A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Polyculture vs. Monoculture: How Are Your Fruits and Veggies Grown?

Sure, having whole fruits and vegetables is far better than typical packaged snack food, but how these plants were grown is something we should know. This is something I never looked into with much detail before, I only made sure to buy organic for certain “dirty” produce items. But, after reading Darya’s post on the Summer Tomato blog on why she doesn’t eat bananas, I wanted to know more.
Basically, Darya, the author, leaves bananas off of her plate because they are something not standard here in the U.S. and she shops mostly at farmer’s markets. She goes into detail on how bananas arrive in our stores; here’s a quote from the blog:

“Virtually all of the bananas sold in the US are grown in Latin Amercia by a handful of countries including Panama, Honduras and Costa Rica. In these places bananas are grown year round, are harvested while unripe, then shipped in special refrigerated compartments until they reach their destination weeks later. The fruit is then exposed to ethylene gas which causes it to ripen and turn their characteristic yellow (not their natural color when tree-ripened).”

As I found out, most of the produce we see in stores is grown in monocultures (growing one single species of crop in a wide area) which leaves the entire crop susceptible to disease. This could seriously affect a crop’s yield for a particular year since the disease can kill the entire crop in the area. Think of the Great Irish Potato Famine where the entire potato crop was wiped out and many people died because of their vast dependence on this one crop. For polycultures, multiple crops are grown within the same area to mimic the natural ecosystem. A good example of polycultures are the heirloom produce items like tomatoes. The funky colors and shapes are a result of different tomato species. Here are the advantages from Wikipedia for polycultural over monocultural farming:

  • The diversity of crops avoids the susceptibility of monocultures to disease. For example, a study in China reported in Nature showed that planting several varieties of rice in the same field increased yields by 89%, largely because of a dramatic (94%) decrease in the incidence of disease, which made pesticides redundant.
  • The greater variety of crops provides habitat for more species, increasing local biodiversity. This is one example of reconciliation ecology, or accommodating biodiversity within human landscapes. It is also a function of a biological pest control program..

Both polyculture and monoculture can provide huge crop yields. Polyculture provides resistance to disease which aids in the decrease of pesticide use, production of diverse foods, stronger crops. Also, the variety of crops increases local biodiversity which improves pollination and more nutrients in the soil. Monoculture practices are very efficient and can bring higher crop yields as there is no competition from other rival species.

To me, polyculture farming is the best way to produce crops as it more closely resembles how plants grow in the natural world without farming. Will this influx of new information make me swear off the aforementioned bananas and all other monocultural produce? Probably not, but I will now be more mindful of the items at the store and look for ways to buy more heirloom or polyculture fruits and veggies. I enjoy bananas (see my blog from the past for proof) and other produce too much to cut them out completely, but my consumption of some might decrease.

So, how will this information affect your grocery shopping choices?

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