Last week I posted a video about heirloom apple farming. In it, the farmer vented about the ubiquitous Red Delicious apple:
"I hate that apple."
But why do people get so passionate about heirloom fruits and vegetables, and so pissed off about the bland and uniform varieties that have replaced them in our stores? This video is about as good an insight into that question as any—just look at the remarkable diversity of crops that are, or should be, part of our collective heritage.
And while free marketeers love to tout the notion of "consumer choice", there is a compelling case to be made that unchecked corporate capitalism has actually restricted our power to choose in one of the most important arenas of our lives—the food we eat and grow. By pushing the get-big-or-get-out model of farming, and combining it with the bigger-is-better model of retail, the stuff our grandparents called food has now become a niche product available to a select few.
As John of Growing Your Greens walks around this year's Heirloom Expo exhibits, we see more than 50 varieties of watermelon alone; a plethora of multicolored okra; and a literal mountain of squashes and pumpkins.
But this is about more than culinary novelty or horticultural adventurism. As Mat has noted before, saving seeds and preserving genetic diversity is central to the fight against climate change. As our climate gets ever more unpredictable, we will need all the help we can get in creating a robust, resilient and adaptable food system.
As we prepare for that challenge, a diverse range of crops is one of the most important building blocks we can have.