Letters to the Editor – September 2010

Distinguishing Between Bracken and Ostrich Ferns

I wanted to let you know that the fiddlehead photo used on the cover of the April 2010 publication is in fact a Bracken Fern and not an Ostrich Fern. Fiddleheads are exclusive to the Ostrich Fern and are one of the very few edible fern species.

The Bracken Fern is highly carcinogenic and has been the result of stomach cancer in cows, and if consumed by humans it may have similar results.

You might remember a few years ago a group of individuals became ill after eating what they thought were fiddleheads. Turns out that they had foraged for the ferns themselves and came across Bracken Ferns. To the untrained eye it might seem as though they were Ostrich Ferns; however, upon consumption they did have symptoms of some food borne illnesses.

I thought you might be interested in this information, as you are a healthy-living magazine with the intention of making your readers aware of how they can lead healthier lifestyles. Eating Bracken Ferns is not one of the ways.

Liana Curtis
NorCliff Farms Inc., Port Colborne, ON

Solomon’s Seal Latin Translation

Just read the product news for the Solomon’s Seal tincture in the current issue. We use this herb in TCM, and I believe the Latin name for it in the article is incorrect.

You have it as Polygonum multiflorum, but it is Polygonum odoratum and its Chinese name is YU ZHU.

Polygonum multiflorum is the famous longevity and “hair blackening” tonic known as HE SHOU WOU (fleeceflower root) in Chinese.

So the two belong to the same genus, polygonum, but different species, and have fairly different uses.

Adina Stanescu, AC, DCHM

More Media Coverage For Bill C-36

Dear Helke Ferrie:

Thank you so much for all your work! I appreciate so much your research, presentation and activism. In terms of the new Bill C-36, I’m wondering what you think is the best way to get media on board in reporting on Bill C-36.

It’s unfortunate that the average Canadian has no idea how close we came to having these totalitarian bills passed into law in the recent past, and also, that we are on the precipice of this happening again. It’s quite likely that the Harper government will amp up the P.R. machine at some point, hoping to control the message in the media about Bill C-36. It might be good to beat them to the punch.

What should be done? Would it make sense to have members of the public send letters and e-mails to major media outlets letting them know that this is an issue we want to be reported on? If so, I’d be happy to help compile a list of radio, television and newspaper outlets that can be sent out. I’d love to hear your opinion.

Matias Rozenberg

Seed Saving Project Underway in Greece

In January 1991 my friend Giannis Diamantopoulos asked me if I would like to buy a pack of seeds he had brought from abroad. At that time I had no money and the 5,000 drachmas (15 euros) he requested was a lot of money for me. Despite this, something prompted me to find the money and buy those seeds. Giannis told me he had bought them from a seed bank in the U.S.A. The packet contained a number of different seeds and roots from various plants all over the world. Most impressive was the multi-coloured maize from indigenous tribes that had disappeared!!!

In September 1992 I was distributing invitations for my brother’s wedding, in my birthplace Vamvakoussa, Serres prefecture central Makedonia district. In the yard of one house I saw a short-stemmed black corn plant. I asked the lady of the house about it. She told me that it was for making popcorn for her grandchildren. I requested some seeds and she gladly gave me some.

Right there an idea popped in my mind and I decided that at every house I deliver wedding invitations I would ask for seeds from the plants they cultivated. And that is what happened. By the time I delivered all the wedding invitations I ended up with an armful of corn, pumpkins, beans, etc. That black corn was the precursor of the mission that changed my life. Since then I have developed the habit of asking people about seeds they cultivate. And I gradually started asking other questions too, such as how they cook their food and how they preserve it.

In 1993 in an attempt to live close to nature I went to live in the village of Dasoto near Kato Nevrokopi in the prefecture of Drama. I lived without money in a house without electricity.

In the spring of 1995, I became aware that the subject of local seed varieties was the most important topic for my life, and I started “Peliti.” In Dasoto there is a big oak tree (the landmark of the village). It was from that oak tree that I got the inspiration for the name “Peliti.” I took a piece of paper and I wrote a letter to the Genetic Material Bank and announced that Peliti had been born. Peliti started as a personal need for me until very slowly it became the point of reference and a medium of expression for many people.

The first thing that I did was to seek out the producers of local seed varieties. These journeys were made without money, on foot, hitchhiking or helped by friends. Using the house at Dasoto as a base of operations I went on hundreds of trips, at first in Northern Greece because this was easier, and later all over Greece.

I first started to investigate the villages of the Kato Nevrokopi area. I found the results impressive because even though the villagers lived close together they had individually many different seed varieties. I was leaving home in the morning to visit villages which I had been told that they had their own seeds, and in the evening I returned home. Each day I was hitch-hiking two to three hundred or more kilometers. These journeys were completely safe and very successful. I learned a lot from them.

I learned that the things we see in front of us are the same as what we already have in our heads. I learned that nothing happens by chance. I learned that when we decide to do something, the whole universe comprises for its success. I learned that we have nothing and nobody to fear but ourselves. I learned that we are significant and important regardless of our economic condition.

The year 1997 was the one in which I did most of my travelling. I started at the beginning of March and finished at the beginning of October.  I set off from Northern Greece and went as far as Central Greece. It was a very exciting experience. Sometime around the middle of March I went to Pomak In Xanthi prefecture (Pomaks are a population that has lived since antiquity in the Rodopi mountain range on both sides of the border of Greece and Bulgaria. Political, religious, linguistic, and other factors led to their isolation.) At first I went on my own, and everyone I visited said there were no more seeds. After, I went with the doctors and the teachers of the area and I found out a few things. In August 1997 I went with a friend to visit his Pomak friends.  That was a time of revelation. We found plants, seeds, and indigenous farm animals. It was there, too, that I came across spring rye. Since then I have maintained relations with these people and they are a source of seeds, knowledge, and more. In the autumn of 1997, I presented my findings in Thessaloniki. Thus, the first Peliti publications started circulating. Up until then all the Peliti texts had been photocopied.

In 1998, I worked at the Cereal Institute in Thessaloniki with a program that utilizes the local varieties of corn. It was a great experience. I saw all of the different corn varieties that the Institute owns and how they preserve the seeds in the field, and in refrigerators, etc.

In the spring of 1998, I attended a three-week seminar about biodiversity in Chania, Crete. This seminar was the occasion for my first trip to Crete.

In 1999, when I was living in the village of Karpi in the Kilkis Prefecture, I saw that the seeds that I had spent such time and effort in gathering had been destroyed mainly as a result of insufficient knowledge and resources. After each trip, I changed my tactics. I gave out some of the seeds to cultivators, some to the Greek Genetic Material Bank, and I kept some for myself. I had collected around 1,200 varieties. In my effort to ensure preservation of the seeds, I proposed a meeting where different varieties would be distributed. There were two meetings that took place, laying the foundations for the Panhelladic Local Seed Varieties Exchange Festival, where thousands of people come to get seeds. But there was no solution to the problem with the seeds I had in my possession. There were a lot of issues that had to be resolved.

In the fall of 1999, while we were looking for heritage varieties of potatoes in the Pomak villages of the Rodopi, we passed through an area in which I felt a calling to live. Although I had already visited isolated settlements in other areas in our country, what I saw there was unbelievable. The whole settlement of about ten households scattered over the mountainside was without electricity. Through a series of coincidences I managed to, within a very brief period of time, rent a house and move to Soumak. There I was able to observe their entire work cycle. They cultivated their own seeds and preserved them, not only for traditional reasons, but also due to their isolated way of life.  There were no shops nearby to cover their needs, but they didn’t have money to make any purchases.  They were to a large extent self-sufficient. Every household had its own seed varieties,  and there were some houses that had up to seventeen varieties of vegetables. I noticed how carefully the women were looking after the seeds, proving that women are the guardians of seeds.

It was at that time that some friends and I went on a trip to southern Bulgaria to see what seeds were being cultivated by the Pomaks on the other side of the borders. The self-sufficiency on the Bulgarian side was even greater, given that their economic situation was even more difficult. Through a number of incidents on that trip, I became aware that what is important is not only to retain possession of our own heritage seeds, but also to be good people. I realized that for the seeds to be saved we will have to make changes in ourselves. It is not enough to gather and cultivate the seeds – we have to change in a more general sense.

In 2000, I proposed the creation of a network of cultivators of local seed varieties whose names we would publish, along with the names of the varieties they cultivate, so that whoever wanted to contact the cultivators directly to find seeds could do so. Thus, the “Area directory of farms preserving local seed varieties and autochthonous farm animals” network was created. Today more than 170 farmers and 20 aboriginal stockbreeders are participating in the network. Each September a manual is published, updating the names of the farmers and stockbreeders and their heritage products.

In 2002, looking for a reason to go out to the streets with plants and make the public aware of our doings, I proposed to a schoolteacher named Nikos Dombazis that he gather his pupils, who had already been drilled into the concept of heritage preservation, in the central square of Komotini. At that time, I also proposed that April 7th be established as the day for heritage seed varieties in Greece.

This was also the year when I first met Sophia Gida, who has since become my wife. She was a volunteer for Peliti, packing corn seeds, etc. Thanks to Sophia’s help, Peliti has reached a very high level.

In August 2003, a historic mission took place in the Pomak villages of Xanthi prefecture. Accompanied by a photographer friend, Aris Pavlos, I set off for Kalotychos, a settlement that is among the Pomak villages. The settlement is inaccessible by car so we had to walk a two-hour distance by foot, which took us a whole day because we were continually getting lost. Finally we arrived, led by a donkey. On that mission we collected seeds from a number of vegetables and Aris took photographs that have become a far-reaching symbol. Afterwards, a TV crew went there and very soon a road was opened to Kalotychos.

Since 2003, Sophia, our son and I have lived at Mesohori in the Municipality of Paranesti – Drama. From here, we coordinate all of the Peliti activities. Nowadays we work more on speeches, public functions, and presentations in schools. Each year we distribute about 10,000 envelopes with seeds and more than 8,000 plants. Our seeds come from cultivators throughout the entire country who are collaborating with us. We package them and send them free of charge to whoever asks for them. In collaboration with nurseries and school pupils, we also plant and give out free plants.

Peliti survives as a result of its books and publications, and from the contributions of its financial supporters and others.

On January 27, 2009, we announced on our Peliti website that we were thinking of constructing the first Peliti building. This is the next step we want to take. We feel that Peliti has to acquire its own premises, its own land and equipment, so as to be able to cope with existing requirements. Seeds are the key focus of Peliti’s concern and it is around them that we want to construct a community of people. Peliti is already a community of people, but is scattered all over Greece. We hope to gather in one place because this makes it easier to deal with the issues that come up in our everyday life: the social and financial issues, and so on.

So we purchased a plot of land. Some time ago we circulated a double CD entitled “Singing for Peliti,” featuring music by 130 musicians and artists who volunteered their talents. The proceeds from the CD will go towards the construction of the first Peliti seeds bank building.

On March 22, 2009, International Day of Biodiversity, Bioversity International and the Municipality of Rome honoured me in Rome, along with six other people, as a “Guardian of Biodiversity of the Mediterranean,” in recognition of the importance of my work in the safeguarding, preservation, and use of agricultural diversity in Greece. It was a great honour, and I thank all the people who helped me attain such a distinction. I in turn award this distinction to my wife and to all women in the world for their contribution to agricultural biodiversity, because biodiversity has been preserved with much thanks to women.

In September 2009, Peliti acquired its own 600-square-metre stretch of land in Mesochori, Municipality of Paranesti. On April 10, we inaugurated the Peliti land by holding the 10th Pan-Hellenic Festival of Exchange of Local Varieties, Peliti’s central event, to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity. Approximately 2,500 people from all over Greece attended this festival, and more than 30 volunteers participated from all over the planet.

We are very excited to announce that we are getting ready to start building a stone and straw ball building, where we will house Peliti’s needs, our office, and a seed bank.

Everything created by a human being has passed first through his or her imagination: the clothes we wear, the computers we use, the houses we live in, the cars we drive. In the beginning, everything seems like an intangible dream, but with patience and persistence, it becomes a reality. This is true also for our community. With patience and persistence, it is a reality, and it is growing – from hand-to-hand and from generation to generation so that we don’t lose tomorrow what we have today.

If you wish, you could also become a supporter of “Peliti.” Please contact us for more information. Our mailing address is:

Alternative Community  “Peliti”

Coordinator:  Panagiotis  Sainatoudis

Paranesti, 66035

GREECE

Or via email at peliti@peliti.gr

With best regards,

Panagiotis Sainatoudis

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