Over the past several generations, the food we eat has changed. Farm subsidies have impacted what farmers grow. More than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from our farming landscape, half of the breeds of domestic animals have been lost, and more than 80 percent of corn and 90 percent of soybeans are now patented by one company.
Our industrial food system has made food cheaper but has stripped away much of its taste and nutritional value. This approach to food is unhealthy for us and for the environment. It has disconnected us from our land and traditions and threatens the future of our food supply, the biodiversity of our planet, our collective health, and our enjoyment of the pleasures of the table.
Ellwood Thompson’s, a leader in Richmond’s natural food landscape for the past 20 years, is focusing on “Old Produce” this year to expand its organic offerings and combat the produce coming out of the industrial food system. By “old,” they mean heirloom, explains Heather DeMascio, produce educator at the store. DeMascio, whose roots in the organic world stem from her time living in Santa Cruz, California, understands the flavor and benefits of eating locally sourced and curated vegetables. Here in RVA she is using this knowledge to help educate customers, employees, and the community.
“Ellwood Thompson’s is working with local farmers Amy Hicks (Amy’s Garden), Alistar Harris (Origins Farm), and Steve Miles (Shalom Farms) to grow nutrient-rich plants like Galactic Red Salad Greens, Cosmic Purple Carrots, and Red Russian Kale in an effort to bring interesting and intensely nutritious varieties to the market,” explains DeMascio.
Heirloom vegetables are typically old varieties (sometimes more than 100 years old) of vegetables that were used before hybrid plants came onto the scene and typically are more nutritious, taste better, and as open pollinators enable their seeds to be saved year after year. Many heirlooms were in danger of going extinct and being lost forever.
Look for Ellwood Thompson’s to continuously grow and evolve its partnerships with local producers and expand the breadth of its offerings of heirloom varieties. If you have a question about anything in the produce aisle, ask DeMascio, watch her face light up, and be prepared to hear a good story.