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Seed fest preserves farming’s old ways
September 10, 2015 Frank Marquez   

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Photos by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - Becky McMillen of Gering and Jeremy Smith of Spearfish, S.D., dance the Virginia Reel while threshing seed for black garbanzo beans at Meadowlark Hearth Farm’s weekend seed festival.

Referred to as a lost art, or more realistically something on the endangered list of agricultural practices, saving seed is something Scottsbluff farmers Beth and Nathan Corymb have strived to keep alive since moving back to the area in 2010, when they started their business Meadowlark Hearth Community Supported Agriculture.

“The whole concept of the farm is to use fewer chemicals, and to make inroads in west Nebraska,” said Beth about the organically produced crops on the couple’s farm just a few miles due east of Scottsbluff.

During the Labor Day weekend, several visitors – students, educators and experienced gardeners – flocked to Meadowlark to learn more about extending the life of about 50 different types of vegetable seed at the Annual Seed Festival organized by Nathan and Beth.

Prior to their return to Scottsbluff, the Corymbs lived for 12 years at an intentional community called Camphill in Copake, New York, where they learned about organic ways of farming, and such skills as dairying and weaving. During their time at Camphill, the couple worked for a brand called Turtle Tree Seed.

At the farm on which they live now, the Corymbs have two dairy cows, which provide the manure or natural fertilizer for vegetables, and vegetable seeds.
“We are trying to promote holistic farming, focused on seed,” Beth said. “We also rely on the help of special needs adults from Integrated Life Choices and Education Unit 13, which provides services for young people with special needs or kids who are considered at-risk.”

Meadowlark’s Facebook page labeled the event “Contemplation: Celebrating plants how they can affect our lives,” and listed a brief agenda, which included a meal using food from the farm, dancing on the vegetable seed, and live music courtesy of members of the Green Valley Homesteaders for the threshing and cleaning of the seeds. When the music played, visitors learned to dance the Virginia Reel in short order, making the foot stomping even more entertaining by wearing sandals and smiles.

A visitor to the weekend gathering, Mike Shambaugh-Miller of Lincoln, Nebr., partners with a group at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which is starting a seed library. A colleague told him about the Corymb’s farm, and encouraged him to visit. “It’s a helluva lot of hard work,” he said, while sitting in the shade on a 90-degree September day. “It’s a more complicated process than I thought, and not that easy.

You really have to have a passion for saving seeds the organic way. It’s truly an art.” Shambaugh-Miller is also involved in a seed rescue program for produce. He was in town to visit the Dry Bean Association, about donating to a statewide pantry program.

Similarly, Alanna Elder, who attends the University of Wyoming in Laramie, said she helps run a student farm, and became interested in saving seeds. “The idea of saving seeds locally − because Laramie has a similar environment − could help us extend our growing season. Seeds that do well here, could do well there.”
Jeremy Smith and Trish Jenkins, who run a farm in Spearfish, S.D., wanted to learn more about saving seeds for small mixed vegetables. The couple also belongs to the CSA. They are in their fourth season. Jenkins said, they are still considered novices in their field (no pun intended), at least for 10 years. That’s when they would no longer qualify for USDA grants as beginners.
Another local visitor to Meadowlark, Dana Revell, of Sidney, is an avid gardener. Her great-grandparents settled in the Sidney draw as homesteaders. She said she learned about gardening from her ancestors, and has been canning most of the vegetables from her garden, but this is the first season she’ll actively be saving seeds.

“I have never saved seed,” Revell said. “I came with my friend Daniel O’Dell to check things out. I learned about gardening mostly from my parents and grandparents.”
Beth’s grandparents homesteaded, too, on the site where she and Nathan now run Meadowlark. Like the Corymb’s ancestors, and given the number of young people who attended the seed festival, organic farming appears to have a promising future in west Nebraska.

For more information, visit the farm’s Facebook page, email the couple at bcorymb@gmail.com or call 308-631-5877.

Beth and Nathan Corymb teach visitors at the Meadowlark Hearth C.S.A. how to save seeds during the farm’s Labor Day weekend festival.

Beth holds a handful of garbonzo seeds.
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