This coming Saturday, January 31, 2009, is International Seed Swap Day, http://www.foodnotlawns.net/. The day is designated to encourage people to collect, save and share their own seeds. Saving seeds from local plants supports genetic diversity, both locally and in the bioregion. It contributes to diversity globally. Food security depends on genetic diversity, a value lost in the industrial monocultures of corn, soybeans and wheat.
Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, http://www.seedsavers.org/, describes seed as “a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. When people grow and save seeds, they join an ancient tradition as stewards, nurturing our diverse, fragile, genetic and cultural heritage.”
Crop diversity helps ecosystems recover when disease devastates the dominant crop. The Irish potato famine resulted from focusing potato crops on only two varieties, both of which were vulnerable to the disease that attacked them. Other significant losses due to limited genetics include the European wine industry collapse of the 19th century and the Southern Corn Leaf Blight of the 1970s in the U.S.
Natural ecosystem processes depend on locally adapted plants, animals and microorganisms. Air and water quality, climate, both global and local, disease control, biological pest control, pollination and prevention of erosion can all be improved by biodiversity. People celebrate the wide variety of species and derive spiritual nourishment and artistic inspiration from them. They learn to value their heritage and honor their forebears.
The genetic diversity of wild and domestic crop plants has been enlisted to improve domestic crop plants in the modern era. It's been so successful that a bottom-line mindset has restricted crops to only those that are most productive of commercially valuable end products. That financial incentive has blinded the agricultural industry to the values of diversity.
As noted in my blog entry of December 4, similar pressures are eliminating diversity in poultry, especially chickens. This Sicilian Buttercup rooster, with a shy hen peering over his back, owned and photographed by Barbara Bullock, is a historic breed that has proved its worth over the centuries. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization documents the loss of biodiversity in livestock in its report, The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, Rome 2007, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1250e/a1250e00.htm. From the Executive Summary:
“Overt or hidden governmental subsidies have often promoted the development of large-scale production at the expense of the smallholder systems that utilize local genetic resources… Culling programmes implemented in response to disease outbreaks need to incorporate measures to protect rare breeds; revision of relevant legislation may be necessary… Pastoralists and smallholders are the guardians of much of the world’s livestock biodiversity.”
That’s the significance of conserving historic breeds and the importance of the small flock owner. We can celebrate conserving both plant seeds and animal stock on this day set aside to recognize this work. Find a Community Seed Swap near you, or prepare to organize your own next year. Heather Coburn Flores gives excellent step-by-step directions at Food Not Lawns International.
Keep a flock of Dorkings! Raise Muscovies! Cultivate Pomeranian Geese! Bring a Narragansett Turkey into your yard! Save the world.