Seeding our Future, Minding our Past

Seeding our Future, Minding our Past

Marilyn Schlitz - heirloom pumpkins photoBefore the rain drenched winter was over, I got the spring itch. I made my way to the Petaluma Seed Bank, eager to begin my small backyard garden again. This wondrous Seed Bank, housed in an historical building from the days of the California gold rush, specializes in heirlooms, free from genetic engineering and artificial anything.  Truly home grown.

I wandered through the thousands of seed possibilities, feeling a sense of promise that awaited me over the months to come.  I found a packet of Squash Connecticut Field pumpkins. Reading the package, I learned that these seeds were a source of sustenance for those who founded our democratic ideals and hopes for freedom. These seeds are the direct descendants of those harvested by early settlers and Indians, hundreds of years ago. According to the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, “this is a truly old variety…the traditional American Pumpkin.”

Holding these precious seeds in my hand caused me to reflect on my own roots. I called my nephew, Ken, our family genealogist; he’s always good for a little foray into history. By chance, on the same day, while digging through some old files in my dusty garage, I also found a detailed history of my progenitors, assembled by an aunt more than a century ago.

As it turns out, members of my kinship tree came to North America in the mid-1700’s, before the American Revolution. They arrived from Baden-Baden, and like thousands of other German immigrants, they held hope for a promising new life. They were a resilient and hardy folk. Through their work and tireless toil on the land, their fearless determination and tenacity, they planted the seeds for future generations.  As the historical report noted about Johnnas Schell, one of these early pioneers: “He was well educated and spent much time with his books and papers.  He was a leading man in his district, brave and plucky in danger and much respected by all.” As these plucky settlers forged their way through adversity and hardship (Schell died during a battle with the Mohawk Indians), they sowed their seeds to feed and nourish their kinfolk. Most likely without conscious intention, they set the stage for future generations who would routinely call America their home. Or perhaps, as Michael Pollan suggests in the Botany of Desire, plants and people co-created a path to a shared destiny.

I gathered up some small containers left over from last year’s planting. I filled them with rich and fertile soil, mindfully following the directions on the seed packet. I carefully opened the envelop and placed two or three seeds in each pot. I cared for them over the final days of winter, watching and waiting as they popped their full verdant sprouts out towards the sun in my kitchen window. As they grew stronger, I transplanted them into larger containers. I noted with respect that their tangled roots were bursting out of the small contained space, eager to find new soil in which to grow and transform.  Just today I placed them in raised beds, fortified against gophers, and fenced in from my feisty soft haired Wheaten Terrier.

I care for the seedlings like babies who will mature with time. It is a co-evolutionary process, each of us informing the other. They are placed in the full sun, “with ample moisture and insect control.” The seed company promises they will be vigorous plants, if I care for them. I have hopes for them. I appreciate their wild abandon as they reach for the sky, blissfully unaware that future generations of people may indulge in their meaty flesh through pumpkin pies and savory stews, or carve them for some Halloween decoration. I’m watching over them. With childlike anticipation, I await harvest day “when skins are too hardy to be easily punctured with a thumbnail.” And I marvel at a lineage line that connects me to a “plucky” past.