Nearly every form of agriculture on this planet has drawn on plants & animals from other regions, but that fact does not negate the value of the adaptations of place-based plants from our own home landscapes in potentially helping us adapt to climate change.
The wild “native” plants we need to develop as food crops should be apt at helping to sequester carbon, fix and efficiently utilize nitrogen, tolerate high temperatures and low soil moisture, and provide nutrients and secondary chemicals that combat the diseases of poor nutrition that afflict so many of our friends and neighbors.
If they are herbaceous or succulent perennials, they can also reduce soil tillage and the energy needed to plow up weeds. But they also need to be delicious, colorful and engaging… high yields of bland-tasting, nutritionally dilute foods will not attract and keep the attention of eaters.
Those working on “new roots for agriculture” need to turn the corner from merely pushing yields to higher levels and assuring mechanical harvestability to focusing more on nutritional density, flavor, texture, beauty and other features of culinary utility. A climate-friendly crop that cannot capture our ecogastronomic imaginations will be a failure.
It’s time to involve home cooks and chefs, as well as agroecologists and plant physiologists in breeding diverse new crops for each ecoregion on our planet.