Seeds of Persistence: The Ethnoecology of Crop Agrobiodiversity Maintenance in the American Mountain South

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2008: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Major Professor:
Robert E. Rhoades
University of Georgia


  • Agronomic: corn, potatoes, sorghum (milo)
  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), cherries, grapes, melons, pears
  • Vegetables: beans, cucurbits, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals


  • Education and Training: extension, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, genetic resistance
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This research project is a comparative investigation of why folk crop varieties continue to persist despite overwhelming economic and social pressures that continually threaten their very existence. Much has been said about the increasing loss of agricultural biodiversity across the globe and the application of conservation strategies to this problem, but fewer agricultural studies have made in-depth inquiries into the reasons why those individuals, communities, or cultures who continue to nurture folk crop biodiversity do so. This study will investigate two main complementary motivations that contribute to the continued use and conservation of folk crop varieties: 1) utilitarian salience—which includes selection and maintenance for agronomic, economic, and environmental reasons; and 2) cultural salience—which includes selection and maintenance because of culturally defined preferences and influences such as heritage and memory, culinary traditions, spiritual beliefs and rituals, and values that are learned and shared. The primary research sites will be the southern Appalachian mountains of western North Carolina and the Ozark-Quachita Highlands of Arkansas.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. 1. Describe, document, and collect for conservation crop agrobiodiversity complexes in each of the two regions. 2. Determine the relative importance of utilitarian and cultural salience in the persistence of folk crop varieties in each of these American highland regions. 3. In each region determine how folk crop variety persistence and motivation for persistence is distributed according to age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and grower type.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.