Two years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit the Hopi Reservation in Arizona to conduct research on behalf of American University’s School of International Service and the Rural Coalition. While there, I interviewed Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson about traditional Hopi farming practices and the preservation of ancient Hopi seeds.
The Hopi, descendants of the ancient Pueblo Peoples, have inhabited what is now the American Southwest for more than 2,000 years during which time they have cultivated unique varieties of corn, beans, melons, and squash. These ancient crops are truly resilient, having adapted to the arid, high elevation climate in which the Hopi reside. Seed Sovereignty is the right of every grower to use, save, adapt, and exchange their seeds freely in the commons. Hopi seeds, like many heirloom seeds, are threatened by modern, industrial agricultural practices such as the monoculture cropping of hybrid and genetically modified crops and the extension of intellectual property rights to plant genetic material. Since the beginning of the twentieth century approximately 75% of plant diversity has been lost and a few high yielding, genetically uniform hybrid and genetically modified alternatives have replaced 90% of crop varieties. The rapid disappearance of agricultural biodiversity is threatening the resilience of our food system as well as the livelihoods and cultures of those dependent on specific crop varieties.
Here’s a glimpse at some of those Hopi seeds, the Hopi reservation, and Michael’s truly sustainable, entirely hand built home.