diversity

My albino pea plant has been devoured. It was only a third of the size of my genetically “normal” pea plants, so I had already been reconsidering my plan to let it grow to seed and start an albino pea revolution. Now, I have no doubt that albino peas would have been better than green peas: insects generally have good taste.

            I grow plants from open-pollenated seed, for the most part. This means I can collect the seeds from mature plants and plant them again the following growing season. I like my independence from F1 hybrid developers that require new seed to be bought each new season. They claim to develop “improved” varieties. Well, that’s true and it’s not.

A lot can be learned about life from gardening. What I mean is, aside from combatting the vast monoculture farms that constitute the bulk of our agricultural production, I am also witnessing the fact that evolution operates on the principle of diversity. Think about it: diversity increases the potential for the development and distribution of adaptive traits throughout a population. For obvious reasons, I suppose, I have always been a champion of diversity and difference. And to see the benefits of it in action throughout the short life-cycle of a garden plant is very exciting. I am always looking for the odd one out—the one with the curly leaves instead of flat, narrow instead of wide, because certain types of leaves seem to do better than others in our intensely hot summers. And they will only get hotter, you see.

The cost of those massive farms that produce only one or two crops, one sterile F1 variety for each crop, is the loss of diversity. The loss of diversity in agriculture leaves us vulnerable to food shortages—plague of locusts-style—as well as slowing the evolution of more adaptive plants. And with climate change, we will need to grow different plants from the ones that are currently in existence if we expect to eat anything.

So, it seems albino peas will not be the great white hope of the post-climate change era. But I will still seek out difference among the plants in my garden for new adaptations to this crazy world.

For further reading on the importance of biodiversity, see Fowler and Mooney’s Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity. A life-changing read on the agrarian lifestyle can be found in Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace.

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