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From Seed to Sustenance: The Transformative Power of Locally Grown Produce

June 27, 2024

Table of Contents

From Seed to Sustenance: The Transformative Power of Locally Grown Produce

The Roots of My Food Journey

My first memory in the garden was as an impressionable 6-year-old, listening closely to my grandmother’s advice. “If you talk to them, they’ll grow stronger,” she’d say, gesturing to the seeds we had just finished planting. For weeks after school, I’d lay at dirt level, striking up a conversation with the newly sown beans, encouraging them to wake up and break through the earth. Until one day, I noticed their emerald heads splintering the soil. “They made it!” I whispered to myself, shaking with excitement.

Since those formative days with the land, it’s been instilled in me that plants are living, breathing, thoughtful relatives. We are kin, inseparable from each other’s cosmology, given life by the same sacred breath. This precious knowledge led me on a journey far from the Western red cedar trees of my Oregon home. Carry-on and work boots in tow, I made the move to Detroit, Michigan, to learn how food sovereignty did and could function in a place that seemed to have everything working against it.

The Struggles of the Land

People are often quick to describe Detroit as a dystopia, and it’s easy to see why. The city’s infrastructure is crumbling, environmental racism is palpable, and suffering seems to be the norm. But it’s within those sentiments that I’ve come to realize the ways in which history repeats itself. The ancestors of this land, the Anishinaabeg, have experienced and survived through dystopian times before.

Trails established by the local tribes have been paved over, becoming some of Michigan’s largest interstate roads. Diseases that traveled with the settlers devastated entire communities. Waters that had danced with manoomin have become so polluted by industry and development, threatening this vital foodway. The truth is, most systems in place today were built off our erasure. Our communities on Turtle Island have endured forced removal, assimilation, and genocide. The land they cared for — the land that cared for them — was taken and turned into a resource that would serve the means of colonization.

Reclaiming the Land, Reclaiming Our Roots

Despite the trauma our seeds have endured, they plow forward. The ground cherries, sunflowers, and chokeberry all had found me in my moment of need, and together we are able to heal. The seeds I sow today are brimming with resistance, resilience, and unconditional love. The land I work, tenderly named Leilú (meaning “butterfly” in the Tlingit language), speaks to the transformative power of tending to our seeds, in addition to the power of people and plants working in tandem to take care of future generations.

Leilú is where I grow culturally significant food and medicine for the community. I’m always delighted to be greeted by a waterfall of strawberries, the flowering tobacco, statuesque sunchokes, and ever-sprawling sage. And yet, as I hold tightly to these plum-colored kernels of Cherokee White Eagle corn, I am reminded of the obstacle-ridden journey these seeds faced to arrive in the palm of my hand.

Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, approximately 60,000 Indigenous peoples from five tribes were displaced from their homelands. The ancestors of this White Eagle corn were carried by the Cherokee during their forced relocation from Georgia to Oklahoma, a heinous part of the nation’s history commonly referred to as the Trail of Tears. It’s autumn now, and the Three Sisters — corn, beans, and squash — I planted in the spring fill the city block with their handsome skeletons, gifting baskets upon baskets with their generosity.

The Power of Reciprocity

The abundance gifted by the garden will always astound me. Plants are the reflection of the people who tend to them, and in turn, the people are a reflection of those plants. In Detroit, the reflection of these plant relatives is present in some incredible folks.

Shiloh Maples is the first person from Detroit’s Indigenous community that I connected with. Her work around food sovereignty is deeply inspiring. Sharing the story of her seed journey, she encouraged me to dig deeper into my own. Shiloh also connected me to Rosebud Schneider, a friend and former coworker of hers. Rosebud’s knowledge of planting and traditional foods is expansive. The work she does at Ziibimijwang farms is breathtaking and barely scratches the surface of the connection she holds with the land.

If you see half of the human-plant equation, the other is inevitably nearby. It is a system that depends on reciprocity and gratitude. It’s incredibly important to remember the connectedness of it all. To protect the plants, the land, and the water is to protect Indigenous people. We are inseparable from them.

The Lessons of the Seasons

As the metallic scent of winter enters the air, I begin to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned this season. My time spent in the garden is a homecoming of sorts, to be with relatives. Our plants have stories to share, memories to recollect, and guidance to offer. Inside of every seed is a map leading to a new and better understanding of what it means to be an Indigenous person in this world.

By this, I find myself graced by sunlight, roots firmly planted and sturdy against the wind. The Three Sisters I tended to in the spring now stand as sentinels, their skeletal forms a testament to the resilience of the land and its people. Their abundance has filled baskets and bellies, nourishing the community that has embraced me as one of their own.

In this cyclical dance of growth and decay, I am reminded that the true power of locally grown produce lies not just in its nutritional value, but in its ability to connect us to the very land that sustains us. Each seed, each harvest, each shared meal becomes a thread in the tapestry of our collective history, weaving stories of struggle, resilience, and hope.

As I reflect on my journey from that 6-year-old girl whispering encouragement to the young beans, to the woman I am today, tending to the sacred gifts of the land, I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude. For it is through this deep connection to the earth and its bounty that I have found my true roots, my sense of belonging, and the transformative power of locally grown produce.

So, if you find yourself drawn to the Thorn Apple CSA and the promise of locally sourced, sustainably grown food, know that you are not just nourishing your body, but also stepping into a lineage of stewardship, resilience, and community. The seeds you help sow today will grow into the stories of tomorrow, weaving us ever closer to the land that gives us life.

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Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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