Slow Food to Build 'A Thousand Gardens in Africa'
Slow Food USA announced that it is joining forces with Slow Food International to build a thousand gardens in Africa. A Thousand Gardens in Africa is part of a global initiative to bring the Slow Food network together to ensure African food security, as well as to raise awareness of native plant varieties and medicinal herbs. The community and school plots are located across the continent, particularly in places that have become dependent on foreign aid and imported commodities.
A Thousand Gardens in Africa has raised funding for 567 gardens to date through a worldwide constituency and it is starting to bolster local economies in 25 countries from Egypt to South Africa. The project is community-driven and based on a training-of-trainers model under the guidance of Slow Food coordinators and horticulturists. Communities have to apply for and want to maintain the gardens themselves. Improving farmer autonomy makes certain that knowledge is passed down for future seasons, and helps farmers grow food for their communities rather than for export at the expense of their own nourishment. Through a more sustainable use of soil and water, and a safeguarding of traditional recipes, villages are also gaining a sense of pride for the natural resources that they share and that they want to protect by not using harmful chemicals.
The movement towards a more sustainable approach to agriculture is happening worldwide. In the U.S., consciousness is increasing, as evidenced by a number of Slow Food USA’s recent projects. This year alone, the volunteer-run organization engaged more than 150,000 children in school food and garden programs. In Florida, Slow Food Miami planted 66 gardens in 66 days; and in Colorado, Slow Food Denver’s Seed to Table program organized more than 900 parents and teachers to bring gardens and real food to cafeterias in more than 60 percent of the city’s public schools.
“Slow Food volunteers are working to transform food and farming nationwide. Now, they’re stepping up to support their colleagues in Africa who are working to do the same,” said Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA. “Historically, in the U.S., we’ve fought global hunger by growing cheap grain and dumping it on foreign markets. In the end, we’ve just displaced farmers in developing countries, and created more poverty and hunger. We need solutions that give people the resources they need to feed themselves. We are helping to build One Thousand Gardens in Africa that prove it’s possible.”
“By supporting A Thousand Gardens in Africa, one isn’t just supplying the materials necessary to set up a garden, and guaranteeing a daily supply of fresh and healthy food to local populations, they’re encouraging young people to be farmers. And that’s a very special thing,” said Paolo di Croce, executive director of Slow Food International. “It’s an ambitious project but every donation—whether financial or time—goes a long way.”
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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