During trying times, it seems that all of us need reminders of what still works in and about America, and one phenomena that still reaps benefits for most of us is the panoply of voluntary actions taken by ordinary people like you and me to conserve, restore and enrich to the diversity of foods available to our children, our elders, and ourselves. Because of these efforts, the diversity of foods and beverages on American tables is greater than at any time in the last century.
The number of cultivated food plant varieties in the US has more than doubled in the last thirty years, growing from 9,720 in the mid-1980s to 21,640 by the mid-2010s. We also have many more nonprofits and small companies distributing heirloom plants, up from 375 nursery and seed outlets three decades ago to more than 500 today. Most of these initiatives have not been spear-headed by government programs, foundations or universities, but by grassroots alliance of ‘aficionados” –that is, by the collective good will of individuals who see such work as their passion and (spiritual) vocation, over and above meeting the demands of their profession.
So let us know praise the many bottom-up alliances that make our food system healthy and diverse: the National Association of Conservation Districts; Slow Food; the Seed Savers Exchange; American Livestock Conservancy; North American Fruit Explorers; Garden Clubs of America; Wild Farm Alliance; Chefs Collaborative; Food Tank; Quail Forever; California Rare Fruit Growers; Ducks Unlimited; Tilth; MOFGA; Eco-Farm; Bioneers; Southern Seed Legacy; Quivira Coalition; Edible Communities; Guerrilla Grafters; Desert Harvesters; and many more.
These alliances and annual gatherings keep the plants, animals and microbes essential to the health of our food system, our lands, our communities and our bodies alive and kicking!
-Gary Paul Nabhan