Christine Manoux, Director of Education and Visitor Engagement;
Cat Callaway, Horticulturist

On Monday, October 10, 2022 (Indigenous People’s Day), the Garden hosted a special event for the public in our Crops of the World Garden collection in partnership with the local cultural group Indigenous Permaculture (IP). In this area, the Garden arranges plantings of food crops based on areas of the world of original cultivation, honoring the indigenous people who first worked with (and sometimes transformed and domesticated) the wild species into important foods.

The cultural history of amaranth goes back thousands of years; seeds have been found in Andean tombs more than 4,000 years old. Although the seeds are small, they occur in enormous quantities, sometimes more than 100,000 to a plant, and are exceptionally nutritious. It served as a primary food grain of the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan and other people living in the Americas areas during Pre-Columbian times. Botanical Garden horticulturist for Ethnobotanical Collections Cat Callaway collaborated with Guillermo Vasquez of IP, inspiring the public event of a ceremonious traditional harvesting of the Garden’s amaranth.

Before the event, Guillermo taught Cat a traditional approach to connecting with, and preparing the seeds for harvest and storage. During the open event, Guillermo began with a blessing, and then told the cultural history of amaranth in Mesoamerica–the importance of the plant to indigenous people, the history of colonizers forbidding the crop as a form of domination, the resilience of the people to keep the seeds, and the continuation of their tradition to the present. With the help of IP volunteers, visitors were invited to contribute to the harvesting, working shoe-less on sheets laden with giant collection bowls, as they removed seeds from beautiful deep-red flower stalks. The separated seeds were then winnowed, pouring bowl-to-bowl using the wind, and collected for storage.

Over fifty people of all ages participated in the program that included the Cal campus community. This program was a unique opportunity for direct sharing of cultural knowledge, through oral history and hands-on experiences, illuminating the deep indigenous connections and practices surrounding amaranth, a celebration of this food crop’s past and continued importance.

Photo Credit: Indigenous Permaculture; Christine Manoux

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