As a child growing up, every year during the summer my family would visit my grandparents who lived in New York. While there one of my favorite pastimes was helping my grandfather with his garden. He would take me outside in the slightly cool northern summer weather to see how the tomatoes were growing, make sure the garden was in good shape, and, when the time came, pick tomatoes to be eaten soon after. These tomatoes were not an integral part of meals; it was just as easy and quicker to pick up tomatoes from the supermarket within walking distance, but these tomatoes were special because they were the fruit of my grandfather’s labor. This is what got me interested in horticulture and food and started me on the path to examining the role of the Svalbard Seed Vault. I have followed the footsteps of my grandfather and each spring plant a garden in my backyard with a focus on heirloom plants. Heirloom plants are specific plant species which have not been modified by humans and are considered older original species. The main source for growing heirloom plants is through purchasing their seeds and growing them. This entails buying heirloom seeds from either retailers or online companies, planting the seeds, and finally harvesting new seeds from fully grown plants enabling the seeds to be renewable.
An interest in seeds brought to my attention seed vaults and in particular the global vault located in Svalbard, Norway. Svalbard has been dubbed the “Doomsday Vault” because it was created to protect against a doomsday event that will wipe out agriculture. The vault supposedly houses copies of seeds housed in any country’s national seed vault that would like to store them there. When I found out about Svalbard’s mission I thought it was an important step in protecting the world’s ability to support itself agriculturally and ensure that genetic diversity is not wiped out. After doing further research into Svalbard it became apparent that this was not the case. Svalbard does not cater to farmers or agriculturalists but instead to scientists. It is not about spreading genetic diversity and making seeds from around the world available to farmers but instead is focused on locking away seeds with genetic potential to be tampered with and experimented on to create “Frankenstein seeds.” The monster Frankenstein was created from the different body parts of various dead bodies and these seeds that the scientists are creating are made from different genes taken from various seeds and melded together into a hybrid seed.
To be frank, as a member of the developed world I do not want to change my diet and give up eating foods I love because we have too much food but changes are necessary.
The organic food movement and other activist movements see these seeds as monsters because they are unnatural. I agree with the activist movements because I believe that the monster seeds are not needed and should be replaced with heirloom seeds which serve the same function. The vault was initiated because of the fear current that there is a problem with global food security. The human population is growing at a rate the Earth cannot sustain and worldwide malnutrition and hunger are large problems.
The problem though lies not in the amount of food produced but the distribution of it. There is a myth that in order to feed the world we need to actively increase agricultural production because the Earth is incapable of sustaining us. Globally there is enough food for everyone not to go hungry and be nourished, but the majority of food is located in Western developed countries such as the United States. To be frank, as a member of the developed world I do not want to change my diet and give up eating foods I love because we have too much food but changes are necessary. These changes do not have to be on a grand scale. I do not foresee becoming a vegan or even a vegetarian, but I could and should follow the footsteps of my grandfather – spending the effort and energy to grow tomatoes each summer so that I do not have to buy them from a commercial entity like a supermarket. This would make me less reliant on big business to feed me and make me more self-sufficient. To achieve that, each year I grow tomatoes as well as peppers and cucumbers. I try to plant a self-sufficient garden including the planting of flowers to attract natural pollinators and arranging plants in a symbiotic pattern. Even though it is a small change and would account for a very small percentage of my annual groceries, every little bit helps and every small step is a step towards changing the world and solving the food crisis.
J.P. Delisio a senior at Christopher Newport University majoring in History with a minor in Anthropology. He intends to continue his studies in graduate school studying modern American history.
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