In Dan Barber’s op-ed in the NY Times on Saturday, “You Say Tomato, I Say Agricultural Disaster,” he writes about late blight, a disease attacking tomatoes and potatoes across the Northeast this summer. He notes that the huge increase in people growing their own food this year may have actually contributed to the problem. We can’t just eat locally we must also buy plants locally. “A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate.” When you buy locally grown plants, you not only support local farmers but also protect against the spread of disease. If a disease occurs in a small nursery you can isolate it much more quickly than in an industrial breeding operation that distributes to Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart stores all around the country.
Barber’s main point, though, is that a healthy food system is a diverse food system. “The five-acre monoculture of tomato plants next door might be local, but it’s really no different from the 200-acre one across the country: both have sacrificed the ecological insurance that comes with biodiversity.” For Barber, the “resilient farm of the future” is a farm with 30 plus different crops, with several varieties of the same vegetables (some heirloom, many not).
Here at Slow Food USA we are working to create a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who produce it and good for the planet. Diversity is central to the good, clean, fair food system we envision. In our biodiversity program, we encourage our chapters around the country to recover and promote foods that are adapted to regional climates, soils and cultural traditions. These are foods that are quickly disappearing from our farms and our tables, like Anishinaabeg manoomin, Great Lakes hand-harvested wild rice, and Pineywoods cattle and Gulf Coast sheep, breeds well adapted to the humid South.