The idea of conserving species has been around for a long time. Concern about the possible loss of specific foods and the culinary traditions associated with their preparation has emerged as a conservation priority.
Travelers to the Pueblos in the late 1500’s noted the high degree of crop and food diversity present, indicated it was the norm rather than the exception. Since that time, two-thirds of the distinctive seeds and breeds which then fed America have vanished. One in fifteen wild, edible plant and animal species on this continent has diminished to the degree that it is now considered at risk. These declines in diversity bring losses in traditional ecological and culinary knowledge as well as the food rituals linking communities to place and cultural heritage.
In an effort to rescue endangered foods and revitalize those that remain, a coalition of experts on sustainable agriculture, biodiversity conservation and food aficionados has initiated RAFT-Renewing America’s Food Traditions. The RAFT initiative is dedicated to documenting, celebrating, and safeguarding the unique foods of North America—not as museum specimens, but as elements of living cultures and regional cuisines. The campaign will explore novel means to support traditional ethnic communities that are striving to make these foods once again part of their diets, ceremonies, and local economies. In short, it aims to protect and revive the remaining culinary riches unique to this continent, and support those who are reintegrating them into the diversity of cultures that are rooted in the American soil.
Comprised of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, Center for Sustainable Environments, Chefs Collaborative, Cultural Conservancy, Native Seeds/SEARCH, Slow Food USA, and Seed Savers Exchange, the coalition launched its national campaign with the release of the book, Renewing American’s Food Traditions: Bringing cultural and culinary mainstays from the past into the new millennium. The book highlights stories of twenty authentic American foods – profiles of ten endangered and ten recovering foods – and includes the first Redlist of America’s Endangered Foods.
The RAFT Red list includes approximately 40 heirloom crops maintained in the NS/S Seedbank that were once common within Native American communities in the southwestern US or northwestern Mexico. Botanically speaking, not all are native to the New World, having been brought instead by early Spanish explorers and missionaries as well as recent immigrants. They were, however, all adopted by native cultures and became culturally important as foods, within ceremonies, and part of local languages.
As a partner in the RAFT initiative, NS/S is growing out many of the 40 listed crops in order to supply sufficient quantities for cooking and tasting events and distribution to growers and producers. Between 2005 and 2006, we grew one-half of the list, including O’odham Pink bean, Taos Red bean, Hopi Red and Pima Grey limas, Four Corners runner bean, Tohono O’odham cowpea, Santa Domingo melon, yellow-meated watermelon, O’odham chiltepin, Chimayo and Cochiti chiles, O’odham peas, Hopi Red Dye amaranth, Zuni tomatillo, Taos Blue corn, Early Baart and Sonoran White wheats, and Hopi and Tarahumara sunflowers.
For more information on RAFT, please visit the RAFT website.
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