Posted on Thu, August 13, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
2 Comments | Categories: Biodiversity, Contaminated Food, Farms and Farming, News, Current Events,
In Dan Barber’s op-ed in the NY Times on Saturday, “You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster,” he writes about late blight, a disease attacking tomatoes and potatoes across the Northeast this summer. He notes that the huge increase in people growing their own food this year may have actually contributed to the problem. We cant just eat locally we must also buy plants locally. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. When you buy locally grown plants, you not only support local farmers but also protect against the spread of disease. If a disease occurs in a small nursery you can isolate it much more quickly than in an industrial breeding operation that distributes to Home Depot, Kmart, Lowes and Wal-Mart stores all around the country.
Barbers main point, though, is that a healthy food system is a diverse food system. “The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.” For Barber, the “resilient farm of the future” is a farm with 30 plus different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetables (some heirloom, many not).
Here at Slow Food USA we are working to create a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who produce it and good for the planet. Diversity is central to the good, clean, fair food system we envision. In our biodiversity program, we encourage our chapters around the country to recover and promote foods that are adapted to regional climates, soils and cultural traditions. These are foods that are quickly disappearing from our farms and our tables, like Anishinaabeg manoomin, Great Lakes hand-harvested wild rice, and Pineywoods cattle and Gulf Coast sheep, breeds well adapted to the humid South.
Local and regionally adapted (place-based) varieties and breeds shouldnt just be a fad for foodies who ooh and aah over anything called an heirloom or as Barber writes, follow a feverish pursuit of whats old. These plants and breeds are part of our common heritage, essential not only for resisting cultural homogenization, but also critical to the integrity of our food security.
So, when we start thinking about what next to grow in our gardens, lets search out place-based varieties, buy plants from local farmers and nurseries and buy seeds from regional seed companies. This will ensure those seeds are adapted to our particular climate needs, instead of a wide range of conditions like proprietary hybrids. And we must not only rebuild regional knowledge and regional markets for these plants, animals and other food products, but also, as Barber stresses, support the plant and animal breeders, farmers, ranchers, orchard-keepers and agriculture extension agents who continue to select for the characteristics best suited to their place. Healthy, natural systems abhor uniformityjust as a healthy society does. We need to look to a system of food and agriculture that values and mimics natural diversity. The ecological and cultural diversity of our food system will be its ultimate strength.