By Hans Wieland
The story of Sieglinde, and Till and Roger
I grew up with Sieglinde and, as much as she looked after me, I looked after her. I think I loved her, at least for a while, before I forgot her and rediscovered her later in life. As a teenager, I had to dig her up before my mother could turn her into the most delicious “Kartoffelsalat” ever. You see, Sieglinde is a potato, and not just any potato, she is the oldest registered potato variety in Germany and only 2 years ago was crowned “Potato of the year”. I will never forget her, because my parents talked about her all the time.
Varieties and Your Diet
Variety is one of the basic ingredients for developing a new food culture in Ireland. Varieties matter because they give us choice, independence and power, they adapt to different conditions of soil, season, weather and climate, they taste different if we eat them, their nutritional value benefits our health more or less, and they are certainly good for biodiversity. Variety is not just the spice of life, but part of the heart and essence of healthy eating.
My Sieglinde could be your Kerr’s Pink or someone’s Red Duke of York. My Rotkaeppchen (type of tomato) could be your Sungold or someone’s Gardener’s Delight. Some varieties are already household names for the right or the wrong reasons, but I think the bestvarieties have to become household names.
The story of Till and Roger
Which brings me to Till and Roger, my travel companions on many talks throughout the country in 2012. Till looked at me from the seed box early in the year when I wanted to open the packet of Cerbiatta and said: “Hans, this is the year of the Dragon, please give me a chance.” So I did, and in a moment of weakness even allowed him to bring his friend Roger along. And this guy, as I discovered pretty soon after (50 days later exactly) has superior taste compared to Kamalia and many red butterhead types of lettuce I had eaten before.
My crusade for championing new lettuce varieties was already underway when I got some wise advice from one Joy Larkcom, who said: “Organic growers really do need to go for disease resistance and robustness to overcome weed competition.” This brought me back to one of my wife Gaby’s favourites, Tom Thumb, an early maturing butterhead with a good tight heart, and Lobjoits Green, a reliable, good tasting Romaine lettuce recommended by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) for organic growers.
Romaine or Cos lettuces are the best when it comes to nutritional value. They really excel in the vitamin and mineral departments, are an excellent source of vitamin C, and provide 10 times more beta carotene than Iceberg type lettuce and almost as much as spinach. All of this combines to make Romaine one of the healthiest of all the lettuces. The variety Little Gem is “probably the best flavoured of all lettuces” concludes Joy.
At The Organic Centre in Ireland, varieties are selected on the following merits: easy and fast growing, resistance to bolting, tip burn and aphids, colourful mixture, from mild to spicy taste, all year round and seasonal availability.
Call to action
“The resilience of our farming system depends on a wide range of genetics within the food chain. It is vital that these varieties are maintained as a living collection amongst growers.” ~ Ben Raskin, Head of Horticulture, Soil Association, 10/8/2012.
We all can revive the tradition of seed saving, let one or two plants of a vegetable go to flower and produce seeds, save the seeds and sow in the following year. We can become a seed guardian with Irish Seed Savers.
Learning about varieties can prepare us, and especially children and young people, in a playful and experimental way for the bigger decisions: the choice between plant-breeding versus GMO, organic versus chemical-growing, junk food versus nutritional healthy food, or a few main food crops versus a diversity of crops.