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What is Heirloom?
Heirloom seeds come from open-pollinated plants that pass on similar characteristics and traits from the parent plant to the child plant. There is no concrete definition that every gardener uses to define heirloom plants. Some people state that heirloom plants are those that were introduced before 1951, while others state that heirloom varieties are those introduced before the 1920s. In general, you should consider heirlooms to be seeds that are possible to regrow and pass on from one generation to the next.
One important thing to note for heirloom plants is whether they are organic or non-organic. In most cases, heirloom plants are organic because they are generally only used by small-scale gardeners who do not use pesticide or other harmful chemicals. However, there may be minor cases when chemicals do get involved since heirloom plants do not always have a similar level of innate protection that hybrid and GMO plants provide against diseases and pests. Remember, heirloom refers to the heritage of a plant, while organic refers to a growing practice. They are two different things.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid vs. GMO
There are some distinct differences that one should be aware of when it comes to heirloom, hybrid and GMO plants. First, heirloom plants are the only ones that breed true. As mentioned earlier, this means the same characteristics are passed on from generation to generation. The same cannot be said for hybrid and GMO. Hybrid plants are produced when different varieties of plants are cross-pollinated, which can happen with or without human intervention. Because there are different varieties of plants involved, it can’t be guaranteed that the offspring of hybrid plants produces identical traits as the parent plant.
Both heirloom and hybrid plants can be viewed as natural occurrences. GMO plants, on the other hand, can only be produced using unnatural methods such as gene splicing. Scientists essentially modify a seed’s DNA to ensure the resulting plant produces the desired traits and characteristics. A common example of a GMO plant is Bt-Corn.
Why Grow Heirloom Seeds
If hybrid and GMO seeds grow plants with useful traits, why should you grow heirloom plants instead? First, heirlooms are generally known to produce better taste and flavor. Heirloom fruits and vegetables are also known to be more nutritious. Last but not least, they are less expensive over the long haul. Heirloom plants may require a bit more care than their counterparts but the effort you put in will be worth it! Don’t forget that you would also be playing an important part in preserving the genetic diversity of plants by growing heirloom seeds. After all, how can hybrid seeds be produced without the existence of the original seeds?
Where to Find Heirloom Seeds
With the demand for heirloom seeds increasing, you will find that it isn’t as difficult as before to obtain them. There are certain places you might want to check out to get seeds locally. These places include: local farms, seed exchanges, and botanical gardens. How can you be sure that the seeds you are getting definitely came from heirloom plants? One thing you might want to look out for is the Safe Seed Pledge. Although it isn’t regulated, the Safe Seed Pledge is still a good sign that the company is only providing non-GMO products. Most of the well-known seed companies have already signed up for this pledge so look out for it on the seed company websites.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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