By John McHugh
March unveils the first signs of spring, and with sunshine on my back the conditions are perfect to prepare beds for some heirloom and ancient cereals.
Tiny plots of 10 m2 are dug and raked and the little seeds are scattered and covered in their new home. The slow but enjoyable process of digging the soil allows the mind to wander in many directions.
The folly of these little beds;
~that they take more time than (with the assistance of modern farm machinery) what I could sow most of the farm in,
~the tiny output that’s not guaranteed; maybe enough to make a loaf of bread or a nice base for a pizza.
~Even the process of converting these little grains into something edible, is wrought with further complications….
All of it runs through my mind, yet I feel content to keep digging.
As I hold the little Einkorn seeds in my hand, one of the first plants to be domesticated over 10,000 years ago, signifying the birth of agriculture, I think about the 10,000 generations these little seeds have seen.
Passing through the hands of so many people in so many situations, loaded with intentions and hopes for an abundant harvest and prosperity, with their fears of scarcity and famine, plagues and wars, these little seeds have travelled every inch of that rollercoaster ride and like us, have survived to tell the tales of 10,000 years of agriculture.
Ancient and heirloom seeds are seeing something of a resurgence in recent years, partly fuelled by the abundant times we live in, where people can afford to pay much higher prices to compensate for the often much lower yields of some of these old varieties.
Their renewal however runs much deeper than that.
Some are drawn to them due to the rise of gluten intolerance and other allergies to modern wheat and grains that have been selected with ever-greater precision for very specific characteristics and in the process increasing and modifying the gluten content.
Others interest stems from their genetic diversity and potential resilience to more severe conditions; i,e, drought and waterlogging, their ability to thrive in soils not loaded with fossil fuel derived soluble nutrients, their generally deeper root systems that haven’t lost their ability to function symbiotically with soil micro-organisms and because of this their potential to sequester more carbon in our soils, maintaining or renewing their fertility as opposed to depleting them, their greater resistance to disease and pests and sometimes a greater ability to compete with weeds.
For many more they simply want to step off the treadmill of efficiency, continuously chasing particular traits we deem important and ignoring the traits nature and natural selection deems important.
Genetic modification of many different crops has proved a tipping point for many or a bridge too far in our constant struggle to extract a little more out of nature. In reality, much more of our food has been genetically modified than we realise through the process of “mutation breeding” even if this process doesn’t fall under the official definition of genetic modification.
Mutation breeding is a process of exposing seeds to radiation or certain chemicals that alter the plants DNA creating mutations that may have some desirable characteristics and has become a widespread practice since the 1930’s with 1000’s of varieties of our main food plants being derived from this process. The full extent of how much of our food crops derive from this practice is unknown as there was no requirement to label the new varieties nor their subsequent offspring and even varieties within organic agriculture will frequently have been derived from this process.
Selecting heirloom and ancient varieties allows us access to genetics that haven’t succumbed to the more recent and drastic interference but very few of the food crops we grow today are found naturally growing unattended in the wild as thousands of years of selection for yield or other characteristics has generally meant these plants lost their ability to compete naturally.
Agriculture was born out of humanity’s desire and ability to alter and control the natural world to fit our vision of it. When the very first farmers domesticated the Einkorn cereal, they began selecting plants that held on to their seeds as opposed to popping and dispersing them from the seed heads once they were ripe. This facilitated the easy harvesting of these seeds but the trade-off was these plants lost their viability to survive naturally or unassisted in nature. Their wild Einkorn relatives dispersed their seeds allowing the space for the small seeds to germinate and grow successfully again the following year whereas the new domesticated plant held on to its seed, not scattering them so when eventually the plant breaks down and rots the new seeds grow tightly together inhibiting each other’s growth and making them susceptible to disease.
These first farmers probably took advantage of natural mutations that were found in nature and then continued to select seeds with the most desirable traits.
The Story of Separation
Versions of the story of separation exist in most religions and spiritual traditions and are often related in metaphor like Adam and Eve’s eviction from the Garden of Eden. It is sometimes called the fall of consciousness or the great fall and it chronicles humanity’s gradual separation from Source/God or a connected-ness with the universe around us.
As we became disconnected and started feeling separate to everything else, we also started to feel very vulnerable to succumbing to a separate and inhospitable world. This led to the development of the human ego, the story we began telling ourselves to protect us in this new reality and explain how and why we are different or separate from others.
It also birthed a huge desire to control our external world as a means of protecting ourselves within it. This desire to control resulted in the birth of Agriculture, of War of Government and it exists in us all in many different guises. It is a desire driven by fear, that without this control we will be consumed by the big bad world, never to exist again.
Lessons in Control
We are currently traversing an unprecedented crisis with the Corona Virus pandemic and this pandemic is highlighting our very many vulnerabilities and fears. Most of us have loved ones who are vulnerable and the fear of losing them drives us to do all we can to protect them.
New fears are now growing around jobs, businesses, mortgages, governments and other people telling us how to live our lives, an emerging trauma that many of the good things we enjoyed in life might not return and the list goes on.
FEAR is sometimes explained by the use of an acronym;
Future Events Appear Real.
We project forward negative outcomes that lead us to feel this emotion and the only way we think we can prevent that reality is through taking control.
We try to take control of our own lives but also we seek control of others’ lives as their actions could jeopardise our health or the health of our loved ones. Social distancing and forcing others to do the same is now a reality, a near total lockdown with businesses ordered to close, 2km travel restrictions, mobile phone tracking, mandatory vaccination and this list of methods we use to gain control goes on.
Counter to that a very many people feel they are losing control of their lives by the desperate attempts of others to take control and they will resist all forms of control with increasing vigour.
The growing attraction to owning a piece of land and to Permaculture systems that can cover all our needs independently of regimes that want to control us could be seen as a reaction to centralised control and that draw is likely to increase dramatically as a result of Corona.
Are both Compliance and Resistance born out of our desire to control our external realities?
Is this the same story that brought us the birth of Agriculture, the destruction of much of nature, countless wars all over control and domination, over different visions of how the world should look and our desire to impose our views (that we see as more complete and superior) on other separate people and nature?
Is the Corona virus just the latest in a series of lessons coming with increasing intensity?
Should we walk the same polarised separate path that has brought humanity so much suffering over the years or is there another way?
There is a second part to the story of separation, a story of reconnection:
The Story of Surrender
This is the story we now have the opportunity to write, one that transcends all the polarization goings on in the world, and all the fear that comes from trying to predict the future, deciding what the world should look like, thus taking us on a journey of trying to control others, including Nature, so they fit into our vision.
This is a journey inwards, the only real place where we have control or are entitled to control and the only way we can gain this inner control is to surrender our perceived outer control, which can be taken from us at any instant, no matter how powerful we think we are.
Here, when we look with honesty, we can find all the same thoughts and feelings combined which create those same emotions that drive all the “separate human” inspired events in the world and then judge to be either good and bad.
Here we can find all the stories that have developed little by little over the course of generations making us feel increasingly separate, increasingly vulnerable and increasing hungry for control so as to futilely counter our lack of control.
I look again at these little Einkorn seeds that have witnessed much of our story of separation for we have brought them on the journey with us.
As I scatter them, these little seeds of hope become seeds of faith and the seeds of control become the seeds of surrender.