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Photography - Issue #13

Common Ground

Words by Victoria Chown
Photography by Will Hearle
Creative Flower Design by Kasia Borowiecka
Fermented Foods by Josephine Marchandise

Root and tuber crops are a vital food source around the world. OmVed Gardens - a garden, exhibition and educational space in north London, UK - celebrates unusual varieties that taste good, whether cooked, pickled or raw.

Dehydrated yacón and beetroot.

It is estimated that by 2050 the world population will reach 10 billion people who will need access to nutritious food sources on a planet of finite resources.

Some 75% of global food supplies come from just 12 plant and five animal species. Just three - rice, maize and wheat - account for 51% of calories we get from plants. This lack of crop diversity leaves our food systems vulnerable as our climate changes. What’s more, monoculture farming weakens our soils and encourages the proliferation of crop-destroying diseases. The limited varieties of vegetables grown commercially tend to be selected based on their size, ease of harvesting with machinery and their ability to be stored and transported, and not necessarily on their nutrition or resilience. It is estimated that since 1900, 75% of our crop diversity has been lost.

Root and tuber crops play an imperative role in ensuring food security for the world. This is particularly true for small farming practices at a local level, including more traditional local and Indigenous communities. Compared to other staples, root and tuber crops provide relatively large amounts of energy and nutrition per square metre and are less labour-intensive. Root crops store well without refrigeration, are high in dietary fibre, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, including vitamins E, C and D. They act as insurance crops, providing important calories and nutrition when other food sources fail. They have excellent storing capacity for times of increased need, such as in times of natural disaster or war.

Jerusalem artichoke.

As a dietary starch or carbohydrate, roots and tubers can be grown quite successfully on a small scale, unlike many grains, which require larger areas and special treatment like thrashing, winnowing and grinding to make them palatable. Each square metre of earth can grow between 3.5kg and 5kg of potatoes - that’s enough for a family of four to eat about eight servings of potatoes each. If everyone in the UK grew just 1 sq metre, this would equate to billions (2,244,000,000, to be precise) of kilos of nutritious, calorie-dense food.

At OmVed, we trial unusual and interesting varieties of veg, not often associated with the UK, each year as part of our Seed Saving Network project. We aim to find varieties that taste great, store well, produce abundantly, are nutritionally dense and are resistant to disease. We also work to preserve heritage and heirloom crops from extinction. And we have a lot of fun doing it.

Yacón and Jerusalem artichoke.

Yacón and Jerusalem artichoke.

Yacón and Jerusalem artichoke.

Chinese artichoke.

Radish and mashua.

Radish and mashua.

Here are a few of the unusual root crops we have grown:

Yacón (Smallanthus sonchifolius) - a species of perennial daisy native to South America. This large plant produces heavy crops of sweet, crisp tubers high in inulin and other longchain fructooligosaccharides, which are great for gut health. We make a syrup from its tubers that can be used as a low-calorie sweetener. It is also straight-up delicious raw or pickled.

Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis) - a knobbly bobbly root from the mint family. Chinese artichokes are crisp and nutty, and delicious raw, pickled or used much like water chestnuts.

Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) - this delicious tuber grows big, beautiful and with complete ease. In fact, once you’ve planted it, it’s so successful it can be hard to get rid of.

Sweet potato - we grew two varieties this year (Tainong 65 and Molokai Purple) in large planters in our glasshouse. Unfortunately, they produced very little, just 700g in total. While these may not be best suited to London growing conditions, they grow and produce very well in warmer climates and can tolerate saline soils, making them an excellent crop for coastal growing. Sweet potatoes are the eighth most important food crop across the globe in lower and middleincome countries.

Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) - originating in the Andes, oca can grow in very harsh environments, tolerating poor soils. They have a delicious and lemony flavour raw, but can also be cooked in much the same way as a potato.

Salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) - salsify has a long taproot, which resembles a skinny parsnip. It’s also known as oyster plant for its flavour, but we think it tastes more like artichoke hearts. Though it can be eaten raw, it is best peeled and cooked - the leaves are also edible.

Carrot and yacón.

Lacto fermented oca, mashua, artichoke, yacón, fennel, carrot.

Chinese artichoke pickle.

Sweet potato, fermented yacón, purple potato, purple carrots.

Lacto-Fermented radish.

Carrots, celeriac and radish sauerkraut.

Yacón syrup.

Dehydrated yacón and beetroot.

Chioggia beetroot, sweet potato, golden beetroot, oca, wild herbs, violetta potato.

Chioggia beetroot, sweet potato, golden beetroot, oca, wild herbs, violetta potato.

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