Biodiversity is an environmental necessity. The vast, distinct combinations of DNA needed to create the foods we eat and the world we live in are a resource that needs protecting. Without this resource we risk famine and disease. Without it, we lose the resiliency to adapt to our changing world. This dire reality is a good reason for Slow Food to embrace the need to support biodiversity through projects like the Ark of Taste and Presidia. Still, there may be an even better one: wonder.
I visited Spence Farm in Fairbury, Illinois recently, where the farmer’s capacity for wonder is reaping a rich harvest. The Travis family, in their eighth generation of working that land, take inspiration from the wealth of biodiversity. Most recently they imagined rice growing on their farm. They don’t have any experience with the grain, or any wetland to grow it in the rice paddy fashion usual in tropical climates. So, they sought out a rare dry land variety traceable back to the Asian mainland. It’s growing pretty well. Two rows, alive so far. Just enough to save seed for next year, and more than enough to feed Will Travis’ boundless imagination for what the future of his family farm could be.
The Travis’ share their inspiration too. I was with a group of chefs from Chicago and Champagne that day. As we walked the Travis’ fields the chefs kept nibbling on what grew around them. We tasted fava bean leaves: pretty good. The berries of asparagus after it had gone in to its frond stage: not so good. “What’s this?” “Can I eat it?’ “What will I do with it?” We speculated on how the foraged diets of the Guinnea Hogs (an Ark of Taste breed) effects the flavor of their meat, and how best to work with that flavor. The fire of creativity was lit in these chef’s eyes. Protecting biodiversity is much more than simply storing genetic information. It is protecting the raw material that feeds the fire of human creativity, of imagination, of wonder.