Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Global Farming

We were wandering around in Lowe’s the other day, when we happened on these gorgeous plants. They were amazing….I wanted them….I wanted them all. Oh, wait….that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing….

Our “mission” at Lowes was simple…Tom needed a bucket. He had a specific type in mind, so we ended up searching a couple of stores. Once we found it, we were heading out to the truck and the plants caught my eye. Unbeknownst to Tom, I am feeling the need to spruce up the old homeplace, and flowers top the list.

Amazingly, he was taken with these gorgeous plants as well. I had never seen anything quite like them, and neither had he. The name on the tag meant nothing to us. We left them there, hoping to find out a little more about them prior to buying.

When I got home and looked them up online, I found out that they are a Japanese hybrid. The world-renowned plant breeders in Japan have come up with a plant that will flower in cold weather, providing color and interest to the late-winter, early-spring garden. Thus, adding to the cash-flow of the garden centers around the world, and the beautification of yards and gardens everywhere. Yay, Japanese plant breeders!

That got me thinking about the Japanese tsunami. More precisely, it got me thinking about the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami.

Some of the most amazing things come from the plant breeders and seed houses in Japan…before the tsunami. I saw video footage of the destruction following the tsunami. I don’t know if these folks will ever be able to re-create their farms, their growing facilities, their lives. It didn’t occur to me until I was thinking of the pretty plants at Lowes, but this will affect the world…in far more ways than just tsunami recovery funds or radiation worries. There were great losses in the agricultural world, too. Eventually, this will affect the food supply…because, like it or not…we do live in a GLOBAL community!

When we plant our garden every year, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to where the seeds come from. When you purchase food, you don’t stop and wonder about the whole chain of life deal. At least, I don't.

All vegetables come from some type of seed stock. But, in order to have seeds to plant, someone….somewhere...must have bred the specific variety, allowed it to flower and then fruit, collect the seeds, and process them for use by the consumer. It is possible to do this yourself (on a very small scale), if you are using open-pollinated varieties. But most times we (the growers) rely on someone else to do this part of the job. Consider for a moment the large acreages required for the production of SEEDS. No one can eat that crop because the seeds are necessary for the raising of food elsewhere. The amounts of land, production crop, and seeds needed are mind-boggling.

Different areas of the country, and the world, are known for their seed stock production. Most seed potatoes come from Maine or Canada. We get our onion plants from Texas, where the producer has HUNDREDS of acres of little onion plants. They shipped out 40 million plants in ONE week. They are responsible for about 70% of the onions produced in this country. I’ve noticed on the seed packets that we grow seeds from Chile, Germany, Japan, China, and Mexico to name a few. Somehow, this gives me a new awareness of the smallness of our world.

All the current rhetoric concerning LOCAL, ORGANIC, SUSTAINABLE, etc. …. makes me wonder. Has anyone considered the fact that we are all somehow dependent upon folks we have never met, in places we have never visited, or in many cases…that speak languages we cannot understand? As the John Dunne quote goes….”no man is an island”.

The current prices paid for grains are affected by the drought (and therefore greater demand) in Asia, more specifically China. The supply of certain specialty items, seeds or other products in daily use are affected by weather trends and/or possibly war and civil unrest more than half a world away.

I know that I am not alone in my concern for our own agricultural community. But, perhaps I need to expand my horizons. Perhaps all of us should embrace the fact that it IS a global community, and as such what happens “over there” may well affect us here “at home”.

So, next time you see a pretty plant or an unusual offering at the garden center or possibly farmers’ market, remember that a farmer somewhere worked hard for you. Without farmers, we’d all be cold, naked, and hungry….and without the gorgeous plants that I fully intend to incorporate into the “farm beautification project”.

As a farmer, this is a humbling, awesome thought. As a consumer, I would hope that it would make me (and my fellow consumers) far more thoughtful and far more grateful to those who work so hard to provide for my needs and desires.

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