Bananas at school

The Rainforest Alliance is tooting its own horn about the value of bananas as a teaching tool, in an item about its ideas for using the banana as a basis for several school activities. Intended for young children in non-tropical countries, the ideas struck me as pretty entertaining, and infinitely expandable. Bananas as the basis of surveys and measurement, geography, history, even a bit of botany. There are other possibilities too, only hinted at or completely ignored. But wouldn’t it be cool if other crops were used this way, not as object lessons in themselves, but as the basis for studying all sorts of things?

That, by the way, is Gros Michel, which I had the pleasure of tasting for the first time earlier this year. Just the shift from Gros Michel to Cavendish opens up all sorts of pedagocic possibilities.

A tale of two farms

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.


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) have the highest levels of procyanidins, and it turns out that people from those areas are also of above-average longevity, especially the men.

Farming tigers

Not agricultural biodiversity, but here’s a somewhat radical (in its context) take on conservation through use. Of course, this strategy is fairly well established for wild plants.