Rowen White on Indigenous Seed Saving

Rowen White of Sierra Seeds and the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network shares lessons on seed saving for the future of plants, people and more-than-human kin

  • By Rowen White
  • Conservation
  • Mar 28, 2024

Rowen White leads Sierra Seeds in Northern California.

SEED IS A PRECIOUS COMMON HERITAGE, essential to the sustainability of our landscapes and our nourishment, passed down faithfully by Indigenous communities and recording a relationship that predates the written word. Due to cultural upheaval, colonial displacement and industrialization, however, this relationship slipped away in a few short generations. Thankfully, with deliberate effort, our dignified connection to sacred seeds and foods is now resurgent.

As a seedkeeper, knowledge holder, farmer of the Akwesasne Mohawk community, and founder of Sierra Seeds and the Indigenous Seedkeepers Network (ISKN), I raised my children on the 10-acre Sierra Seeds educational farm in North San Juan, California. Here, we reconnect to our ancestral traditions of tending the land and caring for seeds—for me, a return after two generations of disconnection. We are also working with the Akwesasne Mohawk Freedom School on a 160-acre farm, living classroom and seed bank that promotes intergenerational teachings.

We care for Indigenous seed varieties from hundreds of wild and domestic plant species, many of which have deep cultural significance. We share these seeds through bartering and as gifts with Tribal communities through ISKN, which assists and nourishes the growing seed sovereignty movement across Turtle Island (North America). We provide education, mentorship, and outreach and advocacy support on seed policy issues, and we organize events connecting Tribal communities. We support adaptive seed systems, as the face of Mother Earth continues to change.

Read More: A Colossal Need for Native Seed >>

Our work as Indigenous farmers is critical: We represent 6 percent of the global population, but our communities steward 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Our culturally encoded values honor diversity as the root of resilience and embrace interspecies kinship. Take Indigenous polyculture: Often called the “three sisters” method, these gardens go beyond interplanting corn, beans and squash. We select plants that adapt to low-input conditions, strengthening seeds’ capacity to thrive in future seasons. Our gardens become sanctuaries for a multitude of wild and planted species, providing habitat and foraging for pollinators, birds and other more-than-human kin.

Our ultimate goal is to conserve not only seeds but also the next generation of stewards who will care for future seeds. This is intergenerational work. If we do it with integrity, the seeds will outlive us. Learn more at and (Try it yourself with a how-to Rowen helped develop at

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

A Colossal Need for Native Seed »
Plants in Peril »
Blog: Foraging in a Changing Climate »

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