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Agriculture / Conservation News
2010: International Year of Biodiversity

By Dennis Rich, State Agriculture Committee

  JUNE 2010 --

Biodiversity is a word tossed about in many circles today. It involves preserving, conserving, and ensuring the sustainability of the widest possible variety of plant and animal life for its own sake and that of human benefit. It has been extended beyond concern for wildlife to include domestic plants (including trees) and farm animals. There are efforts, not limited to North America, to ensure survival of once common varieties of plants, grains, and fruit, and livestock including poultry.

Organizations have arisen, in the last four decades, with the purpose of preserving and furthering our sue of old or heritage vegetables, fruit, grains, and breeds of livestock by gardeners, farmers, consumers, chefs and bakers, and living historical farms and sites. The Seed Savers Exchange, based in Decorah, Iowa, is involved with collecting and reproducing vegetable and grain seeds. It maintains a huge garden, a fruit orchard with numerous varieties of apples, and even a herd of white Park cattle! There is a related flower and herb exchange. Both publish their own listings of known varieties. Meanwhile the North American Fruit Explorers are active with their specialty.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy deals with the rescue and conservation of older breeds and strains of farm animals (equines, cattle, sheep, goats, swine and rabbits) and poultry and chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and fowl). A breeders directory is published on an annual basis. The ALBC also monitors populations of these breeds with respect to the level of danger of extinction. As a footnote there is the Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities (SPPA) that specializes in that portion of animal husbandry.

The Heritage Wheat Conservancy, while relatively new and small, has important international contacts. They are involved with saving cultivars of wheat and other grains and encourage their planting by farmers. There is an ancient form of wheat with very low gluten content. With research pointing toward glutens in inflammation related illnesses including arthritis, the potential for reintroduction of this cultivar could have a great impact on preventative medicine.

Slow Food USA is the American counterpart of an international effort to unify consumers, producers, growers, and culinary practitioners. Their aim is to foster use and production of food that would be wholesome and be safely consumed, being made without artificial ingredients and additives. Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) is an alliance of advocates coming together to identify and use foods and recipes from our diverse regional and cultural traditions. The US Ark of Taste is a growing collection of over 200 (800 worldwide) foods in danger of extinction. The goal is perpetuating their use and continued production by niche market growers. A process exists for nominating those heritage foods with unique taste and/or stamina to be "loaded" on to the "Ark". The ALBC contributes animal breed nominations and focused on taste at last year's annual conference themed "Crucial Cuisine: Putting Rare Breeds on the Table."

The United Nations has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. Many organizations and governmental agencies in many countries are concerned with rare breed and plant/seed protection. There continues to be interchange and cooperation with their American counterparts.

For information go to www.seedsavers.org; www.albc-usa.org; www.growseed.org; (Heritage Wheat); www.slowfoodusa.org; or web search for biodiversity in agriculture. Lastly, educate yourself and make wise choices.


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