual trip to the Philippines in less than 24 hours, and recent connections made on the ground including a TV interview with the Filipino Version of “Good Morning America” and sharing about our work with Former DENR Secretary and Environmental Activist Gina Lopez. These are each signs that we are on the right path and our community continues to grow!
Nourish Event Highlights
For those of you that attended our 8th Annual Nourish Event on October 20th you can attest to the powerful, heartfelt, and touching day we shared! Karen our dynamic Philippines Country Manager shared her personal story of why Seed Saving is so important in her country and why she believes that little by little, what we are helping support farmers to do will keep families together, restore biodiversity, dramatically improve farmers economic realities, and build a more climate and food secure future. Karen’s passion for our work rang through and she received a well-deserved standing ovation after her keynote address. Thank you Karen for making the long journey to be with us and for sharing your story and passion for your country and for making our world a better place!
We were also honored to have our mentor, partner, and dear friend in this work, Bill McDroman, the Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance share some wisdom and inspiration during the event. Bill has been saving seeds and teaching communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West to do the same for over 30 years. In 2016, he and his wife Belle along with Heather DeLong from DeLaney Community Farm joined us in the Philippines to lead and host a 3-Day Farmer Seed School and Capacity Building Seminar. This was a catalyst program for us and is what launched our now vibrant Seed School Program and grew our partnerships to include communities throughout the 7,000 islands of the Philippines. We are so grateful for our continued collaborations Bill and honored to be on this path with you to restore our diversity and food system with each seed sowed, saved, and re-planted Thank you for your mentorship and continued guidance and support!
In addition, local spoken word poet and hip-hop artist Meta Sarmiento brought down the house with his powerful performance describing his journey as a Filipino growing up in Guam struggling with identity and the social and environmental injustices he witnessed and experienced as a first-generation Asian Pacific Islander in America. We are honored to have you in our community Meta, and thankful for a skillful, passionate artists like yourself, that emboldens our work and movement from the ground up!
Looking Towards the Future
As I finish my final preparations to spend the next 5 weeks in the Philippines I always like to take time to reflect and think about how far we have come since we began this journey. For me, this started over 12 years ago in March of 2006 when I boarded an airplane for an island nation I knew very little about and began my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. This is when the foundation of what is now Global Seed Savers began to germinate and my life became forever intertwined with the amazing beauty, heart, and passion of the Filipino People. While the mission, scope, and work of Global Seed Savers has rightfully evolved and expanded in the last four years. My connection and passion for this place and people will also be centered in the quiet Municipality of Tublay (where our founding Seed Library is) and with the Cosalan Family and my time spent at their little pocket of heaven ENCA Farm. In these seemingly uncertain times in our world reconnecting with our foundations, our origins, our traditions are essential and seeds help us all to do this!!
So, while I am excited and looking forward to the: Permaculture Convergence this weekend, the countless new partner meetings that will happen during this annual trip including flying to Cebu and continuing plans for expanding our work and creating a Southern Hub for seed saving there, and spending dedicated time with our Staff and Philippines Board visioning and planning out our next 3-5 years. I am most excited to reconnect with my Global Seed Savers origins, to spend time with the Cosalan Family, to see my dear friends and fellow activists in this work, and to be with the dedicated farmers at the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) sharing seeds, stories, and visions for the future that we will all continue to build together!
Thanks for following along on this journey and helping to embolden and support our work and mission at Global Seed Savers. Next update from the Philippines!
Meetings In Manila and Homeward Bound
While all of my trips to the Philippines feel short this has been the shortest trip in a number of years. It was jam packed with successful planning meeting’s with Karen and our core farmers and great connections with potential new partners and like-minded organizations throughout the country. We are in a very exciting place as an organization having spent the last two years forming our model and seeing it work in Benguet Province. We are thrilled that organizations and communities around the Philippines are finding us and wanting us to bring our Seed Saving knowledge and expertise to their communities and programs. We are truly ready to see our initial seeds planted in Benguet germinate around the Philippines! Saturday was jam-packed with meetings in Manila. Typically, I try to avoid much time in a city I fondly refer to as, “The Big Smoke,” but as our organization is growing it is essential we make connections with other likeminded organizations and eventually local funding opportunities. I first met for lunch with a dynamic young Filipino Entrepreneur Cherrie Atilano, the founder of Agrea. Cherrie grew up as a farmer and has always seen the value and importance of farming for her country. Three years ago, she Founded Agrea with the mission to help eradicate poverty for farming and fishing families, to alleviate the effects of climate change and to help establish food security in the Philippines. They are piloting their “One-Island Economy” model on Marinduque Island, which is often referred to as the heart of the Philippines (as the island is shaped like a heart). They have a model farm on the island that serves as a training center for new organic practitioners, they are primarily focused on rice farming using the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which is helping restore diversity to the islands rice production, and they have a vibrant school garden program teaching the next generation the value and deep importance of farming. It was wonderful to connect with such a mission aligned organization and we look forward to continuing to discuss how we might be able to help Agrea incorporate seed saving into their efforts and develop a seed library on Marinduqe stocked with locally grown open-pollinated seeds!
I also met with another dynamic young Filipino farmer leader Enzo Pinga of Earthbeat Farms in Laguna. Enzo attended the Seed School we held at Kai Farms in June and it was great to meet with him and get his feedback about the program, as it was our first time teaching outside of Benguet Province. Enzo, like many of the growing young farmers and foodies in Metro Manila and the surrounding areas, discovered farming out of passion and a deep understanding of the need for greater food security and sustainability. It is so inspiring to talk with these young farming leaders who are committed to building a more food secure Philippines not just in words but also by getting their hands dirty on the farm! Earthbeat is a 1,000 sq meter farm managed and worked by Enzo and a small team of about 7, mainly growing organic vegetables for restaurants and hotels in the greater Metro Manila area. We had a great conversation about the need for seeds to be the central element to restoring food diversity and security in the Philippines. We also talked at length about the next generation of farmers in the Philippines like Enzo, since the average age of most Filipino Farmers is 57, a key element to building food security and ensuring a vibrant agricultural system continues is supporting and encouraging young farmers like to stay in faming!! Learn more about the great work Enzo is doing here! My last meeting was with Padma and Efren the Global Seed Savers-Philippines Board President and Treasurer. I am so thankful to get to work with such a strong local Board full of passionate people all committed to our collective work! We had wonderful conversations about our ambitious program plans for the year including; hosting at least four Seed Schools with new partners, hosting one Seed Forum for the entire Province of Benguet, and helping co-create at least one new Seed Library in 2018 (to name only a few of our indented programs for 2018)! We also discussed the projected local budget for the year, and talked at length about the need for the local board to start to fundraise locally to support our growing work. I am excited to have the Philippines Board take the lead to organize a fundraising screening of SEED: The Untold Story film and official launch of Global Seed Savers-Philippines sometime in early 2018 in Manila. Many of our local board members are very well connected in Metro Manila and I have no doubt this event will be a great success and opportunity to share about our work with a wider audience.
I left Manila a few hours ago and am safe to the Taipei Airport where I have about a 6- hour wait for my flight to Seattle. While it is always hard to leave the Philippines after a fantastic last few weeks with our farmers and meeting so many other like minded and mission aligned partners, I am more inspired than ever to continue on with our good work of ensuring that all communities are hunger free with access to sustainable farmer produced food and seeds. Thank you all for helping make this work a reality and as the busy season of holiday’s approaches please remember Global Seed Saves in your, year-end giving. We are kicking off our year-end campaign next week on #GivingTuesday, November 28th! Mark your calendars and visit our website to make a donation and support our growing impact in the Philippines. Our year-end goal is to raise $2,500 by December 31st! Help us get there and ensure the next generation of farmers has the technical training and access to locally produced open-pollinated seeds they need to feed their country and replenish the land! Thank you for your generous support and wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving with your loved ones!!