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Patriotism, Seeds and Health

by Les Saidel - July, 2014

I have recently had the great fortune to participate in and share with you an exciting, new initiative by biodiversity farmer and heirloom grain expert Elisheva Rogosa.

Before I delve deeper into the details of this initiative, I would like to provide a short background.

Israel imports over 90% of its wheat from the USA, Canada, Russia and Eastern Europe. This sorry state of affairs is quite ironic as we are situated geographically in the "fertile cresent", the "cradle of civilization", from which the first grain crops of antiquity emerged. The imported wheat is genetically engineered and non-organically grown.

Rogosa has spent the better part of two decades working with farmers and plant gene banks all over the Middle East, collecting a large variety of almost extinct heirloom grains and seeds. Rogosa's Heritage Grain Conservancy, a 12-acre biodiversity farm in Colrain, Massachusetts, is a veritable Noah's Ark of rare heirloom and landrace crops.

Recently Rogosa was approached by a group of French bakers who expressed interest in these heirloom grains cultivated on their indigenous soil.

The EU, unlike the USA, is staunchly opposed to the blanket adoption of genetically engineered crops before they have been thoroughly tested and proven to have no ill effects on human health. Regulations on importing and cultivating GMO crops in the EU are stringent and prohibitive. Contrast this with the USA where GMO products are not regulated in any way (see the article GMO's - Plague or Promise?).

What interests this group of French bakers is firstly that the heirloom crops grown by Rogosa exhibit resilience to climate change and robustness in desert regions with limited water supply. Secondly, these heirloom varieties are nutritionally superior and have superior taste to modern, patented GMO varieties.

France is well known for its "bread culture" and is spearheading breakthrough innovations in the world of baking, much ahead of the rest of the world.

The group of French bakers has begun an initiative to resurrect cultivation of heirloom grains here in Israel.

Emmer wheat, the "wheat of antiquity" still grows wildly in various places in Israel and is cultivated on a small, local scale by a few independent farmers and villages.

The initiative seeks to expand cultivation and production of heirloom wheat indigenously on Israel soil and is targeting organic growers country wide. Despite Israel's small size, this intiative seeks not to compete with large commercial wheat production, say of the USA, but rather concentrate on a smaller, niche market in the EU, thus optimizing the profit per crop.

The first stage in the initiative will be to expand the limited seed base by local plantings here in Israel, prior to embarking on large scale cultivation.

Elisheva contacted me prior to her visit here in Israel in June and asked me to help promote this initiative and put her into contact with local organic growers.

During the week long visit of the members of the initiative, I had the great privilege to meet with the people involved and get a first-hand peek at an amazing possibility in our region, economically speaking, socially and even politically. During the visit there were numerous opportunities to meet with people of all backgrounds, archeologists, botanists, Jewish farmers, Arab farmers, etc. and it was amazing to discover that the common thread of the love of the land and nature transcends ethnic boundaries.

Hopefully the Israeli public will also benefit from this initiative by having easy access to non-GMO heirloom wheat which will improve health tenfold.

Unfortunately I will not be able to participate actively in the growing of the wheat, but I will continue to assist in promotion and coordination and ultimately in consumption of the wheat in our own Institute.

I encourage anyone reading this article to disseminate the information to as many people as possible thus spreading the word and hopefully reaching all parties in the country who can participate actively in the initiative.

Les Saidel


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