There are few places where cattle ranchers, home gardeners and rare-fruit aficionados, can mingle with world-renowned scientists and environmental visionaries and last week Santa Rosa,California was just such a place.. Whether it’s heirloom seeds or heritage breeds, genetic conservation was at the core of the fourth annual National Heirloom Exposition. 20,000 gardeners, farmers, environmentalists, students, educators, food advocates, food labeling activists, and chefs from across the globe congregated in Sonoma county which world famous botanist Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot as far as all of nature is concerned”.
So, what is an heirloom seed and why an expo? Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated so they can be saved and planted year after year. Today, many seeds are created in biotech labs and patented by multinational corporations .. with a concept of ownership. Many times these genetically modified seeds are treated with pesticides and herbicides. Critically, they cannot be saved and replanted. The fear is that these seeds will dominate and diminish biodiversity indeed, in the last century, some 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct and fewer and fewer types of food plants are being grown in the industrial world.
The Expo also served as a celebration of heritage lifestyles and food traditions with more than 200 speakers, 4000 varieties of produced displayed and 250 leading companies of sustainable, ecological and healthful goods and services ….and some amazing food ranging from a duck taco to homemade pickles and a sensational Mexican style cinnamon chocolate ice cream!
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, American Poultry Association and other heritage animal organizations conducted a livestock show with prizes and a winning giant pumpkin was weighed in.
“Pure food is about shopping locally and seasonally—if you know your farmer, you know your food,” says Paul Wallace, manager of the Petaluma Seed Bank and leading organizer of the expo.
Here is a sample of the many talks and presentations:
- Stories and Photos of Joseph Simcox’s Amazing Travels Across the Planet Collecting, Documenting, and Eating Edible Plants – Joseph Simcox.
- Farming 101 Panel Mentoring the Next Generation – Jeffrey Westman, Albert Straus, Guido Frosini, Marissa Thorton, and Peter Martinelli.
- How a Win in Oregon Will Lead to National GMO Labeling – David Bronner.
- The Agrian Elders Conference: Clips From a Documentary in Progress – Deborah Koons Garcia.
- Panel: Heirloom Seed sand How They Adapt to Modern Usage, Both in Gardens and Commercially – Jere Gettle, Grant Brians, William Woys Weaver.
- Our Seeds Fight Back: The Roughwood Seed Collection and Baker Creek Alliance – William Woys Weaver.
- Agritorism Panel: Visiting Where Your Food Comes From – Tony Linegar, Pamela Lanier, Heather Gordy, and Peter Ruddick
The National Heirloom Exposition is a not-for-profit event centered on the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables and anti-GMO activism. It concluded with a rousing Rooster Crowing contest!