Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Unlimited Potential: If This Became Corn...

Note: "Unlimited Potential" posts will focus on the, well, unlimited potential of oaks as a food source for both humans and animals, if only they would receive 1/1,000,000 the breeding and improvement previously reserved only for soil-killing grain crops.
We often hear that the progenitors of corn were grasses that look nothing at all like the corn we know today. Sheesh, you can say that again. Above left: Teosinthe (Zea mays). Above right, just add butter.
The exact origin of corn has been subject to dipute. One theory held that corn was descended from a wild version that subsequently went extinct. Later it was thought that corn is descended from one or more species of teosinthe. More recent research claims that Tripsacom (gamma grass) had a role, and that it has been hybridized with teosinthe.

Corn is one of three cereal crops that account for 1/2 of all calories consumed by humans. Somehow we went from a virtually inedible grass (or grasses) to becoming completely reliant on a mutant (yet, again, tasty with butter) version that arguably* does more damage to our soils and consumes more fossil fuels per lb. produced than any other crop.

* I say arguably because I truly believe this but don't have the time or inclination to actually research it this morning ;-)

Now let's compare and contrast the grassy precursors of corn with this:

Nature's version of an MRE. Yes, I realize that an annual cereal crop like corn allows you to make new genetic crosses every year, and so that gains in yield, palatability, etc. can be gained much more quickly. But give me oak trees to start with and 7,000 years in which to improve them and I'll have them producing acorns the size of basketballs and doing everything but picking, hulling and grinding themselves by the time I'm done. And I wouldn't damage the soil or burn vast quantities of fuel in the process.
It will start with harvesting acorns grown by wild trees, and that will make a huge difference. But down the line we'll be planting oaks specifically to produce acorns. And they will need to bear acorns quickly and consistently. 1/100,000,000 of the effort given to improving corn will be more than enough for oaks to produce in a way that meets our needs.
Visionaries & geniuses like Smith, Cottam and Hess got us started. Modern-day geniuses and heroes like Ken Asmus and Guy Sternberg and others are keeping it going.
These posts will track the efforts of these and other heroes working to tap the unfathomable potential of the genus Quercus as a food source for the future.

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