As a keen kitchen gardener, it was fascinating for me to hear Kent Whealy speak at a seminar on Our Food, at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival a few years back.
Whealy runs a 170 acre farm in Iowa, USA, which is literally a living museum of historic food crop varieties and grows out of some 2,000 heritage vegetable varieties each year in large organic gardens. His farm includes a historic orchard with over 700 different apples and a herd of an ancient breed of White Park cattle. During his lecture, Whealy raised issues of genetic erosion and terminator technology in genetic engineering whereby corporations are breeding seeds that are deliberately infertile. He spoke of the importance of preserving the past and reminded the audience that a loss of genetic diversity is silent, rapid and leading us to 'a rendezvous with extinction'.
Food for thought, no? It reminded me that my parents always collected seeds from their own vegetables so that they could be self sufficient and grow the vegetable varieties of their choice. This tradition is largely a thing of the past and over the years many gardeners have stopped collecting their own seeds, according to Clive Blazey in his revised reference book, The Australian Vegetable Garden. Blazey, author of several books and the CEO and founder of Australia's largest garden club, The Diggers Club, says 'this change has been a major factor in the loss of biological diversity which has been due not only to the reduction of the number of varieties offered by suppliers, but is also the result of virtually no new varieties being produced by gardeners'.
Blazey says his book is designed to empower gardeners to take control of their food and grow clean, healthy varieties. It is the culmination of eight years' work exploring the incredible diversity of heirloom vegetables and comparing them with the commercial hybrids and cultivars, to ensure that Diggers seeds offer the best varieties from around the world. Incidentally,the Diggers Club was established in 1978 and is recognised as the most innovative seed supplier in Australia.
The Australian Vegetable Garden is refreshing to read and I was delighted to find it is more than simply a 'how to' on gardening. Blazey writes in an interesting and deliciously captivating manner. For example, on Fennel:
The Australian Vegetable Garden by Clive Blazey (New Holland, $29.95) is a must have for those gardeners who are already growing their own vegetables, as well as those who would like to do so. Highly recommended. Many thanks to New Holland and Clive Blazey for giving me the opportunity to review (and enjoy) this title.
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