Archive for the 'cross-pollination' Category

Cross-pollination: good and bad

By David Parkinson

Five Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds, courtesy of some guy

Fields of people,
There’s no such thing as a weed;
Seeds of hatred,
Plant them and soon they will breed.

(Fields of People, Wyatt Day & Jon Pierson, Ars Nova; but let’s not kid ourselves: the definitive version is by The Move, from their classic proto-metal/glam album Shazam)

Seedy Saturday, the big blowout festival of all things growable, was this past weekend. I’ve written about it before, so I won’t say much except to underscore what a remarkable event it is. (Not that I’m an entirely unbiased observer, since I’m on the organizing committee, along with Helena Bird, Wendy Devlin, Christine Dudgeon, Julie Thorne, and Kevin Wilson. Thanks, all!) Everyone was in a good mood, swapping seeds, getting information, and catching up with friends and acquaintances.

Someone I’ve never seen before was walking around handing out the Atlantic Giant pumpkin seeds in the photo above. Obviously, a giant pumpkin produces many seeds, so this person had plenty to unload. I might grow some of these seeds out, although thanks to the local Seed-Saving Project I know enough now to suspect that they might be the result of accidental cross-pollination with other members of the species cucurbita maxima, which includes other common varieties such as Hubbard and buttercup squash. If those other squash plants were flowering at the same time as the plant that produced the pumpkin from which these seeds were saved…

This is the sort of cross-pollination we want to avoid, because its results are unpredictable. When we’re dealing with a source of food that we spend all season nurturing, we don’t want to find out that we’ve introduced genetic traits that might throw its flavour off or make it more perishable. Commercial seed growers literally go to great lengths to ensure that the plants grown for seed are protected from sources of contamination. For example, carrots have a safe isolation distance of half a mile, and any Queen Anne’s lace (also known as wild carrot) within that half-mile radius is a potential source of genetic contamination. Your carrots will grow normally, and the seeds they produce — in the second year, carrots being a biennial plant — may grow up to be genetically identical to the mother plant; or, if contaminated, might grow up to be something that looks like a carrot but has none of the desirable characteristics for which the mother plant was carefully bred.

And seeds from that plant might degrade the quality even further, and so from there, like multiple generations of photocopies producing a blurred and streaky image of the original.

But sometimes we want to introduce the random element into a process: call it beneficial unpredictable cross-pollination. Here I’m thinking of some examples of recent and upcoming events to bring people together to share ideas, experiences, goals, and strategies for getting things done.

One of these was the Lund to Langdale conference I wrote about back in November. The BC Healthy Living Alliance has magically scraped up a little money to let us organize a follow-up event in April, and the purpose of this will be to pick up where we left off: forming a coalition of activists, farmers, growers, and organizations with an interest in increasing the food security and overall resilience of the entire Sunshine Coast (from Lund to Langdale, hence the name).

I’m really looking forward to this second event, since the first one brought together a very interesting and diverse mix of people from up this way and down that way. And we just got started talking about what a working coalition might look like across such distances and with a ferry trip in the middle. I think that an extended regional (or bio-regional) alliance like this would be a big step forward. And as is often the case with cross-pollination, it’s not easy to predict what the offspring of the fertilization process will produce: maybe some unimaginable hybrid beast with two heads, who knows?

Another more enigmatic upcoming event is one coming this weekend down in Roberts Creek. Billed as an Advocacy Summit, it looks as though the organizers intend to bring together a number of people working mainly on environmental conservation from up and down the coast as well as the Gulf Islands. I have no idea what to expect of this gathering, which makes it extra-appealing. There is a set schedule of speakers and activities, but I’m sure that much of the energy and creativity will come from the random connections made among people from different backgrounds working on different projects. I expect to report back on this event, so stay tuned.

Tomorrow I will mail off the incorporation papers for the Skookum Food Provisioners’ Cooperative — that is the name we came up with for our new community project (which you will be hearing more about soon; watch this space). I’m really excited at the prospect of helping to create something that will likely be all about unpredictable cross-pollination. (Of the beneficial kind, I hope.) We will be working to bring people together around the idea of becoming self-reliant in food, as individuals, as families, as neighbourhoods, tribes, and region. I expect a lot of brainstorming, and I hope we can create a culture in which it’s acceptable — if not expected — to dream big, to have high hopes, to set our eyes on the far horizon and not get caught up in trivialities.

We do not get enough opportunities in this world for bouncing ideas around in a playful way, for allowing ourselves to fail gracefully, for quietly helping others to succeed, and for getting outside of our personal comfort zones to where change happens. This is the kind of cross-pollination we need more of, since the monoculture of thinking that has got us where we are doesn’t look likely to get us much further. We need more mongrel ideas, mixed-breed thinking, strange mutant memes drifting through the air like pollen, infecting everything with new possibilities.


Post facto

July 2014
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