There’s a food scandal raging in Europe. Apparently, horsemeat was sold as beef in a wide variety of supermarket products, from burgers to packaged lasagna.
Since I’m not smart enough to figure out how to fix a global food system, let’s focus on something that we can fix: producing more and better food locally.
I’m currently in the process of starting the vegetable seedlings for my garden. So, I’ve been thinking about seeds and resilience.
One of my favorite farmers, the Austrian Sepp Holzer, has an interesting idea on this topic.
NOTE: Sepp’s approach to farming allowed him to turn a hundred acres of rocky, steep, and high altitude mountainside into an amazingly productive farm that produces a significant ongoing income. He’s truly an inspiration. Here’s his farm, Krametertof (notice all the ponds he inserted into the landscape, to maximize the productivity of his property).
Sepp’s Resilient Approach
Sepp found that the seeds we typically harvest and/or purchase for our gardens, are usually taken from the best performing plants. Plants that are typically grown in the BEST conditions possible.
On the surface, that seems to be a good thing. We all want the best possible yield from our vegetable gardens.
However, this isn’t the most resilient approach to gardening. Here’s why.
The plants from these seeds only do well when everything is perfect. Perfect light, water, fertilizer, warmth, cold, wind… This means they are likely to die if conditions deteriorate.
Not only that, the effort and expense required to maintain the “optimal conditions” required by these plants is high. A continuous “hands on” approach is needed. This can turn food gardening into a full time job.
Luckily, Sepp didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have the low lying fields required for a high productivity farm. Instead, he had a hardscrabble farm.
Forced to innovate, Sepp focused on cultivating the seeds from plants that provide adequate yields in a) marginal conditions and b) with little care. Plants that didn’t need external fertilization or water. Plants that proved resistant to pests.
Sepp’s success using this approach proves it works over the long run.
It’s an idea worth thinking about. It’s also an idea we can apply to producing lots of different things, not just food.
PS: This scandal is a good demonstration of why globalization is breaking down the food system we rely upon. Globalization makes it too big and complex to manage and that makes it vulnerable to exploitation by bad actors. Here’s what I mean. Much of the horsemeat was found in products sold by the UK supermarket chain Tesco. Tesco bought many of their products in bulk from French food processors and packagers. These French companies bought their fake “beef” in bulk from a Dutch commodities importer called “Draap.” Draap is incorporated in Cyprus, operated out of Belgium, and is owned by a corporate shell company that’s located in a Caribbean tax haven. Where did Draap get the horsemeat relabeled? From Romania and Mexico, since both have become significant horsemeat exporters. Confused yet? What a mess.
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