Last week, I made some popcorn on our stovetop, popped it in virgin coconut oil, and added lots of melted organic butter and sea salt (and oh, a little bit of cayenne pepper for bite too!). I know that this does not sound very noteworthy, but in a way it was for me, since my popcorn kernels were of many colors.
The popcorn kernels that can typically be found at the grocery store are ordinary yellow ones. Even most organic popcorn kernels that you will find are yellow. The organic popcorn kernels that I recently purchased at my local natural foods co-op were a variety of colors, and I thought they were actually quite beautiful- for corn, that is…
This tasty treat really made me think, not just about how organic popcorn is better than conventional popcorn since it has no genetically modified organisms (GMOs), has been grown organically, and has a tastier flavor, but also about how important biodiversity really is.
With our current globalized agricultural system, there has been a huge push for the uniformity of crops. There are many, many problems with growing crops this way, and I could probably write many posts for many days about this (maybe someday I will…). However, right now I want to focus on the fact that with the global push for the uniformity of crops to only a few varieties of each type of fruit, grain, vegetable, etc., we stand to lose most of the varieties that traditional people groups have grown for generations, unless people continue to save their seeds and grow them.
Many of these heirloom varieties of food plants have been grown by different people groups throughout history, and those varieties became adapted to the particular conditions and places that the people that grew them lived in. Many of the heirlooms have great flavor that are unique to that variety, and most of them will never be available in stores, since most of the commercial varieties have primarily been emphasized due to their disease resistance, ease of shipping and storability. The commercial varieties have not generally been selected for their flavor, and certainly not for their nutritional qualities. That is why if we want to have a tastier and more nutritious tomato, for example, we have to grow them ourselves, or get them from someone else nearby who is growing them.
While growing hybrid varieties may be warranted in some cases for disease resistance and other issues, I personally believe that it is especially important to grow heirloom varieties as much as possible. By their very nature, heirloom varieties are not genetically modified, which is very important in today’s world when corporate bioengineering and agribusiness interests are looking to patent and control all agriculture if they could.
It is also important to grow heirloom varieties in your garden to keep their seeds circulating out there. If people don’t grow them anymore, these varieties will essentially become extinct. We stand to lose the diversity of our food plants if people stop growing them. We probably have lost quite a bit of that diversity already.
Plus, heirloom varieties tend to be extremely tasty! I imagine that families would never have continued to pass them down from one generation to the next if they didn’t taste good. I grew an heirloom tomato variety (Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the variety, since it was unmarked when I bought the starter plant; it was only labeled as an “heirloom tomato plant.”), which was literally the best tomato that I had ever tasted before! Granted, last year was my first garden season so I haven’t had much experience tasting the many different heirloom tomato varieties out there. But, I can tell you that the heirloom tomatoes that I grew were light-years ahead in taste compared to any store bought tomato that I’ve tried before.
So, give growing some heirlooms a try this year, save the seeds, and then give some to a friend, or two, or three! If you are used to growing hybrids, I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at all of the cool heirloom varieties out there once you start looking at them. If you need to locate a source of heirloom seeds, you can check out Botanical Interests, Heirloom Organics, or Seed Savers Exchange.