By Jim Phillips
—Joshua Cravens has been collecting heirloom seeds for 18 years. He is, for lack of a better word, the expert. Hailing originally from the South Side of Chicago, he has farmed his way across the country developing ideas and techniques. He adjusted his farming style to suit different climates, soils and water conditions—Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, you name it.
But the winds eventually drew him to us, to what he calls “a challenge.” Cravens began his New Mexico farm, Jardin El Alma, with no mechanical tools, an acequia (a watering ditch, providing limited but deep watering) and a hell of a lot of work in front of him. He now also has a tractor but uses it minimally.
Years ago he created the Arid Crops Seed Cache as a project of Cuatro Puertes, a local nonprofit associated with sustainable agriculture and fighting genetically modified foods. Isaura Andaluz is the co-founder of the organization. Isaura told me the cache—which is the state’s largest library of heirloom seeds—was originally created as a result of entirely gifted seeds.
That really hit home, as all of the seed collecting here at our little farm, the Josephine St. Yacht Club, began in the exact same way, with the same intentions.
I was lucky enough to get to pick Cravens’ brain. One thing about farming is, you are always learning. And, man, did I learn a lot in our short conversation. I wanted to discover if Cravens had any particular method when farming with his collected seeds. Did he use raised beds, plant straight in without tilling or start indoors? He practices permaculture, a method of farming that creates a system where every aspect of the farm is used for every other aspect in some way. “I don’t have a preferred method. I do it all. Nothing is off the table.” Essentially, he’s saying if it makes sense and serves the greater good of the farm, do it.
One of the best thing about self-sustaining farming is the gifting factor. Produce is great for trading, but seeds take it to another level. They start as what may seem like nothing and explode into an object that is beautiful and nourishing. “It’s everything. Food is the fabric of any community,” Cravens says.
Seed collecting has become for my wife and I a bit of an obsession, as I was told it would. But it’s a damn healthy obsession.
Learn to Save Seeds
Joshua Cravens shares his knowledge of seed collecting.
Saturday, March 23
9 a.m. to noon
Albuquerque Friends Meeting House (1600 Fifth Street NW)
Register by emailing [email protected]