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The journey of a seed: Bozeman husband and wife grow Indigenous crops from ancestral seeds

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Posted at 3:09 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 17:09:54-04

BOZEMAN — In this edition of Positively Montana: the journey of a seed. Along with two MSU interns, MTN explores how one group is on a mission to see that cycle make an impact past, present, and future.

Bringing healthier food to the dinner tables of Native American families now and for years to come. It all starts with a seed. Our Holly Brantley talked to a young couple passionate about using lessons from their ancestors to make that happen and their quest to get others involved.

Justin and Bailey Stewart are a husband and wife team from the Crow Reservation.

“You have to come out here and smell the dirt and take it in,” said Justin.

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The project and passion is about more than just the crops. The Ancestral Garden at the MSU Horticulture Farm is also about generating over 20 varieties of ancestral seed from different beans, corn, and squash.

They are growing their family and at the same time working to grow better food for Montana Indigenous Reservations.

“These seeds are alive and they are human beings too,” said Bailey. “We have to take care of them.”

They call this a labor of love, spending their time this summer as interns with the Montana Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative.

“These are tribal lands and knowing we get to work with it every day, it’s really amazing for me to be a part of,” said Bailey.

Even on hot Montana afternoons, you can find the pair hard at work, even with Bailey due to give birth in October. They are both busy tending to the crops of the Ancestral Garden at the MSU Horticulture Farm. Other days they spend their time at the Indigenous Learning Garden at Story Mill Park.

Eventually, the Stewarts will help get these crops from farm to table, from the ground here to Indigenous communities around Montana.

“To be working these seeds now that are hundreds of years old is amazing,” said Justin. “To preserve these colors and preserve the way it looks compared to the modern-day corn or seed is amazing to me. It’s not just here for me but it’s here for all the generations as well.”

The project and passion is about more than just the crops. The Ancestral Garden at the MSU Horticulture Farm is also about generating over 20 varieties of ancestral seed from different beans, corn, and squash.

Raise the crops, save the seeds, and pass them on. They will be sent in bundles to multiple indigenous communities.

“This is not only my tribe's seeds,” said Justin. “It’s other tribal seeds that will be passed on as well.”

The Stewarts say it’s all with the hope of inspiring reservations to start their own gardens and get people excited to grow seeds that are native to the area.

“We want to teach them,” explained Justin. “We want to teach the younger ones and the older ones with their own garden that want to know how to tend to it better.”

They say it is to create a more resilient food system and a healthier one too.

“You know, before the reservation era we had a different way of eating but when the reservation era came, that is when you saw unhealthy foods come in and diseases like heart disease rise,” said Bailey.

“The main thing is that we are all learning and we are all passing it on,” said Justin.

That is the other part of their mission: Inviting every member of the southwest Montana community to come out here and learn about the magic of planting seeds.

“I learned by trial and error,” said Bailey. “I learned by getting my hands in the dirt.”

Growing a better future for their Montana family, and yours as well.

“We think about generations to come,” said Bailey. “It’s not about us, it’s about the ones that are gonna come after us.”

The Montana Indigenous Food Sovereignty Initiative holds volunteer nights during the week and anyone is welcome to come learn and lend a helping hand.

They meet every Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Indigenous Learning Garden located at Story Mill Park, and every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Ancestral Garden at the MSU Horticulture Farm.

During these events, you can learn about indigenous gardening techniques, how to hand pollinate, and how to save seed at the end of the season.

Volunteer events are followed by a small potluck.

The seed that will be saved from the Ancestral Garden will be placed into an ancestral seed bank in the new American Indian Hall building that will be opening on Indigenous Peoples Day this October.

The journey of a seed: Bozeman husband and wife grow Indigenous crops from ancestral seeds