We live in a culture of ever decreasing crop diversity where it is normal to only see four apple varieties in the grocery store, so it was refreshing to admire the 60 flavor packed varieties at the festival. As we continued to walk around the festival, I started thinking of all the ways we are losing diversity in our crops because of the industrialization of farming, subsidies, and the increase of huge monocultures. At home I started researching about biodiversity and found some shocking facts.
"Apples in America are a $1.7 billion industry today. Large markets favor industrialized agriculture practiced on a vast scale; the bottom line is consistency and efficiency. This factor combined with changes in American family life, has meant that within a century, the number of apple varieties available has shrunk to a tiny fraction of the 700 plus grown in the this country when S. A. Beach wrote The Apples of New York in 1905." (Cornell)
"The genetic diversity of apples has continually eroded from a high of 7000 worldwide commercial varieties described between 1804 and 1904 to the present, when most of the world's commercial production is based on two varieties, Red and Golden Delicious and their offspring." (Emphasis mine) (Cornell)
Suddenly the 60 varieties of apples at the Portland Nursery don't seem so impressive.
The saddening facts reach far beyond just apples, check out these stats by (Oregon State University)
- In 1903, US seed catalogs listed 408 pea varieties; only 25 can be found now (a 95% decrease) and by 1970, just two pea varieties comprised 96% of the US commercial crop.
- Seventy one percent of US corn acreage in 1991 was planted to just six varieties.
- Nine varieties of wheat occupy half of all the wheat land in the US.
- Genetic diversity of livestock has been similarly diminished over recent decades.
- 99% of all turkeys raised in the U.S. are Broad-Breasted Whites, a single turkey breed (Sustainable Table)
So what can you and I do to help preserve the diversity in our food crops? Here's a couple of my ideas:
- Add more heirloom fruit, vegetables, meat, and grains into your family's diet
- Start a garden with heirloom seeds and learn how to save seeds
- Ask your local grocer to stock more heirloom fruits and veggies (You'd be surprised how much grocers will accommodate you if the interest is there)
- Don't use pesticides on your yard and garden, and avoid supporting companies who use them
"There are still small farms throughout the US and Canada that specialize in producing heirloom and heritage foods. Visit the Eat Well Guide to find a farm, market or restaurant near you that sells meat, eggs and dairy products from heritage animals.
Try cooking with heirloom crop varieties to add exciting new elements to your meals; heirloom fruits and vegetables have unique colors, textures, and tastes that can't be found in factory-farmed industrial produce. They can often be found at farmers markets around the country."
This post only touches the surface of this issue; I encourage you to check out the following sites:
- American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
- The ARK USA
- Breeds of Livestock
- New England Heritage Breeds Conservancy
- Seed Savers Exchange