Thoughts of a Hopi Farmer: Seeds, Sustainability, Stewardship & Sovereingty

My final semester in graduate school at American University, I participated in a practicum regarding the U.S. Farm Bill and additional agricultural policies. I worked on a particularly moving and significant case of seed sovereignty amongst the Hopi. For anyone unfamiliar, the Hopi Reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona. The Hopi,  whose ancient seeds make most heirlooms look brand spanking new, also descend from one of the earliest inhabitants of North America. For my final project, I created and produced a documentary short in which Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson discusses seeds, sustainability, stewardship and sovereignty in Hopi.

The Case of Hopi Seed Sovereignty

Seed Sovereignty is the right of every farmer to use, save, adapt, and share their seeds freely in the commons.

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.

The Problem: Hopi seeds, like many heirloom seeds, are threatened by the 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.

Robust policies and programs are needed at the Federal and local levels to protect these seeds, the cultural heritage they represent and the food as well as spiritual security they provide to the Hopi people.

In March, I had the amazing opportunity to visit what is now the Hopi Reservation in modern-day Arizona with a fellow student and one of our professors. While there we learned what Hopi Farmer Michael Kotutwa Johnson is doing to promote traditional farming practices and preserve these seeds.

To the Hopi, these seeds are life.

Meet Beluga

Last summer Stephen & I interned on an organic produce farm called Jade Family Farm in Central Pennsylvania. But more on that later.

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

In May, during my first month on the farm, Lucy (the most beautiful black farm cat) had a 3 kitten litter. All of the kittens were ladies and we named them Totoro, Thomas, and Beluga. The first one we found  in Lucy’s kitten hiding spot (a large pile of scrap wood) was a tiny little gray ball of fluff. I immediately fell in love with her. After about 4 weeks of thought and consideration, we decided to adopt her. Eventually, she moved inside with us, met her first vet, and started sleeping between our heads.

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

She goes by several nicknames: Belu, Begu, Bear, Little Bear, Pigeon, Plum, Monkey, Tiny, or whatever else I feel like calling her. I’m a copious nickname giver. Just ask Stephen. I mean Rabbit 😉

Beluga Kitten | Pumpkin Honey

My Grandmother’s Ma’amoul

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My grandmother passed away on March 1st last year.

She was a beautiful and brilliant woman who made our family what it is.

She was also a fantastic cook who made especially delicious traditional Maryland/Southern dishes. And traditional Syrian & Lebanese dishes from my grandfather’s family.

We make a huge batch every year for Easter.

These cookies were made last year for Easter after her passing. It’s taken me that long to get around to posting them! But, hey, it was just Easter this past Sunday so at least they’re timely in that regard. And they’re delicious any time of year. So have at it.

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My Grandmother’s Ma’amoul

makes A LOT of cookies

5 Cups Cream of Wheat (Farina)

5 Cups of Flour

3 Cups Butter, Melted

1 1/2 Packages Dry Yeast

2 Teaspoons Mahlab, ground

4 lb. Dates

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Grind the dates in a food processor until a very thick paste forms. I like to add a bit of ground mahlab to the date filling as well.

“Mix cream of wheat and flour, mahlab and melted butter and let stand overnight.

In morning dissolve yeast in warm water (or warm milk). Add to dry ingredients with enough warm water (or warm milk, about 1 3/4 cups) to make dough.”

Spoon a walnut sized ball of dough into your hand. Using your thumb create a hole in the center and fill with a teaspoon of date filling. Close carefully, forming a sphere. They can also be made in a cigar shape by forming a flattened rectangle of dough, filling it with a thin, rolled out piece of date and then closing the dough around the date filling (Next time I’ll add photos).

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until just starting to change in color. The bottoms will be light brown.

Let cool before sticking in your mouth.

Syrian Date Cookies

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These cookies are great with milk and coffee but especially great with hot tea.

CherryBlossoms1948

In loving memory of Miss Jean.