Shabbat and Beyond: All the News That’s Good to Read

We were at Paul and Michelle’s last night for Shabbat supper, and after the blessings offered in the kiddush, one of the many topics of intelligent conversation — in and around the expressive needs of four boys between 5 and 12 — was Michelle and Paul’s plans for me. (There are always plans.) So here is Michelle’s latest: she was enlisting my writing — I guess, ’cause it couldn’t have been my capital investment — in support of the OGN Network, a medium of information and insight that carries Only Good News. None of us are getting enough. (Good news, that is.)

And today, shuffling through a deck of last week’s newspapers, I found a superb OGN entry. It was an obituary, actually, for a brilliant and world-embracing scientist named Bent Skovmand, a Dane who had become one of the planet’s foremost agricultural researchers. His mission, self-described and self-imposed, had been to end world hunger. He didn’t quite get there, but his travels and studies allowed him to be part of assembling tens of thousands of varieties of grain and hybridizing more resistant, easily grown and nutritious seed.

His death interrupted what may be his greatest life’s work, and one of the most exciting, almost science fiction-like projects for global betterment that I can imagine. It’s one of those under-reported (I’d certainly never heard of it) stories that is the bright lining behind a dark and fearful canopy: while nuclear arsenals are still capable of massive annihilation, and other less spectacular threats loom over humanity, Skovmand has been heading the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The Trust has set itself the challenge of gathering and preserving the entire world’s agricultural foundation in case of catastrophes local or global that destroy our ability to feed ourselves. This is vision. This is looking forward.

Check this link: it will give you a detailed description of what is variously called the “doomsday vault”, the “Fort Knox of seeds”, being built with Norwegian leadership and international cooperation on a tiny Norwegian island far above the Arctic Circle. There, by 2008, millions of seeds composing the foundation of world agriculture will be safe, not only from nuclear war but also from the worst-case climate change scenario. How do you like them apples (or the 100,000 kinds of rice, or the 1000 types of bananas), Michelle? WONDERful, it is.

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