NEW FOOD CROPS

"Fit the crop to the land, not the land to the crop." —Richard Felger

NEW CROPS for New Mexico

Gregg Dugan harvesting Apache redgrass grain in the Pinos Altos Mountains of southwestern NM.

"In a drying, warmer world the old paradigms don’t work." 

We now know there are native food plants that are prime candidates for sustainable agriculture.
Furthermore, the concept of locally adapted “new” food crops is based on deep ethnobotanical
and botanical knowledge. We get info on food plants from earlier inhabitants—though only a
fraction of their knowledge has filtered down through the ravages of time and cultural genocide.
          Someone asked, “Why hasn’t this been done before?” Well, the seeds were there in Smith’s
1929 Tree Crops, and in Felger’s and Gary Nabhan’s early publications. Until recent decades
people thought there was plenty of water, plenty of food being produced, and that modern agriculture
would solve problems. But in a drying, warmer world the old paradigms don’t work.
          Our team combines botanical and cultural knowledge, as well as farming, culinary,
education/outreach, and business/marketing skills.
          Agronomic potential: big sacaton and mesquite are at the forefront. Apache redgrass, mega-
Mexico oaks for acorns, elderberry, and lemonade berry are high on the list for intercropping.
Vine-mesquite grass is a recent candidate. —Richard Felger, speaking at 7th Natural History of the Gila Symposium, February 22, 2018

Selected NEW FOOD CROPS

publications and presentations by Richard Felger

NIPA: A potential replacement crop for rice fields being lost to salinization

After searching the World for salt-tolerant food plants, I find nipa to be the only known high-yielding grain crop that grows with pure seawater, in fact hyper-saline seawater. It also thrives with brackish and fresh water. Nipa (Distichlis palmeri) was a staple of the Cocopah people at the delta of the Colorado River, and the name nipa honors their name for this grass. The grain compares nutritionally with wheat and rice. This long-lived perennial offers energy-saving no-till agriculture and thrives in flooded, anaerobic, as well as aerobic conditions. Nipa offers a potential replacement crop for the great rice fields of the Orient being lost to salinization by rising seas from global warming. Following maize (corn), nipa has the potential to become Mexico’s second greatest gift to world. A caution, however, is that nipa could become invasive in some wetland regions and careful research and development are called for.

—Richard Felger

Ben Wilder with D. palmeri specimens on Isla Montague, Baja California, MX 2009

Additional JOURNAL ARTICLES & BOOK CHAPTERS available at

 https://cals.arizona.edu/herbarium/people/rfelger

Copyright 2019, Richard S. Felger.

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