In their ongoing quest to revive and preserve ancestral grains, a Clemson University scientist and his collaborators have begun the process of restoring a nearly extinct variety of wheat that traces its American roots to the 1700s.
Purple Straw is the only heirloom wheat to have been cultivated continually in the South from the Colonial Period into the last quarter of the 20th century. While most other ancestral varieties of wheat were annihilated in the 19th century by a multipronged assault of pestilence and pathogens, Purple Straw continued to thrive. Perhaps, this was due to it being a short-growing winter wheat that matured before it could be seriously threatened.
Ironically, Purple Straw’s fall into disfavor came not from disease or infestation but rather from the rise of modern hybrid wheats and foreign introductions that were genetically designed for disease resistance, grain size and massive production using petroleum-based fertilizers. Even if fully restored, Purple Straw will not be able to compete with these hybrids when it comes to quantity, but it will stand out admirably in terms of flavor and nutrition.
“Purple Straw had certain culinary qualities that impressed people from the first,” said South Carolina food historian David Shields, who is the author of “Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine.” “It has a purplish stem and husk – hence its name. But it’s a high-protein, low-gluten wheat that mills white and is soft and easily handled, making it great for whiskey, cake flour and biscuits. And of course, what’s more Southern than whiskey, cake and biscuits?”
The film presents the social and economic history of the Great Plains — from the time of the settlement of the prairies, through the World War I boom, to the years of depression and drought. The first part of the film shows cattle as they grazed on grasslands, and homesteaders who hurried onto the plains and grew large wheat crops. The second part depicts the postwar decline of the wheat market, which resulted in overproduction. Footage shows farm equipment used, then abandoned. The third part shows a dust storm as it rendered a farm useless. Subsequent scenes show farmers as they left their homes and headed west. Department of Agriculture. Farm Security Administration. Information Division. (ca. 1937 – ca. 1942). Note that this is the version without the epilogue.
The rapid growth and co-option of the local agriculture movement highlights a need to deepen connections to place-based culture. Selection of plant varieties specifically adapted to regional production and end-use is an important component of building a resilient food system. Doing so will facilitate a defetishization of food systems by increasing the cultural connection to production and consumption. Today’s dominant model of plant breeding relies on selection for centralized production and end-use, thereby limiting opportunity for regional differentiation. On the other hand, end-user-driven selection of heirloom varieties with strong cultural and culinary significance may limit productivity while failing to promote continued advances in end-use quality. Farmer-based selection may directly reflect local food culture; however, increasing genetic gains may require increased exchange of germplasm, and collaboration with trained plant breeders. Participatory farmer–breeder–chef collaborations are an emerging model for overcoming these limitations and adding the strength of culturally based plant breeding to the alternative food movement. These models of variety selection are examined within the context of small grain and dry bean production in Western Washington.
Read the full study (pdf)
This story is part of National Geographic‘s special eight-month Future of Food series.
Rice and wheat do more than feed the world. They have also affected the way we think—in dramatically different ways.
That is the result of a study published Thursday in Science comparing people from different parts of China. Researchers led by Thomas Talhelm of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, found that people from rice-growing regions think in more interdependent and holistic ways than do those from wheat-growing areas.
Talhelm thinks these differences arose because it takes much more cooperation and overall effort to grow rice than wheat. To successfully plant and harvest rice, farmers must work together to build complex irrigation systems and set up labor exchanges. Over time, this need for teamwork fosters an interdependent and collectivist psychology. To read more, click HERE!
From Examiner.com, February 18, 2014
New evidence points to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, as the culprit in the rise of gluten intolerance, celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome. A study just published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Toxicology (Vol. 6(4): 159–184 ) by Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff explains how the nearly ubiquitous use of glyphosate as a crop desiccant is entering our food chain and making us ill.
Pre-harvest application of glyphosate to wheat and barley as a desiccant was suggested as early as 1980 and its use as a drying agent 7-10 days before harvest has since become routine. It is now used on all grain crops, rice, seeds, dried beans and peas, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, and sugar beets. According to thePulse Growers Association in Canada (legume growers), “Desiccants are used worldwide by growers who are producing crops that require ‘drying down’ to create uniformity of plant material at harvest. These products may also assist in pre-harvest weed control. In Canada, products such as diquat (Reglone) and glyphosate (Roundup) have been used as desiccants in pulse crops in the past, and there are new products on the way. ” To read more, click HERE.