The French Laundry's Head Culinary Gardener and Renowned Seed Keeper to Present at Conference & Campout

Seed Savers Exchange is proud to host Aaron Keefer, Head Culinary Gardener for The French Laundry, restaurant in Yountville, California and Rowen White, director and founder of Sierra Seeds, in Nevada City, California.

Aaron Keefer is the Head Culinary Gardener for Chef Thomas Keller’s three-acre garden across the street from The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

Aaron Keefer is the Head Culinary Gardener for Chef Thomas Keller’s three-acre garden across the street from The French Laundry in Yountville, California.

Aaron is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and worked as a chef at The French Laundry, in California’s Napa Valley.  He realized that the best day of every week was the one he spent working in the garden, inspiring him to shift his course from the kitchen to the farm.

As Head Culinary Gardener, he collaborates on a daily basis with each of Chef Keller’s culinary teams across the country to ensure that they receive only the very best produce possible from the garden.  Today the garden includes a chicken coop, four beehives, escargot farm, hoop house, seed room and a ferment room.

Washing harvest, photo courtesy The French Laundry

Washing harvest, photo courtesy The French Laundry

“Chef Keller started our garden as an educational opportunity for the kitchen staff because he believes that everyone needs to gain an understanding and respect for where food comes from,” said Keefer.

At this year’s Conference & Campout Aaron will be sharing the details of his close working relationship with the chefs at the three-starred Michelin restaurant, as well as the invaluable role seeds play in the restaurant’s nine-course tasting menu, which changes daily.

Rowen White is a Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and a passionate activist for seed sovereignty.  She is the director and founder of Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed cooperative focusing on local seed production and education, based in Nevada City, California.

Rowen White is a Seed Keeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and a passionate activist for seed sovereignty.  She is the director and founder of Sierra Seeds, an innovative organic seed cooperative focusing on local seed production and education, based in Nevada City, California.

Rowen has a deep and spiritual connection to her ancestral seed collection - sacred ‘Mohawk Red’ bread corn that resembles juicy pomegranate gems; ‘Six Nations’ blue corn whose kernels that line up in neat rows of shades of grey, slate, and nearly purple; multi-colored ‘Seneca Calico’ corn whose pearlescent seed-coats catch the light of the eastern morning; jars of beans, some speckled and resembling birds eggs, others earthy and mimic soft buckskin.

White honors the seeds and foods that have fed her ancestors for generations in the Northeast woodlands. A Mohawk woman, from a small community called Akwesasne which sits upon the banks of the St. Lawrence River straddling the New York/Canadian border. Her tribe is one of six nations that make up the Iroquois confederacy, yet they identify not as Iroquois but as Haudenosaunee: People of the Longhouse.

Blue Corn

Blue Corn

Well known for their unique agricultural planting methods, commonly known as “Three Sisters”, they practice a polyculture planting method of corn, beans, and squash that reinforces the collaborative nature of inter-planting allowing crop types work together in harmony.

White always had an affinity for the garden, and at 17 began to apprentice on an organic farm. Here,she began to learn about the importance of biodiversity, and learned about heirloom seeds for the first time. Knowing her ancestors were agricultural people, she began to wonder:

Who was still growing her tribe’s heritage seeds? What sorts of corn, beans and squash varieties were out there that had been planted and selected within “Three Sisters” polyculture over the last centuries?

Her journey is a rich tale of - gathering seeds and stories from the few remaining traditional gardeners, following the path of seeds and traditional foods and coming home to understanding the cultural dimensions of biodiversity.  

From her journey came a the sense of responsibility she felt for her generation to step up and care for these seeds, as so many had done before her.

“I can't help but imagine the rich journey of these seeds through the ages, the perseverance through the tumultuous history of displacement and new beginnings, of migration and relocation, of love and loss, of praise and grief; the nourishment they provide for those who take the time to care, beyond the prejudice of culture or color,” White said.
“Seeds are magnificent talismans of abundance that inspire generosity and connection, healing and forgiveness. The seeds have been witnesses to the past, passing from hand to hand in so many different contexts and cultures, adapting to different soils and ways of cultivation. The seeds nourish vibrant histories and geographies of the heart.”

White will close out the 2016 Conference & Campout as our final speaker of the event, where she will share her journey and the discoveries she made along the way.