FLX Forager: Biodiversity for Health and Culture

Understanding the importance of protecting our biodiversity - starting with farming practices.
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By Jon Brown, RDN, B.S

Biodiversity is when there are differences among living things. The differences among all living things are largely due to genetics, evolution, and environmental influence. In the natural world, biodiversity is vitally important for the survival of ecosystems. There is something almost magical about the way that all living things function in their own unique way yet coexist in such harmony. It is like a symphony of biological instruments. In our modern world, respect and appreciation for biodiversity can support community health and cultural flourishing. 

By diversifying your diet, you are supporting your health through your microbiome. Eating foraged foods, whole heritage grains, and adding herbs and spices are great ways to reach the mark.

Preventable chronic diseases are rampant in America. Biodiversity has a great opportunity to prevent and potentially even reverse chronic health conditions. The diversity of our gut microbiome appears to be the best indicator of the health of our gut microbiome. The more biodiversity, the better. Eating 30 or more different plant-based foods (or mushrooms) per week appears to benefit our microbiome. Eating a narrow selection of food means that the preferred food source for different types of gut bacteria may not be available. By diversifying your diet, you are supporting your health through your microbiome. Eating foraged foods, whole heritage grains, and adding herbs and spices are great ways to reach the mark.

The permaculture movement and biodiversity are closely related. Traditional agriculture has been focused largely on yield while minimizing cost to the farmer. This often means large GMO monocrop fields. But a more ecological approach to farming incorporates multiple types of plants, called cover crops. In a short-sighted centered around greatest yield, the real cost is long term health of water, soil, and food nutrients. An extreme example of the impact of industrial farming can be seen in Africa, where imperial agriculture has depleted soil nutrients so badly that it has played a role in the expansion of African deserts. Cover crop systems preserve soil quality, reduce water usage, prevent erosion, improve nitrogen cycling, suppress weeds, and support the health of insects and pollinators. Biodiversity in farming practices maintains quality land to enable quality food production. 

“Don’t let your community be a monocrop field. Search diversity and bring that perspective and experience into your communities.”

Sri Sundar, photo provided

America is known for being a melting pot of cultures from all over the world. If each nation were a bouquet of flowers, there would be none as beautiful and colorful as America. The opportunity to learn and grow from different people is abundant here like nowhere else. There are many small towns throughout the Finger Lakes region that lack diversity. I would like to encourage you all to seek diversity. Explore communities and actively seek people from different races, religions, and political affiliations. Don’t be a monocrop. Surround yourself with diversity. There is so much to learn from different people. This year I worked with an Indian foreign exchange student. She showed me how to make authentic Indian curry while simultaneously teaching me her values and worldview. This recipe allows me to diversify my diet with healthy plant-based foods. My conversations with her allowed me to broaden my perspective and generated a greater respect for an entire culture. Don’t let your community be a monocrop field. Search diversity and bring that perspective and experience into your communities. 

In a world where humans are seemingly always trying to outsmart mother nature, we should instead use the lessons from the natural world to better humanity and protect the prosperity of our land. The forests of Appalachia do not require crop rotation because the ecosystem is in balance. This balance is largely attributed to the diversity of plants, animals, and the fungal kingdom. If you live in a monocrop community, I am challenging you to search the type of diversity found throughout Appalachia and bring that to your community. While the guitar is an excellent instrument in a band, adding a drum and a brass instrument can exponentially enhance your auditory experience. In this month of love, reflect on the diversity in your life and where you can improve.

Jon Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist from Watkins Glen, currently working on his Master’s in sports nutrition at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. He runs the Finger Lakes Foragers Club Facebook page, and enjoys foraging as a hobby. He has a private nutrition counseling practice, Fork in the Road Nutrition, and is looking to help individuals with their health and fitness goals.

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