Here at Eat Like No One Else, we are all about seeking out flavors and varieties that your taste buds have never touched. I won't deny that I love grocery shopping and love visiting new stores even when on vacation. Yet, there is still something missing. Yes our modern mega marts contain a vast number of items, more than a generation ago, it still doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the vast diversity of plants growing on our planet. In fact, our modern stores may have done more to take away from the vast diversity. In pursuit of the almighty dollar our options have been limited, even eliminated. Huge farm operations aren't interested in growing diversity, they are interested in growing that 1 best variety that will add more money to their bottom line. At the same time, they are creating mono-cultures that are very dangerous (more on that later).
Most of the public doesn't realize the variety that exists. People know that there are different types of apples and different types of pears, most don't know there are different types of peaches, blueberries, or even green beans. The number of different types of beans out there would blow your mind. Most people only buy green beans, what variety of green bean is a mystery to them. Others expand into wax beans or a handful of different type of dried beans that they normally just get out of a can. The colors, flavors, and textures of beans in dried, fresh, snap, green that are out there in the world is amazing. The only way to experience them is to grow them yourself.
Today I am here to talk about a gardening program. A program launched by Joesph Simcox. You may know him from the Baker Creek seed catalogs. He is a botanical explorer, traveling the world over, seeking out new and different varieties and bringing those seeds back to be saved and grown for future generations. I know him from my run in with him at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Yes I just so happened to run into the guy, one late Friday night, looking over the blueberry selection. I immediately recognized him, but just to protect myself from looking stupid, I said that I recognized him from someplace. And he confirms exactly what I thought! He was passing through Ann Arbor on a mission for Gardens Across America.
What is Gardens Across America?
Here is a description of the program taken from their facebook page:
"The basic premise is that Gardeners can change America and that we as the great melting pot country have an extraordinary potential to amass, grow, use and protect floral diversity. "Applicants" should have an great passion & love for gardening and be willing to grow out rare vegetables and fruits and save the seeds and return 50% of their harvest so that this project can grow and grow. Please be responsible, the material sent out are often endangered varieties and you all be entrusted to do your best to grow them out and keep them pure for seed multiplication! If you are a gardener who wants to share gardening with your fellow Americans and you have enough passion to "show and tell" about your gardens then Joe wants to hear from you! About 1000 lucky gardeners will be included in the project this year. Please send an email and your story (why you are a passionate gardener!) Also INCLUDE your location!, Your BEST Crops!, and your interests and the number of crops that you think you can handle growing out!" For more information, check out the Gardens Across America website. Also make sure to take a moment to check out Joesph's site -
Back to my experience last Friday night, apparently I have been drafted into this program. After he knew that I knew who he was and that I am a gardener/bean grower, he went out to his car and came back with a tub full of bean seeds. My eyes got big and my jaw dropped. I was on cloud nine! He shared with me some of his rare varieties, trusting me to grow out myself. Below you will find a picture of what I received. It included a "fingerprint" fava bean, Succotash beans, Koronis Three Island beans, Fagrolani runner beans, and a beautiful yellow-black lima bean.
Why this Program is Important
Why do I think this program is important? Let me share several reasons.
1. Keeping rare varieties alive - The varieties that Joesph is offering through this program are very rare ones. Varieties that are not available in any catalog, not even Baker Creek. They may be ones he has collected from remote places. I received one bean variety that was from a friend of his that has passed away. If you are part of this program you have a chance to help keep these varieties alive for us to enjoy for years to come. I think part of growing food is for your own enjoyment and I myself enjoy variety.
2. We Need Diversity - The problem with growing single varieties of crops is that once a disease hits, devastation follows. I mentioned mono-cultures earlier in this post. One example of that is the famous Irish potato famine. It was so bad because they mainly grew one type of potato that could not fight off the diseases. This led to many people starving to death. The banana is another example. The variety that you find in the stores today is the Cavendish. It used to be the Gros Michel, but disease came along and wipe it out commercially, nearly wiping out the banana industry with it, if it wasn't for the Cavendish's resistance. This is why we need to support growing multiple varieties.
3. Same Plant, Different Nutrients - The same type of vegetable covers in different varieties that have different nutrients. Carrots for example have different benefits based upon what color they are (check out my post on Different Colored Carrots on my gardening blog). By eating slightly different varieties of the same plant you will be better nourished.
4. A Cure? - You never know if the cure for some disease is out there somewhere in some plant. Or maybe we already wiped it out. You just never know. We don't want to destroy a key to our own survival. We need to strive to keep what we have alive.
5. Battle for Control of Seeds - Big companies like Monsonto are vying for control of seeds. They own many patent on seeds and are stopping farmers from saving their own seed. If we don't save our own seeds, we may one day lose the right to.
If this program sounds right up your alley, go to the Gardens Across America page. I am excited to grow the seeds that I received this year and feel honored to be a part of keeping something rare, unique, and down right cool alive and growing for future generations.