|Deft fingers prepare a tomato flower to be hand pollinated.|
We count Organic Seed Alliance as one of the very good guys in our fight to bring clean, wholesome food to the tables of Americans; organic food that feeds the body and the soul and doesn't wreck nature or the environment. They have just put up an article on their site concerning the breeding of vegetables for organic farmers. I like their attitude and program, but I wish we could expand on it further.
Breeding of vegetables used to be done by amateurs - everyone gardened and everyone saved their own seed stocks. By the simple act of saving seeds, a gardener has selected one plant over the next and has done a little plant breeding - a little variety improvement. So, those of us who know about seed saving already have the technical skills to breed new plants. A little time polishing up Mendelian genetics (good ol' Gregor had a birthday yesterday!), which isn't too hard, gives you the basics of what you need for breeding. Carol Deppe's book, Breed Your Own Vegetables is very easy to understand and in it she gives you all the tools you need to begin to breed your own vegetables - funny how the title says something just like that..
The point is that most currnet vegetable production is for plants that will be grown in a pesticide and herbicide intensive, highly fertilized environment - not the sort of environment one finds in an organic setting, so this country need plants bred to grow organically and still produce good, tasty, abundant and nutritious food.
I believe all gardeners should be involved in this effort. Amateurs bred the best tasting tomatoes in a time when the average person didn't know the science of genetics from a flying machine. Knowing what the average gardener knows today, surely, we can do more and better! Let's get started and overwhelm the market place with home-grown, open pollinated vegetable varieties that can compete toe to toe with commercial hybrids on every count.
Not only CAN we breed better vegetables than the big guys, but we can eat our mistakes along the way and have fun doing it! Soon we can have varieties that are bred to perform in Los Angeles climate and soils and every region will have their own specialties - much like we used to have local diners until the chains came along and served the same fare to everyone losing the individual character of the different parts of the nation. Let's celebrate freedom from big ag and big chemicals and big science by moving to a new paradigm that involves many more of us in our food production.