Eating perennials

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Monday night I had the opportunity to hear Harry Stoddart (a very, very smart former conventional farmer-turned-organic producer) speak at the launch of his new book, Real Dirt. He had some interesting things to say that ran counter to what you so often hear in food circles.

His big tips for how to do your part to improve sustainability and build a healthy food ecology:

  1. Cook more
    I’m so, so thrilled that this is beginning to be more commonly heard. So many books and events this year with that theme!
  2. Eat more perennials
    This one was such a surprise, yet it made so much sense. Obviously conventional farming makes it even worse with monocultures and the like, but the simple act of switching to a heavier perennial diet means that by inference there’s less fertilizing, less seed planting and tilling, fewer places for the Monsantos of the world to stake out their dominance. Tread more lightly on the earth, and all that.
  3. Eat responsibly raised meat / be particular
    This was a delight for me to hear. I love meat. I’ll be honest and tell you right now I don’t think there’s any chance in bacon I could actually kill a living being in order to eat it. If the world ends and we’re all responsible for our own food supply at some point, I’m likely to either go veggie or hook up with someone not so squeamish who will do the killing for me. But so long as the world keeps spinning, let me at the flesh. Stoddart talked about how animals are actually necessary for a healthy ecology, much less one that provides food – they’re a part of the system, as long as it’s done right and with an eye toward sustainability.

The second point – perennials – was the one where I thought I could make the most changes in my family’s diet, since we already do a fair amount of #1 and #3.

Fruits & nuts: easy. Other than peanuts, most fruits & nuts come from perennial trees, bushes or plants.

But on first glance, how many veggie perennials are there? Other than lettuce greens which, when left to seed (ahem, guilty) will pop up the following year without you having to raise a finger, not too many sprang to mind.

Turns out I was wrong. Lots of yummies! Here’s a handy reference list of perennial vegetables (or veggies which can become self-seeded perennials):

I’m enough of a food and gardening geek that I think that a winter spent researching this to get ready for next year is a splendid use of time.

A few other sources: handy lists at Backyard Larder, PerennialVeg.org and Perennial Solutions.

I also enjoyed flipping through Anni’s Perennial Veggies and Sustainable Vegetable Gardening – since I have a tiny garden myself, these were really good reading!