I have not yet written on the topic of the wholesale disappearance of southern culture in the last 100+ years but it’s starting to take a toll on me personally, of which I’ll be getting out as I continue on. The disappearance and continued extinction of the south’s most valuable agriculture treasures, it’s trees has become the biggest “obsession” of my life as I become more and more inundated with a reality that is so completely encompassing yet so oblivious to so many. “What extinction and what southern culture are you speaking about?” You may be wondering. I am referring to the continued extinction of decades and centuries of hard work of producing trees that produce food for humans and animals throughout the southeast.
Yes, I am well aware that in many localities across the nation have had similar fates to the rise of factory farming and global agriculture, however, the south seems to have lost the most. I am currently not aware of if anybody has done the work on quantifying just how many productive species have been lost, or the amount of acreage that has now been converted over, but what I do know is that the delegation of food cultivation to the Midwest through corn and soy production and tree crops to the Pacific Northwest has left the South completely without real permanent tree crop production, or even the knowledge of.
“Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture”: A Southern Culture Artifact
There are more people by the day who have read the book “Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture” by J. Russel Smith written in the early 20th century. This book is held up as documented proof of sustainable agriculture at it’s finest and the best possible solutions for producing it. I can certainly understand why, as it is one of the most belabored and long winded volumes available containing a shockingly large amount of anecdotal testimony on the subject of the value of trees that produce food for both human and animal consumption. There is no doubt that this book has it all.
But what may be illuding people who have read the book, is that the entire book is a reference to culture created throughout the southeast. Nowhere else. What may further shock those who have read this book, is that this culture is just about completely gone. The book focuses around the development and finding of the most productive cultivars of naturally occurring trees throughout the southeast. The persimmon, the pecan, the mulberry, and more.
Most people who live in the Southeast have never seen, a persimmon or a mulberry. Heck most people have never even HEARD of persimmons, yet depending on where you live, may be growing right next door. While many of these native trees still barely live on (with fewer and fewer tracts of land to call home), the cultivars and the improved varieties that required many man hours to find and/or create, are evaporting into thin air, leaving the current south with minimal options for developing their own permenant food scapes.
Hicks Everbearing Mulberry
I did something this morning that I know I shouldn’t have, but did it anyway. And that was visiting the ultimate time killer, facebook. On there I was greeted by a post by Eliza Greenman about the “Hick’s Everbearing Mulberry”. I had never heard of this variety so I read on. Apparently this variety of mulberry produces a continual heavy crop of mulberries for months on end and originated in the south. This tree was used for the purposes of hog fodder (my #1 favorite system) and could fatten up summer hogs in no time.
Quick google searches lead me absolutely nowhere. Further reading of the post made it quite clear that this gods gift to man variety may be down to just a handful of trees in a single location, completely absence and devoid from cultivation throughout the southeast. If I can get my hands on such a variety, I would replicate it beyond all belief and return it to it’s rightful status as a well known southern favorite.
Just another point to drive me further.
Southern Apples: Where are you?
My work with southern apples has shown me just how much we have lost in the south. Lee Calhoun the author of the amazing book “Old Southern Apples” believes that over 80% of all apples from the south have now gone extinct. Extinct being, not a single tree left of that variety, and therefore the work and time to develop those apples, is no longer recoverable. While those may be gone, the reality is the rest have gone into complete niche obscurity to the point where the southeast is completely ignorant that people not that long ago grew unique apple varieties for the south, and relied upon them.
The public has sadly become so ignorant about southern apples that the only apples that anybody has ever heard in the south are two from Israel, one from the bahamas, New Zealand and Australia.
Seriously? That is really what is remaining of the legacy of the south’s agriculture?
I am sure there are more communities throughout the south that have heard of apples growing in the south, particularly throughout Appalachia, however, to say that these are the only places would be just completely and totally mistaken. Take for instance the Dula Beauty apple from Lenior County, North Carolina. If you have ever been out to eastern North Carolina you will get very familiar with the coastal plains of the south, which is an extremely inhospitable place typically for growing trees.
It can often be seen that I focus on the southern apple. But I must say that the apple is one but many of my focuses, as I am concerned with returning permanent culture to the southeast. All of these trees and their heavenly cultivars are at risk, and when we need them more than ever, I would like to salvage what I can and make available.
What about Citrus?
“What about citrus?” You might be saying. Sure there is the citrus industry here, but a quick look in history will show the lack of permanence of this type of agriculture as just in the 20th century alone entire farms were wiped out at least 3 times due to freezes. When will the next one be? I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t far away, mother nature is always ready to pounce. I do find it very odd that people are continually fascinated with trees that are marginally hardy enough to survive in any given area, which can be seen by the obsession people have here about buying citrus trees. For “industry” I suppose that is the boom bust speaking and for home owners having what is “forbidden” and “unique” perhaps is the tantalizing factor. I certainly have fallen into that trap, losing at least 4 Key Limes in one year. (They were cheaply discounted, give me a break).
Now with the outbreaks of major debilitating diseases such as citrus greening these monocultured orchards are now highly in question. Yet again. Why not use what has worked historically instead of pandering to the US’s obsession with drinking a sugary yellow beverage.
Permanent Food Systems of the South
I could go on and on about different species that have been lost or are becoming increasingly difficult to find, but I’ll save those for other posts. Lastly I’ll state that this topic has enthralled me to the point where I am taking action on it to reverse this trend. I see the writing on the walls everywhere that the south, which used to contain plentiful agriculture and food, has been reduced to a veritable food desert and is really one bad year away from being in a very nasty place (millions of people, no food). I am in the process of writing a book about this very subject that I am currently titling “Permanent Food Systems of the South”.
If there was ever a time now to move with action to protect the assets and valuables that will provide us food forever, now is the time.