Quinoa might be the king of grains: it has 50% more protein than wheat, rice, and barley. It is low in sugar and starch but high in fiber and vitamin E, as well as iron, calcium, and many more essential vitamins and minerals.
Quinoa even contains the amino acid lysine, which is normally only available from meat proteins like fish and beef, so it has all of the essential amino acids. The UN calls it a “complete and perfect food.”
Quinoa is also very easy to grow. It is not at all fussy about the poor soil and climate conditions that plague Newfoundland farmers. So we’re talking about a low maintenance crop that yields a high nutrition product. It’s also delicious; its nutty taste makes for a great cereal or salad base.
It’s no surprise then, that Michael Yetman is cultivating quinoa on the Avalon. His interest in quinoa took seed during his 7 trips to Peru (South America is the homeland of this plant). When he met a crop cultivator named Pedro atop the Andes, Yetman saw similarities between Quinoa, and the root crops his family grew for subsistence on the Southern Avalon, when he was a kid.
His family grew their own food on the Avalon long before grocery stores rolled into town and lessened the need for rural families to grow their own vegetables. We’ve forgotten what we’re capable of here on the island, and Yetman is one of a handful of people reminding us. We can rely less on imported foods, and we can make money from selling crops like quinoa.
As far back as 1991, Yetman began his Newfoundland growing trials. The quinoa grew successfully, and was analyzed by the provincial Department of Agriculture, who agreed it was an excellent, nutritious food with potential to grow here.
Jump ahead 20-something years to 2013, and a small plot was seeded in St. Mary’s, where four different cultivars were planted – White, Black, Brightest Brilliant, and Red Head. Three grew – all but the white variety. Red Head did particularly well, which raises the question, “Why don’t we grow quinoa in Newfoundland?” Other Canadian provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan do.
Further experiments in quinoa’s potential here were conducted in May 2014, and germination in 3 separate plots were close to 100% successful. The plants grew to 5 feet (pretty standard), and by August, well before the frost (even in Newfoundland!), the plants produced their edible seeds. The data is very encouraging.
According to Yetman, there are plenty of reasons to be planting quinoa here, including its use of sustainable and currently under-utilized land, and how growing our own quinoa, instead of trucking it in, would not only ensure a fresher product for consumers and restaurants, but a lesser carbon footprint by reducing the fuel consumption and CO2 generation associated with grain delivery from the mainland.
Newfoundland is currently importing over 90% of the food we see in grocery stores. Such a reliance on trucked-in food by an island province is simply dangerous in terms of food security. As Yetman says, “Something like the ice storm last December, with disruption of air and ferry service, could have wiped out the province’s food supply.”
It seems the biggest barrier to Quinoa’s potential here is our underdeveloped agriculture industry, a lack of government incentives to foster its growth, and a lack of young farmers with the skills and know how to spearhead the industry, in our era of grocery-store reliance.