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Issues Of The Environment: Slow Food Huron Valley Works To Expand Agrobiodiversity

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Industrialized agriculture has resulted in the loss of numerous plant and animal species, but there is an organization looking to change that trend.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks with Lauren Moscoe, board member of Slow Food of Huron Valley and member of Midwest Ark of Taste Committee, about what has been done to increase diversity in agriculture.


  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, since the advent of industrialized agriculture, over 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost. Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.  Agrobiodiversity is important for protecting our food supply against threats like disease, pests, or natural disasters that could wipe out the main species we rely on for food.

  • For two years, a group of volunteers from Slow Food Huron Valley have been growing and tending a special garden at County Farm Park.  This year, the Slow Food Ark of Taste Garden is cultivating 21 food plant varieties that are in danger of extinction.

  • The International Ark of Taste organization maintains a catalogue of endangered foods, with more than 3,500 food items on the current list.  There are also Ark of Taste regional groups, Midwest Ark of Taste in our region, that maintain a list of unique foods that are well adapted to our particular climate and culture.

  • Foods can be added to the Ark of Taste list through a nomination process. One particular variety of pear tree, the Jesuit Pear, has been championed by members of Slow Food Huron Valley.  This pear tree towers over the typical cultivar, growing 40 feet or taller, and it has an abundant harvest.  It fell out of cultivation because the fruits are not ideal for commercial production.

Slow Food Huron Valley’s Ark of Taste Community Garden

Slow Food Huron Valley embarked on a new collaboration [last year} with Project Grow: an Ark of Taste demonstration garden at County Farm Park!  What is the Ark of Taste?  It's a collection of heritage and endangered foods curated by Slow Food in an effort to engage backyard gardeners, cooks and farmers in preserving agrobiodiversity.  Since the advent of industrialized agriculture, we've lost over 75% of plant genetic diversity (FAO, 1999).  What can you do to help?  Peruse the Ark of Taste catalog, ask your farmers if they grow Ark of Taste varieties, plant a seed, and visit the Ark of Taste demonstration garden at County Farm Park!


The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction.  By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates.  Since 1996, more than 3,500 products from over 150 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste.  Over 200 of these foods are from the USA, and we are always seeking more edible treasures to include.  The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country's diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage. 


The Ark of Taste catalog can be broken down even further by region.  Our Midwest region includes: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota.  By looking at a specific region, we begin to understand the unique foods that are well adapted to our particular climate and culture.  Visit the Midwest Ark of Taste Facebook page for recent news!  You can also check out the Midwest section of the Ark of Taste catalog to see the list of regional foods we're working to preserve - click through each one to see the history and recipes.  Is there a food facing extinction you'd like to nominate?  Learn more about the process here.

Ark of Taste in the USA Catalog

You can help grow this catalog by becoming an Ark of Taste explorer.  Organize a field trip to find the special foods in the fields, kitchens, markets, woods and streams near you that haven’t yet been listed on the Ark of Taste, then…


Anyone, anywhere can nominate a food to the Ark of Taste.  To qualify for the Ark of Taste in the USA, food products must be:

  • Outstanding in terms of taste – as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
  • At-risk biologically or as culinary traditions
  • Able to be sustainably produced
  • Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, community or traditional production practice in the U.S.
  • Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies, for home consumption, or, in the case of endangered plants and animals, for the purpose of regeneration

Here’s a quick look at what it takes to be on the Ark of Taste:

  • Endangered - Produced in limited quantities, these foods will not be around in another generation or two without immediate action.  Risk factors may be biological, commercial, or cultural.
  • Good - Whether an animal breed, baked treat, fruit, spice, grain, or beverage these foods are prized by those who eat them for their special taste.
  • Clean - No engineered foods here.  These foods are linked to the place and the community that protects them.  Everything on the Ark of Taste has the potential to be grown, raised or produced without harm to the environment.
  • Fair - To keep these foods’ traditions alive takes many hands. No commercial or trademarked items are allowed on to the Ark of Taste, only foods that anyone may champion, produce, share or sell.
  • Taste - Foods on the Ark of Taste are, of course, a bit difficult to find.  Keep on the look out for sources to support, or grow and make them your self! Here are some resources to help you “Eat it to save it!”
  • Grow - Want to make your vegetable garden a refuge for food biodiversity?  Get Ark of Taste seeds from these resources.

Lauren says, “Through our garden, we hope to educate the public about delicious and distinctive foods that are, or have been, culturally significant in the midwest, but that are in danger of extinction. The crops we are growing are all listed on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.  The garden is organized by Slow Food Huron Valley.  We are still finishing up planting and hope to get educational signs up in the next few weeks.”
More info available at the following links:





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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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