More lentils: landraces

My dad phoned & let me know that babelfish has an even worse translation of those instructions…

The lenticchia it does not go held to I bathe. One advises to a choice to finger and taken care of a washing before the baking

We were also talking about the colours of the lentils. I believe that the reason they have such a variation is that the Norcia lentils are from a naturally-developed variety called a landrace. Because a landrace has a large genetic diversity, whatever they produce will also enjoy a variation of characteristics hence the different sizes, colours and markings on the lentils.

It’s worthwhile describing the distinction between Heritage varieties and landraces. Heritage varieties are bred to have characteristics stable across generations, and when people are talking about conserving genetic diversity by conserving Heritage varieties it’s about conserving many varieties. This is a good thing!

However landraces are a very different way of maintaining genetic diversity. They’re a population of plants that are grown in a particular region and which develop over time in that region. The defining characteristic is the location where they’re grown rather than any fixed physical or biochemical characteristic of individual plants. This makes them robust, and Zeven defines landraces as:

[a] landrace is a variety with a high capacity to tolerate biotic and abiotic stress, resulting in a high yield stability and an intermediate yield level under a low input agricultural system.

This is quite contrary to the agribusiness approach of breeding for specific characteristics that can only be grown in a high-input system, and whose produce are resources for the industrial food chain.

As a comparison, I note that various local landraces [of lentils] have evolved in several Italian regions compared to a total of 5 landraces across all crops in Scotland. In fact, Piergiovanni and Taranto list 44 landraces of lentil in Italy!

I’m having great fun reading through Raoul Robinson’s Return to resistance – Breeding Crops to Reduce Pesticide Dependence. When I first found the web pages, I thought Return to resistance was one of the anarchist grow-your-own pamphlets. It’s actually a thorough comparison between agricultural crop breeding and population crossing. Robinson’s main thesis is that a diverse population adapted to local conditions is better able to resist external shocks than a uniform population created by high technological forces. Aye, right, it’s not one of they anarchist pamphlets ;-)

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A spot of tree maintenance, guerilla style

There’s a small triangle of sloping ground near my folks’ house, between the railway station and the access path, where several trees have been planted. Not sure how long the trees have been there – at least a few years – and the staking hasn’t been removed. It’s really started to bug me that the straps are digging into the trees, and will eventually kill them off. So when we were over yesterday for the last time before the folks move house, I had a last chance to help the trees out.

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Think global, act local (food)

First, I submitted a response to the now-closed BBSRC (biotechnology and biological sciences research council) consultation on Food Security, and then the Herald notes that Scotland could be hit by food shortages. The latter article links to Mapping and analysis of the resilience of the food supply chain in Scotland. As an advocate of local food, a fan of the transition movement and a blogger, how could I not respond to this? But, you know, I have a day job and an allotment to maintain…

The consultation was hard work. Obviously they were interested in research that was applicable to industrial agriculture and technofixes, but the language is quite neutral. It took me some time to unpick the relatively-anodyne-but-paradoxically-frightening statements and argue against their view that bigger is, if not better, at least easier to study. Here is the BBSRC page on Food Security

First impressions of the latter report are mixed. There’s a big piece of work to look at their list of disruptive events, and see how different the vulnerabilities of local food groups and foodzoning are compared with the standard, just-in-time retail food chain. I hope, of course, that the path we’re taking will prove more resilient. The anecdotal finding that remote and island communities routinely hold greater supplies of food at home, thus mitigating this vulnerability to a limited extent is positive. However, the second most critical vulnerability (after pandemic) is land contamination, and so shorter and more localised supply chains may be completely trashed. I guess the challenge is to maintain diversity whilst also shortening supply chains.

Local suppliers of food for East Ayrshire schools.

Evaluation of a Pilot Scheme to Encourage Local Suppliers to Supply Food to Schools (August 2006).

An important pilot scheme that shows the procurement approach adopted by East Ayrshire Council does encourage local suppliers and has been achieved within EU procurement rules (i.e. cannot discriminate on distance food will travel). By splitting the contracts into smaller parcels, economies of scale and distance are removed.

The overall cost of ingredients rose from 59p to 71.9p, due in part to organic sourcing. However parents in East Ayrshire feel that the local foods in primary schools scheme is a good use of their Council’s money; a clear majority think that this is the case. The cost per meal in the pilot is comparable with that in other local authorities.

Question is: has this pilot been rolled out?

recycled wood waste

From the EU Science for Environment Policy website, an article titled Improved sorting strategies needed in recycled wood waste (RWW) . The researchers believe that achieving a high rate of recycling of this material with the aim of protecting finite resources can lead to unwanted pollution problems if material is improperly sorted. They recommend that a pollution perspective is a necessary complement to the focus on recycling. In the absence of this, market forces encourage consumers of RWW, such as district heating schemes, to apply separation and quality requirements less than rigorously.

I guess that I am looking to be one of those consumers of RWW. I’m also acting under market forces, but probably not in the way that the researchers think. Looks like I have to find the Waste Management journal. Something like that will surely be online :)