An Amaranth growing at Fresh Connections, a neighborhood community garden located at 1212 Buckingham - Garland, Texas
Food diversity relates to food security. In general, the more food choices a community has, the higher its food security. The diversity of our food choices at the grocery store is largely an illusion. This point was sharply made in 2010 when a salmonella scare resulted in the recall of almost half a billion eggs. The recalled eggs were distributed across the country under the brand names Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma’s, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms, Kemps, James Farms, Glenview and Pacific Coast--17 brand names all from the same large-scale producer: Wright County Egg, of Galt, Iowa. At the grocery store, we largely choose from brands of food--not from diverse food sources.
Advocates of industrial farming often claim that without the factory model, not enough food would be produced to feed all of the people in the world. “Bigger is Better” is often quoted and that factory farming is the most efficient way to produce cheap food for the world. In fact this couldn’t be more untrue.
What these advocates don’t tell consumers is that the food is not as cheap as it is purported to be. The relatively low cost of food does not take into account the true cost of production. Some of these hidden costs include degradation of our water, soil, and air, damage to our health, and other negative impacts that are felt by the communities in which these industrial facilities are located. Rarely are any of these hidden costs are paid by the owners of factory farms. Instead, it is the people who live in these communities as well as consumers who purchase these products who pay for these costs. [Source]
Crop diversity spreads the risk. Large homogeneous crops, according to economist Martin Weitzman of Harvard University, enable parasites--bacteria, fungi, insects, and viruses-- to specialize on one specific host, thus increasing the chance they will mutate into a more pathogenic form.
We think our current food system allows us a multitude of choices, but this is an illusion of diversity of choice. We really don't have a diversity of food to choose from. We have a diversity of corporate brands to choose from but not a diversity of food.
The following quote from Plants for a Future sums up the need for us to pay attention to growing diversity of food choices for our community:
"There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed."
Many believe that a greater diversity of food choice is ultimately critical to our survival as a species. Ten corporations control most of the food that Americans eat: Kraft, Pepsico, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogs, Mars, Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble and Nestle.
The good news is that we can change this situation and introduce real diversity of food choices into our communities by growing some of the food we eat and by learning more about edible plants than can and do thrive in our locale.
For example, I doubt that many folks in and around the DFW area have ever heard of "amaranth." I had not until about a week ago when I visited the neighborhood community garden, Fresh Connections, located here in Garland at 1212 Buckingham Road. During the visit I noted some very beautiful plants as you can see from the photos below (provided courtesy of Laser Printing, Inc.). I had no idea what they were, or even if they were edible, but I did know that I wanted some seed to plant some at the Garland Community Garden and one in my own personal garden. They are gorgeous plants. The photo shown below must have been taken earlier in the spring. Last week in mid July when I visited the garden, the plants were over five feet tall as shown in the photo above I took with my mobile phone.
Turns out. . . Amaranth is an edible grain. Its small lovely red leaves are also edible. Amaranth has been cultivated as a grain for 8,000 years. It was a staple food of the Aztecs. These Indians also use the grain in their religious ceremonies--thus it's cultivation and use were banned by the conquistadors. However the grain continued to grow as a weed since that time. Much of the grain currently grown is sold in health food stores. In Mexico it is grown in limited quantities and is used at festival times in a candy called "alegria". Amaranth grain is also used to extract amaranth oil--a valuable seed oil that is used for many purposes. What is Amaranth good for?
Increasing the Food Diversity in Garland
This fall Loving Garland Green will be working with the Garland Multicultural Commission to identify residents of Garland who are growing plants that most of us never heard of before. We hope to obtain plants, cuttings and seeds from these gardeners and create a garden plot at the Garland Community Garden that is filled with these unusual edibles that grow well in our climate.