Why this group works to preserve the heirloom cabbage 2022-05-01 09:02:00


But in fact, there are dozens of basic types of vegetables. For example, Jernigan Yellow Cabbage Collard has a bright green color that is reminiscent of butter lettuce. On the other hand, Old Timey Blue Collard is barely green at all, with royal purple stems and blue leaves.

The Heirloom Collard project began in 2016 as a collaboration between Seed Savers Exchange and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, two organizations dedicated to providing seed. Members of the organizations order different types of cabbage seeds from the USDA, and attempt to replenish them by growing cabbage and collecting seeds, as well as cataloging and identifying the culinary history of different types of heirloom plants.

Now, six years later, project volunteers have regenerated about 20 species — having collected thousands of seeds of each species, said Ira Wallace, a project volunteer and worker at the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

And replenishing these varieties is not only beneficial to our taste buds. Wallace said collard greens are of the same types as broccoli and cauliflower — but they tend to be more durable.

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“We want to keep the coincidences for history, and we want to keep them for breeding work to make these crops better for dealing with new pests and climate change,” Wallace told CNN.

The Collard Legacy Project is not the first of its kind. The Cherokee Nation Seed Bank, for example, exists as a seed vault for important heirloom seeds of Cherokee culture. The cellar allows the Cherokee Nation to preserve this aspect of their culinary history, and also allows members to receive copies of the seeds to plant themselves.
This idea is inspired by Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which stores copies of the seeds of the world in the event of a disaster. The main difference is the Heirloom Collards project’s focus on regeneration, which goes beyond conservation.

One of the most exciting areas of discovery, Wallace said, was the culinary stories of some types of legacy.

Some Native American tribes, for example, took in some former slaves or runaway slaves, who brought with them their love of dark leafy greens. As a result, some indigenous tribes in Carolina consider cabbage to be part of their food heritage as well, she said.

Items from legacy kits are indexed.

“I’m a storyteller, so I want to tell the whole story,” Wallace said. “And it made the food of these humble poor people something special, highlighting a little history that is not remembered.”

Another example: Collards are often thought of as a Southern specialty, but Wallace said they received responses from the Pacific Northwest and even isolated parts of the Midwest where some planetary ancestors were planted and seeds were passed on.

“We didn’t think that’s exactly where people are, but that’s part of the migration of Africans through the United States,” she said.

That’s part of what makes the vegetable so special – its deep connection to African American culinary traditions. In previous generations, it was a major source of nutrients for many black families who may not have had access to other foods, said Bonita Adib, who works with the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, which aims to support farmers and seed savers from underrepresented groups. So far, she said, it’s not Christmas or Thanksgiving without a bond.

“Cabbage is much more important than anyone originally thought in terms of being a bridge to the future and into the past as well,” she said.

Wallace also recalled memories of growing up in her grandmother’s garden and disrespecting the collard. Now, she knows how important they are, not just in her biodiversity but in her genes – which is important for growing other economically important crops.

The cabbage is a reminder, she said, that black and brown people have made a difference in growing and caring for cabbage plants. And to continue to influence the preservation of good food for all.

“I like to grow up an everyday vegetable like cabbage, realizing that it makes a greater contribution than just Thanksgiving dinner,” Wallace said.