week 4: why it matters

Yesterday, we harvested our first radish. It was tiny; it was beautiful; and it was ours. We took a bit of time yesterday to harvest all of our peppermint, weed & put down some more fall seed (spinach, radish, carrot).

This was our first attempt at direct-seeding fall crops–the first round went out a few weeks ago. Spinach & carrot sprouts are going strong. We’re really enjoying it, especially as the weather turns crisp & puts on its gorgeous autumn jacket.

This was also my first time ordering seeds (open-pollinating, organic seeds from Johnny’s). I spent hours pouring over which varieties were best in our region, which we could harvest quickly, which had been around & proven their value. (Most importantly, which would hold up to a first-year gardening couples’ ineptitude?)

The history of seeds, how we pick them & how they avoid becoming a “weed” is what initially interested me in gardening. Michael Pollan’sThe Botany of Desire was the book that got me really thinking on it. Is it possible that plants trick us into planting them? Are we subject to their alluring botany?

It seems so. Or at least, we were. Now, we’ve gradually distanced ourselves from their sexy leaves–having fewer & fewer people grow our food, having these people focus on fewer & fewer characteristics. About a year ago, I came across this infographic from RAFI-USA, which puts our agricultural story into a pretty clear summary.

Can you imagine–288 varieties of beets? Maybe I could finally find one I enjoy eating! So what does this say about us?

The same thing that the Irish Potato Famine said. If you plant one crop, then one fungis/bacteria/drought/disaster can take it all out. If you eliminate crop diversity, you create a narrower, trickier future.

This was again illustrated for me over the summer, while reading the amazing memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In an effort to eat strictly locally, Kingsolver & her family moved to a homestead, set out a large garden & started a flock of turkeys.

But turkeys struggle to breed. (Read more about this portion of the story here.) The industrial agriculture industry has slowly narrowed our turkey consumption to the one “butterball” variety. And the awkward birds bred at that scale… well, they don’t breed for themselves. There is no turkey sex. In the book, this becomes a rather hilarious story, as Kingsolver struggles to get her Bourbon Reds*, a breed now comprising less than 1.5% of all turkeys in the States, to figure it out. Rather than go through this bizarre ritual, the industry relies on artificial insemination.

The chicken world is seeing much of the same thing. Rather than farms looking like this…

…they frequently this (from this Guardian article–and believe me, I struggled to find a somewhat flattering picture of large-scale chicken farms).

This is not a rant about industrial farming. It’s not. I do that plenty in person. This is an illustration of why our food choices matter–to me & an increasing number of people. The less diversity we grow, the less diversity we eat, and the lower are our chances of bouncing back from one large agricultural crisis. (Raise your hand if you’ve heard stories from commodity farmers who lost their corn crop in this year’s drought. My hand is way, way up there, as our family was personally impacted on it.)

So by eliminating waste, we’re relying less on large-scale operations. We’re looking at new parts of the grocery & bringing home new greens or grains. We’re diversifying & increasing demand for a wider range of crops. When planting our garden, we’re opting for older, open-pollinating plants that could exist without our science’s help.

We’re bringing (plant) sexy back.

The Real Question

So, here’s this week’s question: What is your favorite variety of your favorite food? Do you know more than one? (Fingerling or Yukon potatoes? Love apples? Macintosh, Granny Smith or Fugi?)


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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3 Responses to week 4: why it matters

  1. Pingback: week 4: why it matters | francofile

  2. Mark Milby says:

    Warning, beet lovers, you may find this article offensive.

    Perhaps playing some J.T. for your plants will set the mood?

    You really got me with this post – other than the obvious apple varieties, I can’t name a. single. one. WTF? Of course there’s not just one “eggplant” but that’s all I ever think! My mind is blown. I need to brush up.

    • meganbetz says:

      Eggplants are hard! Until we planted them, I had no idea others even existed. We got small, green ones in our CSA basket, and all I could think was, “Are these ripe?” (Louisiana green I think? Or Kentucky green? Anyway, they’re cute.) I feel like I see something I didn’t even know existed every time I walk around the farmers’ market.

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