I picked up a Wall Street Journal this weekend and was surprised to find a front-page story on one of the potato varieties we grew this year. The potato is the bintje, the smallish, roundish, yellow potato that we had in the share earlier in the season. Bintje is famous for being the original French fry potato, and Belgian potato fans say that it is still the best for fries. Unfortunately, the impetus for this news story was the bintje’s decline. Although its flavor is unmatched, the bintje does not have the uniform large size and oblong shape required by today’s “fast food megakitchens,” so farmers are not planting many of them anymore.
The story is familiar: the massive scale and consolidation of our food production has come at the expense of many of our best varieties. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately 75% of the world’s genetic diversity in crops has been lost since 1900. You can see this trend in all of our fruits and vegetables, but I think that it shows most vividly in tomatoes. We have hundreds of delicious and unique heirloom tomato varieties, but most of the tomatoes you can buy come from just a handful of varieties, and they are bland and rubbery. The reason is that sweet, juicy heirlooms don’t last through the cross-country shipping and warehouse storage that our tomato industry depends on.
There are some things we can all do about this. Support a CSA or other local farm that grows traditional varieties. Grow your own vegetables. Save seeds from your garden.Written by Farm Crew member, Josh Frederick