Saturday, September 19, 2009

spuds to us

Allowing big corporations to patent food crops always seemed like a bad idea to me since the GM seeds are designed to be sterile. Farmers buy the seeds, plant and care for the crops until the harvest without being able to save any of the seeds for the following season. It's just not the way humans have farmed for millenia and sounds not only wrong but dangerous.

Over the the course of our long history humans have relied on more than 10,000 different plant species for food. It's frightening to learn today there are barely 150 species under cultivation of which only 12 provide 80 percent of all of our food needs. Just four of them, rice, wheat, maize and potatoes, provide more than half of our energy requirements.

As markets became big global business, seed production and agriculture became more commercialized, and the old system of farmers saving their own seeds of a myriad different crops, has almost disappeared.

As a result variety is dwindling towards a vanishing point. China has lost 90 percent of the wheat varieties it had just 60 years ago. In the United States more than 90 percent of fruit tree and vegetable varieties found in farmers' fields at the beginning of the twentieth century are no longer there. Mexico has lost 80 percent of its corn varieties. India has lost 90 percent of its rice varieties.

It's kind of nice knowing the Quechua Indians high up in the mountains of Peru are being paid to maintain their diverse collection of rare potatoes. Along with 11 other communities around the world they are part of a major new initiative to ensure that the world has the options it might need to cope with future food crises.

Sometimes there's good news even if it's just small potaoes.


Pagan Sphinx said...

Now I have a craving for mashed potatoes. :-)

Seraphine said...

the food system is so complex. it's great that somebody smart is able to produce seeds that offer increased yields. it's wonderful that seeds are resistant to mold, disease and bug infestation. Drought resistant seeds might save human-kind from starving in a world plagued by global warming.
But it's good to have a "back-up" system too, in case something goes terribly wrong with the current wonderfulness.
already, natural water systems are strained by over-use of fertilizers.
and what about nutritional diversity or even the small matter of taste?
luckily, consumers are demanding healthy, better-tasting foods, and local farmers are tapping into that market.
supporting local growers is more important now than ever.

Randal Graves said...

Variety is the spice of life. And since spicy foods upset the stomach, here, eat this extra bland wheat product shot through with HFCS.

Spadoman said...

As usual, a timely piece about something important in our lives. This time of year, with harvest time and Farmer's Markets going strong, it's easy to buy fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies. But the local gardens rarely produce rice or wheat. We do get wild rice up here, but it is expensive and hard to afford, (over $15.00 per pound for the good whole grain stuff!)
Little by little we are beholden to big agra-business and "hooked" on their chemically laden food, not to mention the processed crap derived from the same chemically laden and morphodite stuff.
Makes me want to start eating only beans and rice every meal, every day and drink water, and only water, with every meal. I'd sure save money if I were capable of doing this. Might be healthier too! Save money, a lot of money. Such a black and white thought you have conjured up for me with this. Good to get the mind working on a project. Thanks.


CDP said...

You always make me think about things that don't usually occur to me.

susan said...

pagan sphinx - Me too :-)

sera - I was surprised to read about the loss of so much seed diversity in the past hundred years. I'm glad there are people just plain growing stuff and using the older methods of keeping the healthiest seeds.

randal - Maybe if you put some hot sauce on it?

spadoman - If I could only eat what grows within a mile of my house I'd be subsisting on grass, leaves and herbaceous borders - with the odd flower tossed in for color. It's just good to learn what we can.

cdp - I love to read and it's amazing how much there is to learn.

Gary said...

Assume the photo is of the Quechua taters? Yeah, just one more thing that points to greed and leaders who don't really care about people much.

Meanwhile, there are lots of heritage seed programs and local garden things happening. We belong to a grain co-op now, with fresh organic wheat, barley, lentils etc being grown for members. We get it grinded ourselves. The farmers get about 85 cents a pound instead of 10. We all share the good and bad harvests and they are using/ seeking old strains.

Nancy said...

This is scary business. I'm sad that we have allowed these big corporations to corner the market on what can and cannot be farmed. It's time to revisit some of these decisions. My youngest is taking an organic gardening course over the next three months. Rather difficult to get into - not inexpensive, and required an essay to be accepted. Hopefully she will guide her family into becoming as self-sustaining as possible.

Utah Savage said...

Great post and very timely. I fear we will lose the ability to have a plot of vegetables to sustain us in times of trouble--like now for a lot of us.

One of my generous neighbors with sunny back yards gave me a curiosity last year about this time. It's a curious blend of a pumpkin and a zucchini. It's the shape of a pumpkin and the color and pattern of a zucchini. I didn't eat mine last year. I left it on the edge of the back steps from the driveway to the patio. It rotted there over the winter and when I cleaned it up this spring, I must not have found all the seeds, since a vine started growing. It popped up in the narrow crack between two paving stones. And without any water but that which fell from the sky, early spring, it has flourished and produced two perfectly gorgeous Zumpkins or Pucchinis. Either way I love it. A zucchini with the staying power of a pumpkin. But how to cook it? Any suggestions?

Love the photo of potatoes at the top of your post.

Seraphine said...

scoop out the zumpkin brains, toss in something sweet like a pear and small carrots and an onion. add a teaspoon of butter.
place in a baking dish (with just a little water in the bottom) and bake at 375 until tender.
serve with sliced tomatoes, cheese, white wine and crunchy bread.

linda said...

those potatoes look luscious, potatoes being one of my fave foods...these numbers are indeed frightening...for years we saved seeds and today, people still exchange seeds at the farmer's market, especially for those gorgeously delicious, almost sinful heirloom to start now and not stop so I can leave them for my if... hahah, knowing full well they won't garden...another thing about today...who gardens, where is the land...oy...this could go on and on and on...

just wanted to say hello and comment on those lovely potatoes!

susan said...

gary - Yes, they're the Quecha potatoes. The heritage seed thing really is pretty good but the overwhelming levels of monoculture have become more than a little scary. Huge chunks of third world countries have been purchased by others like Saudi in order to be turned over to factory farming.

nancy - From what I've read a number of young people appear to be taking this whole thing very seriously. It was fascinating to read that so many are working on cooperative organic farming despite having earned degrees in other fields. Was that a pun?

utah - A big part of the problem is having good gardening soil. It takes the earth a long time to make a couple of inches of topsoil.

I love the idea of Zumpkins :-)

sera - I didn't know you were a gourmet cook as well as having all your other talents! What a cool recipe.

linda - The whole heritage seed thing is wonderful and who knows but that your kids or grandkids might actually get interested. I'd love to but have only a tiny balcony - tomatoes, yes but wheat? and I do love a nice loaf of bread.

La Belette Rouge said...

Is it jut because I have been sick or do those potatoes look alike intestines or some alien that Randal might write about? Sorry to be gross.( maybe I am not ready to play with others yet;-). But don't get me wrong, I love a good potato. Love the yellow ones.

Seraphine said...

i'm not a gourmet cook at all. i just made the recipe up. sometimes the recipes work, sometimes they are colossal failures. but i figure, if the zuccini/pumpkin is aweful, there's always bread and cheese and fresh tomatoes and wine. the trick is always have an alternative plan when cooking. and something good for dessert.

Spadoman said...

Did you know my name is Spadoman, but people also call me Spud Tater?

Mary Ellen said...

I've also noticed that many of the new variety of fruits and vegetables have little flavor compared to the stuff I ate when I was a kid...a LONG time ago.

And I'm with Pagan will be mashed potatoes with dinner tonight.

Great post, Susan!

susan said...

belette - I have to agree that some of them are a bit alien looking but that just shows what we've grown used to. My favorites are the yellow ones too - Yukon Golds are delicious no matter how they're cooked.

sera - I do that too! I figure if great cooks can make up their own recipes, why can't I? and if it doesn't work there's always grilled cheese and a salad. That reminds me of a favorite way of making grilled cheese - you put a little mayo and sliced dates inside. Ever tried that?

spado - That's pretty cool but no, I'm not going to call you Spuddo :-)

susan said...

nunly - I bought my very first slow cooker last week and made a pot roast for the first time in 20 years. It was wonderful with mashed potatoes and the chips I made the following night :-)

lindsaylobe said...

HI Susan
Good news apparently comes in small parcels or rather in small potatoes. The other point to make is the scientists behind higher yielding crop varieties never intended such advances would render countries captive to the agribusiness practices of the type you have mentioned.
More sustainable farming seems to be taking root in many countries with farmers working actively to reduce or eliminate the usage of non-renewable inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers and building up seed stocks. Here in Australia such initiatives as Seedsavers actively promote the saving of seeds and the use of a very wide variety of seeds that can be purchased from suppliers whose seeds are not designed to need a patented chemical to either grow or ripen. The plants themselves are also not patented to avoid royalties payable to a chemical company.
Best wishes

susan said...

lindsay - Saving seeds and sustainable farming practices are definitely the way to go. It's just factory farming and agribusiness that needs to be managed.