2021 Plant Talk 7: Cultivated Temperate Food Plants
Greetings plant enthusiasts!
The Medicine’s From the Earth conference happened mostly in a virtual format again this year. Feeling grateful for the chance to present there once more and even facilitate an in person botany class to boot! The topic online for me was about Medicinal Plant Biogeography and Conservation. The Biennial International Herb Symposium is happening virtually this weekend. i did a recorded class on Temperate Woody Ethnobotany
Beyond that i been doing a lot of gardening, nursery work, picture taking and tons of online work as well especially for the United Plant Savers. Not to mention helping the family i live with given that they currently have a two month old baby!
American Ipecac (Gillenia trifoliata), Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Beardtongues (Penstemon spp.), Beetleweed (Galax urceolata), Betony (Stachys spp.), Blanketflower (Gaillardia sp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.), California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Chickory (Cichorium intybus), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Clovers (Trifolium spp.), Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), Comfrey (Symphytum offcinale), Crown Vetch (Securigera varia), Day Lily (Hemerocallis fulva), Devil’s Bit (Chamaelirium luteum), Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Firepink (Silene virginica), Fleabanes (Erigeron spp.), Forget me Not (Myosotis spp.), Horse Gentian (Triosteum sp.), Japanese Spirea (Spiraea japonica), Jewelweed (Impatiens spp.), Larkspur (Delphinium spp.), Little Brown Jugs (Hexastylis sp.), Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena), Mallow (Malva sp.), Milkvine (Matelea sp.), Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Milkwort (Polygala sp.), Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum spp.), Speedwells (Veronica spp.), Spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.), Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), Spurge (Euphorbia sp.), Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Vervain (Verbena hastata), Winged Perennial Pea (Lathyrus latifolius), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Yucca (Yucca filamentosa), Zinnia spp. to name a few.
Also did you know that Yucca flowers can be eaten stuffed and cooked and sometimes raw? However the raw flowers may cause slight irritation.
Ready for Harvest
It has been a great fruit year around Asheville, NC! Currently Black Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis), Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), Goumi berries (Elaeagnus multiflora), Mulberries (Morus spp.) and Strawberries (Fragaria spp.) are all on offer for starters! George Brabant live is Asheville and has a plethora of videos showcasing what can be availble food production wise in an urban context when done well.
Hemlock Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma tsugae) have been good this year and my friend and colleague Dina Falconi has a nice video one that subject. Berkeley’s Polypore (Bondarzewia berkeleyi), Black Chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides), and other Chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.) are some others to be on the lookout for.
Some vegetables being harvested around western North Carolina include members of the Brassicaceae for greens such as Cabbage, Kale, Mizuna and Lettuce (Lactuca spp.) from the Asteraceae. Wild greens include Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), Lambsquarters (Chenopodium spp.) and Quickweed (Galinsoga sp.). Culinary herb wise i just harvested my first Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and Nasturtium (Tropaeolum sp.) leaves of the year. Root crops include Beets (Beta vulgaris) and Radishes (Raphanus sativus).
A photo album corresponding to the plants and places mentioned above and below can be viewed on Facebook at the following link. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10158652456611584&type=3
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 (Alkon, 2012; Alkon & Agyeman, 2011; Chevalier et al., 2014; Counihan & Esterik, 2012; Etkin, 2009; J. B. Harris & Angelou, 2012; Kong Lum, 2016). 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 of the temperate world as well. Like a lot of these online classes about specific subjects of use it has grown out of my graduate school studies and is most germane to the eastern U.S.A., but many of these crops are grown all over the world as well. A nice world literature exists regarding the all-time major crop plants (Facciola, 1998; Fern, 2000; National Geographic Society (United States), 2008; Van Wyk, 2005; Wiersema & León, 2013). Certainly often at the genus and definitely for the most part at the family level many associations can be made from continent to continent in cold places.
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 below or at the Facebook group.
Studies of agriculture in Appalachia have continued periodically at least through the last century (Arcury, 1989; Coltrane, 1965; Gragson & Bolstad, 2006; Otto, 1983; Pudup, 1990; Roosevelt, 1902; J. R. Veteto, 2005; Weingartner et al., 1989; A. B. Wilson, 2006). A bibliography of agriculture in Appalachia developed by the University of Kentucky represents another good source of information (G. H. 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 carbohydrates. The carbohydrate part along with a prevalence of salty and fatty foods have famously become a plague across the world currently (Bittman, 2021; Moss, 2014, 2021; Nestle, 2007).
Anthroplogist Lucien Carr (1895, p. 12) illustrated the level of Appalachian agriculture from an early stage of development. 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 and for that matter the world up to modern times (Caduto & Bruchac, 1996; Dennee, 1995; Frank, 1991; Fussell, 1992; Johnson, 1997; Moore, 1988; G. L. Wilson, 2005). These crops are often supplemented with other major world crops such as Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum), Peruvian 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 tree fruit of Appalachia and continue to persist in old farm fields and road sides.
The Irish made up a large group of the early settlers that populated southern Appalachia. Though many people associate the Potato (Solanum tuberosum) with the Irish it is important to recognize its true origin in the Andes and specifically Peru. This one crop has a very rich literature too (Brush et al., 1981; Fabricant, 2000; Gomez, 2008; C. Graves, 2001; Jackson et al., 1980; Johnson, 1997; Ochoa, 2004, 2011; Pestalozzi, 2000; Reader, 2009; Rhoades, 1988; Zuckerman, 1998). Of course the Irish potato famine of the mid-1800s caused by the fungal blight (Phytopthera infestans) is a big reason that this connection endures (Bartoletti, 2005; Haas et al., 2009; Kelly, 2013).
Typical Appalachian and southern dishes in general include chow chow, sauerkraut, spoonbread, grits, apple stack cake, and pickles of various forms (Dabney, 1998; Farr, 1983, 1995; Lundy & Autry, 2016; Séguret, 2016; Shelton, 1964; Sohn, 2005). 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. Nixtamalization is an important process employed by natives and settlers. A traditional use of wood ash is to create lye that then can be used to make a product called hominy from corn. The process of making hominy turns corn into a complete protein (Katz & Morell, 2016).
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 historically did not have good access to conventional medicines (Dabney, 1998). However, many of the edible wild plants of the Appalachian region also have medicinal uses (Banks, 2004; Duke & Foster, 2014; Howell, 2006; Light, 2018; Persons & Davis, 2014). 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 later this year.
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 et al., 1998; Delcourt & Delcourt, 1998). Over 50 woody species have a tradition of use for food by Native Americans in eastern North America. The main tree crops include Oaks (Quercus spp.), Hickories (Carya spp.), Chestnuts (Castanea spp.), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) and Walnuts (Juglans spp.) while various other 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 (N. Mueller et al., 2017; N. G. Mueller et al., 2019; Nordhaus, 2006). Natalie Mueller has some fascinating recent research in this area in particular Natalie Mueller at Cornell Archaebotany and Mueller ArsTechnica Article
Similarly, evidence out of the Pacific Northwest points to the cultivation of tree crops by first nation’s people as well (N. Turner, 2011; N. J. Turner et al., 2013). My friend and colleague Zach Elfers is doing some fascinating research about the potential patterns of cultivation by indigenous people in the eastern USA which can be viewed at his website for the Nomad Seed Project. He also did a podcast with another mutual friend Kelly Moody about the idea of wild tending which incorporates such ideas. Wild tending is a concept gaining great credence in part thanks to ethnobiologists like M. Kat Anderson and Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer (M. K. Anderson, 2006; Kimmerer, 2015; Kimmerer & Lake, 2001).
Regarding vegetables there is some confusion as to the potential 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 Maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana) and Barley (Hordeum pusillum) as well (B. D. Smith, 1989). Recent research has confirmed the cultivation of Erect Knotweed (Polygonum erectum) (N. G. Mueller, 2018).
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 et al., 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). However, some 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 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 “biointensive farming”, “lasagna gardening”, “mini-farming” and “square foot gardening” have been coined to represent a move to more production in less space using less energy input (Bartholomew, 2013; Jeavons, 2017; Lanza, 1998; Markham, 2010). Edible landscaping is another concept that has been explored by several authors (Aranya, 2012; Bane, 2012; G. Bell, 2005; Bonsall, 2015; Creasy, 1982; Hagy, 1990; Hart, 1996; T. Hemenway, 2001, 2015; Holmgren, 2002; Jadrnicek & Jadrnicek, 2016; Judd, 2013; Kourik & Kane, 1986; Macnamara, 2012; Mars & Drucker, 2005; Nugent & Boniface, 2004; Shein, 2013; Trought, 2015).
One of the most holistic systems 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 building, 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; Brock, 2017; Crawford, 2015; Falk, 2013; Gibsone & Bang, 2015; Hawken & Rand, 2014; T. Hemenway, 2001, 2015; Holmgren, 2002; Jadrnicek & Jadrnicek, 2016; Judd, 2013; Law, 2013; Macnamara, 2012; Mars & Drucker, 2005; Mollison, 1979, 1997; Mollison & Slay, 1997; Mudge et al., 2014; Nugent & Boniface, 2004; Orion, 2015; Osentowski, 2015; Shein, 2013; Trought, 2015; J. 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 other places in between. The ecovillage movement is also a worldwide phenomenon that is often coupled with the concept of Permaculture (Lockyer & Veteto, 2013). 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, 2013; Toensmeier & Herren, 2016) The preference for perennial plants leads to the development of woody species in what is called Agroforestry or Forest gardening (Bukowski et al., 2018; Crawford, 2010; Crawford & Aitken, 2014; Czolba & Frey, 2017; A. Ford & Nigh, 2015; Hart, 1996; T. Hemenway, 2001; Jacke & Toensmeier, 2005; McLain et al., 2012; Whitefield, 1998). Research on agroforestry in an Appalachian context has proceeded for most of the past century (F. Bell et al., 1977; Bendfeldt et al., 2001; Feldhake & Schumann, 2005; Otto, 1983; J. R. Smith, 1916, 1950; G. 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 (Future, 2013; 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. i am pleased to say that in Asheville, the city recently has decided to plant as many edibles as possible on public lands especially greenways. i was part of the Asheville Tree Commission for three years and focused on edible planting. Our big focus right now is a flagship template we are calling the “Edible Mile” that will be placed along the French Broad river.
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. Grower/consumer education and awareness is essential for acceptance and success in order to promote either type of agrobiodiversity. Communication of a means for tantalizing preparation is just as importance as knowledge of cultivation.
The number of crops employed by people in Australia, Europe, and North America and elsewhere in some of the other top economy countries is in sore need of augmentation. China is a notable exception with quite a bit of diet diversity still remaining in that country. 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 (Chrzan & Brett, 2017; Colbin, 1986; Dufour et al., 2012; Estabrook, 2011; Fallon, 1999; Hunter et al., 2020; Kimbrell, 2002; Nestle, 2007; Santilli, 2011; Wilk, 2006; Zimmerer & Haan, 2019).
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 (Broad, 2016; Estabrook, 2011; Funes et al., 2002; Gottlieb et al., 2011; Iles, n.d.; J. Jordan et al., 2009; Kleppel & Ikerd, 2014; Mazoyer & Roudart, 2006; Munzara, 2010; Pollan, 2006; Schlosser, 2002; Shepard, 2013; Toensmeier & Herren, 2016).
Conversely authors have also written of many systems that embrace a diverse way of plant cultivation (Abelman, 2005; Darke & Tallamy, 2014; Gliessman & Engles, 2014; Shapiro & Harrisson, 2000; N. J. Turner et al., 2011; J. R. Veteto & Skarbø, 2009).
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 vesicaria syn 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 very choice wild edibles that frequently occur in disturbed nutrient rich garden soils by their own volition bear mentioning. These wild edibles that grow on their own around intentionally cultivated crops include Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album) Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp.) Quickweed (Galinsoga quadriradiata syn Galinsoga ciliata) Purple Archangel (Lamium purpureum), Cresses (Barbarea spp., Cardamine spp. Lepidium spp.), Burdock (Arctium spp.), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Wood Sorrel (Oxalis spp.). If you weed it, think about eating it!
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 moschata), 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 (Glebionis coronaria syn Chrysanthemum coronarium) and New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides syn Tetragonia expansa) (Halpin, 1978). This same source also recommends Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) as a green which was traditionally practiced but is no longer recommended due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. My friend and colleague Eric Lewis is working hard to put into practice alternative agriculture methods with some of the plants mentioned above with a particular focus of Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and Turmeric (Curcuma longa) as well.
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; J. Veteto et al., 2011; J. R. Veteto, 2005, 2010; J. R. Veteto & Skarbø, 2009). 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 Indigenous crops to the Americas. 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 (Burford, 2013; Calhoun Jr., 2011; Jacobsen, 2014; Powell, 2014; J. Veteto et al., 2011). Big Horse Creek farm has many of those hundreds on their property alone. It remains to be seen what climate change will really mean to crops like Apples and various others. Understanding farmer’s perceptions of shifts will be crucial to navigate our way through the coming storm (Cebon et al., 1998; Hannah et al., 2013; Hertsgaard, 2011; Jones et al., 2005; Kolbert, 2007; Lengnick, 2015; McKibben, 2009; Nabhan & McKibben, 2013; Reed, 2018; S. E. Gill et al., 2007; Salick et al., 2020; Selvaraju et al., 2013; Skarbø & VanderMolen, 2016; J. R. Veteto & Carlson, 2014; Welch-Devine et al., 2020; Wolverton et al., 2014; Ziska et al., 2011).
Carbon farming and biochar are some specific solutions being explored to help blunt the edge of the coming cataclysm (Bates, 2010; Scheub et al., 2016; Toensmeier & Herren, 2016).
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 (D. O. Whealy, 2011; K. Whealy & Adelmann, 1986). They have helped put out a number of seed catalogs over the years. Many other publications list varieties of heirloom seeds that have been grown over time (Bronson, 2014; Coulter, 2006; Fabricant, 2000; Gansneder, 2015; Harrison & Etty, 2016; Iannotti, 2012; Watson, 1996; Weaver, 1997). Some crops like Tomatoes have their own special heirloom literature (Goldman, 2008; J. A. Jordan, 2015; Male, 1999).
Some authors have woven the story of the importance of maintaining agrobiodiversity along with the listing of varieties (Ausubel, 1994, 1994; Best, 2013; Fowler & Mooney, 1990; Nabhan, 1989). Anthropologist Virginia Nazarea is one of my all-time favorite writers on the subject of agrobiodiversity (V. Nazarea et al., 1998; V. D. Nazarea, 1997, 1999, 2014; V. D. Nazarea et al., 2013; Nazarea-Sandoval, 1995). i was honored to co-author a chapter on Mead making with connections to agrobiodiversity in her most recent book publication (V. D. Nazarea & Gagnon, 2021).
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 (M. Anderson, 2013; Ashworth & Whealy, 2002; Bronson, 2014; Bubel, 1988; Connolly & Lawn, 2011; Deppe, 2000; Gansneder, 2015; Gough & Moore-Gough, 2011; Heistinger, 2013; Rogers, 1990, 2012; Shirk, 2015; Zystro & Colley, 2015).
The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association sponsors a seed saving program as well. Some seed companies that supply heirloom vegetables from the southern 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 in Maine is a good source of heirloom seeds for New England in particular. Baker Creek seeds is another popular one with a lot of folks (Gettle & Sutherland, 2011). 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 and a map of seed saving groups around the world as a place to start.
Vegetable crops are not the only cultivated plants with a history of thousands of varieties. Big Horse Creek Farm as mentioned earlier 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 near Boone, NC has traditionally offered the fruit of over 100 varieties through a CSA among other fruits and vegetables as well
. Several publications also catalogue the fascinating array of apple varieties (Crawford & Agroforestry Research Trust, 1994; Hanson, 2005; Jacobsen, 2014; Manhart, 1995; Morgan & Richards, 2002; Neighbors, 1998; Phillips, 1998; Powell, 2014; Ragan, 2012; Reedy et al., 2009; Stilphen, 1993; Thornton, 2014; Yepsen, 1994). Plant researcher Lee Calhoun (1995; 2011) wrote a book specifically about southern apples. Thomas Burford (1998, 2013) was an heirloom apple authority in the Charlottesville, VA area who also wrote books about apple varieties. Apples are the most prolific fruit crop grown in the Appalachian region according to the 2007 Agriculture Census (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. 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. Here are a few of my favorite resources for growing fruits (Cuthbertson, 2007; Downing, 2009; Lyle, 2006; Phillips, 2012; Reich, 2008, 2012). The search for fruits and other plants through time has quite an interesting history as well (Gollner, 2013; A. Harris, 2015).
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) , Mtn Biz Works, 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.
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 (Cortese, 2011; Katz, 2006; Kirby et al., 2007, 2007; Meredith, 2010; Nabhan, 2002; Topalian & Ryder, 2010). Investing locally to increase the foodshed has been growing for a while (Cortese, 2011; Hewitt, 2013; Tasch & Petrini, 2010).
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 at least 925 farms in 60 counties in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (ASAP, 2017). 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 ASAP studies, a very small percentage of food consumed in WNC and Appalachia in general is of local origin (ASAP, 2015; Kirby et al., 2007). 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 and bioregional area of the world for that matter might become known for sub specialties and production methods for a vast array of products including beers, bitters, breads, butters, cheeses, ciders, culinary herbs, chutneys, cut flowers, dried fruits, edible flowers, jams, kombucha, jun, kvass, kraut, kimchi, meads, miso, pestos, pickles, soups, salves, specialty cheeses, spice blends, teas, tinctures and wines among other potential items. Carolina Ground is a great initiative to provide locally grown grains to bakers. The Riverbend Malthouse provides a similar service to local beer brewers. The Well Seasoned Table is a great example of local work with spices.
Many restaurants in the Asheville area and Western North Carolina in general focus heavily on honoring and procuring the food that is grown locally. Some of my favorite examples include, Curate, Dobra Tea House, Early Girl Eatery, French Broad Food Coop, Laughing Seed Café, Plant, Posana, Sovereign Remedies, Table, The Black Bird Restaurant, The Market Place and West Village Market.
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 et al., 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 (Flynn, 2017; Kingsolver et al., 2007; Petrini, 2003, 2015; Petrini et al., 2007; Petrini & Padovani, 2006; Petrini & Waters, 2010; van Bommel & Spicer, 2011; Wilk, 2006; Wright, 2013).
The association of Appalachia with high quality food products may help to quell the negative stereotypes that have typically been foisted on the region (T. R. Ford & Vance, 1967; Stoll, 2017; Vance, 2016; J. A. Williams, 2002). 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 (Crowther, 2013; Finnis, 2012; Long, 2007; Muskat, 2007; Oliveira & Pereira, 2008). For instance the Asheville Chamber of Commerce has taken on the banner of Foodtopia as a label for its area. Tamarack in West Virginia is another good example of the branding of regional products. Susie Gott is one of my favorite food historians and culinary tourism facilitators in the Appalachian region and beyond in places like California, Frank and New York.
Appalachia in general has a very rich tradition in foods mostly merged together through a Scots-Irish, Anglo, German tradition (Dabney, 1998; Lundy & Autry, 2016; Sauceman, 2000; Séguret, 2016; Shelton, 1964; Sohn, 1996). Wonderful recipes like spoon bread and applestack cake can supplement already 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 offers an example 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; Tamang & Kailasapathy, 2010; Waldo, 1963). 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 (Hannah et al., 2013; Jones et al., 2005; Welch-Devine et al., 2020). The fermentation program at Appalachian State University does research on wine production and beer manufacture and even has their own production facility known as the Ivory Tower Brewery.
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 USA liquor sales are also going up and beer sales are going down (Rothbaum, 2007). However, specialty craft beers continue to increase in sales. The number of breweries has almost doubled to 8,000 in the last five years! Though many of these may be shuttered by the current pandemic. Wine is 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 (Baudar, 2016; Brown & Bradshaw, 2013; Heekin & Feiring, 2014; Jacobsen, 2010; Sommers, 2008; Trubek, 2009). 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.
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 et al., 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; Baudar, 2018; 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 compared to beer or wine. In North Carolina there are a few handfuls of mead sellers currently versus hundreds of breweries. In the United States around a decade ago only 60 meaderies and around 20 wineries manufactured mead. Of this total only around 11 operated in the south according to www.gotmead.com. Now hundreds of meaderies have opened. Still compare this with over 8,700 wineries that exist in the USA. 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 of types of home brewed mead containing various combinations of close to 200 different species of plants and fungi. 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. Griffin Abee of Alchemy Herbal Wine around Asheville, NC is the first to capture some of the potential for the type of mead i am talking about. Hierophant Meadery in Washington state is another.
Mead making is one of the most simple and straight forward types of alcohol to manufacture. Mead shares thousands of years of history along with wine and beer (Buhner, 1998; Gayre & Papazian, 1986; Kvilhaug, 2009; Minnick, 2018; Schramm, 2003; Vidrih & Hribar, 2016; Zimmerman, 2015). Operating costs for the production of mead were historically lower than for grape wines or even beer depending on the choice of ingredients. However, the difficulty with raising bees has increased the cost of the primary ingredient of honey. However, currently a premium is charged for meads on par with medium priced wines at about $15-20 per 750ml bottle minimum which may still lead to a decent profit margin. The growing market for local products can help support such a fledgling industry while building the strength of an Appalachian appellation and those from other bioregions. 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 (Apis mellifera). 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) and yet there is a movement to continue to keep bees as naturally as possible (Crowder & Harrell, 2012; Delaplane, 2007; C. Hemenway, 2013, 2017). My friend Tucka Saville is well on her way to mastering the art of natural bee keeping along with many others. 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 (Frey et al., 2016; Holm, 2017; 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 (Burford, 2013; Calhoun Jr., 2011; Crawford & Agroforestry Research Trust, 1994; Hanson, 2005; Jacobsen, 2014; Manhart, 1995; Morgan & Richards, 2002; Neighbors, 1998; Ragan, 2012; Stilphen, 1993; Yepsen, 1994). According to one 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 (J. D. Obermiller, personal communication, 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. Apple wood chips for b-b-q from prunings are another value added example. 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 by growers 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 June 26th
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, in the comments below or send in an email.
Praises to all that have donated to the cause. i encourage everyone to donate as they are able financially, with commentary, 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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