On variety

Purple Sprouting broccoli

One of the disconcerting things about industrial food production is that its methods, above all, are reductive. Go to your local grocery store even during apple season and count the types of apples you find there, for example. Is that number four, or six, or (outlandish) eight? And do you know how many types of apples are out there, fit for human consumption? I can tell you plainly that number is probably closer to eight to the eighth power (i.e., pushing 17 million) than it is to eight.

I mention this because, by growing things from seed or buying saplings from heirloom growers, our household, at least, is not beholden to the limits of Big Ag. We’ve got five different apple cultivars, and room for many, many more. Perhaps I am a bit of an oddball, but there are five different types of broccoli growing in the spring garden right now. There are six types of garlic, four types of onions, two of scallions and two of shallots, if I were simply to mention the allium family…though I am only growing one form of leek (poor neglected leeks). Each one has its purpose. I like the fact that we mix things up around here, that our biological footprint is a broad one. Like microbes, I appreciate the many.

I mention this likewise because traditional food cultures EXPECTED variety. I have a book that lists the forty-five different types of cabbages that the average French farmer or shopper would know; granted, this book was first published in the 1860s. But really. The world offers much more produce than that found in your local grocery store! Do you crave variety, but don’t have five acres? Join a CSA and get it sent to you, support your local growers, or grow your own.

10 responses to “On variety

  1. Oh… to have the space to grow such variety! I do try to get a couple of different types of things in.

    An orchard….SIGH!

    Nice quote in the side bar.

  2. Marie (FKA Piana Nanna)

    How I wish I had time and space to get more into vegetable gardening. But my love lies with flowers and herbs and time is so limited. But one day when I’m retired, if I can still bend over,and haul a wheelbarrow around the yard, I’ll take it on as a new challenge.

  3. When I was a kid there were two kinds of apples: Red (normal) and light green (weird). We tiptoed past the green ones. Because don’t pies come in cardboard boxes from the freezer?

  4. CC: until I went away to college, I didn’t know pies came in the freezer!!! I guess I simply observe the dessert lore of my own working mother’s kitchen back in the day: pre-made pies are for rich folks, especially if you can make them with U-Pick apples you made your children pick for you. Oh, and if you don’t have time to make apple pie, then certainly apple crisp will do.

  5. I was raised that way too. To this day I dont think I’ve knowlingly eaten a pie from the freezer. We picked apples and strawberries and cherries as soon as we were old enough to walk. But for the reward we got to eat dessert for dinner that night, so it was worth it.

  6. And you aren’t an oddball. I’ve got five different apples and (sigh) probably 15 different tomatoes this year.

  7. Blackswamp_Girl

    I have a little catching up to do: Just 4 types of garlic here. But it’s my first year… baby steps, and all that.

    (Thanks for the link to Grandpa’s Orchard, by the way. I have recently decided that I definitely need to plant a peach tree here, mostly just because I can, and Grandpa offers quite a few varieties.)

  8. Nada, don’t you have a lot of shade? I know you like to grow your own though…

    Marie, yeah, I suppose veg growing can be as addictive as herbs and flowers. I will tell you I tend to completely ignore my flowers and herbs except for deadheading and weeding, but am CONSTANTLY in the veg garden just checking things out. So maybe it is an obsession more suited to retirement…

    M, yeah, I am a huge fruit lover. I was shocked how expensive fruit was in Minnesota when I lived ther, but it made sense that things don’t *grow* there as readily as they do here. My mother, however, was on a perpetual diet, so her jams and preserves tended (and still do) to have fake sugar in them. Bleck. Why bother.

    (And notice I didn’t list how many types of tomatoes. Or potatoes, or beans even.)

    Kim, what’s great about this nursery is they specialize in BACKYARD trees: they do dwarf and semidwarf root stock. Oh, and they are literally up the road from me so I tend to buy their seconds 😀

  9. Blackswamp_Girl

    Seconds?! Oooh… that makes me jealous. 🙂

  10. the Contrary Goddess

    People sometimes ask us why we grow so many different types of the same thing (beans, potatoes, lettuce, whatever). There are so many reasons, like when something fails, usually all the varieties won’t, ans something always fails! And it is good! People ask, “what’s your favorite” or “what’s the best” and I’m like, there isn’t any favorite or best, try them ALL!

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