On Genetic Diversity & Being Duped

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Being a small farm that produces niche food products we often find ourselves walking a very fine line; one between taking concerns over the direction of our nation’s food supply seriously (because we, ourselves, are concerned, too — I’d contend virtually all farmers are) and playing a role in disseminating misinformation that’s designed to scare our customers and persuade through that fear.

The world of food politics is every bit as divisive as the world of Washington politics, and mud slinging is not uncommon. Sometimes it can be hard to clearly articulate our position on every single issue, especially since it is never our objective to divide and always to unite. We firmly believe that a fine-tuned food future has room in it and a need for farmers of all types and sizes and we cringe a bit at efforts from either side of the farming aisle to tear others down.

We like to see eaters with a full repertoire of ag knowledge on which to draw their conclusions and make their food decisions. We grow the way we do because we believe in the product we’re producing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we disbelieve in the product other farmers may be producing — and if we do, we’ll tell you. Most importantly, we try to base our beliefs in as much concrete evidence as possible rather than trends, rumors, and heresy.

The bottom line is that we never want someone to come to our farm and buy our pork or pigs because they’re afraid of the alternative. In fear is no way to live a life, and in fear is no way to fill your family’s bellies. We want our clients to come to our farm and buy our products because they believe in what we’re producing, too — for all the right reasons.

That’s why, when things like the following chart begin circulating (this time thanks to a bump by Upworthy) we try to respond here and give readers as clear a picture as possible of what’s actually being portrayed.

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There are plenty of valid reasons why genetic diversity in our food supply is important. Which is why we can never quite understand why shockery jockery and fear mongering such as this is necessary.

Note the two most important pieces of information on the chart are in the upper and lower left corners. We’ve circled them for you to make it easier:

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In the top half of the chart you have varieties of common garden fruits and vegetables that were commercially available.

In the bottom half of the chart you have varieties of common garden fruits and vegetables that were found in the National Seed Storage Laboratory.

The NSSL has since changed its name to The National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, which is ironic because all this chart proves is that they’re doing a really shitty job of preserving genetic resources.

Many single seed houses offer more varieties of any given species than are represented in this chart and no one seed house ever comes even remotely close to growing all of the varieties of any given species they offer. Burpee, for instance, offers 22 pea varieties, I assure you they’re missing far more than three. Territorial offers more than 20 varieties of sweet corn alone. Victory Seeds offers 117 varieties of red tomatoes. This is excluding their pink, black, orange, green, white, and striped tomatoes. And they only offer open-pollinated varieties, so you can just imagine what happens when you begin taking hybrids into consideration. Search for squash on Johnny’s Selected Seeds and you’ll get 65 results. Again, at one seed house. Around and around we could go with every single species of fruit and vegetable there is.

Yes, genetic diversity is important. No, you shouldn’t be frightened into thinking so. Go forth and eat guiltlessly!

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