Plant Talk 7 Cultivated Temperate Plant Foods
Greetings plant enthusiasts!
i have recently seen Yucca filamentosa, Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Redroot (Ceanothus americanus) blooming and Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) about to bloom…Yucca flowers can be eaten stuffed and cooked and sometimes raw. However the raw flowers may cause slight irritation. Sumac flowers are beloved by bees and the fruits make a great tart beverage when put in cold water. Don’t confuse with the Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix) which has white fruits versus the red edible fruits of several species in the Rhus genus. What has been blooming or fruiting around you?
It has been a big thing for the community around Asheville, NC to pick Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.) and i even recently found a Ranier Cherry. We probably have hundreds of Juneberry bushes planted around town. i was assisting Alan Muskat with his mushroom class for the Ashevillage Wild Edible/Herbalism intensive last year and we found a whole bunch of Hemlock Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae). Interesting in conversation we both realized we have both been picking off the afore mentioned cherry tree as well!
Today is my birthday. i will start a medicinal mead (metheglin) made with some of the Hemlock Reishi from this year as well as several fruits picked yesterday and today including two types of currants (Ribes spp.), Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and Cherries (Prunus sp.)
Food Plants of Temperate Places
Food is a fundamental part of any organism’s basic needs. Food choices can also paint a picture of a society as they are often reflective of class and cultural distinctions. Cookbooks, travelogues, and ethnobotanical studies were reviewed as sources of literature for this class which reflects food choices in southern Appalachia in particular with a smattering of information from other areas. Like a lot of these classes at first about specific subjects of use, it is most germane to the eastern U.S. but many of these crops are grown all over the world. Certainly at the genus and family level many associations can be made as well. In this class we will cover cultivated food plants past and present, cultural techniques for growing them, concepts of agrobiodiversity and potential business opportunities for local communities. i would love to hear reflections about food plants and traditions from the area you inhabit by email, in the comment box or at the Facebook group.
Studies of agriculture in Appalachia have continued periodically at least through the last century (Arcury, 1989; Coltrane, 1965; Roosevelt, 1902; James Robert Veteto, 2005; A. B. Wilson, 2006). A bibliography of agriculture in Appalachia developed by the University of Kentucky represents another good source of information (Graves, 1988).
Past populations in Appalachia depended largely on cultivated crops of corn, beans, and squash mixed with large amounts of pork and game (Hilliard, 1972). Most of the 50 plus Appalachian cookbooks i examined have very few vegetable recipes in comparison to meats and baked goods. Nonetheless, i contend that vegetables including wild plants made up a significant proportion of the Appalachian dietary regime before modern conveniences allowed for a heavy focus on protein and starch.
Anthroplogist Lucien Carr (1895, p. 12) illustrated the level of Appalachian agriculture from an early age. He describes how in one military campaign a general ordered the destruction of 160,000 bushels of corn and 1,500 apple trees in 1779. According to William Bartram’s writing from the 1700s settlers mainly cultivated crops from Eurasia such as Wheat (Triticum sp.), Barley (Hordeum sp.), Flax (Linum sp.), Hemp (Cannabis sp.), Oats (Avena sativa), Plums (Prunus spp.), Cherries (Prunus spp.), Peaches (Prunus persica) and Raspberries (Rubus sp.) as well as native crops to the Americas such as Corn (Zea mays), Squash (Cucurbita spp.) and Beans (Phaseolus spp.) (1996, p. 442).
Corn, beans, and squash known as the three sisters have continued to be important crops in Appalachia up to modern times (Moore, 1988). These crops are often supplemented with Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum), Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), Cabbages (Brassica oleracea), Collards (Brassica oleracea) and other brassicas. Peppers (Capsicum spp.), Lettuces (Lactuca sativa), and Onions (Allium spp.) have had secondary importance. Apples (Malus spp.) are the most important fruit and continue to persist in old farm fields and road sides.
Typical Appalachian and southern dishes in general include chow chow, sauerkraut, spoonbread, grits, apple stack cake, and pickles of various forms. Tomato based vegetable soups were one of the favorite liquid meals of the region (Page & Wigginton, 1992). Methods of preservation include drying, canning, and root cellaring. Nixtalization is an important process employed by natives and settlers wherein ash can be used to create lye that was then used to make a product called hominy from corn. The process of making hominy turns corn into a complete protein (Katz, 2003).
Earl Core contended that Native Americans of the Southern Appalachians historically provided somewhere between one sixth to one half their food through agriculture (Core, 1967). Core considered 86 species as crops cultivated by Native Americans in North America. Of these only twelve were listed as grown in the SE U.S. These plants include Amaranth (Amaranthus hybridus), Sunflowers (Helianthus annus), Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosa), Corn (Zea mays), Beans (Phaseolus lunatus and P. vulgaris), Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica), Squash (Cucurbita pepo), and Bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). Seven of these nine plants are food crops of which corn was by far the most important. Most of these crops actually had their origination point in the desert southwest or further south in the Americas.
One is left to wonder whether the typical diet was healthier then as opposed to now despite the large amounts of fat and carbohydrates. Hippocrates was an early proponent of the idea that food can be medicine. Many people in Appalachia did not have access to conventional medicines (Dabney, 1998). However, many of the edible wild plants of the Appalachian region also have medicinal uses (Duke & Foster, 1999). If there was a significant overlap between wild edible plants consumed and plants with medicinal properties then the long life achieved by some older people during the 1800s and early 1900s might be better understood. Some books i examined list edible plants as medicinal only. The literature on the medicinal uses of plants is covered more in depth in the medicinal plants class on this website coming up again shortly.
Ancient American Plant Food Use
The use of fire by Native Americans to promote certain tree crops has been supported by a number of studies (Abrams & Nowacki, 2008; Delcourt & Delcourt, 1998; Delcourt, Delcourt, Ison, Sharp, & Gremillion, 1998). Over 50 woody species have been used for food by Native Americans in eastern North America. The main trees crops include Oaks (Quercus spp.), Hickories (Carya spp.), Chestnuts (Castanea spp.) and Walnuts (Juglans spp.) while various fruits have been employed to a lesser degree (Abrams & Nowacki, 2008). Many researchers long held the belief that the natives of Eastern North America (ENA) were foragers and hunters solely until the arrival of domesticated vegetables from Mexico and Central America in the last thousand years. Evidence now points to ENA as a center of plant domestication as well (Nordhaus, 2006).
Part of the confusion lies in the possible simultaneous domestication of a type of squash (Cucurbita pepo) both in Central America and ENA. The natives of ENA are also believed to possibly have domesticated a type of Lambsquarters (Chenopodium berlandieri), Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), and Sumpweed (Iva annua). Indigenous tribes may also have cultivated types of Knotweed (Polygonum erectum), Maygrass (Phylaris caroliniana) and Barley (Hordeum pusillum) as well (B. D. Smith, 1989).
The use of DNA analysis has led to different insights. Some doubt remains about whether Chenopodium and Cucurbita in particular were the product of independent spontaneous cultivation in multiple areas or the arrival of knowledge from Mexico (Sanjur, Piperno, Andres, & Wessel-Beaver, 2002; H. Wilson, 1990). The origination in the Appalachian region of a type of sunflower cultivation has been supported through genetic testing (Harter et al., 2004).
The time scale for Appalachian plant domestications ranges over thousands of years but generally was much more recent than plant domestication in other parts of the world. Some domestication began in ENA by 2000 B.C. versus 8,000 B.C. in other areas of the world (B. D. Smith, 1998) Largely agrarian societies became established based on the four main crops mentioned above by 250 B.C. Nonetheless, Smith holds that tribes who lived almost exclusively from foraging persisted until the large scale move to corn as a staple crop somewhere between 800 and 1100 A.D (B. D. Smith, 1989). However, gathered crops may have contributed up to half of the diet of the Cherokee before contact with the Europeans (W. L. Anderson & Brown, 2006). Natives adopted many of the foodways from Europeans as early as the 1700s (Detwiler & VanDerwarker, 2006).
Modern Issues Concerning Cultivation of Food Plants
Recent events have seen a resurgence in interest in local foods in places all over the U.S. and other parts of the world. At the same time the average age of farmers is increasing and farmland is continuing to disappear. A new generation is hoping to farm the land. However, the price of land and requisite skills of growing food may often act as barriers to entry.
Many methods have been developed in the last few decades to grow food more efficiently. Terms like “square foot gardening”, “lasagna gardening” and “biointensive farming” have been coined to represent a move to more production in less space using less energetic input (Bartholomew, 1981; Jeavons, 2006; Lanza, 1998). Edible landscaping is another concept that has been explored by several authors (Creasy, 1982; Hagy, 1990, 1990; Hart, 1996; Judd, 2013; Kourik & Kane, 1986).
The most holistic plan for farming in the modern age falls under the term of Permaculture. Permaculture was originally developed in Australia by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren (1979). The term arose from a contraction of the two words permanent and agriculture. Since that time permaculture has spread around the world and has been applied to any type of human created system including food, politics, waste disposal, energy generation, etc. Permaculture is more than anything a design philosophy used to create sustainable systems. Books have proliferated concerning the employment of permaculture principles (Aranya, 2012; Bane, 2012; G. Bell, 2005; Falk, 2013; Hemenway, 2001; Holmgren, 2002; Judd, 2013; Lockyer & Veteto, 2013; Mars & Drucker, 2005; Mollison, 1979, 1997; Mollison & Slay, 1997; Nugent & Boniface, 2004; Shein, 2013; James R. Veteto & Lockyer, 2008). Within Appalachia the ecovillages, Earthaven outside Black Mountain, NC and at Berea College in Berea, KY provide fine examples of permaculture in action with many in between. The ecovillage movement is also a worldwide phenomenon that is often coupled with the concept of Permaculture. http://gen.ecovillage.org/
Permaculturalists often employ the use of perennial plants in an effort to reduce the energetic input sometimes necessary to maintain annuals (Toensmeier, 2007) The preference for perennial plants leads to the development of woody species in what is called Agroforestry or Forest gardening (Hart, 1996; Hemenway, 2001; Jacke & Toensmeier, 2005). Research on agroforestry in an Appalachian context has proceeded for most of the past century (F. Bell, Pohlman, & Williams, 1977; Joseph Russell Smith, 1950; J Russell Smith, 1916; Williams, 1979). Much of the push for Appalachian agroforestry focused on moving away from annual cultivation of hilly land in favor of planting trees. The main role of the trees at that time was seen as providing fodder for animals. The exploration of potential woody plants and the worldwide scope of permaculture has led to the development of a large temperate pool of potential tree species (Lyle, 2006; Reich, 2008). Yet, more work still may be accomplished in encouraging the cultivation of underappreciated species (Krochmal & Krochmal, 1982). Edible forestry can be applied more robustly to the urban environment in particular.
Two types of agrobiodiversity need to be considered. The first type concerns the number of species that are used in an agricultural system. The second type involves the number of varieties of any given species that are grown. In order to promote either type of agrobiodiversity, grower/consumer education and awareness is essential for acceptance and success. Communication of a means for tantalizing preparation is just as importance as knowledge of cultivation.
The number of crops employed by people in the developed world is in sore need of augmentation. Industrialization has provided the means to use a small number of crops to provide a staggering array of different food forms, textures and tastes. However, this dependence on just a few crops has also led to many side effects common to monocultural systems such as tremendous pest pressure, prominence of food allergies and nutrient deficient diets.
True diet diversity will allow for the growth of many different crops that may naturally confuse pests, make more efficient use of fertility and allow for less dependence on synthetic chemicals through harvesting weeds rather than poisoning them. A rich palette of tastes and textures may be accessed by using a wide range of ingredients. Such options can only be approximated by the artificial chemicals and the techniques of modern conventional industrial agriculture. The tragedy of such an agriculture system has been exposed by a number of authors (Kimbrell, 2002; Pollan, 2006; Schlosser, 2002). Conversely authors have also written of many systems that embrace a diverse way of plant cultivation (Abelman, 2005; Shapiro & Harrisson, 2000).
Many crops that were treasured as far back as Roman and Greek times have fallen into ignominy in the last century or two. Some examples of favorite old time vegetables ripe for a comeback include Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus henricus), Rocket (Eruca sativa), Scorzonera (Scozonera hispanica) Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius.), Skirret (Sium sisarum) and Sea kale (Crambe maritima) (Halpin, 1978).
Wild edible plants have already been covered in depth in the previous class. Nonetheless, a few crops bear mentioning as very choice wild edibles that frequently occur in disturbed nutrient rich garden soils by their own volition. These crops include Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp.) Quickweed (Galinsoga ciliata) Purple archangel (Lamium purpureum), Cresses (Barbarea spp., Cardamine spp. Lepidium spp.), Burdock (Arctium spp.), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.). People that weed them need to eat them!
Outside Asheville, NC Juliet Blankespoor has tried out several novel new crops for the local market. These include Toona (Toona sinensis), Rampion (Campanula rapunculoides) Tree mallow (Malva sylvestris), Musk mallow (Malva mochata), and Bloody dock (Rumex sanguinensis) (Blankespoor, 2009). Other novel crops that have been suggested include Celtuce (Lactuca sativa var asparagina), Ram’s horn (Proboscidea louisianica), Chayote (Sechium edule), Shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium) and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia expansa) (Halpin, 1978). This same source also recommends Comfrey as a green which was traditionally practiced but is no longer recommended due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
The other type of agrobiodiversity rests upon millennia of historical breeding by untold amounts of people in almost every farming region of the world. For any given major crop hundreds if not thousands of varieties have been developed to suit local growing conditions and consumer tastes. These varieties are often called heirlooms because they have been handed down from generation to generation just like jewelry or other treasured family possessions. Anthropologist Jim Veteto has catalogued the prevalence of the heirloom vegetable/fruit tradition in western North Carolina and the Ozarks of Arkansas (J. Veteto, 2008; James Robert Veteto, 2005, 2010; James R. Veteto & Skarbø, 2009; J. Veteto, Nabhan, Fitzsimons, Routson, & Walker, 2011). His findings show that the vast majority of heirloom varieties still being saved are of beans. Beans are followed by tomatoes and then to a minor degree potatoes, corn and other crops. All of these vegetables of course represent Native American crops. Potatoes also have a secondary connection to the Scots Irish heritage of many Appalachian settlers. Hundreds of varieties of Apples are still growing as well.
One of the main places for maintaining agrobiodiversity in the United States is the Seeds Saver’s Exchange in Decorah Iowa. Here over 10,000 varieties of crops are preserved and grown on a rotational basis. This organization also publishes numerous resources cataloguing agrobiodiversity (Whealy & Adelmann, 1986). Many other publications list varieties of heirloom seeds that have been grown over time (Fabricant, 2000; Male, 1999; Watson, 1996; Weaver, 1997). Others have also woven the story of the importance of maintaining agrobiodiversity along with the listing of varieties (Ausubel, 1994, 1994; Fowler & Mooney, 1990; Nabhan, 1989).
In just the last century much valuable labor has been lost to the conglomeration of plant growing interests and loss of seed saving ability on the local level. Many resources exist that may aid in the promulgation of seed saving knowledge (Ashworth & Whealy, 2002; Bubel, 1988; Rogers, 1990). The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association sponsors a seed saving program as well http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/saving-our-seed/. Some seed companies that supply heirloom vegetables from the Appalachian region include Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Appalachian Seeds and Sow True Seeds. Also in western North Carolina a vibrant network of seed exchanges occurs at the annual Organic Grower’s School, Permaculture Gathering and various events located in Watauga and Ashe counties. Fedco is a good source of heirloom seeds in Maine http://www.fedcoseeds.com/. What are some heirloom seed sources from your area? Please share them with the group as this is an effort that we need to engage as many people as possible with. Look at the CFSA resource above as a place to start…
Vegetable crops are not the only cultivated plants with a history of thousands of varieties. Big Horse Creek Farm and Moretz Orchards in western North Carolina represent good repositories of apple diversity. Big Horse Creek has hundreds of apple tree varieties that are for sale (Joyner & Joyner, 2009). Bill Moretz offers the fruit of over 100 varieties through a CSA. Several books also catalogue the fascinating array of apple varieties and their many applications (Crawford & Agroforestry Research Trust, 1994; Hanson, 2005; Morgan & Richards, 2002; Phillips, 1998; Yepsen, 1994). Plant researcher Lee Calhoun (1995) has written a book specifically about southern apples. Thomas Burford (1998) is an heirloom apple authority in the Charlottesville, VA area who has also written a book about apple varieties. According to the 2007 Agriculture Census apples are the most prolific fruit crop grown in the Appalachian region (USDA, 2009). Centers of production include Henderson County, NC Western MD and PA and the area of New York that is close to Lake Erie. Orchards continue to be pushed up in Henderson county, in particular due to development pressure. The celebration and appreciation of unique apple varieties may serve to stimulate the protection of valuable farmland. At the very least consumer awareness of the diversity available might lead to planting more apples that are tailored to suit at the homes of individuals within the Appalachian region. What are the major fruit crops of your area? Do you know of any special varieties? Share some with the group through your commentary.
Economics of Appalachian Food Plant Cultivation and Use
A regional branding for Appalachian products and likewise items from every bioregion offers an exciting opportunity to generate new business. They can rest on already established legacies of unique heritage, land forms, and infrastructure. The potential for the successful marketing of local brands rests on the shoulders of businesses, non-profits, and governmental agencies that can help develop a compelling case to the consumer.
General Business Protocols
Producers must think about markets first. A determination of where production will go and the potential demand for a particular product is essential. Undercapitalization and lack of market are two of the biggest mistakes in new business (Hall, 2005). The use of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis is a classic tool in business design. All aspiring new businesses need a plan which at the very least includes a title page, executive summary, business description, marketing, management, operations, and financials.
Reading books and getting good advice are always a good idea for a start- up business. In the Asheville area organizations such as Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) www.asapconnections.org , Mtn Biz Works www.mountainbizworks.org , and business incubator services through AB Tech Community college all offer quality information at an affordable price for local producers. The Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) is a larger national organization offering affordable business consulting services www.score.org.
Advantages of localized production are many. Local production keeps money circulating and multiplying in a community versus being siphoned out by big corporations from without (Keynes, 1997).
Disadvantages of local food production are hard to come by. The potential for an initial lack of economies of scale comes to mind. Building brand acceptance and loyalty is a mountain that any new business concept has to climb. Luckily ASAP has done a lot of leg work in this regard.
ASAP has published a local food guide in Western North Carolina with increasingly larger print runs as well as distributing tens of thousands of highly visible bumper stickers promoting local food. Currently ASAP administers a label that is termed Appalachian Growntm. The Appalachian Grown program extends to 55 counties in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (ASAP, 2008). Qualification for using the label is free and only entails signing an agreement that states that the farm operation is within one of the chosen counties and only products from that certified farm will be sold under the label.
The Appalachian region technically contains 420 counties. Therefore, the growth potential for adding more counties under the Appalachian grown banner is large. According to one ASAP study less than one percent of food consumed in WNC was of local origin (Kirby, Jackson, & Perrett, 2007). It stands to reason that this is the same for many areas within the Appalachian region and even less so in other areas of the country. Local food has the potential to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and job increases with only a fractional rise in market share.
Ultimately each Appalachian county might become known for sub specialties and production methods for a vast array of products including jams, specialty cheeses, chutneys, pickles, soups, dried fruits, meads, wines, ciders, butters, pestos, bitters, tinctures, salves, teas, culinary herbs, spice blends, edible flowers, cut flowers, miso, kombucha, jun, kvass, kraut, kimchee, and krautchee.
Regional branding in Europe is a long held tradition with varying degrees of complexity. Regional brands may be as specific as to limit the type of soil, variety of crop, harvesting practices, manufacturing processes and labeling (Jenster, Smith, Mitry, & Jenster, 2008). Laws in the U.S. vary by state (Pellechia, 2008). Ultimately a regional brand allows a product to distinguish itself in the marketplace in a special way. If a compelling story and association with high quality are attached to a regional brand then it may be able to flourish in a marketplace that is increasingly flooded with a multitude of choices (Rothbaum, 2007). The Slow Food Movement is an international phenomenon which started in Italy that is dedicated to encouraging culinary choices that celebrate regional specialties and craftsmanship in food preparation (Petrini, Furlan, Hunt, Waters, & more, 2007; Petrini & Padovani, 2006; Petrini & Waters, 2010; Petrini, 2003).
The association of Appalachia with high quality food products may help to quell the negative stereotypes that have typically been foisted on the region. If Appalachian appellations were specifically organic or had an organic arm then the land would receive added ecological benefits and the brand could catch the wave of one of the fastest growing sectors of the food industry. Appalachian food branding may also feed into a growing wave of culinary tourism (Long, 2007). For instance the Asheville Chamber of Commerce has taken on the banner of Foodtopia as a label for its area http://www.exploreasheville.com/foodtopia/.
Appalachia in general has a very rich tradition in foods mostly merged together through a Scots-Irish, Anglo, German tradition (Dabney, 1998; Sauceman, 2000; Shelton, 1964; Sohn, 1996). Wonderful recipes like spoon bread and applestack cake can supplement already well known items such as grits and bar-b-q.
Shared use facilities may allow for lower infrastructure cost for smaller producers. Blue Ridge Foods ventures in Buncombe County, NC and shared use kitchens in Ashe County, NC and Madison County NC offer examples of cooperative spaces for developing and marketing local food products. Planners and public officials may help support the growth of such facilities. Many large commercial buildings sit empty due to a decrease in manufacturing. Why not put these buildings to use?
The growing market for local foods may allow a regional brand to flourish in even small markets by wresting away market share from dominant multi-national corporations. Local native American grape wines for instance while not popular nationally or internationally continue to increase in popularity in certain locations where they are grown (Pellechia, 2008).
The Alcohol Business Case Study
Grape wine has an 8,000 year history that can be traced back to the fertile crescent (Pellechia, 2008). Just a few grape species account for 10,000 different wine grape varieties. How many varieties can you name? Many wine varieties have names that are associated with the places they have traditionally been grown (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux) However, with the rise of the new world wine growing regions traditional varieties have been shipped to vineyards all over the globe. The specter of climate change threatens to rattle the closely studied and nuanced trade of wine manufacture known as oenology.
Consumer purchases of wine are going down in most of Western Europe. Purchases are going up in the U.K., U.S.A. and Asia (Jenster et al., 2008). In the U.S.A. liquor sales are also going up and beer sales are going down (Rothbaum, 2007). However, specialty craft beers continue to increase in sales. Wine is now the largest consumed alcohol spirit in the U.S. (Kolpan, 2007). Due to economies of scale a winery selling less than 5,000 gallons a year may have a hard time producing a profit (Pellechia, 2008). However, with good demographic research even a small producer may find a market (The New Strategist, 2004).
Appelations in France have suffered because they are not able to list the type of grapes used in making their wine. Grape varietal name is of the biggest interest to modern consumers beyond the name of the vineyard or place grown (Kolpan, 2007) The French follow the concept of terroir that posits that the name of the place grown is more important than the variety grown there. The concept of terroir may bear some looking into even with its current issues. Flexibility to the market is essential in any business. However, holding the specialness of a certain areas’ land characteristics or terroir has credence in regards to land preservation and stewardship. Italy and Spain have proven to be more flexible in their labeling standards and marketing in order to cater to an ever evolving and globalizing industry (Kolpan, 2007).
All in all the alcohol market is very volatile, subject to the whims of a capricious consumer base and difficult to navigate lawfully. Trends popularized by celebrities come and go. Alcohol producers would be well advised to keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening. Farmers who cannot turn production on a dime from large scale long term investments in plant material and infrastructure should do much market research before establishing new perennial crops. State rules around wine can be onerous especially in regards to distribution. States vary in their level of dryness regarding which counties allow the sale of alcohol. Kentucky for instance has 50 such counties (Pellechia, 2008).
Grape growers in North Carolina are trying hard to get a fledgling grape wine industry off the ground. i question the wisdom of this direction in a time when the market is inundated by many international grape wine growers and California dominates the vast majority of the domestic industry (Sumner, Bombrun, Alston, & Heien, 2004). High quality grapes are notoriously hard to grow, especially in the hot humid south. Climate change might even put several wine regions out of business (Kolpan, 2007).
Why not create a novel wine business based on locally available already established products such a honey, apples, etc.? Many wine making books hint at the traditions of old when forms and flavors were much more diverse (S. F. Anderson & Hull, 1970; Krause, 1982, 1996; Marie, 2008; Paterson, 1983; Schramm, 2003; Vargas & Gulling, 1999) .
Making mead from purchased honey allows one to forgo the vagaries of agricultural production. Mead is a market that is relatively untapped. In North Carolina there are only three licensed mead maker I am aware of and all other mead sold in the state comes from eight producers out west. In the United States a few years ago only 60 meaderies and around 20 wineries manufactured mead. Of this total only around 11 operated in the south www.gotmead.com. Now hundreds of meaderies have opened. Still compare this with over 5,000 grape wineries that exist in the U.S. (Kolpan, 2007). Most of the commercial meads that i have tried are sweet and fail to take advantage of the vastly different flavor profiles that this flexible format offers.
i have tasted hundreds types of home brewed mead containing various combinations of over 140 different species of plants. Medicinal meads, as well as meads mixed with fruit, are possible along with the traditional straight honey wine. This is almost a totally untapped market. In Asheville, NC mead making is an underground sensation shared enthusiastically by hundreds of home brewers and local consumers. The potential for a new Appalachian alcohol industry is limitless.
Mead making is one of the most simple and straight forward types of alcohol manufacture. Mead shares thousands of years of history along with wine and beer (Buhner, 1998; Schramm, 2003). Operating costs for the production of mead can be lower than for grape wines or even beer depending on the choice of ingredients. Currently a premium is charged for imported meads from out west on par with medium priced wines at about $15-20 per bottle. The growing market for local products can help support such a fledgling industry while building the strength of an Appalachian appellation. Such products might then also be sold to other markets and abroad which are largely bereft of these items.
Mead can be used to support the bee industry and bring attention to the current challenged plight of the honey bee. Bees have recently been subjected to attacks by a number of pests including Varroa (Varroa destructor) and Tracheal (Acarapis woodi) mites as well as the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) (Delaplane, 2007). Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) honey represents a regional specialty that can be featured in the crafting of high quality mead products. A number of books have been written about honey plants that support bees (H. B. Lovell, 1977; J. H. Lovell, 1999; Pellett, 1977).
The Case for Apples
Apples have a rich history in Appalachia and all over the temperate world. They are a very versatile fruit that comes in thousands of varieties and a multitude of uses (Calhoun, 1995; Crawford & Agroforestry Research Trust, 1994; Hanson, 2005; Morgan & Richards, 2002; Yepsen, 1994). According to the most recent agricultural census Henderson County, North Carolina is the biggest apple producing area in the south (USDA, 2009). Currently orchards are disappearing from this area at an alarming rate. Producers used to rely on big processors for most of their sales and were poorly positioned when these corporations left (Obermiller, 2003). Producing first quality apples is difficult, chemical intensive and costly in the region. i advocate a growth in value added processed products that do not depend so heavily on perfect aesthetics. These might include apple butter, apple sauce, jelly, cider, dried apples, mead and wine. More jobs can be created and more revenue can be generated by processing the apples into a more desirable, shelf stable, and profitable product. My personal experience shows that apple wine and mead employ the use of a minimal amount of sugars and labor coupled with inexpensive yeast to effectively multiply the potential sale price of apple juice by a factor of 10! Apple jelly has a similar ratio of potential profit. However, this production would need to be taken on in house as the going wholesale rate of apples to large scale manufacturers is a pittance.
We live in a day and age when almost everything is branded and marketed in some way or another. The Appalachian region in effect has been branded for over one hundred years now. Not all the connotations related to this label have been positive. The development of high quality and unique food products identified as from the Appalachian region has the potential for a vast array of positive benefits economically, socially and environmentally. Smart business development will be necessary. Multiple stakeholders need to be involved. Rules and regulations must be navigated. Farmers must be informed and trained in potential new industries. Food businesses also only scratch the surface of economic development.
Food is fundamental right after air and water. i have used Appalachia as a lens to view local food culture on a bioregional basis. However, the lessons from this class can be extrapolated to anywhere in the world. We need to reclaim our food sovereignty wherever possible.
For the next class we will cover Poisonous plants and it will be posted around July 4, 2015
Below are items to think about/comment on. Please write me directly at email@example.com or leave information in the commentary under this class. i would really love to hear what you have to say!!!
In the meantime…
-Choose a novel food plant that you have never grown and plant some even in a container if need be
-Identify an heirloom variety of a food crop from where you live and share the story with us in the comment section or in the Facebook group
-Go to the grocery store and purchase a novel food you are unfamiliar with. Do some research and determine where it is originally from and how it can be deliciously prepared.
- Read the entries near the back of Botany in a Day about phytochemistry in preparation for the next class.
-Leave a comment here or on Facebook about the special food crops or varieties of your area.
- Attend a workshop or a class and write up a brief description of plants or information learned.
- Continue to make a photo album of a certain nature spot as the seasons progress.
- Post any clear photos of question plants to Facebook or send in an email.
Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able financially, commentarily, or energetically... Your contributions greatly help me continue this crucial work of ethnobotanical research and education. Please let me know your thoughts in general and anyway i can help this class serve you best.
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