There are 200,000 edible plants in the world, yet 90% of our diet is made up of only 20 species.
Agriculture in the uk focuses primarily on large scale mono-crops of wheat, sugar beet and oil seed rape. These crops rely heavily on artificial fertilisers, pesticides and machinery to produce large volumes of cheap food with very low nutrient value.
These practices destroy diversity across the ecological food web from soil microbes to insects, birds & mammals. Since the use of nitrogen fertilisers became the norm in the late 1960s farm land bird numbers have dropped 55%, many insect species from bees to butterflies and moths are under threat. This is widely attributed to the impacts of intensive agriculture*. (*State of Nature report 2016).
Minerals in top soil are vital for all life yet scientists are now warning that agricultural land in the uk will be completely degraded in less than 100 years (University of Shefield report 2014). One centimetre of top soil takes around 200-400 years to form yet our current agricultural practices of frequent ploughing and leaving soil exposed results in around 2.2 billion tonnes of topsoil being lost to erosion each year in the uk (defra 2009). This costs tax payers an estimated £3.21 billion annually to clean up as rivers and estuaries silt up.
A food system which destroys biodiversity, erodes topsoil and produces poor quality food clearly needs fixing.
The good news
We have the tools to repair this damage and improve our health and well being too. Diversity is key. Small scale organic local production of a diverse range of food supports biodiversity, and crucially builds soil. Healthy soil sequesters carbon helping to reduce the effects of climate change. Diverse local food systems based on agro-ecology principles are also the best ways to protect our food security, provide meaningful work and reduce food miles, all vitally important at this time of climate instability.
Unusual Edibles aims to highlight these issues by celebrating the incredible rich variety of plants we could be growing & eating.