Mass market grains like wheat, rice and corn grow well with ample irrigation, fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides, but …

wheat and corn fieldHarriman: “We have brought up a whole bunch of pampered, spoiled grains.”

That’s Cynthia Harriman of Oldways, a nonprofit dedicated to food and nutrition education. She says these coddled crops will not be up to the challenge when the growing gets tough.

Harriman: “We are seeing that both global wheat and corn, or maize as it’s called in other countries, are already being impacted by climate trends.”

A shift especially notable since wheat, corn, and rice currently provide 50 percent of the world’s food calories.

But Harriman says heritage grains – a variety of hardier traditional plants that date back thousands of years to the origins of agriculture – are more resilient.

Harriman: “Millet is, I think, a very good example. Proso millet has the lowest water requirement of any grain crop, and pearl millet is most able to tolerate extremes of heat and drought.”

Another example is teff – a tiny, pest-resistant grain that grows in a wide range of climates and sprouts in just 36 hours. Strong heritage grains like these may help us weather an unpredictable food future.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: A wheat and corn field. Copyright protected.

More Resources
Whole Grains Council
Bob’s Red Mill
Earth’s Best Organic
Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition

Lisa Palmer is a freelance journalist and a fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, SESYNC, in Annapolis, Md. Her writing covers the environment, energy, food security, agriculture,...