Sterling College: Dawnland Heritage Garden and Black River Seed Library

2022 Grant Amount: $7,500

Sterling College and its students support the Abenaki in planning for the impacts of climate change on tribal lands such as the risk for loss of traditional foodstuff plants, the climate-friendly propagation of indigenous crop varieties, and contributes both seed stock and lightly-processed indigenous crops to the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation. This is all done in order to assure the perpetuation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. This is achieved through Sterling College’s Dawnland Heritage Garden and Black River Seed Library, its supporting role in land management on tribal lands, and its partnership with Abenaki Helping Abenaki. This project seeks not only to preserve rare and often highly-endangered crop varieties indigenous to the Northeast, but to get them in the gardens and on the plates of tribal members, and, more generally, to educate the broader public about their historical and contemporary importance. This grant request will enable 50 students and their faculty in our Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems program to engage in a 5th year of serving the 1,400 members of the Nulhegan Band in VT by conserving, propagating, and sharing indigenous seeds as invited by the Abenaki. Our work supports food sovereignty and access for the original inhabitants of the land on which the College operates and uses techniques that minimize and mitigate impacts on climate change.

Our work is at the direction of Chief Stevens for the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation and with guidance and cooperation from other indigenous leaders in Vermont. Indigenous-run organizations involved in the project include Seeds of Renewal, Abenaki Helping Abenaki, and the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center.

Work under the proposed grant will commence upon receipt of funding in Spring 2023 and continue through the 2023 and 2024 growing and harvesting seasons. New plantings will be established in Spring 2023, with public events - including a harvest event and blessing (tentatively October) and two subsequent events - scheduled for the following spring and summer.

Since 1900, ~75% of crop genetic diversity has been lost. Traditional diets have been replaced with commodity foods, and native peoples have experienced a surge in diet-related diseases - they are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than their white counterparts, for example. Sterling responds to these crises through its role as a seed saver, traditional culinary revivalist, educator, and food sovereignty advocate working toward local resilience and dietary decolonization. The Dawnland Heritage Garden and Black River Seed Library is the first seed library in Vermont that specifically highlights the importance of rematriating native seeds in Vermont.

Sterling will help fill a critical gap in Abenaki food sovereignty by serving as the repository and conservator of indigenous, landrace, and heritage seed varieties specific to the Wabanaki Confederacy at the invitation of the tribal peoples. A Co-op Seedling Grant will enable Sterling to improve its seed storage and processing facilities, expand the number of crops planted, implement a public education initiative, host events in collaboration with the tribe, and serve as a testing center oriented toward traditional varieties and climate change resilience, thus establishing the first seed conservation hub serving Vermont and Maine.