22 September 2011


Trafkintu is the Mapuche word for a seed exchange, a gathering in which participants exchange vegetable, herbal, and floral seeds and the knowledge of how to care for the plants. This year on September 10 we in Los Brujos participated in Valdivia’s Trafkintu held in the school of Architecture on the UACh campus. We exchanged a collection of our kale seeds and a few olivillo, manio, and cherry tree saplings from our forest for 33 different varieties of seeds from local and regional growers: lettuce, squash, pepper, tomato, bean, pea, spinach, cucumber, and various flowers… all that’s necessary to start a diverse family vegetable garden! The experience was an overwhelming abundance of gardening and food-growing enthusiasm crossing generational and cultural barriers, all voluntarily organized with smiling faces and no involvement of money. Steaming ceramic bowls of seafood broth and trays of fry bread were freely given to participants staying through lunch; names and networks also exchanged and expanding in the sharing of a communal meal. Across the river on Valdivia’s costanera, perfectly framed by the Architecture building’s tall glass windows, the Chilean military assembled demonstration tents and exercises in full camo-gear, a stark, ironic contrast to the energy of the Trafkintu where little old ladies declared with beaming faces, their hands lined by a lifetime of connection to the earth, their precious collection of heirloom seeds wrapped in colorful cloth: how nice it is to see so many young people returning to the land and the growing of gardens. And none too soon.

Declining diversity in seed variations is a worldwide concern and seed exchanges are desperately needed in many parts of the world to literally keep seeds and their genetic memory alive on earth. This year’s Trafkintu carried the added urgency of a recent change in Chilean law regarding commercial seed distribution and trade agreements with the U.S. which render illegal the selling of non-certified seeds and have opened Chilean borders and farmlands to the international markets of patented, engineered seeds distributed by corporate giants like Monsanto. What the agreements between Presidents and their corporations translates to here is an increased police presence among our late-Winter farmers’ markets, checking that all seeds sold have patents and professional packaging, i.e. no heirlooms or bundles of seeds saved from last year’s harvest no matter how well they may grow, adapted for generations in the local climate and land. Finding seeds from here this season had been a frustrating hunt among farmers’ stalls, hoping to gain the trust to buy a few local carrot seeds hidden out of view; the Mapuche women of Temuco’s farmers’ market literally squatting at the fringes on the sidewalk with their seeds splayed on cloth, able to quickly pull everything out of sight should the police wander too close. Roadside billboards blaze along the highway touting the wonders of pesticides and trans-genetic seeds, guaranteeing production and security, promoting faith in corporate technology like a never-ending evangelic sermon for mass-production. In the shadow of this political and corporate pressure to homogenize Chilean food-production, the Trafkintu came together in Valdivia as a practical rebellion, a chaotic stock exchange of seeds and knowledge changing hands, a loophole in the system’s power to control transactions between human-scale growers and those willing to learn and wanting to maintain seed-lines for future generations.

After the Trafkintu we hurried home with our 33 bundles of seed treasure, having a few days to still plant with the Moon waxing full to guide upward leaf growth and then returning to plant root-oriented seeds like garlic and potatoes once the Moon slipped past full into its waning cycle a few days later. Now after a couple of weeks as we official enter Spring, our seed boxes are germinating with the first leaves of brassicas and varieties of lettuce and peppers. Every day new leaves sprout to the surface, each receiving our thanks and bearing the promise to allow these plants their ful cycle, the careful protection of their future seeds to bring with us to next year’s Trafkintu.