The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (RMSA) is a nonprofit organization working to assure an abundant and diverse supply of local seeds for the Rocky Mountain West through education, networking, and community-based models of seed stewardship. By empowering people to reconnect with the ancient tradition of seed saving, RMSA revives humanity’s sense of connection with nature and each other, and helps create a more beautiful, just, and abundant world.
Twelve questions with Belle Starr, Co-Founder
Where do ecology, culture, and spirituality connect in your work?
BS: Seeds are the nexus of ecology, spirituality, and culture. Our work seeks to reconnect people to ancient seed-saving practices that for more than ten thousand years have intimately linked us to the natural world. Indigenous peoples on every plant-bearing continent hold sacred traditions surrounding their seeds that contain the songs, sustenance, memories, and medicines of entire cultures. Though often overlooked in modern Western societies, seeds feed us, clothe us, and provide the raw materials for our everyday lives. In a very real sense, they are life itself.
What brought you to this work?
BS: One of the most mysterious things about working with seeds is their power to “pull you in.” All of us on staff at the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance (as well as everyone who attends our courses and events) has their own story of being ineluctably drawn towards these tiny, magical beings. Once you begin to learn about seeds and open up to their profound wisdom and beauty, you’re hooked! It becomes a life calling. We cannot imagine any work that is more fulfilling—for the earth, the spirit, our communities, and a just and joyful society—than reconnecting people with the seeds that sustain them.
What’s one thing that you want people to know about your work?
BS: Many of the crises in the world today are interwoven. From climate change and species extinction to poverty and social injustice, these seemingly disparate problems stem from a common root—a profound disconnection at the level of spirit among our fellow humans. Seeds have the power to reconnect us with this life-giving source. By tuning in to the rhythms of nature and engaging in a true ritual of rejuvenation, we can heal this wound of separation and begin to regenerate healthy, diverse communities and ecosystems, seed by seed. And we also get to enjoy more delicious food while we’re at it!
What was the biggest challenge or accomplishment in your work last year?
BS: Our biggest accomplishment and challenge was producing the Mountain West Seed Summit, with its myriad details and troubleshooting issues. As is the case when diverse stakeholders are brought to the table, many interesting challenges surfaced that we needed to resolve while holding space to allow things to happen organically. In other words, while offering a set program, we recognized some participants needed the time to express themselves; it was a constant juggling act to be respectful while simply keeping the event on schedule. We came to the conclusion that the best way to facilitate an event such as the Mountain West Seed Summit in the future would be to use open space technology. This is a format whereby constituents decide subject matter and take responsibility for content and recording outcomes from the meeting.
What do you see happening in your field—or beyond, in the world—that you’re really excited about?
BS: Since launching the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance in 2014, we have been witnessing an incredible and growing awakening around the importance of seeds. It is a global phenomenon, arising everywhere at once. Recognizing that the work we are doing to recreate local, abundant seed systems in our bioregion is being mirrored in local communities around the world is very empowering. It gives us great hope and keeps us inspired knowing that we are part of a bigger movement of people dedicated to seeds and diversity.
What matters most to you right now?
BS: What matters most to me right now is achieving balance in my desire to serve RMSA and keeping my hands in the dirt.
What does service mean to you?
BS: Service is participating in the greater good, however that works for an individual. I always like to say that we need to do something that matters during our short time here spinning around on this blue-green planet.
What keeps you going?
BS: The response from students at our educational programs keeps me going. Seeing students light up and feel like they can take on the tasks at hand whatever they are is empowering for them and me. Witnessing others feel a sense of homecoming and that they are not alone in this process of reconnecting with seeds (their roots) gives me great joy.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
BS: I love to garden. My goal this year has been to be easier with my garden interface. Or as Bill—my husband and RMSA Executive Director—says, we have permission not to be held hostage by our gardens. This means if I harvest something and I can’t get to it, it can go into the compost pile guilt free. Or if I don’t get something in the garden (in time) it is okay.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
BS: I simply wanted to make a difference and do something important.
Do you have a favorite place in nature?
BS: In our backyard (Forest Service), on the river (any), in a hot springs naked.
One thing you would like your grandkids to know about you that they probably wouldn’t if you didn’t tell them?
BS: That I wanted to produce an album (oops, I mean CD). I love to sing and actually have been told I have a great voice.