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Notes on Preserving Our Food's Genetic Heritage

Modern Genetic Erosion

A frightening level of genetic erosion has taken place during the recent centuries of Humankind's occupation of Earth. While the causes of this erosion are many, known solutions to the problem are also plentiful. This fact is heartening in light of the despair many people feel at what we are losing. It is true that the plant and animal species which are already gone are lost forever, and that these species number in the thousands. It is also true, however, that the means exist right now to slow—and even stop or reverse—much of the continuing loss of genetic diversity which threatens us if we do not act to prevent it.

Global vs. Local Action

Many of the changes needed to prevent further loss of diversity among the earth's living things are global in scope, and therefore not immediately accessible to individual action. These global changes, luckily, are beginning to receive attention from governments around the world, resulting in environmental protection laws which attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion, groundwater contamination, and other large-scale problems. While further action is needed, the early steps are in place. Just as importantly, the consciousness exists that these problems must be dealt with for continued survival of our species on other than a subsistence level.

Loss of Habitat a Serious Threat to Genetic Diversity

Tragic die-off of plastic flamingos blamed on loss of habitat.

Genetic Preservation and You

Many needed changes are local or even personal in scope, and it is these local changes which we can affect in a more meaningful way as individuals. People like ourselves can have a great impact if we get involved in small-but-meaningful ways—like membership and participation in the Seed Savers Exchange, for instance! Other ways we can make meaningful local changes include lowering water consumption by xeriscaping our landscapes with native plants (which saves not only water, but time spent maintaining our yards), or by using efficient drip irrigation when we do find it necessary to water our landscapes.

Highways as Havens

Another way local action can have a significant impact includes programs focusing on highway right-of-way mowing schedules with an eye toward allowing time for plants to reseed. Our nation's highways, forming as they do an unbroken, interconnected web of potentially-natural habitats covering the entire country, constitute a perfect starting place for creating a substantial, meaningful haven for the incredible number of native species. Few can fail to appreciate Nature's wildflowers, or to support programs which help to ensure their continued contribution to the beauty of our lives.

Seeds and Sustainability

The seeds we choose to populate our gardens and landscapes with constitute yet another area where individuals can have a meaningful impact. Home breeding programs involving as basic an approach as saving and replanting seeds from those plants which do the best for us with the least pampering can have a noticeable effect on the performance of our garden plants. By taking this idea a step further and stressing a group of plants until few survive, then saving and replanting seeds from these remaining tougher plants, amazing changes in plant hardiness can be seen in just a few generations. And we shouldn't forget the great contribution to preservation of genetic diversity we can make by simply planting our gardens with heirloom or native plants, and then saving (and sharing!) some of the seeds for replanting so that they are not lost.

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Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website