Alisha's Seed Story
My journey to this point has come full circle. A little over five years ago, I returned home to Colorado from serving in the United States Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa as a Environmental Action and Food Security volunteer. After having spent three years living in a small village of subsistence farmers, with no running water or electricity, I was living in my little sister's college apartment, spending every day searching for jobs. I was starting to get discouraged. I loved my life and the people and projects I worked on in Togo; coming back to America was difficult for me and I was having a hard time reintegrating.
I came home so motivated. For once, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. The entire time I served in Togo, giving advice I was hardly qualified to give to people who had been growing food since before I could walk, all I could think about was how dysfunctional and broken our own food systems were back home. I decided, even though international development work was very rewarding and living abroad felt amazing, I needed to go home and roll up my sleeves to make things better in my own backyard.
Instead of landing a dream job right off the bat, after four months of job searching, and more interviews without job offers I care to admit, I barely eked out a contract position at a small, and struggling nonprofit. Then life happened -- I began dating my now husband and began working hard to get the experience I needed. With my head down, I began working hard to become good at fundraising - an area I felt I had the most to lend.
Cut to a couple years later in the summer of 2015, I am working 70 hours a week on a small salary in a nonprofit trying to stay afloat, about to transition to a more stable government job, and about six months out from my wedding. My best friend from college had just moved back from San Francisco and she invited me over to a bbq at her new place. When I arrived, she introduced me to her good childhood friend, Julia Coffey. We had lots in common - she had a seed company and we both spoke French. She told me about how she wanted her company to be more involved in the community and I perked up, offering to help with that.
Not much happened other than a few coffee meetings and chats about potential ideas, until after I returned from my honeymoon in South East Asia in May of 2016. Julia had just had an accident and was recovering from a badly broken leg. She texted me while we were still in Cambodia, asking to meet for a drink when I got back to chat more seriously about the Seeds Trust work. For about a year we met every month, went on a "retreat" to get to know each other better and starting working out a vision as business partners.
I was having a hard time connecting the dots of feeling like my work with Seeds Trust was fulfilling my desire to improve food systems. I had taken "Seed School in Day" and I knew the importance of seed saving, I just wasn't feeling the connection to the work emotionally. Then, one day I had a recovered memory of my early time in the Peace Corps. The second and third years of my service, I did some large projects that took a lot of my time and energy, dominating my memories of that time. The early days were rougher - cultural integration is no easy task, and the little projects I had started then were all but complete failures, I essentially had to abandon my original assignment and look for other projects. So naturally, I didn't like to reflect on that time very often.
I thought back to the whole reason I was sent to my village in the first place - decades prior, another Peace Corps volunteer had helped my community dig out a reservoir for rain water collection. It was essentially a big lake and the only local agricultural water source during the dry season - a season when farmers had a lot of time on their hands. This reservoir allowed a small group of motivated growers to begin a market garden group, selling produce to street food vendors for good revenue. I was there to work with the group of roughly 15 men and one woman to teach improved gardening practices and increase their revenue generation potential. It was a painful failure for many reasons. But I remembered one of my main functions, was being the seed mule…
All the gardeners would give me money (or promise to repay me) to go to the regional capital city, a place many of them had never been, to fulfill their seed order at the little tiny seed shop in the bustling open air market. I remember it took me two hours to find it the first time I went. I ended up developing a great relationship with the seed shop owner and a pretty decent system for fulfilling the seed orders. I couldn't believe I had entirely forgotten this part of my service!
I remembered that those seeds were like gold to those farmers, and how much joy it brought me to bring the seeds home for them so they could better feed their families. I used those same seeds to start three different demonstration gardens in town, and I continued to be a regular customer at the seed shop throughout my service.
The memory of it overwhelmed me. Of course I had gravitated to Seeds Trust! I did have a seed story, this did connect directly with my life. Then I thought of the impact those seeds had on those farmers lives, and how much of an impact I could have made if I knew how to teach them how to SAVE THEIR OWN SEEDS. How would that project have looked different if they didn't have to purchase new seeds every season? What if I had been able to get them seeds that were better adapted to grow in their environment?
That was it. I was hooked. And here I am, humbling joining the Seeds Trust legacy to honor the work of the seed.