Recently we sent a request to advertise our Silkworms in a local agricultural newsletter. We received a curt rejection stating:
‘Silkworms are just pets for children…What do Silk-worms produce anyway?”
Actually, Silkworms produce a lot more than just their famous high value fabric which is strong, beautiful, soft and insulating. Silk-worm pupae are also edible and the worms produce neat pellets of fertiliser. Agriculturally speaking Silkworms definitely are ‘childs-play’. They and their hardy food source, carbon-building Mulberry trees, are very easy to grow and harvest. Silkworms are probably the most domesticated protein source on the planet. The worms grow to 70 times their body size in just a few months. They are easy to handle using simple tools and require no fancy farming machinery.
Silk was one of the first agricultural products known to man. The silk route facilitated trade from far eastern countries to the middle east and Europe as early as the dark ages. Whilst silk was quietly being made by farmers for Royal families in Asia, European hunters were chasing the brutal undomesticated forefathers of sheep, cows and horses. Silk is still considered one of the best fabrics for high fashion products such as suits. In Asia, the trade secrets are heavily guarded and recent technological innovations have made it much easier to process the silk.
Why has Silk been forsaken?
- Fossil fuels now produce silk-substitutes such as nylon and synthetic polyester.
- Fossil fuels have also changed the way we farm. Fossil fuels enable farmers to cheaply transport, shear and process high fibre yields from larger animals such as sheep.
- Many small products like silk, tea, cacao/chocolate and coffee beans are labour-intensive and hard to mechanise.
What’s So Great About Traditional Knowledge?
Gene’s can be altered but not created. Why let any genetic material be lost forever? Many people have fought to retain valuable genetic material in the hope that this genetic material will be valuable for future generations. Furthermore, it is easier and cheaper to keep producing living seeds than to store them in a seed-bank. Bio-security controls also make it risky to move species from one bio-region to another. If you have a genetic strain in your bio-region , this strain has probably adapted to your area and could be hard to replace even if you were able to import it from another region.
In the same way we are losing gene material, we are also at risk of losing traditional knowledge. Many ancient crafts, techniques and recipes are distant memories.
One of the most powerful principles of Permaculture is to build diversity. By encouraging diversity we broaden our options and we foster resilience in our own designs and in our community. Silk farming is one little example of thousands of years of research and living in harmony with nature.