If necessary one can live without an accountant, a lawyer, and a great many other service providers, but how long do you think you would last without a farmer? Check out the Know Your Farmer website from the USDA. The videos are pretty awesome too.
Archive for the ‘Local Food Movement’ Category
I recently spent a weekend roaming around Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. It is an amazing place and while I love taking the tour of the house that he designed, it is the grounds that I love best. Specifically the gardens. There is an area off of Mulberry Row, which was the main throughfare of the estate, where Jefferson had the vegetable garden for the plantation. Jefferson’s household vegetable garden was over 1000 feet long and covered 2 square acres. It overlooks an 8 acre orchard and a separate vineyard. I should be so lucky to have such a garden plot. Forget the 5000 acres of woodlands that go with it.
My gardening is limited to container gardening in my postage stamp sized backyard of my townhouse in Massachusetts these days. However, I have managed to bring home a small part of Monticello that I hope to enjoy as the growing season begins in New England. One of the things I love about Monticello is that they have the Thomas Jefferson Centre for Historic Plants. The Center collects, preserves, and distributes historic plant varieties and strives to promote greater appreciation for the origins and evolution of garden plants. One of the things that the Center does is sell Heirloom seeds to the public. What are Heirloom seeds you might ask and how are they different from any other seeds you might purchase and plant this Spring. I’m glad you asked…
Typically there are 3 types of seeds familar to most gardners. The first kind is called First generation hybrids (F1 hybrids). These seeds are hand-pollinated, and are patented and often sterile. These seeds are genetically identical within specific food types and are sold exclusively by multinational seed companies. Since they are usually sterile you get to buy new seeds every year to grow your beans, tomatoes, flowers, whatever. Hence, you are a permanent repeat customer for the seed companies.
A second type of seeds are genetically engineered. Bioengineered seeds are rapidly contaminating the global seed supply and threatening the genetic integrity of seeds everywhere. The DNA of the plant has been changed permanently when it is artifically modified. A common trick is to splice DNA from a fish that survives in extreme cold water into strawberries so they become frost resistant. Not a bad idea on the surface, but the biological implications are quite frightening.
A third kind of seeds are called heirloom or open-pollinated. Typically, heirlooms have adapted over time to whatever climate and soil they have been grown in. Due to their genetics, they are often resistant to local pests, diseases and extremes of weather.With heirloom seeds there are thousands or 10,000s varieties of a type of fruit or vegetable, compared to the very few F1 hybrid types of the same fruit or vegetable. This is good. If a disease attacks and destroys a particular variety of tomato there are still a few thousand varieties around that may resist that disease.
The loss of genetic seed diversity facing us today may lead to a catastrophe far beyond our imagining. The Irish potato famine, which led to the death or displacement of two and a half million people in the 1840s, is an example of what can happen when farmers rely on only a few plant species as crop cornerstones.
We can help save heirloom seeds by learning how to buy and save these genetically diverse jewels ourselves. There are a number of sources of information regarding heirloom plants and seeds as well as a variety of suppliers where heirlooms can be purchased. A few are listed below. As Spring gets kicked off consider supporting biodiversity by planting heirloom seeds and plants. Besides they taste fantastic!
At this time of year in New England I tend to go through fresh fruit and vegetable withdrawal. I know I can go to the local grocery store and buy produce shipped in from hundreds or thousands of miles away and, if all else fails, I will probably do that. But I prefer local produce from the surrounding area where I live. It is part of the way I try to keep my personal carbon footprint small. Right now in the dead of winter, when I check the Locavore app on my iTouch it says, ” Nothing currently in season here [Massachusetts].” and to add insult to injury, it also says, “No new food coming into season soon.” As if lack of sunlight, snow and bitter cold weren’t enough. But I do know that eventually there will be beautiful fresh vegetables and gorgeous fruit on display at any number of farmers markets in the area.
Not everybody is so lucky though. In what are being described as “food deserts” there is a complete lack of healthy, fresh produce year round. These food deserts are commonly found in poor urban areas. There maybe any number of convenience stores and fast food restaurants in these areas, but no place that has the healthy, tempting fresh produce I see most Saturdays at my local farmers market. Interestingly enough the First Lady, as part of her Let’s Move campaign, has targeted eliminating these food deserts in the next seven years. Here is a link to an article in the Huffington Post about her plans. Check it out. There is even some pretty cool video.