Friday, March 12, 2010

Crop Diversity

I saw this article on yahoo this morning and it reminded me of yet another reason that everyone should grow food at home.  When we walk into a modern supermarket, there is this illusion of diversity.  There are thousands and thousands of different food products available for purchase and it is easy to think that there is alot of variety to choose from.  This is a lie.  All the products we see are engineered in a laboratory out of very few basic starting materials.  Industrialized agriculture chooses the crops that give the highest yield and is the easiest to transport and store.  Therefore we as a planet have reduced our food diversity.

Historically, people grew and ate over 7,000 species of plants.  Today, only 150 species are cultivated to any extent and most humans live on only 12 species.  This is not taking into consideration different varieties of the same species.  There used to be thousands of different kinds of apples.  If you went to different parts of the world, or country, or even a different orchard, you would get a different apple.  Today, most people have only seen or eaten one of 4 or 5 varieties (Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious, Cameo, etc).  There are thousands of kinds of lettuce, but over 95% of what is grown is iceberg lettuce.  There were thousands of varieties of corn but just three varieties account for over 90% of the corn grown in the world.  Same goes for soybeans, potatoes, rice.  It goes on and on.  We have decimated the biodiversity of our food in the name of production and profit.

Crop diversity is food security.  A monoculture food supply is very vulnerable to disease.  If we grew thousands of kinds of corn, any single disease would only wipe out a small fraction of the corn grown, but if a fungus or something were to attack one of the varieties of corn we grow, it would cause a tremendous collapse of our food system.  Same for rice, potatoes, soybeans.  Not only that but the food we grow has sacrificed nutritional value and taste for the sake of easy production, harvest, storage and transport.  That is what these foods are bred for - not for taste, not for nutrition, not for anything else.

So the work that is done by the Global Crop Diversity Trust is very important but having seeds locked up in a vault is time consuming.  If everyone grew food at home and grew different varieties of things than their friends and neighbors, there would be built in biodiversity in food that is actively used.  We could all taste better and different foods and it would be healthier for us and finally would provide food security for all.

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