New Mexico Amaranth-Plant Dance

When I first proposed the idea of A Small Farm Future it got a strong reaction. Some thought I was out of line to propose such an outlandish idea.  Any large new idea usually has this reaction. It is not my idea, but author and farmer Chris Smage’s. I wished to convey it to the Advocates, but “All calculations based on our experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico” (Lew Wallace, April 29, 1881). So A Small Farm Future will have to be customized to meet the reality of our unique State.

Such an idea always poses questions. What about health, land tenure, water rights and distribution, communications and a workable economy? How are these going to work out with a very different society? Over the modern era we have lost a lot of connection to the non-human world. We keep to our human bubble and don’t wander outside of it much. In order to meet the demands of living in a climate-changed world we must reconnect to it deeply. To start on the journey I propose we work on the three pillars of A New Mexico Small Farm Future, which I conceive of as seeds, sharing and enough.

Our seeds represent part of our relationship to Mother Nature. We would not have much food without them. They were created by intelligent, observant people, some over thousands of years. They are our greatest blessings from our ancestors. They contain essential knowledge from all those centuries, which you will add to when you grow them in your small farm. When you plant your seed, you are connecting to all those who planted it before in a direct line from the people who first established the strain. Each one had to plant the seed, gain a harvest, and then save it. Each one has given you the seed as a gift and the covenant to continue it.

One of the ways to save our seeds is to share them. Indigenous people and friends gather to do so. We can do the same once we have established our strains. One cannot share seeds if one does not grow them. Building an eBay collection doesn’t work here. One must grow the plants, become part of them, and share part of oneself through them. Thus we become part of our land and water, our inheritance and each other. Our Small Farm Future is about reconnecting with these.

Every seed holds countless stories. It might be difficult to hear them. As we connect better with our seed we will hear some of them through our imaginations. I know one story of a seed I save because of history. New Mexico amaranth is a magnificent plant. It is over six feet tall with a large seed head. One can talk with them face to face. I first sourced it from Native Seeds/SEARCH, a living seed bank in Tucson, Arizona, of indigenous seeds from the US Southwest and Mexico, which offers many for sale. They found it growing in a dooryard garden in Rinconada, New Mexico. Amaranth comes in many colors, deep red, white, orange and golden. This one is a golden variety, the heads being yellow with carmine tinges.

Amaranth is being closely looked at by New Mexican farmers, as it is a very nutritious and delicious grain that needs less water than most grain crops, isn’t very particular over fertility, bears early and is easy to process. The young leaves are a quelite, spinach relatives that grow wild in our gardens, with much loving encouragement.

It is sacred to the Aztec people, who made a cake by mixing it with honey and using it in ceremony. The Spanish took much offense to this, banned its possession and imposed dire penalties. Nevertheless, it has survived and is

grown extensively in Mexico today. The seeds can be popped, mixed with syrup and made into bars. These are called “alegría” and are sold in the street throughout the country. Thus it is a plant of resilience that brings joy. 

A Small Farm Future will be close-knit. More efficient methods of exchange will have to be developed. The most efficient method is sharing. It can even serve as the sole method. We will learn how to share by sharing our natural resources, especially water and land. Respecting each other and other communities will be essential. We must find ways to avoid conflict when we may not have the complex legal system of today. It will have to be more efficient, working directly face to face. We won’t have time for multi-decade litigation to resolve when we need to determine how much precious seed we can plant or how much water we will have to share.

Modern people might object to giving most everything away, but there are lots of societies, some extant, that do just that. The Potlatch societies of the Pacific Northwest and numerous give-away customs throughout Native America are good examples. Acequia communities have survived over centuries by pooling resources to ensure the wealth, and want, are shared. As wealth is accumulated one’s status is reduced, the exact opposite of how moderns do it. Wealth is often abusive so making it low status keeps it from being so. The overall wealth of the community is unchanged, only the distribution. The act of giving is ennobling and with the high status, one is able to begin to accumulate all over again. Imagine large corporations giving everything away every year and how different our society would be. Of course, it would be impossible for corporations to amass such wealth in the first place. There are other methods of exchange. Goods and services will find their way around somehow. Humans are good at that.

The most consequential thing we can do to prepare for the future is to gain the concept of “enough”. We have created a false sense of insecurity by preaching about all the scarcity out there. We accumulate things simply because they are scarce and owning them brings status. Possession brings anxiety and fear of loss. Why do billionaires oppose being taxed when it really doesn’t make any difference? Our economy is based on this. Surrounded by massive anxiety and fear as the only motivating factors. Never venturing outside the bubble.

Being happy entails the Spanish word for it: “contento”. It is not possible to be contento unless one has enough and only enough. Enough is very personal. For a Buddhist monk it is a simple raiment and a begging bowl. For another it is being principal of a school. For some it is growing a bountiful garden. Possessing a lot of stuff, money and power does not bring contento and can’t. The anxiety and fear erect an impenetrable barrier. The world desperately needs to be contento, which brings liberation.

We all know what to do. Giving things and ourselves away doesn’t come easy but the rewards do. We can keep the pain—dragging our anxieties and fears into a dead-end future. Or we can be contento and start to find our small farms.

On March 10, 2006, I attended a signing ceremony in Alcalde for the New Mexico Seed Sovereignty Declaration. People were becoming worried about what was happening to our seed. A video was made of it featuring youth.

1 Comment

  1. Les Montgomery on June 20, 2021 at 4:36 am

    Hey Lynn This is all very interesting, thanks, Les & Simrin

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