The eco guide to ancient grains
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.
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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