Friday, September 28, 2012

Planting ahead - watch the weeds and think of others

In this hot drought of a summer, I watered a garden that responded by producing many tomatoes and zucchini. Nearby, without watering them, the weeds were flourishing.  Some of them are edible, real survival food. Lamb's quarters, pigweed, and a new acquaintance, velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti) an immigrant from Asia, all showed up and some of them in abundance.  To my amazement, mint emerged from tough clay soil.

So, why are we stubbornly planting food that was adapted to the old climate when we can see that the Times They are A'Changin?

As long as I have some dollars and access to a well-stocked grocery store, this is the kind of question I pick up and then lay aside, but what about other people, whose resources, and whose choices, are far more limited?

One of the slow-moving tragedies across the globe has been the displacement of locally-diverse agriculture with commodity crops that are vulnerable to both weather and international prices.

{ Favorite references: Patricia O'Brien-Place's masters on "Nutrition in policy and planning: the rural sector (1979)" showed a decline in local nutritional status where commodity crops like sorghum, peanuts or cotton had wiped out the practice of keeping family garden plots. Her dissertation, " Impact of inflation on least-cost diets in the United States (1982)" is technical economics but also instructive.}

Vegetable gardens are vulnerable, to be sure, but a diverse local food supply and hardy plant varieties improve the odds of having something to eat.  Where I live, garden watering is possible. Large-scale irrigation of fields is not. We need all the favorable odds we can get.

It is a race against time for the developers of commodity crop cultivars to generate varieties that can withstand the new extremes, but even so, most food crops are not evolved for the kind of climate chaos we can expect.

We need to pay more attention to weeds.

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