Lear's Macaw – Their Feast is Vanishing Too

When I started writing this blog, I focused on the varieties of vegetables that have vanished from seed collections. Being an avid gardener,I know the value of biodiversity to the long-term health of the garden, and the environment. I admit, I had a slight disconnect to the larger picture of endangered plants, all the species that rely on them, and what I am doing with this blog and my work. Sometimes the simple and obvious gets lost.

Recently though, that has changed. Let me explain how.

With my experience of preparing for the heirloom expo, the sunflower emerged as my new logo. After growing sunflowers this year, and being an astute observer of what I grow, the dots got connected about the sunflower's role in the biodiversity food chain. Pollinators, birds, animals, and humans are fed by the sunflower. It's a good symbol of the feast provided by nature. They are beautiful, and now they are the brand image for what I do.

Range of Lear's Macae

While reading a Slow Food International press release about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, and the work of  the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, I came across the plight of Lear's Macaw. Lear's Macaw is a wild parrot whose natural habitat is a very small area in Brazil, noted on the map on the left.

Lear's Macaw derives 90% of its diet from the Licuri Palm. The other 10% comes from  fruits in the area. They've been known to eat corn also, which puts them at odds with farmers.

When 90% of your diet comes from one source, and that source is diminished, naturally you're going to seek out other food source. I know I would. Habitat loss is one of the major factors putting pressure on Lear's Macaw. The other is illegal poaching. Some sources cite habitat loss over poaching, some sources cite the opposite. Both are reasons why Lear's Macaws are endangered, and both are not acceptable.

The habitat loss is from clear cutting and fires, techniques used to create cattle grazing pastures. This action is a controversial one, it impacts more than Lear's Macaw. I think how heavily these parrots rely on a single food that is being diminished puts this slash and burn practice in proper perspective for the damage that it does.

Some steps have been taken to preserve their habitat. Seedlings of the Licuri Palm that try to reclaim the pastures ate either stomped out by grazing, or are eaten as part of the grazing done in these pastures. As with any invasive species or action, tipping the natural balance in an environment has detrimental consequences.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and the populations of Lear's Macaw have stabilized to the point that in 2009  they have been moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This statement though, shows how precarious the situation is for the wild population;

A major fire could now wipe the whole palm population out (5), leaving this parrot fatally vulnerable.

While that statement is from the year 2000, it's still relevant today. The fact remains that a species of bird relies on one source of food for 90% of its diet. If anything illustrates the title of my blog, Vanishing Feast – An Heirloom Solution, the plight of Lear's Macaw does. The Licuri Palm is an heirloom variety of palm tree, and it provides the solution of the feast needed by Lear's Macaw.

There's a couple of valuable lessons here. First, for me, the expansion of my concept beyond seeds and seed collection is warranted. Second, coal miners used to use canaries in coal mines as warnings about dangers of lethal gases. Perhaps, this parrot in a palm tree is a symbol for the danger of habitat destruction and how lethal it can be.

For more information about the Licuri Palm take a look at the work of the Brazilian Licuri Slow Food Presidium, a Slow Food International's presidum dedicated to the Licuri Palm, the source of 90% of Lear Macaw's diet.

For more information about conservation efforts, here's a good article at The Parrot Society UK.

For mor information about Salone del Gusto Terra Madre, here's their website.

Countdown to Terra Madre – A Primer

slow food international's turin logoA month from now, October 23, 2012, I will be leaving for Salone del Gusto Terra Madre in Turin, Italy. I didn't plan to have my first post up exactly a month out. It just worked out that way. (wink) I'm excited and honored to be attending as press since my paternal grandparents are from Calabria, and my maternal grandparents are from Basilicata. All of them were from farming families. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to attend this event, whose organizer works to preserve food heritage and traditional farming practices. That honors my heritage. The high fructose corn syrup free icing on the cake would be, if my dual citizenship with Italy is confirmed before I leave. It will be close. In April, I was told it would be at least six months before I would received my certificate of Italian citizenship. October is the sixth month. Considering this is my first trip to Italy, taking the first step onto Italian soil as citizen, would  a moment on my lifetime. If not THE moment.

If the above is not enough inspiration, there's more. Slow Food International (SFI) has put together a comprehensive educational event that fosters a strong community. Let's start with SFI's description of the event from a recent press release;

For the first time, Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that will be held on October 25-29, 2012 in Turin, Italy. The biennial event organized by Slow Food, the City of Turin and the Region of Piedmont in collaboration with the Italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, will display the extraordinary diversity of food from all continents and unite small-scale farmers and artisans from around the world who follow the principles of good, clean and fair.

To support this mission, the following will be presented. From the from the Salone del Gusto website;

Taste Workshops – In the year that the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre merge to create a single event that can better communicate Slow Food’s message, the Taste Workshops will also reflect this change. They’ll be giving more space to the network’s key issues and campaigns: the importance of biodiversity and sustainability, the protection of the landscape and the rediscovery of traditional knowledge. As usual, they will feature tastings led by producers, chefs, winemakers, brewers and experts.

Master of Food: A Taste for Learning  – The Master of Food courses at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre offer a series of practical activities, stimulating and reinforcing learning through direct experience. That’s the spirit behind the courses, “Horticulture” and “Cooking Without Waste,” dedicated to sustainable production and consumption and designed to cater to visitors from both Italy and abroad. The production and cooking techniques outlined in these courses are simple yet powerful ideas that have the potential to change the world. Translation into English will be provided.

Theater of Taste – Chefs take to the stage, surrounded by an amphitheater of audience members. Their every move is followed by video cameras that capture their dexterity and culinary tricks and broadcast them on a big screen. The chefs will be preparing their signature dishes for the audience to sample and reveal the secrets behind their preparation.

Meetings With the Makers – Eagerly awaited by connoisseurs and professionals, or anyone who likes the idea of trying out new beers or following the last 30 years of Italian wine history, glass in hand: Meetings with the Makers events are held in a salon in the heart of the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where you will be welcomed with delicious tastings and delightful stories, anecdotes and confessions from great figures from the international food and wine world.

Dinner Dates – Take a tour of the world’s cuisines: 39 chefs will be coming to Piedmont for 23 Dinner Dates, hosted by prestigious restaurants in and around Turin and famous wineries in the Langhe.

Slow Food Education – To help explain how food changes the world Slow Food will be organizing many fun and educational activities that invite visitors of all ages to rediscover the pleasures of conviviality, shop and eat responsibly, respect the seasons, benefit from biodiversity, train the senses and get to know the people who farm, catch and produce the foods that end up on our plates every day.

Conferences – Food changes the world through the choices of responsible consumers, chefs and producers who care about the stories of the products that they eat, cook and make. The Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Conferences are an opportunity to talk about these experiences, to open up the debate on how responsible eating habits can improve our health and that of the planet’s and call into question the distortions and paradoxes of large-scale production and distribution systems.

The offer is on for a great experience. I can't wait. I seemed to have worked out some minor technical issues with posting from iPad, so I plan on updating as much as possible. I'll have more specific posts in the next 30 days.

Road Trip – Growing the Appalachian Food Economy

For the second time in two years, I'm taking a trip to the Appalachian Region. Last year, it was the Johnson City, TN area for Mark Twain tomato plants. This year, it will slightly southeast to Asheville, NC for Growing the Appalachian Food Economy: A Forum on Local Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture. It's a two day forum that offers me a lot of opportunity to expand my knowledge, meet people and to visit an area of the country that treasures it local food economy. If you take a look at the agenda, you will see what I think is a well-planned event. I've worked on enough business development seminars to appreciate the effort that goes into creating a thoughtful, diverse and informative event. Particularly, I like how they offer concurrent sessions and tours of local ventures. Knowledge and application, what more can one ask for from a forum? Along with finance people who offer their insight into how they see future investment in local food and sustainable agriculture ventures, this event offers a comprehensive experience.

Show me a topic such as Food Heritage and Culinary Arts as Economic Drivers, and I'm sold. While this session will focus on Appalachia, the concept of food heritage is universal, and to have the opportunity to see an application of it in economic terms offers tremendous potential for me.

Another topic that catches my interest is Models of Sustainability: The Role of the “Agripreneur” . This will focus on finding a niche market that is environmental sustainable and profitable. It's a winning combination.

And to wrap up the forum, tours are offered. You can choose from three tours. I chose the West of Asheville tour, specifically for the tour of Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared-use kitchen incubator and natural products manufacturing facility. Food heritage, models of niche markets and sustainability and a food incubator. A nice trinity for someone like me striving for an heirloom solution here at Vanishingfeast.com.

I'll be sure to share my experiences in Asheville, NC here. I will get there on 3.31.12.