Planting Crops Could Be Like Paying Taxes
In 1998 Glenn Roberts, a Charleston-based historic restoration consultant and thirty-year veteran of restaurant and hotel concept design, took his career in an entirely new direction. He founded a company, Anson Mills, to grow, harvest and mill near-extinct varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically, and re-create ingredients that were in the Southern larder before the Civil War. Anson Mills now works with 30 organic growers in six states to grow a variety of native heirloom grains.
Glenn\r\n Roberts: I think that because the geneticists that are still around\r\n can still exert influence on the younger geneticists coming up, I think\r\n that the ethical responsibility to grow and preserve and sustain \r\nland-raised systems will survive and those cuisines that are based on \r\nland-raised cuisines that are place-based will return and thrive. That \r\nmeans that if you’re growing some obscure apple, that it actually fits \r\ninto something larger than the straight concept of buckles or pie or \r\nanything, or syrup. That it actually relates as an apple to a dish \r\nthat’s place-based. That is unique to that area and that the \r\nland-raised ideas of these foods were always influenced by other areas. \r\n But they will never be homogenized, they won’t be monolithic. You \r\nwon’t have the same interpretation of the land-raised plants, even if \r\nthey’re the same ones grown in this county and that county. You’ll have\r\n different interpretations of that and there’ll be more of these kinds \r\nof foods available. They will never dominate, I don’t think. We do \r\nhave to feed the world in some way, shape or form, and no one, including \r\nme has an answer with land-raised systems at this point. I would love \r\nfor somebody to do that. I think, going back to another question, if \r\nsomebody wants to fund something, that’s something to fund. Is it \r\npossible to develop a land-raised system that can be set in place intact, not just certain crops as we are doing through UNESCO and the \r\nNGO system, but the entire system. Is it possible to set that in place \r\nand survive? That’s the one we should be studying. And we’re not.
So,\r\n having said that, if everybody just takes a few of these things and \r\ngrows them. If I have a 3,000-acre farm and I’m doing cattle, pasture, \r\nwheat, corn, soy, whatever. If I just take as my ethical \r\nresponsibility, like paying taxes, like defending my country, if I take \r\nthe pre-World War II attitude of the American farmer and the agrarian \r\nideal and say it’s my ethical responsibility to grow five acres of some \r\nsort of land-raised system, not just one grain, not just one plant, not \r\njust one bean, but some sort of land-raised system... That can be my \r\nkitchen garden if nothing else. It would serve me. But that’s what I \r\nshould do on top of my whatever thousand of acres I’ve got. If \r\neverybody involved in that does that, I think that just the kitchen \r\ngarden movement alone, that the Liberty Garden Movement, which my mother\r\n remembers and everybody I know remembers that one if they’re my age and\r\n older, which is very cool. I think that’s not enough. I think that \r\nthe farmers that are out there that have large farms need to think about\r\n scale and need to provide expertise and provide preservation and \r\nprovide repatriation services. Provide sustaining services for \r\nland-raised systems that keep biodiversity out there so that, down the \r\npike, if we need something, it’s not 100 grams in a starving gene bank \r\nsomewhere, that actually not just the scientists are the only people \r\nresponsible for keeping these things. This is what I really care about;\r\n that we actually get it out there. And so the language we look for to \r\nmake this relevant has to come forward, certainly from the scientific \r\ncommunity so you’re not making things up as you go. And then you have \r\nto have integrity, but you have to have broad understanding. It’s very,\r\n very difficult. It’s very difficult to make that bridge.
But I think \r\nthat farmers should just start. That’s my current message. Just get \r\nsomething and start growing it. Because that’s what farmers do. They \r\ngrow things. And I think that they don’t think that it’s their \r\nresponsibility because we have the USDA, we have CIMIT. It was never \r\npredicated that the people at CIMIT or CIAT, or the Asia Rice \r\nFoundation, or the USDA-GRAN system were going to be the only people \r\nengaged in this. And then somehow it comes back to us through this \r\nmonolithic seed system, someday. It was never predicated for that to \r\nbe. These were agencies, all of them set up to serve the public as \r\nwell. And I think the public has drifted away from that and as the \r\ninterest for growing your own foods comes back, I think then looking 40 \r\nyears ahead, you see, I wouldn’t be the exception, I’ll be the rule.
You’ll\r\n have land-raised rice. There’s rice grown right here in the Northeast \r\nright now. Takeshi Akaogi and his wife Linda are doing SRI rice. \r\nThey’re doing rice. And the purpose of that rice is to do tributary \r\nwatershed protection from runoff because rice sucks it up, and then you \r\ncan serve the Northeastern rice market with local rice production. \r\nEverybody thinks this is so crazy. In a land-raised system, it’s \r\nnothing. It’s done the world over, and it always has been. This is \r\nsomething that I think will be 40 years down the road. I don’t even \r\nthink it will take 40 years for that. I think that Takeshi and his wife\r\n will probably interest enough people in the next 10 years that we may \r\nbe net zero on rice up here, and maybe exporting rice in the Northeast. \r\n That’s near and dear to my heart since I am a rice person. But I think\r\n it’s extraordinary that it could be food that we know... it was grown in\r\n Vermont. Whoever heard of rice being grown in Vermont? Oh boy, it’s \r\nVermont rice. Why not? Okay, I live in Burlington; I’m going to have \r\nsome Vermont rice. That’s what’s going to happen in the next 40 years.
Recorded on April 28, 2010
Interviewed by Priya George
The ethical responsibility to grow and preserve and sustain land-raised systems will survive, and local, land-raised cuisines will return and thrive.
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