This spring, the Futurefarmers collective sailed from Belgium to Spain. Reflections on part two of their grand tour of Europe in pursuit of the forgotten origins of our wheat grains.
Amy Franceschini, correspondence
Amy Franceschini founded Futurefarmers in San Francisco in 1995. For more than 20 years, the collective of designers, artists, farmers, illustrators, scientists and engineers has been developing practices that reveal the impact of globalization on local policies and creating platforms for collective learning in order to instigate sharing.
Seed Journey is their project of reverse migration from Oslo to northern Turkey. On an old rescue sailboat, ancient varieties of plants cultivated in Oslo that originated from the Tiger and Euphrates valleys will return to their original lands during a journey by land and sea. The goal of this rescue mission is to protect small cultivators’ rights and access to these seeds. It is conceived as an act of resistance against patents on living things and reduced biodiversity for industrial purposes. In 2016, Seed Journey, which departed from Oslo, landed in Antwerp.
Amy Franceschini shares her impressions from the second chapter of Seed Journey, this time from Antwerp to the northern coast of Spain, navigating along the coast of France.
First chapter of the Seed Journey at Artes Mundi 7 Prize:
“Setting out into the Rubenesque horizon of the river Schelde towards the North Sea, a crew of eight and six guests graced our departure from Wilhelmsdoc in Antwerp. The two masts towering over the deck of our wind-powered vessel moved between shores—a timeline of various methods of energy farming; windmills (defunct and operational), nuclear, nitrogen fertilizer plants, coal and beyond. Anthropologist Michael Taussig describes our voyage ‘… as a return or a re-tracing of a very ancient route combining human and non-human initiative by which wheat was domesticated from the wild and then slowly made its way through gifts, trade, winds and sea currents, from the highly cultured Middle East to the barbarians of the north.’ This sailing ship, the RS 10 Christiania, carrying a diverse collection of ancient grains on board, now ventures further south with its most recent acquisition, Bruegel Grain—a 500-year-old grain that was found during an archaeological dig beneath Sint-Martens-Lennik church in Pajottenland, Belgium in 2015.
“Seed Journey is a sea-faring project that is moving an inventory of ancient grains from Oslo, Norway to Istanbul, Turkey via an 1895, wooden rescue sailboat, RS 10 Christiana. Departing from Oslo on September 17, 2016, the ship begins its second leg from Antwerp on April 18, 2017. On board, a rotating crew of nine artists, anthropologists, bakers and farmers use grain as a prismatic lens to consider the interrelationship of food production to realms of knowledge-sharing, cultural production, socio-political formations and everyday life. Each crew member brings their perspective to this shared inquiry and expresses it through various media at host institutions along the way.
Rescuing ancient seeds
“The particular seeds being taken on this journey fell out of production in the early 1900s and have been ‘rescued’ from various locations in the Northern Hemisphere—from the very formal (seeds saved during the Siege of Leningrad from the Vasilov Insti Seed Banktute) to the informal (experimental archaeologists who discovered Finnish Rye between two wooden boards in an abandoned sauna in Hamar, Norway). We collect seeds and distribute them to farmers, millers and bakers who are actively cultivating landrace seeds and traditions. Landrace grains are resilient portraits of their landscapes that adapt to changes in soil, weather and air quality. The farmers who grow these seeds share them, and then a small sample is returned annually to seed banks.
“The idea of ‘rescue’ in relation to this journey is key. The re-tracing backwards the routes of these seeds and their cultures re-signifies these voyages from the 21st century vantage of having lost our flotation, lost our way; a ‘reverse Nansen’,‘reverse Humboldt’, reverse Darwin, Cook, Magellan or whatever traveler you may want to choose.
“Two weeks before departing, Futurefarmers enacted a Seed Ceremony, in an attempt to awaken this grain and cultivate it once again. On the first day of April, in 2017, farmers, millers and bakers gathered at Heetveldemoelen (watermill) in Tollembeek. Around a table on the second floor, surrounded by the milling apparatus and lingering dust of the fields of grains transformed into flowing flour, gathered farmers Bert Neuckermans, Tijs Boelens and Marc Vanoverschelde, secretary of Sint-Martens-Lennik church, Jo Meirsschaut and paleo-botanist Luc Allemeersch. Around them, a roomful of curious locals, urban farmers from a field and local press focused on the awakening of this Bruegel Grain. Upon the table was a constellation of bags and bottles and bundles of grains brought by each farmer and the centerpiece—a small wooden ‘rescue boat’ filled with seeds collected along Seed Journey thus far.
“Following the Seed Ceremony, the participants carried the Bruegel Grains out of the mill to the river de Mark where Futurefarmers Canoe Oven awaited them. The grains were given to the rowers, who carried it to Antwerp via the waterways de Mark, Dender and Schelde, where it joined the mother ship of Seed Journey.
“The charred Bruegel Grains were placed into a large hourglass (Futurefarmers’ Seeds of Time vessel).
“We are young peasants with fertile dreams and landscape-wide aspiration. But here is more. In our farm we have a dream of being as autonomous as possible. We want to shape networks of producers and consumers in order to create a solid ‘market’ that covers the needs of a society. In this aspiration, when we think about grain, we think of bread. Bread made sustainably becomes the currency of resistance.
“When Futurefarmers collects seeds from each farmer, we ask them to give us a message to carry on to the next farmer. We take these messages and translate them into morse code and then into smoke signals. Tijs Boelens gave us: ‘autonomy of thought and praxis’.
Pirate radio, between Jersey, San Sebastian and Santander
“During the second leg, Seed Journey hosted several art projects. BolwerK’s Electromagic Commons draws upon the analogies of farming and radiocommunication. Broadcasting refers etymologically to a sowing technique—scattering seeds—not one-to-many spreading seeds of information but circulating locally, in terms of circuits and citizens being present in the (Hertzian) waves. Propagating, creating new plants from seeds, cuttings, bulbs…, is a term used for how radio waves travel from one point to another, by the sun and the reflection on the ionosphere. Are you receiving us?
“Antennas and voicing on different frequencies (AM, FM, VHF, HF…), signals the electromagnetic spectrum as a critical natural resource. Electromagic unfolded as an onboard pirate radio station, an open lab, and performative events. In each location where we stopped, different devices were improved together with the local community, to be co-opted by grassroots citizen projects. Learning by making and strategies to commonize the electromagnetic spectrum were developed as evidence for an alternative, community-owned definition of a land, air and frequencies (e.g. radioballoon).
Picos de Europa
“On May 23rd, following our Santander Seed Ceremony at Fundación Botín, Seed Journey transitioned to a land-based navigation over a perilous boundary in collaboration with an ad hoc California crew; skipper and ecology professor Ignacio Chapela from Berkeley University; First Mate Diego Peñaloza Jiménez and performance mate Hailey Baird. Carrying a selection of all the seeds gathered on Seed Journey upon his back, Ignacio led the crew in an intentional walk that crossed the mountains that had emerged from the tectonic tensions of this boundary, from the Cantabrian littoral to the Sierra del Escudo de Cabuérniga, the Picos de Europa past the Naranjo de Bulnes, and down the shepherd’s way to the Lakes of Covadonga and finally Cangas de Onís, where they are welcomed by the initiative Inland-Campo Adentro and their Shepherds’ School.
“Seed Journey will proceed to Istanbul via various modes of transportation, where it will be received by SALT/Galata in late September 2017. As Michael Taussig said: ‘The return of ancient seeds is like reverse engineering, taking apart this long history fold-by fold. This voyage is an allegory, one forever open to chance.’”