Great to be one amongst a crowd of twenty five plus people at the October 28 Transition Town gathering at the Jericho Community Center. Featured speaker was Fred Wiseman, an ethnobotanist, who started Seeds of Renewal in 2012, same year the four bands of Abenaki obtained official status in the state of Vermont.
Fred states that the mission of Seeds of Renewal is to encourage the Abenaki tradition of seed saving and indigenous gardening by tracking down rare or long lost seeds native to Northern New England.
While most people are aware of the three sisters in native agriculture, corns, beans and squash, the seven sisters of the Abenaki adds sunflower, jerusalem artichoke, ground cherry, and tobacco to the mix. Seven sisters references the Pleiades constellation which reflects nature’s cycles, as it appears at sundown in the fall; harvest time, and appears at sunrise in the spring; planting time.
Fred seems to take as much pleasure in the hunt for seeds as in the findings. He found a source of East Montpelier squash in Orange, Vermont, a variety so prolific “it could feed a village”. Problem is that over time it had cross pollinated with blue hubbard squash. Seeds of Change engaged in a program of selection; having participants eat from the purest ones and saving/planting those seeds. Fred showed pictures of the ‘evolving’ squash, a work in progress.
There seems to be a story around each of the discoveries, such as the white-seeded Morrisville Sunflower, carefully saved by a Mennonite family that had obtained it from natives.
Fred said he often drove his car by a large stand of Jerusalem Artichokes near Morrisville, and decided to trace its origins. With the help of time trials, it was traced back to four hundred years ago. Jerusalem artichoke is still found along many of the riverbeds in Vermont, as it was a great source of starch for the Abenaki.
Once seeds are found, they need to be planted and/or properly conserved. For this purpose, Seeds of Renewal has collaborated with Shelburne Farms, Abenaki Heritage Garden in the Intervale and independent Abenaki gardeners.
All of these efforts have helped to encourage a revival of native ways and ceremonies. For example, in September 2014, Seeds of Renewal collaborated with the Koasek Abenakis in their Green Corn Ceremony and in October 2018, a large intertribal celebration was held in Burlington, complete with ceremony, song and harvest.
Most recently, the Ethan Allen Homestead built a simulated Abenaki village, reconstructed an authentic kitchen and hosted a harvest dinner.
Fred also talked about the “mound on mound” system of Abenaki farming, akin to hugelkultur or raised beds. (Interestingly the Abenaki used fish for fertilizer called “kikomka” or garden fish). He showed pictures of 140 currently maintained mounds in the Abenaki Heritage Garden.