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By Megan Larmer, Manager of Biodiversity Programs at Slow Food USA

Amber waves of grain are an iconic landscape celebrated in the song “America the Beautiful” and are an important part of the agricultural legacy of the USA. Unfortunately, the grain growing in those fields today is primarily corn, and according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 93% of that corn is genetically engineered. But there is great hope for protecting and growing the agricultural biodiversity of the USA.

At Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, small producers are joining Slow Food USA to celebrate ancient and unique varieties of maize and other crops, sharing with the world the biodiversity that has made their food traditions so diverse and so delicious. Blue corn from the Southwest, treasured by indigenous peoples there for centuries, will be available in many forms.

{{ image(2825, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”200″, “height”:”300″, “method”: “img”}) }}The taste of heirloom popcorn and polenta will prove the intangible value of keeping these special crops in our fields and on our plates. Rye was an important grain for European settlers in the 17th century. It will be showcased in the Ark of Taste Speakeasy Workshop where the traditional whiskey made from rye, once distilled by George Washington himself, will be used in a cocktail. At the Terra Madre Kitchen, Chef Matthew Raiford will revive the Carolina Gold Rice and Sea Island Red Peas that fed generations of southerners. Completely different and equally important, multicolored wild rice speaks for the indigenous peoples of the upper Midwest, who still know how to sustainably raise and prepare this sacred grain.

Of course there is much more to American agriculture than grains. Last year alone, over 50 foods were added to the Ark of Taste from the USA, calling attention to the rich crop diversity still growing in our fields. From California we have, aromatic olive oil attests to the legacy of the Spanish missions there while cheeses from the small dairies of Vermont evoke the biodiversity of grasses and flowers in the Green Mountain State.

{{ image(2826, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”200″, “height”:”300″, “method”: “img”}) }}There will be much more to taste at the event, giving visitors a view into the diversity of our family farms. Distinctive pickles made from the rinds of the endangered Bradford Watermelon and artisanal sauerkraut using Yellow Cabbage Collard greens will bring the flavor of the southeast to Torino. Their Producer April McGreger explains: “Probably the most distinguishing feature of the Bradford watermelon is the rind. It has a big, thick, creamy white and crisp rind. Watermelon Rind Pickles are a much loved, traditional sweet and sour pickle in the southeastern US. This tradition has been almost completely lost because the rind has been bred out of modern watermelons because it is considered waste.”

Innovation is as much a part of the USA’s agricultural history as is tradition, and small producers are likewise finding novel ways to protect the flavors of biodiversity. Ketchup — that mainstay of bad, dirty, fast food — has been given a Slow Food makeover with heirloom Ohio grown tomatoes and color from organic beet juice. And that USA grown rye grain? Taking inspiration from our friends in Italy, it has been transformed into nutty pasta.

This is merely a glimpse of the thriving agricultural biodiversity in the USA that one can find when she looks more closely. The future of agriculture in the USA, as much as in the rest of the world, depends on the protection of biodiversity and we hope everyone will take this change to join is in eating it to save it.