British Columbia

Seed bank curated for extreme conditions of Fraser Canyon destroyed in Lytton wildfire

A Lytton, B.C., farmer has lost her 30-year-old collection of heirloom and heritage seeds curated for the unique growing conditions of the region in the wildfire that swept through the community at the end of June.

The 30-year-old collection consisted of plants that could withstand extreme heat, mountainous conditions

Mojave Kaplan is the founder of the Planting Seeds Project in Lytton, B.C. (Sandra Bruderer)

A Lytton, B.C., farmer has lost her 30-year-old collection of heirloom and heritage seeds —  curated for the unique growing conditions of the Fraser Canyon —  in the wildfire that swept through the community at the end of June.

And now growers from around the world are donating to help her rebuild it.

Mojave Kaplan, 66, is the founder of the Planting Seeds Project, a collection of plants and vegetables curated to grow in the extreme weather conditions of Lytton and the surrounding area which have recorded the hottest temperatures in Canada peaking at 49.6 C on June 29.

Founded in 1991, it is both a "business and a passion," according to Kaplan's daughter, Atira Jukes.

"This is like her baby after her babies," she said.

In addition to curating and selling the seeds that can withstand extreme heat and drought, Kaplan is the community garden leader for the nearby T'eqt'aqtn'mux (Kanaka Bar) Indian Band. In that role, she's been using her collection to help expand mountainside gardens in an effort to increase food sovereignty in the region.

She was at her job, roughly 20 km south of Lytton, on June 30 when an evacuation order for the community was issued. Soon after, flames destroyed most of the village, including Kaplan's home and her seed collection.

"She literally didn't even have her wallet," Jukes said.

Jukes, who lives in Birch Bay, Wash., said she's only been able to speak to her mother a handful of times since the fire because Kaplan is staying with friends who have limited phone coverage. But, she said, Kaplan is refusing to see herself as a victim, even turning down the initial request to start a fundraising campaign to help her re-start her seed collection.

"She said, 'No, it's OK. I still have my job. I'll regrow everything on my own,' " Jukes said. "I was like, 'No'... I kind of did it behind her back."

Listen | Atira Jukes on rebuilding her mom's seed collection

On July 4, she set up a GoFundMe campaign for her mother, writing that she has "dedicated her life to collecting and preserving seeds." 

In less than two weeks, the project has attracted more than 100 donors from around the world, many of whom say they have been beneficiaries of Kaplan's work. Some have also reached out directly to Jukes asking if they can donate seeds from their collection — including some they originally received from her mother.

"It's so, so sweet.... So much of it is an affirmation of her life's work," Jukes said.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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