The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Ecuadorian seed saving

Food for thought series

One of the best things about living so close to a university is the free events we can access by simply feeding a parking meter. Professor Theresa Moran expanded our horizons with the movie Bugs --- all about edible insects --- last fall. And she started 2018 off with a bang by bringing in a duo of Ecuadorian researchers to regale us with information about seed-saving in the equatorial mountains.

Ecuadorian crops

Rommel Montúfar and Michael Ayala created a vivid image of small to mid-sized mountain communities in which conventional crops are pushing many traditional varieties out. Farmers (most of whom were in their sixties, subsisted primarily on farming, and tended 2.5 acres of ground or less) reported that their grandparents grew, on average, 83 types of crops in their gardens. The current generation, in contrast, grows about seven.

Why the change in focus? Farmers reported that locally saved seeds produced plants that were tastier, hardier...but less pretty, less productive, and less easy to sell to a national or international market. It's hard to stick to the old ways when new ways bring in immediate cash.

Types of Ecuadorian crops

Which isn't to say the outlook was all doom and gloom. There is still a strong culture of seed saving and sharing in Ecuador, the latter of which includes both swapping and simply giving seeds away. For example, an Ecuadorian farmer never goes to visit a neighbor empty-handed. Instead, she brings a basket full of the very best she has (often including seeds)...then is sent home with that same basket full of the very best her neighbors have to offer.

(I'm not using the term "she" to be politically correct here. About 60% of the farmers involved the duo's study were women.)

Traditional crop resurgence

There are also a few traditional crops that are gaining national and international importance, thus giving farmers a reason to plant them on a larger scale. You've most likely heard of quinoa (even though this seed was nearly unknown outside its traditional stronghold a few decades ago), blue agave is gaining wide appeal when fermented into tequila, and rocoto peppers are apparently the hot (pun intended) new pepper of choice.

My favorite part of the talk, though, was none of this. Instead, I feasted my eyes on images of fruits and vegetables I've never seen before. What a treat to enjoy an Ecuadorian breeze on a frigid Ohio day!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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They have a plant in the foothills of Quito that they call a tomato. but its not. Its red and looks like a pear on an spindly bush. They blend it and make a great tasting drink. Tastes like melon and lemon. I have never found it in the US. Too bad.
Comment by Donna Stroud Fri Jan 19 10:46:01 2018

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