J500 Media and the Environment

Protecting Our Food: Dianna Henry’s Adventures on the Gastronomical Battlefield by jkongs

“Pawnee Blue Flour Corn: white cob with long slender ears, dark purplish to blue grey to blue speckled color. Grows six to ten feet tall in about 110 days from planting, crushes well into blue flour.” I read this description on the back of a seed packet at the latest meeting of the Lawrence Sustainability Network (LSN) gardener’s club. It had been brought by Dianna Henry, along with half a dining room table full of other seeds, neatly stored in envelopes taped closed with masking tape and covered with handwritten notes.

“From USDA who lists their source as ‘Gilmore in late 1800s’” – this note was more puzzling, and definitely not a typical descriptor on a seed packet. It meant that the seeds I was holding in my hand had lineage back to the 19th century; that the corn had been planted, harvested, and saved for over 100 years by indigenous peoples, a man named Gilmore, my friend Dianna Henry, and now this summer, my roommate Berrigan.

Dianna is a seed saver; a self-appointed protectorate of our food. That’s not to say she stands guard over the produce department at Dillon’s, armed and ready for battle; but Henry does collect, propagate, and save seeds from plants that have grown in this area for centuries -she even wears a necklace of corn seeds she has preserved. In this age of a globalized food economy, where everything we eat has traveled an average of 1500 miles from field to table, the packet of Pawnee Flour Blue Corn seeds is a rare and precious gift.

With the spread of genetically identical monocultures to all corners of the world, having the knowledge and the resources to grow food acclimated specifically to this region is all we have to prevent a second Irish potato famine. The good news is Dianna’s work with the LSN extends beyond the gardener’s club, and her knowledge about ancestral food systems is available to anyone interested in learning. She also has seeds, lots of them –you can find her and her seeds here – if you want to take a stand to ensure the safety of our food’s future… and play in the dirt.

from picturethepromise; flickr.com

Corn and Sunflower seed varieties

from picturethepromise; flikr.com

-Jennifer Kongs


2 Comments so far
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Slightly unrelated, but a little bird told me that you know about growing kombucha. Help a brother out?

John K

Comment by genghiskuhn

Give me a few weeks to propagate an extra culture my man – you know, you’re the umpteenth person to ask me about this – How awesome I must be, wielding the sword of kombucha knowledge to all…. right, anyways, the short answer is yes.


Comment by jkongs

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