While it seems that everyone else is packing it up and getting ready to leave, I’m only just beginning my time with CBG in Lander, WY as a Botany intern! Although I’ve been living in Lander for over a year, I’m new to CBG and will be hanging out until mid-January. I have to say, I’m pretty excited to see what CBG can teach me about my home. I’ve already learned about Wyoming’s rarest endangered plant, desert yellowhead (Yermo xanthocephalus), and have gotten a taste (and a smell) of our many varieties of sagebrush. I’ve also gotten to experience the joys of finding a bountiful seed set, the frustrations of searching endlessly for viable seed, and the cross-eyedness of trying to count tiny seeds only to sneeze and blow them all over the table. I’m enjoying the work though. I love getting lost in the meditative trance of collection, cleaning, and seeding. Despite the small frustrations, I find the process undeniably pleasant and I feel fortunate that we are able to have such great resources at our disposal! My last job working with seeds did not go as easily and is a stark comparison to the Seeds of Success (SOS) project I’ve been working on.
I came to Lander via Senegal, West Africa. I was stationed in Senegal for three years with the United States Peace Corps working as a sustainable agriculture extension agent. My job mostly consisted of consulting with farmers and working with local villages to create fruit orchards, community gardens, and improve sustainable cultivation practices. A large part of my job was also seed extension. The idea was to give improved seed varieties to farmers in exchange for them returning double the amount to me at the end of the year. The extra seed I received back would be given to other farmers to expand and grow the program. When I began my service, I had grandiose dreams of extending seeds across the region. I dreamt that my seed extension program would be so successful that it would evolve into a region wide seed collection effort in which, hand-in-hand, villages would skip into the African bush, collect seed, and together we would sow a new African forest, thus preventing desertification, increasing vital habitat, and increasing plant diversification across the country. It’s probably not a surprise that my big dreams did not come to fruition. In fact, in my first year of doing seed extension only half of the farmers I worked with returned seed to me. I spent hours collecting and cleaning seed by myself, only to have it blow away in a gust of wind, get eaten by insects, or in the off-chance that it actually made it to planting season, my new germinates would[delete] get eaten by merciless greedy goats. It seemed like so much work for such little gain. But the work was hard because I lacked resources. I wasn’t partnered with a government bureau. I didn’t have a car that could take me to remote areas where the best seed was. I didn’t even have a good pair of hand pruners. All this is to say, that I didn’t fail because I was a bad person, I failed because seed work can be hard. It’s hard to make a difference when one person is working by themselves.
The next year I clung to the farmers who had returned seed to me. They were my helpers and together we found more people who were interested in establishing a local seed bank. Although the seed program didn’t reach the region-wide scope I had envisioned, that year eighty percent of my farmers returned seed to me and they were excited to grow the program the next year. All of this opened my eyes to how important it is to work together on projects of this magnitude – it isn’t something that anyone can do alone. It takes a lot of people, and a lot of resources to collect and distribute that much seed.
And now I’m an SOS Botany intern tasked with collecting seeds to save and distribute for national reclamation projects. The great thing is, I’m not alone in this endeavor. I am one of many working on this momentous project. This is why I am so thrilled to be a part of this national effort as a CLM intern. Together, we really can make a difference.
-Gwen BLM, Lander Field Office