The eco guide to an­cient grains

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Lucy Siegle

If you find the whole busi­ness of or­ganic too tame, there’s al­ways lan­drace crops, which are pos­i­tively sub­ver­sive. Lan­drace crop va­ri­eties (some­times known as folk crops) are an­cient ver­sions of the stan­dard­ised crops we rely on to­day. Ge­net­i­cally vari­able, th­ese bio­di­verse cul­ti­vars are al­lowed to grow at will and to cross pol­li­nate. Farm­ers col­lect the seeds from suc­cess­ful crops and th­ese be­come the par­ents of next year’s va­ri­eties. Sim­ple.

If this sounds prim­i­tive (it is in fact Ne­olithic), it makes much more sense than mod­ern agri­cul­ture, which is re­liant on se­lec­tive breeds that are ad­dicted to fer­tilis­ers. The idea is that the se­lec­tive breeds give the high­est yield when con­di­tions are good. This is a ter­ri­ble strat­egy in an era of cli­mate change when con­di­tions are not ideal. Mod­ern agri­cul­ture has wiped out al­most all orig­i­nal ge­netic di­ver­sity. An­cient cul­ti­vars of wheat are used for straw or shoved into seed banks. Pro­po­nents of the Real Green Move­ment want them re­leased into the soil.

In the UK it would be tough to live on odd, old grains alone – we lack di­ver­sity. In fact the Plant Vari­a­tions and Seeds Act of 1964 makes it legally pretty hard to grow any­thing but stan­dard­ised crops. But pi­o­neers are push­ing for­ward.

Th­ese in­clude gin mak­ers, the Ox­ford Ar­ti­san Dis­tillery (sur­pris­ingly Ox­ford’s first li­censed dis­tillery) com­mit­ted to to­tal prove­nance and sourc­ing all in­gre­di­ents from a 50-mile ra­dius. Their grain, an an­cient rye, is from a farm in Thame, grown es­pe­cially for them. This is a hy­per-lo­cal prod­uct which makes an ac­tive con­tri­bu­tion to bio­di­ver­sity – world’s away from the in­dus­trial al­co­hol bought in by most dis­tillers. From mother’s ruin to saviour of the planet.

The big pic­ture: man­grove for­est com­mu­ni­ties

We are hooked on dra­matic events. So the steady cas­cad­ing ef­fect of cli­mate change on lives and ecosys­tems gets lit­tle at­ten­tion. But pho­tog­ra­pher Arati Ku­mar-Rao’s work some­how ex­plains un­fa­mil­iar land­scapes such as the Sun­dar­bans (ex­ten­sive man­grove forests) in Bangladesh, and how com­mu­ni­ties are driven to the brink of ex­is­tence by the ef­fects of an­thro­pogenic cli­mate change (aratiku­mar­rao.com).

Well dressed: on the move with Morv

Mor­varid Sa­hafi’s clothes, un­der her ‘Morv’ brand, re­veal a lit­tle more of her per­sonal story in each col­lec­tion. In the lat­est she mixes luxe fab­rics with strik­ing pat­terns that ref­er­ence a child­hood on the move. Her fam­ily fled Iran for Afghanistan (her fa­ther was a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist) and her for­ma­tive years were spent be­tween Afghanistan and Rus­sia. Even­tu­ally she was forced to move to Cze­choslo­vakia, and again to Swe­den dur­ing the Vel­vet Revo­lu­tion of 1989, where she first be­gan to sew. Her fash­ion ed­u­ca­tion came via Par­sons School of De­sign in Paris (she won a schol­ar­ship). Her col­lec­tions are pro­duced pri­mar­ily in the Morv fac­tory in In­dia, run on so­lar en­ergy and fab­ric is sourced from eco-friendly mills. So while the col­lec­tions evolve in tone, the con­stant is her com­mit­ment to fully sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion.

Email Lucy at lucy.siegle@ob­server.co.uk or fol­low her on Twit­ter @lucysiegle

Field of dreams: grains grow­ing in Suf­folk. Pho­to­graph: Graeme Robert­son for the Guardian

On the brink: life in the man­grove forests of the Sun­dar­bans. Pho­to­graph: Arati Ku­mar-Rao

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