Pictured above is 3 varieties of corn being grown for the CSA shares this season. The big yellow guys are “Early Riser”, the tiny red ones are “Strawberry Popcorn”, and all of the multicolored corn forming the arc is “Mandan Bride”. The corn will be ready for harvest in the next 2-4 weeks depending on weather and are looking like a fantastic crop!
What is a landrace and why is it so important to sustainable local food systems? A landrace variety is a gene pool of seed created in a geographical region by farmers and gardeners, selected over many generations to suit the tastes, climates and growing conditions of an area and people. Before about 1950 almost all seed belonged to this category. One hallmark trait of a “Landrace” is it’s genetic diversity and therefore it’s ability to adapt and thrive into many incarnations. “Modern” seed has gone the opposite direction.
Pure line genetics and high yielding hybrids, and most recently GMO’s, now dominate the landscape the world over. While these new reductionist scientifically developed varieties are not inherently a bad thing(although it certainly can be argued that GMO’s are very dangerous in nature) the overwhelming dependence on them is where the danger lies. It is a simple matter of investment diversity. If we invest everything in a handful of pure line seed genetics and they begin to fail for any number of reason like climate change, or disease epidemics, as a species we will suffer grave losses. On the other hand if we continue to invest in and develop our heritage landrace seeds we will no doubt be in a better place as the landscape of Earth inevitably changes over time.
This year we grew many “landrace” or “heritage” seeds. Our spring wheat was a Canadian landrace called “Red Fife”. We grew 5 types of heirloom beans(Charlevoix Kidney, Boston Favorite etc…) and 4 types of heirloom corn. The “Emmer”(also know as Farro) we grew is a very old landrace wheat variety and our sunflower seed crop is comprised of two landrace varieties. We also grew 15 wheats from the USDA National Small Grain Collection Germplasm depository to restore some varieties that are no longer commercial grown. Each season we will strive to find and expand the genetic diversity in our fields and reap the rewards for generations to come. The sheer beauty of heritage seeds is alone enough to convince one of their invaluable place in our fields and on our plates. It’s not only the heirloom tomato that generates such oohs and ahhs on the tongue but all our food crops. And while science has yet to document this I know the nutritive qualities are as superior as the look and taste are. This time of year our sunflower crops are hanging heavy with seeds and will soon be ready for harvest.
Despite all the rain we’ve had and our struggle to get the beans in(we did harvest quite a lot of beans thanks to the harvest parties!) We are having a very good year. The small grains all came in without a hitch and our corn and sunflowers couldn’t look much better. Arnie, Adam and Bill have gone above and beyond and done an amazing job. The MAIC grant, MDAR and NESFI have played a critical role in helping us develop the needed infrastructure and the support from the membership and community has been unrelentingly helpful, kind and thoughtful! Thank you all and here is to one amazing first season!!!