a peek into diversity
Several years ago, I traveled to Decorah, Iowa, to visit Seed Savers Exchange’s Heritage Farm for the first time. Before I went, I looked at their calendar of events to find that the annual tomato-tasting competition would take place the same weekend. Cool, right? Hmmm, it’s questionable for a guy who hates the taste of nearly every raw tomato. But a little “When in Rome” hit me. I figured, love it or hate it, I needed to participate along with the scores of other people there. It would make for a great story, to say the least. (I’d like to point out that of the 49 tomatoes in the competition — all of which I tasted — I helped pick the winner: the Igleheart Yellow Cherry Tomato.)
Do the places you shop for food carry 49 different tomato varieties? Or how many of the roughly 10,000 – 15,000 varieties exist worldwide?
criteria for mass sales
What’s that? Your grocery store only carries a few varieties. Well, that’s certainly a shame. But it must be carrying the most tasty or nutritious of the bunch, right? Sorry. Amongst the criteria for what tomatoes make it to the mass market, taste, and nutrition are likely low on the list. One criterion that does score high is if the plants that produce the tomatoes have high yields. Another is if the tomatoes travel long distances well. And, then, there’s if they are pleasing to the eye once they make it to the grocery store.
why seed diversity matters
So, why do I love (and want to protect) seed diversity?
First and foremost, there’s the need to keep our food supply as resilient as possible. As noted in Al Gore’s Earth in the Balance:
Regrettably, we are not headed in the right direction. “Since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties” (FAO, What Is Happening to Agrobiodiversity)
On a personal level, I love that seed diversity within one line of produce grows veggies that taste, smell, look, or have different textures than others. There’s also the variety in the nutritional values.
making food choices I think are important
Each year, I pour over the descriptions seed catalogs provide for each variety of vegetables I might want to grow. I appreciate that the descriptions often note the qualities I raised in the abovementioned paragraph.
I usually start my search by compiling a long list that must be winnowed down. After all, there’s only so much space in my five raised beds. I try to guess which veggies I will want to grow: some for a plant’s beauty (e.g., the White Acorn Squash, some for the taste (e.g., Black Futsu Winter Squash), and some for the nutritional value (e.g., Merlot Lettuce).
By the end, I usually have between 30 and 50 varieties within roughly 12 to 15 types of veggies I want to grow. And then, of course, there are the flowers and sunflowers!
Comments are welcome.