The Many Faces of “Landrace” Corn


Pictured above is 3 varieties of corn being grown for the CSA shares this season. The big yellow guys are “Early Riser”, the tiny red ones are “Strawberry Popcorn”, and all of the multicolored corn forming the arc is “Mandan Bride”. The corn will be ready for harvest in the next 2-4 weeks depending on weather and are looking like a fantastic crop!Landrace_Corn2

What is a  landrace and why is it so important to sustainable local food systems? A landrace variety is a gene pool of seed created in a geographical region by farmers and gardeners, selected over many generations to suit the tastes, climates and growing conditions of an area and people. Before about 1950 almost all seed belonged to this category. One hallmark trait of a “Landrace” is it’s genetic diversity and therefore it’s ability to adapt and thrive into many incarnations. “Modern” seed has gone the opposite direction.

Pure line genetics and high yielding hybrids, and most recently GMO’s, now dominate the landscape the world over. While these new reductionist scientifically developed varieties are not inherently a bad thing(although it certainly can be argued that GMO’s are very dangerous in nature) the overwhelming dependence on them is where the danger lies. It is a simple matter of investment diversity. If we invest everything in a handful of pure line seed genetics and they begin to fail for any number of reason like climate change, or disease epidemics, as a species we will suffer grave losses. On the other hand if we continue to invest in and develop our heritage landrace seeds we will no doubt be in a better place as the landscape of Earth inevitably changes over time.Sunflower2

This year we grew many “landrace” or “heritage” seeds. Our spring wheat was a Canadian landrace called “Red Fife”. We grew 5 types of heirloom beans(Charlevoix Kidney, Boston Favorite etc…) and 4 types of heirloom corn. The “Emmer”(also know as Farro)  we grew is a very old landrace wheat variety and our sunflower seed crop is comprised of two landrace varieties. We also grew 15 wheats from the USDA National Small Grain Collection Germplasm depository to restore some varieties that are no longer commercial grown. Each season we will strive to find and expand the genetic diversity in our fields and reap the rewards for generations to come. The sheer beauty of heritage seeds is alone enough to convince one of their invaluable place in our fields and on our plates. It’s not only the heirloom tomato that generates such oohs and ahhs on the tongue but all our food crops. And while science has yet to document this I know the nutritive qualities are as superior as the look and taste are.Sunflower3 This time of year our sunflower crops are hanging heavy with seeds and will soon be ready for harvest.

Despite all the rain we’ve had and our struggle to get the beans in(we did harvest quite a lot of beans thanks to the harvest parties!) We are having a very good year. The small grains all came in without a hitch and our corn and sunflowers couldn’t look much better. Arnie, Adam and Bill have gone above and beyond and done an amazing job. The MAIC grant, MDAR and NESFI have played a critical role in helping us develop the needed infrastructure and the support from the membership and community has been unrelentingly helpful, kind and thoughtful! Thank you all and here is to one amazing first season!!!Sunflower1

7 Responses to “The Many Faces of “Landrace” Corn”

  1. 1

    What beautiful Fall photos!

  2. 2
    Tom Markey

    The mini-farms of Oaxaca and Chiapas hold the hope of the future for all mankind. The “hombres de maiz” there will show the way.

  3. 3
    Mary Thieme

    I am a retired anthropologist who worked in Oaxaca (on pottery) but am teaching a bit about the ecosystem as it relates to diversity of cultures.

    Interested in landrace corn. I live in Florida where I can’t grow much, but was recently in northern Vermont visiting gardening friends and wondering if you have landrace corn (maize) that would grow in that short growing season.

    I visited a town in the Sierras Juarez many years ago and saw the many varieties that a farmer had for the different altitudes and growing seasons there. Perhaps you are aquainted with some of them.

  4. 4

    How wonderful. This sort of work is certainly critical. Corn isn’t our main focus, although it is one of our grains, and one of our farmers this year is growing a variety believed to be what was grown in the original Plymouth colony. The corn in our own test gardens this year is seed from Seed Savers Exchange, which I highly recommend. We have a short growing season here, as well. The Bloody Butcher seems to be doing particularly well (they also have Oaxacan Green, which may interest you!). Best of luck!

  5. 5

    I have become a lot more interested in the health & benefit of non-GMO crops & staying away from things that have simply been bred for sugar content for many years rather than for nutrition. I also hope to develope a landrace of corn that may be both heathy & fit my local needs for greater self-reliance.

  6. 6

    Thank you for the update and your commitment to sanity in agriculture and to the actions you are taking regarding Tar Sands. I’ve been concerned for so long now about the path this country has taken and the effect it is having on young people and while trying to figure out how to rescue you folks, you turned the tables and rescued us all. I could never have imagined Occupy and look what you’ve created.

    A year and a half ago I stumbled across the viability of growing rice in New England and within a week was introduced to heritage wheat. Shortly thereafter, while growing my own plot of landrace wheat I discovered you guys only to find that you were distributing ten thousand pounds of locally grown heritage grain!

    We just moved this past year to a property with much more potential for growing food and my second generation of Einkorn, Red Lammas and Emmer wheat is all set for wintering over. What a wonderful way to change the world.

    Taking on the one percent, ending corporate personhood, putting an end to Tar Sands and the like, have to be done. These are big challenges but there is little choice if we want to survive. But we also need to Occupy the land, our farms, our back yards, the corner lot and our community gardens and so on. 99% farmers and gardeners will put an end to corporate agribusiness and give us back custody of our food supply.

    Learning to do this is easy, can be started immediately, encourages community and brings such joy as is so apparent in the comments and photos you post here. Change has to occur in many ways but we must never underestimate the impact of planting one seed and watching it grow.

  7. 7

    Thanks for all your work – it’s always nice to hear from a kindred spirit.

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