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Heirloom Seeds: Grow Them Out!

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That’s right. The rise of the Industrial Revolution, and our new-found trust in technology, coincide with the beginning of the thoughtless squandering of our most precious resource: the plants and the animals that we feed off.

Jim Richardson had some slides, interspersed among his many photographs, to prove the point: between 1903 and 1983, the number of varieties of lettuce grown in the United States went from 497 to 36. There were only 79 varieties of tomato left in 1983, compared to 408 eighty years before. And that’s only a tiny sample. The sad story repeats the world over. Ditto for farm animals, with at least one-third of the heirloom breeds either endangered or extinct.

I’m most grateful to Jim Richardson for his mention of Nikolay Ivanovitch Vavilov. Born in 1887, the Russian agricultural scientist is the “father” of research on agricultural biodiversity. Keen to find varieties of wheat that would withstand the Russian harsh climate, hence putting an end to repeated famines in his native homeland, Vavilov traveled the world in search of cultivated-biodiversity heavens. His reasoning was that the region that holds the highest number of varieties of a plant, is the region where this particular plant originated. In the process, he mapped the Centers of Diversity of Cultivated Plants.

His findings still make authority today. Incidentally, he was the founder of the first seed bank in history, an involved affair in Stalingrad, defended during the Second World War against the long German siege by loyal employees who starved to death rather than consuming the seeds under their care. Sadly, about half of the seed collection is unusable today, as maintaining it is an expensive endeavor that involves growing the seeds to “recycle” them. This story, and many more as they relate to us today, were told in the fascinating book “Where Our Food Comes From”, by Gary Paul Nabhan.

 

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Laetitia Mailhes

Laetitia Mailhes is a French-born journalist. After many years as the technology and innovation correspondent of the French "Financial Times" in San Francisco, she decided to focus on what truly matters to her: sustainable food and farming. Find more articles and videos on her blog, The Green Plate Blog.

104 comments

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9:05PM PST on Feb 16, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

9:59AM PDT on May 10, 2013

Thank you Laetitia, for Sharing this!

3:12AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

wow, great article

10:16AM PDT on Apr 23, 2012

I just started propagating my own tomato seeds. EZ PZ with awesome results. Plus I had 100's of seeds to share. Great article. Thanks for sharing.

9:09AM PDT on Mar 28, 2012

We get a Burpee catalog every year and I buy seeds that I haven't grown before - or even a variation of another one. I usually share it with our neighbors on each side of us.

1:51AM PDT on Mar 12, 2012

Informed....

8:24PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

Important

9:15AM PST on Mar 1, 2012

thanks, didn't know that.

1:33AM PST on Mar 1, 2012

I have strawberry plants from my great grandmother. They're probably at least 150 years old since she's had them, and depending on where she got them from, who knows? But the berries are sweet and juicy, so I'll keep those.

9:33AM PST on Feb 28, 2012

Interesting

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