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Seed Saving Workshop with Yamayuri Co-op

Hidehito Komaki talking about seed saving.
This Sunday I attended a seed saving workshop with a group of friends. Sponsored in part by Yamayuri Co-op, the workshop was held at Hidehito Komaki's farm where he showed us how to save seeds from soramame (broad beans) and cabbage. Both, he told our group of about 70, were varieties he'd been saving seeds from for about ten years. 

Komaki spoke of the relationship that develops over time between seeds, plants, soil, and people. The soramame grown from his saved seeds were larger and harder to pull out of the ground than those in an adjacent row grown from seed grown for the first time this year. Komaki believes that the plants learn their soil and their region, and that the farmer and those who eat vegetables from those locally grown seeds also become part of a unique system.

It may sound a bit like hocuspocus or, as my husband likes to call it, "hippy crap", but Komaki certainly isn't the first or only to espouse these kinds of ideas. Masanobu Fukukuoka, considered the father of natural farming, came to the same conclusion as have many others since, including Michael Phillips, Michael Pollan, Gary Paul Nabhan, Janisse Ray, Carol Deppe, and John Navazio to name but a few. Scientists are also learning that saved seeds well-adapted to their regions may help stave off some of the nastier effects of climate change such as famine. Saved seeds that adapt to growing in hotter, drier climates or wetter, more humid climates will still allow us to eat as we figure out how to move forward.

Gathering soramame pods during the workshop.
Perhaps even more importantly, Komaki added with a smile, "They taste good." (We also got cooking instructions for the soramame, of course.)

We wandered over the field gathering up blackened pods that one young member of our group quite aptly described as similar in appearance to rotten bananas. Komaki advised us to let them dry in the pod until they rattle. "The seed absorbs all of the nutrients from the pod," he said holding a blackened soramame in his hand as he spoke. "They are so rich in vitamins and minerals that they are like medicine."

Soramame pods. The lower is for seed saving as it has that rotten banana look.
A former chemist, Komaki has tested his vegetables and fields for nutrient content. His vegetables, he told our group, are three times and five times higher in minerals and vitamins, respectively, than non-heirloom varieties. Later, when we moved to the cabbage field, he described his method, similar to satoyama, of adding leaves to the soil from the adjacent mountain once a year. One result, he said, is that the level of enzymes in his soil were two to three times higher than other fields.

We all came away with soramame and cabbage seeds for drying in preparation for the next growing season. He also offered up some of his onions, one of which is a local variety called Shonan Red, for us to enjoy while our seeds dry and we plot our next growing adventure.

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