Diversity of Food: Appalachia

The Appalachian mountain regions of North Carolina, East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky contain a long history of cultivation of heirloom varieties of fruits and intense wildcrafting.  (Wildcrafting is defined as gathering herbs, fungi and plants from the wild.)
This mountain range has been inhabited by people for many centuries and is known for it’s agrobiodiversity.  Much of this diversity springs from the agricultural practices of the Native American groups such as the Cherokee.

The Appalachians are full of yummy foods such as Muscadine grapes (great for jams and wine), the October bean, apples (eating, cooking and cider), sweet potatoes, pawpaws (a favorite of my grandmother), squashes, pumpkins, berries, grains, mushrooms, etc.

“Apples are abundant among the region’s 1,412 food varieties.”

—-James R. Veteto, contributor and editor – Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

“The place-based foods of the Southern and Central Appalachia region are treasures of global importance, just as much as the bluegrass music of the same region.”

——Gary Paul Nabhan, founder of Renewing America’s Food Traditions Alliance and editor
of Place-Based Foods of Appalachia

With the ever looming risks of climate change, farmers are carefully observing which varieties of plants are hearty and resilient through past extreme shifts in climate.  These flexible contenders are being used to bring variety to their fields.  Thankfully, monoculture is rare here.  The food systems are more in tune with the natural cycles of the region and what the soils can produce.

Some researchers speculate that there is danger of the most active gardeners and cultivators in the region of dying out and traditions dying out too.  But there is a return to the ideas of self-sufficiency and sustainability.  According to James Veteto in Place-Based Foods, “ Droves of young people are returning to the land in western North Carolina through the sustainable agriculture movement.  Conservation efforts through the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Center for Cherokee Plants and The Southern Seed Legacy Project are generating an enormous amount of interest in heirloom seeds, wild foods, and heritage breeds.”

With all the readings this week about slow food, sustainable sushi and the tragedy of over-fishing and oceanic dead zones, I kept trying to think of an area that might embody practices for food growing that might somehow be more inherently healthy or environmentally sustainable and I kept thinking of Appalachia.  Slow food and self sufficiency seems to be a way of life there.  Maybe we all just need to slow down?  Maybe we don’t need sushi every week?

-Editor and contributor to Place-Based Foods, Gary Paul Nabhan, has also written “Endangered Foods of the Gulf South” and was featured on Slow Food NOLA’s blog.

-James R. Veteto also has written “The Slaw and the Slow Cooked.”

Another interesting site is: Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project

From the ASAP site’s FAQ:

“At ASAP, we believe the labor and environmental issues associated with agriculture are important. Supporting local agriculture is a powerful way to shape the food system and impact the kind of environmental and labor standards you want to see. Localizing agriculture connects farmers and community members; it means that consumers are in direct contact with the farmers that grow their food or are only one or two steps removed. With this kind of close connection, you can make informed choices about the food you eat and in turn foster greater economic, social, and environmental health. We encourage you to get to know the farmers that grow your food. If you have direct contact with farmers, you can ask them directly about their production and business practices. If you buy your food through a retailer, produce managers are often knowledgeable about the local farms that supply their store. “

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