Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wealthy Memories

My parents came for dinner last weekend, and the discussion turned to Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma." I have blogged about this hugely important book before. I find the book especially interesting because my mother is from the part of Iowa Pollan profiles in the first section. She grew up during the 1930s and 1940s on a small, mostly subsistence farm (My grandfather was plumber who owned about 5 acres and periodically farmed another 80 or so he rented).

Pollan contrasted today's monoculture of corn and soybeans with the diversity of my mother's era when Iowa farms grew all sorts of fruits and vegetables and kept a menagerie of farm animals. After describing Pollan's book, I quizzed my mother on what the fruit our family grew when she was a child.

Four varieties of apples, she said. The only type she could remember were Wealthy, which she called a good eating apple. The Internet tells me that Wealthy apples were bred in the 19th century by the famous apple breeder Peter Gideon to survive Minnesota's harsh climate. I'm very curious if they still widely available in Iowa and Minnesota, but came up empty which leads me to suspect they rare today.

Then there were strawberries, huckleberries and currants. My mother didn't much care for the huckleberries, which I have never eaten. All this on five acres where they also grew corn, beans and had a cow, geese, chickens and pigs.

Today, it's all gone. Iowa farms are industrial operations that grow corn, soybeans and hogs for agribusiness. In the space of my mother's lifetime, our agricultural system has been transformed beyond recognition.

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