Quinoa in the Pacific Northwest: Ancient Grains in Oregon?

According to OSU Today, the Pacific Northwest could have its first local crop of quinoa (keen-wah) growing locally within three years. Oregon State University is working with collaborators from Washington State University and Brigham Young University to develop a quinoa seed crop that will thrive in the Pacific Northwest. Kevin Murphy of Washington State University notes that some critical traits to developing a quinoa that will flourish locally include seeds that will produce a high yield before the winter rains come, and can withstand occasional temperatures above 95 degrees.

Within the past decade quinoa has become a highly sought-after, high protein, gluten-free grain as American demand for the crop has increased hundred-fold. Quinoa is known to vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike as a superfood because it is so nutrient-dense, yet low on the food chain. The unintended consequence of this demand is that many Andean communities who relied upon the crop as a lifeline staple no longer eat quinoa because it has become so valuable as an export. There is also concern about its long-term impact on the fragile agrarian system of the Andes, and fear that a move toward monocrop agriculture could lead to desertification of the high alpine land.

The development of a quinoa that will thrive in the Northwest poses an interesting question for those who do their best to make food choices that incorporate nutritional, environmental, and political impacts. Indeed, a locally grown quinoa would be a genetically modified plant in some way, but does that mean by seed selection, or by means of standard GMO production? In either case, how will the seed selection and crop growth be managed? What are the global implications of not working towards growing this highly sought-after grain locally? As the Corvallis Advocate learns more about the science around the quinoa venture, we will keep you posted.

by Maria Murphy