Branfood: Salinity tolerance, Comestibles, Underused species, On farm diversity, Minor cereals, Fragrant millet, Wild yams, Fonio, Winged bean, Giant taro, Nutmeg, Mungbean, Finger millet, Amaranth

RIP Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan

At the International Congress of Genetics in New Delhi in 1983, I stressed the need for a conservation continuum, beginning with revitalizing conservation of domesticated plants by farm families in all countries, and extending to the establishment of an international genetic resource repository maintained under permafrost conditions. Since then, thanks to the spread of participatory breeding and knowledge-management systems involving scientists and local communities, on-farm conservation and gene banks have become integral parts of national biodiversity conservation strategies. For example, there are now over 125,000 genetic strains of rice, of which over 100,000 are in a cryogenic gene bank maintained by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. This gene pool is invaluable for adapting one of the world’s most important cereal grains to the consequences of global climate change.

Si monumentum requiris circumspice.

From farm to bar to genebank

Meet Tom Barse, a Maryland farmer and brewer:

We used to sell hops to local breweries until we opened Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm, in 2013, where we now use all of the hops we grow. A few years back, at an agricultural conference at Linganore Wine Cellars, I met Dr. Ray Ediger, a retired veterinarian living in Utica in Frederick County. He told me about an old hop plant growing on his farm that had been there for years, and wanted to know if I was interested in checking it out.

Tom continues, “I went out to Ray’s farm and was amazed to see this enormous hop plant that had taken over his chicken coop, fence, and other farm buildings. Fellow hop growers Brad Humbert, Del Hayes, and I went out and picked some of the hops in early October – which is extremely late for a harvest in Maryland.

We thought we had something pretty cool, so working with Janna Howley and Kevin Atticks at Grow and Fortify we were able to get a USDA/MDA grant to research the hop and make beer. We donated the germplasm to the USDA plant bank and have received a USDA PI number (plant introduction).

That PI number is 700807, and you can see it right there on the beer bottles.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a genebank accession number quoted on a commercial product like that. Thanks to Dr Peter Bretting of USDA for the headsup.

LATER: Oh yes I have :)

Rice everywhere

Jeremy’s latest Eat This Newsletter has three — count them — pieces on rice. Here’s one of them. Do check out the others too though.

Rice by Any Other Name

Sometimes, I read an article and I marvel at the erudition it contains even when I cannot fully understand it. So it was with Deepa Reddy’s deep dive into Rice names & Memory work. She makes a strong case for the importance of names that describe Indian farmer varieties of rice and tell us more about them, but of course without any familiarity for the language much of the story was lost on me. One tidbit I picked up on: “Njavara with its potent medicinal value is ‘wild water grass,’ like the ‘Nivara’ of the old texts.” Oryza nivara is one of rice’s closest wild relatives. Is Njavara that wild relative, or a cultivar that resembles, or something else entirely?

The article contains a lot more in the intersection of agriculture, anthropology and ethnography and one bit that I hope to see explored further. The rice festival on which Deepa Reddy reported included a demonstration of the importance of memorisation to oral tradition, “by having a few young children recite, from top-to-bottom and entirely from memory, all the hundred-odd names of rices revived, conserved, and now grown in Tamil Nadu by local farmers”. She goes on to say:

Such memory practices and names do a lot more than just remind and entice; they help us understand the still vast array of heritage rices by telling us something about them, helping us to get to know them, remember them, choose between them, and by such methods safeguard them for all the time to come.

Yes, but what are the mnemonics that the children use? A memory palace for rice?

Brainfood: Biodiversity review, History, Maize history, Maya ag, Agroecology, Ancient curry, IK, Culture & policy, Breeding review, Pacific PGRFA, Pacific breeding, Epidemics, Xylella