the irresistible fleet of bicycles

plant breeding for local food systems

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Abstract:

The rapid growth and co-option of the local agriculture movement highlights a need to deepen connections to place-based culture. Selection of plant varieties specifically adapted to regional production and end-use is an important component of building a resilient food system. Doing so will facilitate a defetishization of food systems by increasing the cultural connection to production and consumption. Today’s dominant model of plant breeding relies on selection for centralized production and end-use, thereby limiting opportunity for regional differentiation. On the other hand, end-user-driven selection of heirloom varieties with strong cultural and culinary significance may limit productivity while failing to promote continued advances in end-use quality. Farmer-based selection may directly reflect local food culture; however, increasing genetic gains may require increased exchange of germplasm, and collaboration with trained plant breeders. Participatory farmer–breeder–chef collaborations are an emerging model for overcoming these limitations and adding the strength of culturally based plant breeding to the alternative food movement. These models of variety selection are examined within the context of small grain and dry bean production in Western Washington.

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