Liberating heirlooms

Jeremy’s latest Eat This Newsletter has a dissection of the recent piece on heirlooms from The Guardian that we Nibbled a couple of days back. Plus a whole bunch of other interesting stuff, from food riots to Peruvian limes. Read it!

Intellectual property rights and heirloom seed savers are doing their best to keep things just the way they are, but is that a good thing? The heirlooms of today were created to meet the needs of yesterday, and that’s fine for people who still have those needs. But where are the breeders meeting the needs of non-industrial growers today? They are around, of course, but Chris Smith, writing in The Guardian, thinks seedsavers should stop obsessing over heirloom seeds and let plants change.

He definitely has a point. Laser-like focus on variety preservation does block the possibility of adaptive change to new circumstances. But anyone who know how to keep an open-pollinated variety pure already knows enough to cultivate more diversity and select from that, if they choose to. A farmer like Chris Smith has the land and the inclination to do both, and it doesn’t seem to stop the seed enterprises with which he is associated from offering presumably true-to-type heirloom varieties. I suppose what I am saying is to let a thousand flowers bloom. Preserve the old varieties and use them, with perhaps a pinch of commercial and genebank varieties in the mix, to create and select tomorrow’s heirlooms.

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