Eat This, Ministry of Controversy

More than just seed porn

seeds
It’s ironic that by far the largest and most beautiful garden catalogs I receive are for the smallest commodities. And some might find it sad that I never buy any of these small items. Seeds are really cheap for all they can deliver, and nobody celebrates the glory of seeds like Baker Creek. I received the 2014 Whole Seed Catalog a couple weeks ago, and have been greatly enjoying the mix of veggie porn (red ruffled eggplant! Noir des carmes melon! Sweet Chocolate peppers!), farming stories, and anti-GMO treatises. There are also a lot of interesting recipes, many designed with vintage display typefaces. As an editor, I can imagine the work that goes into this lovely publication.

Here’s a final quote from one of the articles, about the Baker Creek seed grower program: “as we all endeavor to reinvent our country’s food system.” It’s a tall order. Maybe even a Quixotic one? I can only measure awareness by what I see around me. There has been serious and widespread awareness of heirloom varieties in the Western New York marketplace for about the last couple decades, and it is only over the last ten years or so that home gardeners have sought out those varieties. Over the same time period, non-food-growers (like me) are turning to organic CSAs for our locally grown/heirloom vegetables and fruit. And according to this Grist article, there are “more than 8,150 farmers markets in the U.S. today, compared to 1,775 in 1994.”

The inherent paradox here is that—as we all know—big agribusiness, supported by the government, is focusing on just a few varieties of superseeds that will be able to stand up to anything pests, diseases, and/or climate change can throw at them. The prospect of such a mindset controlling our food supply is—if nothing else—boring.

I’m glad I got the Whole Seed Catalog before Thanksgiving weekend, thus doubling down on the amount of thinking I do about food at this time of year, when even a non-seed-saver and non-food-grower like me can still get heirloom winter vegetables from several sources. We’re lucky—and thankful—but I still wonder when and if there will be a tipping point for those who still care about food diversity, especially small farmers and companies like Baker.

Posted by on November 25, 2013 at 8:56 am, in the category Eat This, Ministry of Controversy.
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4 Responses to “More than just seed porn”

  1. Amy says:

    I remain hopeful that there will be a tipping point. I live in a community where locally grown food and heirloom veg are revered, so perhaps I’m in a bubble, but even when I travel outside of my area into more rural locations I see chain supermarkets beginning to explore heirloom seasonal vegetables: tomatoes in summer, squash and pumpkins in fall. The prolonged recession hasn’t helped matters, as these quality vegetables tend to be more expensive. But I think as people get reacquainted with the phenomenal tastes these foods provide, they find it incrementally harder to settle for tasteless mega-farmed produce.

  2. Chris says:

    “The inherent paradox here is that—as we all know—big agribusiness, supported by the government, is focusing on just a few varieties of superseeds that will be able to stand up to anything pests, diseases, and/or climate change can throw at them. The prospect of such a mindset controlling our food supply is—if nothing else—boring.”

    Those are usually for large production farms that supply the commercial food producers (flour, oil, feed lots, etc… don’t tell me that you don’t buy flour or have never heard of Norman Borlaug), not typically for the small markets. Though there are probably some tomato strains that have been conventionally bred to do well in the greenhouses in places like Richmond, British Columbia.

    I already bought all of the specialty seed I need for next spring. I went into a couple of nurseries and bought the seeds that were on sale at the beginning of fall. For my small garden I have the chard and kale I need to plant for the winter, the lavender that I will start to put into a low water landscape in a few months, plus the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for next summer. The seeds don’t really care if they wait one season.

    The seed porn catalogs are fun to look at, but only to be on the lookout for interesting plants to seek out at the small local nurseries or the local horticultural sales next spring. Some of which I might buy if I go the the flower and garden show next February, where I will seek an Asian lily that blooms in August… something I have not been able to get in my local nurseries this fall.

  3. JodiepCook says:

    Yesterday I was listening to a pumpkin farmer talk about his process…He said his primary customer, Libby – owned by Nestle, provided him with seeds and did the actual harvesting, apparently because pumpkins are extra hard to mechanically harvest. So, his job is essentially to nursemaid the pumpkins while they grow but not to choose the seed variety. The corporate entity provides input (seed) and output (canned pumpkin). I didn’t realize this was a practice.

  4. kermit says:

    We live in Tri-Cities, Washington and our local Yokes supermarket is big on produce, much of it local, and they will advertise if it is organic and/or heirloom. It’s an employee-owned chain, which may contribute to a somewhat different attitude from most corporate owners.

    My wife and I find that organic veggie seeds do much better in our (mostly) organic garden. We haven’t decided yet if the heirloom varieties. Not sure if they taste better, either. I’ll let y’all know after a few hundred more test batches have been consumed.

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