Roots to the Past

Diana
Diana Tibert
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Our ancestor's vegetables

Roots to the Past

Browsing the produce aisles these days, one might have to stop and wonder, where are we? Kiwis, mangoes and other tropical fruits that I can't even begin to identify create a rainbow of colours and flavours. Fruits, vegetables, roots and various plant material come to our stores from around the world. Personally, I don't believe we are fortunate to have this much variety, but I know others who love the choices. I'm more of a traditionalist. Almost everything I eat with regard to produce can be grown right here in Atlantic Canada.

Our ancestors who settled here had few food choices, but the fruits, vegetables and berries they consumed created hardy pioneers. Given our short growing season, plants that matured quickly and root crops were ideal. Tropical fruits such as oranges were highly valued and brought in by ships. Often fishermen brought tropical treats home from their voyages to share with their family and neighbours.
Traditionally, families survived on the basics: potatoes, turnips, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, onions, peas, beans and corn. In a good growing season, enough crops were produced to supply a family until the next harvest.
Settlers to the New World either brought seeds from their homelands or they were provided by the ruling government, which meant the seeds came from Europe. Seeds were valuable and in some instances used as currency.
Seeds gathered from one season were planted the following year in a cycle that continued for generations. These open pollinating plants grew true to their parent and, in many instances, were hardier, more pest resistant and drought resistant than the current hybrids.
Today, the varieties of our ancestors are called heirloom plants or heritage vegetables. They continue to prosper in small home gardens, but are not produced in large-scaled operations.
Gardeners and consumers throughout Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom are learning the value of these precious seeds.
Heritage vegetables have superior taste to today's massively produced varieties. Many respond well to their growing conditions requiring no artificial fertilizers to enhance their growth.
They also have natural storage qualities to extend their shelf life and because they mature at different times, they extend the harvest season.
Many fear these heritage vegetables will become extinct and their unique genes will be lost to future generations. Some take that one step further and believe the loss of these genes could be detrimental to human health.
These concerns are being addressed on an individual scale in home gardens and on a massive scale with gene banks. In fact, there are about 1,400 gene banks operational around the world. The biggest is Svalbard Global Seed Vault located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago. It was designed to store two billion seeds.
The general consensus between gardeners and experts is a vegetable is a heritage plant if it originated before 1951. After this date, the first hybrid varieties flooded the market.
To learn more about Seeds of Diversity, Canada's Heritage Seed Program for gardeners, visit their website (http://www.seeds.ca/en.php). Noted on the web page are dates for seed swaps and sales.
Researcher's File
Who were Lucy Jewett's parents and where was she born? Was it in New Brunswick? Lucy (c.1800 - May 4, 1850, King's County) married William McNamara (c.1796 - January 23, 1851, King's County.) Both were buried in the St. Francis Assisi, Wolfville. Contact: Roy Lipsett, 61 Townley Crescent, Brampton, ON, L6Z 4S9; email: rlipsett@rogers.com

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Europe, United States United Kingdom Norwegian island Arctic Svalbard New Brunswick

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