design-inspired urban farming
We just came back from a wonderful visit to the Heirloom Seed Expo in Santa Rosa, CA. The Expo was held on September 10, 11, and 12 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and happens annually around this time of year. If you missed it, keep an eye out for it next year!
The show was filled with seed, food, farm and garden vendors from all over the country. Each day featured a number of amazing speakers and panels. Keynotes from Vandana Shiva — philosopher, scientist, environmental activist, author and eco-feminist; Patrick Holden, Chief Executive of The Sustainable Food Trust; Anti-GMO expert Jeffrey Smith –founder of The Institute For Responsible Technology; Ronnie Cummins, founder and Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA); Andrew Kimbrell, one of the country’s leading environmental attorneys, and author of several articles and books on the environment, technology and society, and food issues; and William Woys Weaver, an internationally known food historian.
Main topics of discussion continued to focus on the fight against GMOs. Crowds came armed with personal agendas and questions for the panels. However, there were many other topics covered beyond GMOs throughout the three day festival, from Fermentation to Seed Saving and Urban Homesteading to Farm Planning. If you ever wanted to plan an urban farm or garden, this was truly a paradise of goodies and information not to be missed.
The benefit of heirloom varieties and why there is an annual event dedicated to saving seeds and sharing the value of heirloom foods is mainly due to their genetic variety and using heirloom varieties, produces more healthy, more nutrient-dense plants and a harvest that is arguably the most delicious.
Heirloom seeds, generally, are those that genetically predate modern agriculture industry. Heirloom plants, for example, are the result of open pollination, not grafts, cuttings and genetic manipulations that have fueled large-scale farming and limited variety in the process. Due to their genetic variation they are often resistant to pests, disease and extreme weather issues. Many of these cultivars have propagated over centuries. They have been gaining wide popularity and use in Europe and North America in recent years.
The rise in political fervor and support for heirlooms is due in huge part to negative affects of the actions of corporations like Monsanto who lead the charge in creating genetically-modified crops and seeds. Monsanto’s active influence in creating these organisms has sent shockwaves that are felt across the globe. Including the emergence of super-pests and super-weeds that cannot be eradicated and destroying farmlands and the livelihood of global farmers. It’s issues like these that took main stage at the Heirloom Seed Festival.
As urban farmers, we need to understand the bigger picture of issues that affect us and how we go about building and maintaining our food systems. It’s not enough to participate in the joy of growing and eating the bounty we harvest. We must also understand how our participation fits into the larger global story. I would encourage you to continue growing, saving seeds and fighting the good fight to keep our food safe, secure and delicious!
Do your part to learn about the history of seed saving and heirlooms and I’m positive I will see you at next year’s Heirloom Seed Expo.