The New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture, Doug Fisher, visited The Seed Farm at Princeton’s Stony Ford Research Station on Wednesday, Sept. 7. Sunflowers were what precipitated the secretary’s visit. Ukrainian sunflowers to be exact. One of the farm partners at The Seed Farm, the Experimental Farm Network led by Nate Kleinman, has long been committed to growing seeds from areas of the world experiencing conflict and wars. When Russia invaded Ukraine this past February, Kleinman did what he often does and culled the USDA GRIN database — the national seed bank — for seeds of Ukrainian origin. Kleinman was worried that farmers in Ukraine could lose a significant amount of their agricultural biodiversity in the face of war, and hopes that his seed experiments might create a bulwark and also inspire other seed farmers to do the same.
Secretary Fisher got wind of Kleinman’s work and asked to see it firsthand. Kleinman works with a number of other farmers, many of whom are also involved in The Seed Farm at Princeton project, including Chief Vincent Mann and Michealine Picaro of the Ramapough Lenape Turtle Clan, Tomia MacQueen of Wildflower Farm, and Nagisa Manabe of River Stoan Farm. This group of farmers, along with Princeton students and faculty, gathered at The Seed Farm for Kleinman’s tour. He showcased melons from Iran, eggplant from Syria, hibiscus from North Korea, gourds from Palestine, and, of course, the Ukrainian sunflowers, among other seed crops. Together the group harvested giant sunflowers heavy with seeds, some of them weighing as much as five pounds. Chief Mann shared with the secretary his dreams for having a certified label for Native American-farmed produce in the state. MacQueen and Manabe talked about challenges facing organic farmers, urban farmers, and farmers of color.
The Seed Farm project aims to bring together seed keepers and farmers to think about questions of repair and mutualism, embodied for us in the three-sisters planting practices of Native Americans in which corn, bean, and squash work together to create an environment of mutualism and reciprocity. This fall members will harvest the first fruits of the project, which began with planting this spring. In the coming weeks, The Seed Farm will launch a website and share opportunities to participate in an open house, workdays, and a harvest festival. In the meantime, follow The Seed Farm on Instagram and check out information about the organizations with whom the farm works via their websites and social media platforms: