Monday, February 21, 2011

Shopping for Food Security - Part 1

The farm sleeps under a blanket of snow as we plan our seed orders.     

A Word About Seeds.
The French word for seeds is semences.  Yes indeed the French have brought our fundamental need for thriving procreation to the very ground under our feet. Earthy hmmm? Even in the garden, the French are intimate with making food and, of course, making love.

Well then, let's consider what the world would be like if only 5 percent of males were eligible to impregnate all of the women. What would be lost? In fact that is what we're facing in our food supply today. Seed diversity and the basic needs of humanity are overlapping in some interesting ways.

Organic Farmers Cover the Cost of Seed Diversity. 

Each year we're obligated by our certification process to buy organic seed whenever possible.  Ordering organic seed supports organic farmers.  But there's more to it than that. This requirement also drives the market of supply and demand to preserve non GMO and non hybridized varieties. This gives us a larger, wider and more dependable supply of clean seed to buy and plant. Organic farmers are investing in having a bank of seed genetics in the market.

Organic Seed is Harder to Find and Usually More Expensive.
One complaint from consumers of organics is that the product is more costly.  This is true in the short term.
We can prove that fresh, clean, nutritious food is more valuable. But higher seed cost is directly related to what it costs to grow, harvest and market that value. As more organic producers enter the market, prices should come down even as food value improves.

Open Pollination and Seed Saving
An open pollinated variety of plant will breed true from it's own seed. So if you plant an open pollinated variety of beans or squash or peas, you can save the seeds from this year and plant more next year.
Open pollinated plants are not owned under patent law, they don't revert to earlier strains and they are proven under specific climate and soil conditions.  When we order organic open pollinated seeds, we can grow 2 marketable crops - produce and seed - and have clean seed to plant the following year. There is natural selection in this process. Seeds that are sound and strong thrive.  Those that aren't, don't.  You should know that not all organic seed is open pollinated.  At Dunn Creek Farm we are making a business decision to open a savings account with our own seed bank.    
Seed Diversity = 600 Tomato Varieties, Not 5. 
When we shopped for tomato seed this year, we found a grower offering 600 hundred varieties of heirloom, organic tomatoes that he and his partner produce themselves.  Some had been staples in American seed catalogs a hundred years ago.  Some had been locked behind the Iron Curtain for decades.  All had been common in market gardens in a variety of regions and conditions.  Few are being commercially grown today.       

The Hazards of Limited Diversity
When you see tomatoes in the supermarket, you are seeing about 5 varieties now commonly grown for market.  They are red.  They are firm.  But they are not selected for taste or nutrition.  There are better tomatoes to be found.  But you probably can't find them in your market. And that's not all.  Now that most of the people of the world are dependent on a handful of grains, vegetables and plants for survival, it's not hard to imagine that a plant pandemic could detonate like a bomb in the global food supply.  We need a viable market to keep the alternatives on hand. And this is where today's consumer comes in.  In part two, we'll consider how the grocery shopper decides how much bio diversity there is.  

Some of our Seed Sources this year:

Hope Seeds - Organic Vegetable Seeds & Organic Garden Seeds
Vesey's Seeds


Thomas W. said...

John, what tomato variety do you think has the best taste?
I have been saving seeds from Black Plum for a couple of years but I realize I would prefer to optimize for taste and I assume that other varieties would be better in this case. Black Plum, those are for ketchup, right?
Anyway, I have some saved seeds left if you want some, just let me know.

John Quimby said...

What I find interesting is that having 600 varieties is like having a shop full of tools. You quickly see that there is a "right" tool for the job. We made our selection based on our marketing needs. We needed an early variety, a salad type, a good canner and a sauce tomato. So now instead of looking for one qualification, fresh taste, we're looking for the best tomato for each purpose.

Black Plum is one I have not tried. What do you like about it?
Perhaps blog readers would like to suggest their favorites.

Kim Naumann said...

Great post! This year will be the first year I plant a garden and I can easily say I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. I want to grow my own (preferably organic) food to ensure my kids are eating as healthy as possible but there are so many different seeds to choose from it's a lot to take in. I look forward to reading more of your blog and I'm sure I'll learn plenty since I know absolutely nothing about growing things at present! I also hope you don't mind if I add your blog link to my blog's list of PEI links. Now I'm off to do some more reading!

John Quimby said...

Thanks for stopping by Kim,
I appreciate your comments. I know it can seem pretty challenging just to get started. The good news is that you can start with organics!

By ordering good quality seeds you'll be more likely to get good results. You might try some easy ones this year...beans, peas, radishes, cucumbers, summer and winter squash/pumpkins. These are pretty forgiving and satisfying to grow. Try Vesey's for seeds and look for their organic selections for ideas.

Don't forget that soil fertility is important. Take notes on where and when you plant. Observe your garden and write down what happens.

Use your notes next year to put different plants in different areas. For example you could follow peas or beans with a heavier feeder like squash. And don't forget to "rest" about one fourth of your garden each season. I'll share some more ideas about that soon.

Happy gardening!

BrianB said...

I bought seeds from these guys

last year and had a great time. My wife thought I was nuts having over ten tomato plants but when it all works out, you can't have too many, right? I personally like the "black" varieties. But the more basic "ugly" heirlooms were quite good too. And you can't beat an early girl, if you catch my drift. Have a great spring!

John Quimby said...

Hey Brian,
I ordered from them for the first time this year. I help off from mentioning because I wanted to wait until I had received my order.

Just got my seeds this week (everything nicely packed and labeled) and I was sent a bonus pack of "black cherry" tomato. A nice extra for sure. So I'll be trying them out!

And I'm glad to suggest stopping by tomatofest to find some really unique seeds!

Thomas W. said...

@John: The reason for selecting Black Plum was because of the color I guess - but it's not that dark after all. Check it out:
Black Cherry, interesting: