(On the advice of a fellow writer, I'm testing out a new posting format, rather akin to a series of letters. Let me know how what you think. So far, I rather like the idea.)
I'm going to assume you have at least heard the term "heirloom," in reference to some variety of produce/consumable at some point in the past several years. In the event that this is not, in fact, the case, we'll be discussing that shortly anyway. No worries.
To be brief, heirloom floral (plant), and faunal (animal), varieties are those that have existed relatively unchanged for many years. Just like with family-specific heirlooms, a particular bit of furniture or item of jewelry, these varieties, and sometimes entire species are often passed down in their native habitats.
What does that mean though? How does that change or otherwise impact the perception of current foodways and cultural significance? Think of it this way: your great grandmother's broach or a beloved aunt's teacups, your grandfather's tools, a friend's sketchbook--all of these hold memories, whether they be shared personal accounts between yourself and the item's previous holder or second-hand stories. The objects, in a way, become memory, allowing a glimpse into the past and offering a connection to histories, both of the land and the people dwelling on it.
The same can be said of heirloom flora and fauna. Today, we're focusing on flora (let me know if you'd like to see more on fauna and it might be revisited at a later date). Heirloom seeds are carefully harvested from their parent plants and, dried, and stored for the next planting season, as they have been since botanical cultivation and intentional planting became commonplace. These varieties are non-hybridized, non-GMO, and have, consequently not been bred for a particular appearance, at least in the case of food plants. Harvested seeds from decorative flowers have likely been selectively collected over the years, just as certain food seeds would be selected for flavor. While this has been general planting and harvesting practice for thousands of years, in the interest of boosting production, lowering baseline costs, and generally having a higher financial turn-over, this practice has largely fallen out of favor commercially. However, the seeds are still available, if you know where to look. This is a list (not my own), the I found while doing research, if you're interested.
*There have also been multiple instances where an older species line (ancient grains like Amaranth, for example), might not have negative food interactions for some people with hightened food sensitivities. Avoiding the current pesticides and herbicides (almost exclusively Roundup, at least in the USA), tends to greatly assist in this endeavor as well.
There is an additional problem though. While movements like Slow Food and other such organizations are raising awareness of food's inherent biodiversity and the need for cultivation and maintenance of older varieties, it is not always cost effective. While a person or group can grow their own produce, sometimes that is not possible, whether it be space, time, or ability as the restriction.
While it is an ancient practice, it's almost become an elitist joke in some situations and, as with organic produce, because the base price is higher than most general produce, the inherent cost makes it almost impossible for those with a limited income to benefit from the availability of these varieties. The idea that "traditional" farming has come to mean pesticides and monoculture (planting a single species, as opposed to companion planting), boggles the mind.
I am glad to see more old varieties popping up in markets though. It makes me feel that even with challenges, the people are casting their vote for biodiveristy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. There will definitely be more posted soon. I know it's been a bit of a hiatus. Let me know in the comments if there's any particular plant or issue you'd like discussed. I'm open to research ideas.
Take care of yourself.
Till next time,
*images found on Pixabay.