Proposal for the Ecuadorian Andes
By Kitzia Kokopelmana
Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds are those that breed true to the parent. They are our ancestor’s legacy to us, as they are the source of all present-day hybrids, and contain characteristics in their genetic codes that are unique for each variety. Beyond having flavors, textures and colors unavailable from hybrids, which conform to one basic size, color, flavor and harvest time, these varieties have characteristics which have permitted them to survive when other species did not, meaning that they have disease and pest resistance as well as hardiness in adverse weather conditions. This is especially so for Ecuador, where varieties still exist that were around hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago. Precisely for that reason, we want to preserve as many such plants as possible before they are lost forever.
Two bad years in a row is all it takes to wipe out a source of seeds for any particular variety, especially if all the growers are in the same area, as tends to be the case for most heirloom and open-pollinated plants. Many such plants have been preserved in family gardens, stored away somewhere, and shared with friends and neighbors; elsewhere, they do not exist. So a couple of years of drought, pest infestation, plant disease or any of the many natural or man-made disasters that can and do occur will eradicate a variety forever. Unfortunately, this is happening at an alarming rate worldwide.
Ecuador, as the source of many of the crops grown worldwide today, has a unique diversity of topographies and climates, containing ten of the world’s twelve hardiness zones, making it ideal for growing and preserving plants from all over the world. A majority of Ecuadorians still rely on agriculture to sustain their families and provide an income, and many Ecuadorians have the knowledge and skills needed in our agricultural endeavors.
The spearhead of our project in Ecuador will be the creation of preservation botanical gardens, with two primary goals in mind.
The first goal will be to create a world-class living genealogy seed bank with seeds from all over Ecuador and the world, with the facilities for storing them. The concept of living genealogy speaks about having a vast seed collection but not only in storage but actually planted and acclimatized with the changing weather patterns of the region. This said, being located on the Equator, weather conditions tend to be much more stable than is the case in many other regions of the world.
The main focus will be to preserve medicinal and edible plant species with a focus on superfoods and those herbs that have a proven higher healing potential. As a part of the project we are envisioning an alternative clinic and a laboratory, as well as a rejuvenation resort with villas for residents.
From 2010 to 2014 Kitzia Kokopelmana, our main seed curator, started working in Ecuador. In a series of projects that included teaching and supporting Ecuadorian indigenous groups, creation of women’s cooperatives for growing and manufacturing teas and spices, Kitzia also worked with groups of elders and created school and community gardens. In this time, she grew crops from the coast to the Amazon on three of her own farms. She also consulted with others about designs for their projects. Kitzia was able to successfully reproduce over 450 plant species, while exploring three of the four Ecuadorian bioregions: Coast, Andes and Amazon. The projects ranged from sea level to an altitude 9000 feet with microclimates that included 10 of the 12 planting zones.
Prior to her work in Ecuador, Kitzia had spent two decades of her life devoted to seed preservation at the Buena Fortuna Botanical Garden in Baja, a botanical reserve with over 3000 plant species, all grown organically.
The second goal will be to form a food bank, demonstrating ways to preserve food while maintaining the nutritional content. Foods from our gardens and from contracted local gardens will be canned, dehydrated, and freeze-dried for this purpose. The main focus will be on Ecuadorian superfoods that include other local farmers and cooperatives who together provide the world with nutrient-rich foods.
Efforts like these, because of their enormous economic potential, will likely become nationwide in scope, especially as the rates of natural disasters due to global climate change, and escalating human-caused disasters, increase. The likelihood of a worldwide famine occurring in the next few years is becoming a very real possibility so having seed and food supplies will become invaluable.
To preserve as many varieties of Ecuadorian food crops as possible, the project would also focus on maintaining contacts with people throughout the country to get seed samples and to share knowledge about preserving the seeds along with the making them aware of the extreme importance of doing so. Integrating this into economic terms for those that participate would be a priority in this effort also. The work will include collaboration with many of the indigenous groups as well as universities to educate, preserve, and encourage seed preservation.
Over and beyond these objectives, there are much larger goals to which we aspire. We feel called to be catalysts for the formation of a true “Peaceful Earth Village” in the indigenous tradition.
The Peaceful Earth Village was one way the Tsalagi people saw to maintain the peace and balance needed to sustain villages whose primary purpose was to mediate the various aspects of the mind, always maintaining awareness of the whole. Through spiritual practice and diet, the inhabitants of the Peaceful Earth Villages radiated peace of mind, enabling maintenance of harmony with the pulse of the Earth. Their voices were relied upon for mediation of what appeared to be conflict. Many were priests and healers, keepers of tradition for the entire nation. Most important, they maintained areas of sanctuary. The Peaceful Earth Villages were places of sanctuary where no blood was shed, no harm was done. Each Peaceful Earth Village was guided by the Peaceful Earth Chief, one committed to preserving life, someone skilled in transforming consciousness.
As people awaken to their spiritual nature, their connections with each other and everything that is, they are gradually being drawn to form communities with others who have also awakened. This is what we envision taking place in Vilcabamba. People from around the world will come to Vilcabamba for renewal of their four bodies: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual, and for the unique spiritual experiences they will have there.
Preservation of Knowledge
The continuity of the knowledge passed down through indigenous peoples, and especially the shamans, is as much at risk as are the heirloom and open-pollinating seeds, only more so. Few have the knowledge or remember how to use the knowledge of their ancestors. Most just know that protecting and preserving it is important. Maintaining the seed preservation and trade traditions through exchange, workshops, and traveling to their locations will be part of the activities of our team to maintain our growing seed collection and keep it alive and expanding.
We will start by creating a diverse world class botanical garden around the clinic, resort and villas and then expand to a larger piece of land where the seed bank could be further developed to serve the three main microclimatic centers of Ecuador. The living genealogy seed bank needs to operate at various altitudes to improve the growing conditions of useful medicinal and edible crops from around the world
In our experience, money does not equate with wealth. We are wealthier than we have ever been in our lives right now, having less money than we have ever had. What we have is valuable beyond worth, and no money can purchase it. We have abundance of seeds and inspiration, love, joy, peace and light, and Creator has met all of our needs when we needed it the most. We have discovered that we have been granted powers to bring into being whatever it is that we desire, and that the same powers have been granted to all. We have been exercising them our entire lives, but unconsciously, due to a lack of awareness of our elders and mentors. The power lies in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Thinking about things brings the possibility of them becoming real and brought into being. Speaking about them to others benefits us in two ways. Primarily, it makes our thoughts take form when we hear ourselves speak about them. Others help our thoughts take form for the benefit of all to see and understand when we share our ideas. Our passion for what we desire brings our thoughts into reality when we act on them.
What we are experiencing right now is the result of the collective vision that we all have held. But this is the time when we all start awakening into the truth of our essence. We are here to preserve and protect this beautiful planet, to help heal one another, and to feel the joy of living. And what better way than preserving seeds? `Seeds are the key of life. They give us food and medicine and have the potential to provide for all of our needs including fuel, shelter, clothing fibers and crafts for recreation.
It is in focusing our thoughts, words and deeds, together, on what it is that we most desire, that we empower the people, and bring into being what is good for all now, and for seven generations to come.
The goal is to set up a living genealogy seed bank for the protection of a great variety of organic seed crops, native as well as introduced species with an emphasis on food and medicine.
Additionally we seek to sell seeds, superfoods and medicinal herbs to the local and international market to make this project self-sustaining.
Because of Kitzia’s extensive traveling networking, teaching, an planting in three of the four bioregions of Ecuador, we could start Master Planning the Botanical Garden right now and then bring some of the seed collection from Mexico as well as collect some of the seeds stored and replanted in the various farms where she had been working since 2010.
In addition to being an educational center for the preservation of seeds, we also seek to be an electronic bank of information on the subjects of our interest. This we plan on doing by mirroring sites that provide such information as well as purchasing many books related to these subjects. Naturally, we will also be hosting workshops, offering apprenticeships, and creating educational videos.