FERN’s Friday Feed: Seed saver

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

A surfing trip turned a teacher into a savior of seeds

Alta Journal

“It’s been eight years since Joseph Kanach, a Los Angeles middle school teacher, bit into his first cherimoya,” writes Louise Farr. “During a trip to El Salvador, the driver shuttling him between surf spots swerved the van and hopped out to pluck some scaly globes off a tree, where they hung like so many green hand grenades. Kanach tasted one and spat it out. ‘Wrong one,’ the driver said, handing him a riper fruit. Kanach chomped into its custard-like white flesh. ‘It was sweet and tangy at the same time,’ he remembers. The cherimoya’s distinct yet elusive flavor hinted to him of pineapple; to others, it can suggest banana, mango, kiwi, strawberry, or even vanilla. ‘It was the juiciest fruit I’d ever eaten,’ he continues. ‘I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t everywhere in America.’ The taste sensation was so sublime that it led Kanach to start Hapa Joe’s, his home nursery in El Segundo, a small beach city on Santa Monica Bay. There, he grows exotic fruit trees and cultivates their seeds and seedlings to sell to other fruit enthusiasts.”

The peril and promise of using tech to resolve global hunger

Literary Hub

“While the potential of new technology in humanitarian settings is undeniable, its role in highly complex and fragile situations is never simple and is always fraught—not so much for the promoters of tech taking on financial risk, but for the people on the receiving end of the innovation, whose very lives may be put at risk. Humanitarians work with some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. As technological innovation changes the lives of people around the world,” writes Jean-Martin Bauer, “those of us working with these communities need to ask ourselves how we can make use of new tech while upholding our foundational principle to ‘do no harm.’ How are we to separate the wheat, the innovations that actually help, from the chaff, such as the Pouncer? And how can we design technology with the communities we aim to serve rather than pushing ready-made Silicon Valley tech that’s wildly out of touch?”

Rice farming brought prosperity to Nigeria. Then the bandits came.

New Lines Magazine

“In Nigeria, rice is king. The staple grain is on the table in every household almost every day. The national dish, jollof rice, is more than just a delicious dinner, it is a point of deep cultural pride for a country that is the top consumer of rice on the African continent. But up until 2015, it imported the vast majority of its supplies. That year, the Nigerian Customs Service banned the import of rice. The objective was straightforward: to support local farmers to boost domestic production, which would both stimulate economic development and food sovereignty while decreasing reliance on imports … Rice became big business for small-time farmers in some of the most isolated, economically challenged and food-insecure areas in the country,” writes Abdulwaheed Sofiullahi. “But the combination of booming business and flimsy law enforcement has created a market for exploitation, and Sokoto’s farmers are paying a hefty price.”

Frying fish, cutting through grief

Oxford American

“[D]eath was in the air that summer, the summer of 2020, and the only photo I have to show for it is a snapshot of a meager plate of home-cooked catfish and grits,” writes Irene Vázquez. “My junior year of college had come crashing to a halt that March when my study abroad program sent us home early, and I moved back into my childhood bedroom in Houston alongside my parents … Food was one of the only things that could cut through the grief. Cooking became the mechanism by which I differentiated one day from the next, the method by which I cultivated my desire, a daily meditation that life itself was possible, for a brief instant even pleasurable, provided I was willing to work for it. Conventional markers of time (hours, days, weeks—they all stretched out meaninglessly) were eschewed in favor of more tangible things: how long it took a blackberry pie to cool, how long the ceviche needed to marinate in the fridge, how long the scallions growing in recycled glass yogurt pots took to sprout in the windowsill.”

Does a $156 melon taste sweeter?

The New York Times

“A $396 pineapple comes tucked into an ornate red box which unfurls like origami and is punched with breathing holes,” writes Livia Albeck-Ripka. “A $156 melon, swaddled in foam netting, grew alone on a vine from which every other fruit was pruned, with the aim of making it extra sweet. Luxury fruits, which have a long history in parts of Asia, are gaining popularity in the United States, as new varieties are being grown and imported, including those developed over several years by companies aiming to market unique-looking and unique-tasting produce. The $396 pineapple — trademarked as the Rubyglow for its red skin, and extremely limited — recently sold out in the United States within a matter of weeks.”