It took more than 10,000 years of agriculture for humanity to create the vast biodiversity in our food supply. Thousands of generations of farmers spent their lives selecting and sustaining livestock breeds and food crops that suited the peculiarities of their local climate and terrain. Each domesticated seed or breed they nurtured was an answer to a very specific ecological problem, such as drought or disease, or the climate of a particular location.
Now, in the space of just a few generations, we’ve seen that biodiversity suddenly and significantly decline. Despite the diversity of food-packaging, the majority of the American diet remains dominated by just a few subsidized and often modified crops. With the growing effects of both climate change and corporate monoculture, much of the ecological diversity of our planet may soon be lost.
Tragically, there are precautions to be taken. On a stark Arctic island off Norway, just 600 miles from the North Pole lies the seed-repository that serves as mankind’s final safety-net for plant diversity. A sort of bio-backup, the The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was created to preserve what remains of our agricultural heritage. Run by The Global Crop Diversity Trust, the steely compound tunneled five hundred feet into an icy mountainside is designed to last a millennium and withstand any number of potential global disasters ranging from nuclear war to an asteroid strike. The vault’s collection is fast approaching a million seed samples and may eventually house every last crop seed ever used by humanity.
In the remarkable documentary Seeds of Time, (available free to stream on KCET’s Earth Focus through june), Cary Fowler races against time to protect the future of our food.