A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
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Sunday, March 20, 2005
Posted 3:26 PM by Luigi
Local foods support small farms
By K.L.CAPOZZA PAIA, Hawaii, March 14
As soon as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean, diners begin to line up outside of Mama's Fish House in Maui. They come not just to sample the upscale eatery's impeccably made local fish, but also to experience local culture, history and landscapes through Mama's signature Hawaiian dishes.
A typical menu item at the restaurant reads, "Opakapaka with taro root caught by Earle Kaiwi bottom fishing outside his homeport of Hana Bay," which, in a sentence, introduces diners to the Hawaiian language, the island's home-grown produce and native fish, and the farmers and fisherman responsible for bringing the ingredients to their plate.
Mama's is one of a growing cadre of U.S. restaurants attracting a loyal following by tapping into consumer interest in local, seasonal and small-farmed foods. This demographic views eating as more than just a way to put away calories.It also is a source of pleasure, culture and community. It even can be a learning experience." Now that organic has gone large scale, I think consumers are looking for something else," said Betty King, a specialist in rural economic development at the University of Kentucky in Lexington."
I call the new buzz word "authentic foods." This movement back to local, small and high-quality is, in part, a response to the past several decades of consolidation and homogenization in the food industry, and to the growth of large-scale factory farming. It also is a reaction to recent high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, such as mad cow disease, which raise consumer fears about the safety of the food supply and paint a picture of an anonymous, poorly regulated and unhygienic industry.
As more and more Americans live in urban areas, the origin of their food increasingly is a mystery. Even rural residents have a difficult time tracking down their groceries' pedigree because so much of it now is grown or raised outside U.S. borders.
Research has shown supermarket produce travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table, with some commodities originating from as far away as Asia. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports the United States will spend as much on food imports in 2005 as it receives for food exports. As much as 45% of the money spent on foreign food will go for fruits and vegetables, which explains why supermarket produce aisles are stocked with grapes from Chile, bananas from Ecuador and oranges from South Africa.
This globalization of food production has eroded community ties to local farmers and regional cuisines -- a trend that aficionados of local and natural foods hope to reverse by promoting producers of artisanal, traditional and heirloom products." People now want food with a place, a face and a taste," King told United Press International. As consumers turn their attention away from the global market and seek out local, climate-specific foods, produce suppliers are moving to meet the needs of this booming niche market.
Specialty Produce, a family owned supplier in San Diego, has noticed its customers -- mostly upscale restaurants -- are insisting on products grown within a 40-mile radius."They want seasonal and local. If it's a lemon, they want to know the kind of lemon, the farmer's name, where it was grown and something about the history," Roger Harrington, Specialty's manager, told UPI. According to the non-profit Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, 93% of American food-product diversity has been lost since 1900, which explains why consumers also are seeking out novel, diverse and rare foods.King, an advocate for small farms and farmer's markets in Kentucky, often sifts through local produce stalls in search of unusual products.
On one such adventure, she happened upon a gaggle of roots that looked vaguely familiar. After chatting with the farmer, who was an expert in heirloom Appalachian vegetables, she learned the bundle of roots actually was sassafras, a hard-to-find native herb her father used to harvest in the winter and brew into tea." You just never see things like sassafras anymore. These type of food experiences enable us to rediscover who we are as families, communities, and as a nation," King said. This precipitous drop in food choices has spawned a renewed interest in new tastes and culinary experiences -- instead of iceberg lettuce, consumers want radicchio and Lolla Rossa. They are seeking out ringneck pheasant with cardoons instead of standard roast beef and potatoes. Such trends spell good news for small farmers, particularly those who sell directly to consumers through farm-delivery programs or farmers markets.
U.S. Department of Agriculture data show interest in fresh, novelty produce has generated a dramatic proliferation of local farmer's markets. Since 1994, they have increased by 111%. Interest in promoting American culinary heritage also has boomed. The non-profit Slow Food USA was founded in 2000 and information on its Web site said the goal was to create "a robust, active movement that protects taste, culture and the environment as universal social values."
Since its inception, the organization's membership has increased from 300 members to 13,000. Part of Slow Food's mission is to invigorate regional and seasonal culinary traditions. Toward that end, the group's been working to catalog, describe and publicize forgotten flavors and gastronomic products that are threatened by industrial standardization and large-scale distribution. These include California's crane melon, Vermont's gilfeather turnip, New Mexico's Navajo-Churro sheep and Washington state's Olympia native oyster. Ultimately, these endangered foods' fate will depend on consumer interest in experiencing their unique flavor.
Back at Mama's fish house, Hawaii's regional foods seem to be enjoying a renaissance. Fishermen bring in their daily catch to the kitchen, where it is filleted and served within a few hours. The sous chefs prep breadfruit, paholo fern, roasted kukui nut, and Maui onions for the evening rush. In the dining room, each plate meshes so perfectly with its surroundings that diners have no doubt they are just steps from the tropical Pacific in the very heart of Polynesia.
K.L.Capozza covers environment and food issues for UPI Science News.
Copyright 2005 by United Press International.
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