The autumn winds are sweeping through the valley I call home. The leaves which once were a vibrant shade of lime green are speckled with splashes of brown and gold and drifting silently to the ground. Another summer harvest is behind us and safely enclosed in glass canning jars lining pantry shelves in a few small farmers' kitchens. The smell of woodsmoke fills the air and I can hear the laughter of my oldest girl picking up walnuts with her grandfather behind our house.
The cycle of the seasons is a comfort to me, and with them bring family traditions and fond memories. Oftentimes these memories are tied to foods that we relish with each passing season. We look forward to asparagus in the spring, the first watermelon we crack open in the heat of summer and pumpkin pie in the fall.
I love how the scents and flavors of the season come to life on my dinner table. It amazes me how few people know how to make pumpkin pie from scratch or even cook a meal from scratch for that matter. This is a basic survival skill that was passed down from generation to generation. Now we have the convenience of pre-cooked, pre-made, flash-frozen and microwaved “meals.” What ever happened to homemade? I think it is high time we revive these skills of knowing how to grow our own food and cook it!
Our agricultural heritage is one of the most under-appreciated inheritances we have. As I travel across the country and overseas, I am amazed how many small communities developed their own unique varieties of tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans… and the list goes on. Oftentimes they are lovingly named after the family or town they came from. However, the sad fact is many of them have been lost and are only a memory recalled by a few old-timers or old seed catalogs.
A couple years ago Jere and I were rummaging through an old homestead on my parents' property. The outbuildings had long since collapsed under the weight of snow and fallen trees. We took moss-covered boards and flipped through the rotted lumber, dodging rusty nails and a tangled mess of barbed wire to find broken mason jars and bits of enamelware. Under a pile of lumber covered in leaves we found a small jar filled with squash seeds. These heirloom seeds were at one time carefully stored on the shelf for a planting season that was never to come.
I might as well have been an archeologist uncovering some ancient artifact at that moment—I was so excited to see those seeds. Even though moisture had ruined them, it reignited my passion for preserving our treasured heirloom varieties. That little jar could have held the last few seeds of that squash variety that are now lost to the elements and time.
In just 80 years we have lost 93 percent of the variety we once had in food seeds. How sad is that? However, it reminds me how very important it is that we save what is left in the 7 percent! I want my grandbabies to be able to enjoy my favorite ‘Orangeglo’ watermelon or have the juice of a ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato drip down their chins, not the cardboard-tasting impostors that are perched on AstroTurf in the produce aisle. Are you with me?
We would love to have you join us this September 9-11 in Santa Rosa, California, for the National Heirloom Expo. Last year the event drew more than 17,000 fellow food activists and farmers. There is simply nothing else like it. Want more information? Visit The Heirloom Expo.
Thank you, readers, for all you do to save our food and share our cause with others. Enjoy the end of the harvest and Thanksgiving!