It isn’t just agricultural biodiversity that needs looking after; sometimes it is the agriculture itself. In my in-basket today two stories of farms saved for the future. Coincidence, I’m sure, but it is not hard to glean a single message of nostalgia combined with urban alienation from the rescue of College Farm in north London and Gellatly Nut Farm in British Columbia. I’ve often thought that we should make more of the commonalities between developed and developing countries than we do. Maybe these stories will help.
Diversity is of course wonderful, but I sometimes wonder whether the urge to manipulate it can be taken too far.
A study just published in Nature and reported in The Times here identified the particular class of the polyphenols found in red wine which confers the greatest health advantage, by suppressing production of a protein which narrows blood vessels. There’s been lots recently in the press about the supposed health benefits of moderate consumption of wine, in particular red wine, as part of the “Mediterranean diet.” Known as polymeric procyanidins, these polyphenols turn out to be present in particularly high concentrations in some wines from Sardinia and the Pyrenees. This is due to both the wine-making technique (the compounds are released from the seeds after a long period of fermentation) and variety (the Tannat grape from SW France is rich in these chemicals). The Cannonau wine from Nuoro (Sardinia) and the Madiran from Gers (France) haveÂ the highest levels of procyanidins,Â and it turns out that people from those areas are also of above-average longevity, especially the men.
Researchers in Texas have planted a trial of so-called perennial wheat, which lasts about five years. Normal wheat flowers and dies in less than a year. The wheat, they say, is being evaluated particularly in the context of dual purpose grain and grazing use. Many farmers in the US west sow wheat and allow cattle to graze the young growth. After a while the cattle are removed and the wheat allowed to mature and flower. The perennial wheats, which have emerged from crosses of wheat with wild wheat grass (Agropyron spp) made in search of insect resistance and drought tolerance, would reduce the costs of seed and annual sowing.
Fine and dandy, but sad to see no mention whatsoever of the pioneering work by Wes Jackson and the Land Institute on the whole subject of perennial polyculture. Sad, but not entirely surprising; the Land Institute’s web site is by no means the easiest to find one’s way around. I visited a few years ago, and have kept up with their slow but steady progress towards “growing our own granola” but the truth is that despite Jackson’s wonderful oratory, not enough people know what they are doing there to promote edible biodiversity for the prairies. Try here for their latest publication on perennial polyculture.
Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) “is a coalition of seven of the most prominent non-profit food, agriculture, conservation, and educational organizations dedicated to rescuing Americaâ€™s diverse foods and food traditions.” You can download hereÂ their great book explaining what these traditions are. There’s also aÂ map of North America’s “totem foods.”
Same topic, different region: Dr Lois Englberger of the Island Food Community of Pohnpei (right, with some of her NGO’s information products) has made Pacific Magazine’s list of “293 Pacific Leaders You Need To Know” because of her efforts to promote local island foods, food cropsÂ and food traditions. Congratulations, Lois, and keep up the good work!