The July Issue National Geographic includes a feature article titled “Food Ark” about the role of seed diversity in being able to feed a growing population. The article discusses the value of heirloom vegetables as more than a trend among gardeners, specialized farmers and boutique grocery stores. While many people say they prefer supermarkets because of the variety of foods available, the truth is that the agriculture industry threatens the world’s crop diversity. Mono cropping reduces genetic diversity of plants and then also spreads disease between plants. Heirloom varieties, on the other hand, are passed down from year to year, often through families. Heirloom varieties are open-pollinated (which means that the seeds can be saved) and maintain a distinctive genetic makeup. With so many varieties of the same kind of produce, certain distinct varieties can be grown almost anywhere: some might be drought or flood resistant, some are immune to certain plant diseases or better for shade.
Reporter Charles Siebert writes: “. . . The movement to preserve heirloom varieties goes way beyond America's renewed romance with tasty, locally grown food and countless varieties of tomatoes. It's also a campaign to protect the world's future food supply.” You can read the article here: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/siebert-text but check out the accompanying articles about food scarcity and growing your own heirloom varieties: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/growing-heirlooms. One of the heirloom seed providers mentioned in the article is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds which owns the Comstock, Ferre & Co Store in Wethersfield Connecticut http://comstockferre.com/. Also check out the photo galleries of uncommon chickens, rare cattle, and seeds.
Here is a graphic from the article showing the reduction in seed varieties from a century ago.
Graph Credit: National Geographic 2011 http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/food-variety-graphic