Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, Guest Contributor
Slow Food Boston
February is tough on even the most chlorophyll-phobic among us. The other day, I caught my brother-in-law—the guy who’s enacted a total ban on houseplants and helivacs the floral arrangement from the dining room table—stuffing my Seeds of Change catalog down his pants.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Um, planning a garden?”
Ordinarily, I would have been supportive, but we’re talking about fodder for late night fantasies featuring Armenian cucumbers and Kurota Chantenay carrots.
“Not with my catalog you don’t,” I said, ripping it out of his hands. “But I’d be happy to give you a few pointers.”
Here’s what I told him.
A first-time gardener can’t go wrong with a lettuce and greens patch. The case in a nutshell: 1) They’re far and away the easiest vegetables to grow. 2) They yield the greatest bang for the buck, since you eat the whole thing except for the root. 3) They’re a cinch to prepare: just pick, wash, dress and eat.
My favorites are the old-time varieties with their distinctive flavors, cool looks and funky names. There’s Deer’s Tongue—mild taste, velvety texture and eponymous shape. Forellenschluss, crisp Romaine-type leaves spattered with crimson. And Bull’s Blood Beet, crinkled wine-colored tops with an oxalic zing. Round out these three (all from Slow Food’s Ark of Taste, our catalog of endangered foods) with a handful of peppery, fast-growing arugula, beloved by humankind since the Roman Empire, and you have yourself a killer salad—every day for months!
But that’s not all.
By growing heirlooms, you’re helping to preserve biodiversity—and wresting a smidgen of control over the world seed market from big corporations. Today, a staggering 82% of the $36.5 billion seed market is “proprietary,” owned by a mere handful of companies (that list starts with Monsanto). Consolidation began in the 1940s with the development of supermarket-friendly hybrids (good looking! will travel!) and accelerated in the 1990s with the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
With both hybrids and GMOs, farmers must buy new seed every year. Hybrids, which are bred with the botanical equivalent of IVF, are either sterile or quickly lose their desired traits. Bioengineered crops are protected by intellectual property law. By contrast, heritage vegetables, passed down through the generations for their superior flavor, ease of cultivation and genetic stability, reproduce through “open pollination” (OP), the proverbial birds and bees. Their seeds are—and with your help, will forever be—ours, to be saved for a lifetime of gardens; to be shared with friends, neighbors and relatives; or even to be sold through organic and heirloom seed businesses… like the ones below. Order up!
NEW ENGLAND SEED COMPANIES SPECIALIZING IN HEIRLOOMS, OPs AND ORGANICS
http://www.superseeds.com (“Pinetree Garden Seeds,” Maine)
http://www.woodprairie.com (specialize in potatoes, Maine)
NATIONAL RARE & HEIRLOOM SEED EXCHANGE; SELLS TO PUBLIC
For a closer look at this issue, please join Slow Food Boston for a screening of “Bullshit,” the riveting story of an Indian activist who takes on Monsanto, on Sunday, March 14th at 3:30 pm. Afterwards, we’ll have a panel discussion of people who can address the effects of genetically modified crops.