The New York Times on Heirlooms, Open-pollinated and Hybrid Seeds


A photo of Lawrence Davis-HollanderThe New York Times March 24 article on seeds ("Heirloom Seeds of Flinty Hybrids?" appeared to me to be vaguely objective,  yet it was perhaps preloaded with some non-objective aims and means. Ultimately the article leaves you hanging with no real conclusion with bits and pieces of objectivity, lots of  positional viewpoints including [apparently?] the author’s. Which made for an interesting and somewhat informative article which was very incomplete.  If you are in to gardening it's worth a read and has some good info. Yet it left me dissatisifed.

It was incomplete because it was reductionistic. In other words it took somewhat complex issues  and reduced them to a few, sometimes personal explanations by the interviewees without sufficiently going into some important topics that could really lead to understanding. I for one would have liked to have seen more of that. Or it may reflect the material the author chose to utilize.

I agree positions can be fun and shake things up a bit. I was trained as a scientist from a holistic systems approach to try to understand what is occurring from a wider perspective. Perhaps this is another form of pseudo-objectivism yet very much grounded in multiple viewpoints and approaches. In my other life’s work I try when possible to seek balance, common ground, and viable solutions. For this blog I’m just going to begin by drilling down on  one  point If  and when time permits me I’ll address some other questions raised in the NYT article in another blog.

The article quotes Bob Heisey a tomato-and-pepper breeder for the United Genetics Seeds who puts the responsibility on the consumer for wanting to buy out of season produce.  I don’t know Bob and I suspect we’d have fun chatting.

So here’s my question. Is it the chicken or the egg that comes first? I’ve always wanted to know how this works when it comes to consumerism. As a nation we often hear some new product or gadget is now required because of consumer demand. The story is usually the same. We accept that we need this item and rush out and buy it. As time goes along we need more and more items, companies create more and more items and the consumer economy grows. This trend just keeps expanding along with its consumerist mentality.  Today I believe it truly may be the consumer making these demands because many of  us have become successfully rooted (or mired) in the instant gratification driven and distracted material culture.

Okay let’s move to tomatoes as an example. Was there really a movement that said we want tomatoes out of season? Was there a movement  called the tough-skin-out-of season-crappy-tasting movement or perhaps did it work the other way around?  I often hear big business claiming they have make something that the consumer wants. Could it be that they are doing what they want and are then using advertising to convince us it is what we need? Could it really work that way at least some of the time? Could innovations like the national highway system helped create the infrastructure for moving produce across the country? Could the ability to produce larger crops with more uniform hybrids and  mechanized means of production created the impetus for selling out of season to national markets? 

Nebraska Dave
3/26/2011 2:11:34 PM

Lawrence, I for one will not buy or eat one of those tough-skin-out-of season-crappy-tasting tomatoes. Certain things were always anticipated when the season would arrive. The first batch of asparagus or rhubarb. It was wonderful to eat that first hand full of raspberries or foliage for the wild mulberries and blackberries. The first bowel of strawberries alway made me excited. Oh man don't get me started on the overgrown bloated steroidal strawberries that don't smell or taste like a strawberry should. All that anticipation for the next seasonal thing has truly been lost as well as the demand for traditional taste of how food should taste. The younger generation now, unfortunately, think that the tough-skin-out-of season-crappy-tasting tomatoes are really what tomatoes are supposed to taste like. My mission in life is to grow great heirloom (mostly Rutgers) tomatoes and give them away to folks so they can taste a real tomato. I'm a firm believer that if the soil is taken care of and the plants are healthy, disease will not be a problem. Of course there are always bad years but that's just how nature is. I'm also a firm believer that a tomato is supposed to have blemish or two and it doesn't have to be perfectly round. Oh, well, I guess you can just call me old fashion. Have a great ethnobotanist day and keep up the good fight for better tasting food.

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