Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ripe for Discussion: Ethiopian Seed Bank, Pizza Hut and Sheep

Beautiful undulating farmland in the hills of Northern Ethiopia's Gondar region. Photo by Marta Semu
Beautiful undulating farmland in the hills of Northern Ethiopia's Gondar region
Photo by Marta Semu

I came across two article in The Guardian newspaper that seemed of interest to gardening-minded readers:

First, a story on an Ethiopian seed bank trying to preserve agricultural genetic diversity. One quote that caught my eye from the article, "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops worldwide was lost over the course of the 20th century." (The actual report summary says "crop diversity" rather than "genetic diversity", but I'm not sure if that's splitting hairs.)

What's the upshot for a home gardener? I'd say the story reinforced my interest in growing heirloom vegetables. I believe a more diverse food web is a stronger food web. See the Irish Potato Famine for evidence of what can go wrong when a population leans too heavily on a monoculture.

Then I came across this hyperbolic but funny article on a 2,880-calorie cheeseburger crust pizza that Pizza Hut has launched in the UK. Much of the humor may be over-the-top, but then so is the calorie count.

For me, that article threw a spotlight on wretched excess. I'm not saying we should all wear hair shirts, but there's a case to be made that the gluttony of billions of humans and the associated food waste cause much damage to our planet.

A dumpster full of discarded food. Photo by Stephen Rees
A dumpster full of discarded food
Photo by Stephen Rees

Again, what is the takeaway for a gardener? For me, growing some of my own food made me much more cognizant of the beauty and the hardship of creating food from seed. As a result, I found that I was more likely to treasure the food on my plate and less likely to waste it.

It's also true that if Americans were willing to devote even a small part of our residential landscapes to growing edibles instead of grass, we would strengthen our food web while simultaneously reducing some waste. While it's possible to garden wastefully, a gardener who sows, tends and harvests his or her own lettuce would surely create less waste than the massive system involved in packaging, transporting and discarding millions of bags of lettuce.

Where do sheep come into the picture? Well, I could make the point that we modern consumers too often act like sheep in following the herd toward whatever marketers tell us to buy, but I really just wanted to finish on a light note with this fun story from Temple University's News Center showing that sheep might do a better job than mowers at controlling vegetation in storm water basins.

Paris apparently has already gotten the jump on the U.S. in the sheep lawn mower department.

What do you think? Would you let sheep "mow" your lawn? Apparently, it's an option in at least one Ohio town -- and for the incredibly low price of just $1 per sheep per day!

Sheep lawn mowers?! Photo by t0msk
Sheep lawn mowers?!
Photo by t0msk

Personally, I love the idea of having sheep grazing my lawn. My only concern would be whether they would stop at the lawn or go on to eat the ornamental grasses, the flowers, the shrubbery and so forth. But if you had a patch of lawn fenced off from the flowerbeds, it would be perfect for grazing.

Who's with me? :-)