An appreciation of the importance of crop diversity

There’s an important post entitled Vegetables of Mass Destruction over at The Daily Kos, a blog. Important not so much for the content, most of which is familiar, well-meaning and just a tad parochial, but for the location. The Daily Kos is one of the most popular sites in the blogosphere, averaging around half a million visits a day. If just some of those readers go away with a slightly better appreciation of the value of agricultural biodiversity, that will be A Good Thing. So thanks to cookiebear and The Daily Kos for their support.

Seeds shared and saved

“When you save your own seeds, you can pick from the best plants and produce varieties that work well on your land,” he says. “You can maintain the background of genetic diversity, while adapting it to what works best for you.”

Own up, you thought that was a quote from an admittedly articulate local farmer sharing indigenous knowledge, didn’t you? Well, it was, except that this farmer has a PhD and farms in North Carolina in the US. Heritage and heirloom seeds are a big and growing deal over there, and this article in The Independent Weekly is a good account of the whys and wherefores of seed saving and sharing in industrialized countries.

Vegetable soup as chemical reagent

Here’s one that’s hard to characterize: scientists in the US and Brazil say that common vegetables contain many of the chemicals that chemists need to perform their research, and that scientists in the developing countries, who often lack the funds to buy reagents, should make use of these resources. I’m not competent to judge but the paper, in the Journal of Natural Products, contains a pretty impressive list of things you can make (chemically) from vegetables.

New tomatoes promise better nutrition

The World Vegetable Center rounds up its work on tomatoes in a recent feature. A new cherry tomato released in Taiwan promises three to five times more beta-carotene than currently available varieties. But, I wonder, finger ever on the pulse, is it the right sort of beta-carotene? Is it the trans form or the cis form, so much more readily absorbed? Either way, the new tomatoes are more than merely sources of vitamin A precursors. They are also higher in citric acid and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and the higher levels of vitamin C make more iron available when the tomatoes are cooked with mung beans.

Hmong farming in Fresno

I’m fascinated by stories about farmers who insist on continuing to grow their traditional crops in unfamiliar or unusual surroundings. They speak to the strength of traditional food cultures, quite apart from representing interesting case studies in on-farm conservation. So I was sad to read this piece about the problems being encountered by Hmong farmers from Vietnam as a result of a recent cold spell in California. I’m sure they’ll cope in the short term, but it doesn’t look like this weird cultural outlier will last beyond the lifetime of the present farmers. All their children seem to be on scholarships to fancy universities. Although, perhaps some of them will study plant genetic resources conservation…