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Barbara Heath Land Race – 2012

By the time Barbara Heath visited Horsham, the town and the surrounding Wimmera District of Western Victoria were in the process of recovering from a decade-long drought. To inform her work, which was initially to address issues of drought, Heath held a number of planned and fortuitous conversations with the assistance of Horsham Regional Art Gallery staff, which came to focus on the changes in agricultural practices in the area.

The list of people with whom Heath consulted is lengthy, but Dr Bob Redden, curator Australian Temperate Field Crops Collection of the Grains Innovation Park became her main contact. In an email of August 2011, Dr Redden wrote to Heath: ‘Now with unprecedented population levels and growth, there is a risk of disconnect and taking food supply for granted, even with climate change. Humans will need to change if they wish to continue their increasing diverse interests, but will need to prioritise agricultural research, better understanding our available genetic resources, plant growth and development, and imaginative paths to harnessing science and truly earn the title ‘Homo sapiens’.

Land race is a direct response to the urgency of maintaining biodiversity. Agriculture today requires economies of scale that change the social landscape and limit population diversity. This results in the erasure of many small communities, loss of connection to the past and cultural loss. Dr Redden explained his department’s work to ensure plant gene diversity by sourcing and saving seed from land race crops. ‘Land race’ is the term used to describe heritage seed varieties now being displaced by International Seed Uniformity Standards.

Heath’s Land Race series shows distinct levels, from biodiversity in the soils to the patterns of farming practices above. Each Land Race also features a remnant plant species that reaches up and through the tractor track patterns: briar, apple and aloe.

There are numerous hero shots (one above) and details prepared (below), we will wait for the show to get under way and publicise a little later. The preliminary research is in an earlier blog post – click here.