I was first introduced to the world of seed saving and crop varieties a few years ago as an anthropology graduate student completing fieldwork in the Andean highlands of Peru.
|Native/Heirloom Varieties of Potatoes from the Andes (Photo source: CIP)|
Upon seeing many varieties of potato and quinoa in the Andes, I became instantly engrossed in learning more from local farmers about crop diversity and heirloom varieties. A key characteristic of heirloom varieties is that farmers select and pass down the seeds through generations. Heirloom varieties offer a wide range of incredible colors, tastes, textures and flavors. In addition, heirloom varieties provide nutritional diversity for families and contribute to food security while simultaneously offering farmers some degree of harvest security or risk management since different varieties can adapt to diverse agroecological environments and are resilient under adverse climatic conditions. Furthermore, farmers may also use traditional knowledge as they conserve the seeds inherited from their families.
Some crop varieties may be good for certain types of recipes while others have medicinal or healing properties. Over the past several decades, there has been a significant decline in crop diversity due to many factors, including a preference for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties over heirloom varieties.
In the US, the most diverse foodshed exists in Appalachia. There is exciting work happening around heirloom crops and seed conservation in the US, especially in the Southern states. New Jersey also boasts some of its own heirloom varieties of crops such as that of the beloved tomato. As May quickly approaches, it will soon be time for backyard, container and community gardeners to plant their summer crops. Heirloom varieties could be a wonderful addition to the garden and provide gardeners with a chance to grow crops that have a long history and tradition. If you don’t have a green thumb but are still interested in tasting some heirloom crop varieties, visit your local farmers’ market and inquire about what is available. The City Green Farms proudly grow 7 heirloom varieties: Moskvich, Valencia, Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, Striped German, Brandywine and Amish Paste. These heirloom tomatoes will be available during the summer season.
For more information about seed saving and heirloom crops in the US, check out the following sites:
Native Seeds/SEARCH http://www.nativeseeds.org/
Southern Seed Legacy https://www.facebook.com/pages/Southern-Seed-Legacy/344948342262019?sk=timeline&ref=page_internal
PBS Food Forward: Seeds of Change http://www.pbs.org/food/features/food-forward-season-1-seeds-of-change/
by Claudia Urdanivia
Claudia Urdanivia is Program Operations Manager at City Green and loves learning about plant and crop biodiversity.