The Golden Hair Girl of Mesopotamia: Sorgul Wheat

14 September 201812 min reading

“Sorgul wheat is the oldest wheat of Mesopotamia. Sorgul means red rose. When taken hands, its color turns into red rather than the typical amber yellow. I think it is given the name of a Kurdish girl due its preciousness. At the beginning of this Sorgul project, my aim was to find local seeds that are needed good agriculture. Particularly wheat seeds! As it is known, the cultivation has started in Mesopotamia thirteen thousand years ago and spread around the world. The wheat was the first product in the world for cultivation and it is the most widespread product that people cultivate excluding the poles. Today, it is claimed that there are 25 thousand types of wheat.”


Ebru Baybara Demir

Mardin Cercis Konağı Manager, Chef

The story of Sorgül planted in Mesopotamia starts with a small health problem of my daughter…

Although the life was alright until 2012, I was wrecked because of tumor diagnosed at the left lobe of my daughter. My daughter was 5.5 years old then. Immediately, she was taken to an operation. It was successful, but all tumors could not be removed. Our only relief was that the tumor was benign. Our doctor told us that this sickness is widespread among kids and the reason for this that we lost our old food habits and could not even grow natural foods on soil, and the main reason for our problems is that what we consume is not natural.

As a long time dweller at such an agricultural city, Mardin, I believed that everything grown at soil is natural and clean. After that time, as a mother of three and a chef that feed thousands of people with her foods, I turned my face to the earth. As I spent time in the kitchen, I began to spend equal time with the farmer producing the product I used while cooking the food. After this awareness, I began to make studies on soil.

SOIL AND LOCAL SEED! Everything had been entirely different two generations ago. Nowadays, the concept of organic food that we seek now was not known because everybody produces and consumes organic food. There was no agricultural product exported and imported and scaled in tons. Locals produced food according to the seasonal conditions and sold at local bazaars. Evet social study classes in schools, seasonal fruits and vegetables were taught. I do not know if they are still. If there is such a topic, I am curious how children can distinguish these terms in a time in which they can find everything at any time.

In fact, we did not live in the world that is so populated, and the basic agricultural methods were enough to feed people. Now, millions and billions of people are fed with the advanced level of agricultural technologies. However, not only the climate change but also agricultural policies of the state, scientific developments, and global trends have a say over the earth. For these reason, we consume and are wasted more day after day!

Throughout history, Turkey has been a fertile area for cultivation. When we look at Anatolian soil, we talk about a rich geography that four seasons are experienced and have different heights, winds, rain, and soil cultures.

As a result of these conditions, Turkey is among the richest countries as far as biodiversity is concerned. There are more than twelve thousand different bio-diversities. Four thousands of these are endemic, meaning that they could not be grown in different soils. Just like the ethnic diversity of our population, the soil with its diversity serves us more products. In Anatolia, there has been a culture of seed developed within eight thousand years. In archaeological excavations carried out in Körtik Hill, between Batman and Bismil, it has been found out that Anatolia thirteen thousand years ago was a hometown for wheat cultivation. In these lands where agriculture first began, the genes of the wheat seed have naturally formed, developed and spread to the earth.

However, the balance around the world and the supply-demand also shaped preferences. Farmers no longer sold their products in their villages or markets of nearby villages. Besides, the agriculture has become globalized. Producers prefer planting seeds in which they can rip high-volume within a short of time. The global standards for vegetables and fruits have been set up. The size, color, and smell have been standardized. Exporting goods to foreign countries, farmers have to meet these demands in line with the nature of trade. In this case, they prefer seeds with high productivity that they can win at far markets. Farmers directed by exporters preferred hybrid seeds.

THE MOST ANCIENT WHEAT SEEDS OF WHEAT OF MESOPOTAMIA In all these, the realization of going-back and returning to old ways in agriculture are inevitable. Sorgul wheat was the oldest wheat of Mesopotamia. Sorgul means a red rose. When people take it in their hands, the color of it would turn into red, rather than the amber yellow we are used to. Because it was so precious, I think it is named probably after a Kurdish girl. At the beginning of this Sorgul project, my aim was to local seeds for good agriculture. Particularly wheat seeds! As it is known, the cultivation has started in Mesopotamia thirteen years ago and spread around the world. The wheat was the first product in the world for cultivation and it is the most general product that people cultivate apart from the poles. Now, it is claimed that there are 25 thousand types of wheat. Therefore, we believed that the starting point in Mesopotamia – the homeland for such dominant product - should be wheat and started our works.

“WE HIT THE ROAD TO START THE FAIR AGRICULTURE IN THESE LANDS AGAIN” The information we had from the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) Agriculture Research Institute has directed our studies. We began to study varieties of wheat, registered to the inventory. As a result of our research, we reached to 11 kinds of wheat samples and their characteristics. We studied Mardin and its surrounding for two months. The most important and most common type of wheat, Sorgül, came out everywhere.

We found its seeds at the hand of small farmers affected by terrorism at the north region of Mardin. For this reason, Sorgül has turned into our aim and source for this project. Together with this, Beyaziye- the one of the oldest wheat kinds- Sorik, İskenderi and lastly Karakılçık has been included into our project. We gathered about 1,650 kilogram of seeds from different villages. Many of these seeds were Sorgül. Our aim was to plant these seeds that they can adjust and multiply. In this capacity, we realized the plantation of these seeds at 102 decare supplied by locals and farmers. As I spent time with this project, it has become the aim of my life.

The food is the most important thing in the world… It is the most primary need of human-beings. Our life is dependent on it, and as we have food crisis, I believed more into what I do. I think that I can influence my children, my country, and people in the other part of the world and became more connected and worked. I work more than eighteen hours a day. I read and write. I spend my time at kitchen or at fields or at talking with village people on local seeds. At this point, I believe that the sustainability of the kitchen depends on the product, farmer, and the condition of cultivation of product. Nobody including farmers is aware of the bad trend. People are not aware of the product they eat while farmers are not aware of what they grow. Already we have gone beyond the danger zone. If this trend goes on, the most important weapon of the world will be food within ten years. I work for this project as I believe it is never too late to mend. I know that there is still productive seed and soil that we can save. As a result of this belief, I want to underline it is important to create awareness within the society and to mold public opinion. More importantly, chefs are required to have information on this, and work with farmers, and to support a creation of market in which health foods will be remunerated. In other words, this is a cycle. This is a line of work in which young chef candidates, chefs, farmers, engineers, and decision makers should work together… In this way, earning revenue in sustainable way, farmers will give up their jobs, and the biodiversity will be protected. This is the duty for all…

THE MOST IMPORTANT MEASURE AGAINST DRAUGHT IS TO INCREASE LOCAL SEEDS! The most health seed is local seed. Every year, farmers keep some of their products so that they can seed again. These seeds accepted the condition of soil and they are adapted to these conditions. In case of drought and disease, they are resistant to tolerate this case. Local seeds are cheap. Farmers are not required to buy so much seeds as in the case of single-type commercial seed. Local seeds are not required to have chemical fertilizer while the single-type commercial seed does. Therefore, as they are not required to have chemicals, local seeds do not harm the soil, ground-water, the life-cycle, and microorganism that feed the soil. Unlike the single-type commercial seeds, local seeds demand minimum level of energy as they do not require continuous water. The condition of drill and irrigation are cheaper compared to the single-type commercial seeds. For this reason, the most important measure against draught, which affects us and the world, is the increase of local seeds. According to the seed law issued in 2006 in Turkey, the government banned the planting of local seeds more than five acres and decided not to give the agricultural support for non-certified seeds. Although local seeds have lower productivity than the single-type commercial seeds, they are inexpensive and health structure in terms of cultivation conditions. Despite the higher harvests in the commercial seeds, it seems that the seeds do not actually give the farmer an advantage when considering the effort and expense to adapt to the soil.

Two tons of living being live in a single hectare. These living beings break up raw foods and turn into foods that vegetables can digest. These are: rats, worms, insects, other creatures, and useful organisms. All these creatures, natural seeds and animals keep their lives in perfect balance. Planting hybrid seeds and providing chemical drugs and fertilizers so that these seeds can adjust to the soil and live and giving drugs to kill weeds… A food grown in this environment affects us badly and also kills the soil by poisoning it.

Furthermore, we realized in our field study that farmers are very ignorant on how to use the agricultural drugs. Believing that more fertilizers will yield more products, farmers provide fertilizers to the product after every rain. But, plants got as much as they want from fertilizers, and the rest contaminate the ground water. This is equal to sixty percent of fertilizers on average. During this period, I did not see any farmers who grow industrial agricultural products consumer their own products. These farmers have a small land in which they grow for themselves. As you can see, as a result of bad implementation in order to earn more, we kill seeds, which are our traditional culture, and then our lands, and as a result all living beings and the ecology.

OUR TARGET IS NOT TO BUILD A SEED BANK! Everybody is aware the story of a seed bank! We do not build a seed bank with our projects. We do not believe in such institution. Through increasing our local seeds, firstly we want to reach the health food, and then we want to do agriculture respectful to the environment and the soil, and we want to transfer this to the next generation. Of course we are also trying to take measures against the drought problem that is waiting for us. Let me tell this way: stored seeds are like coin monies. Sometimes a person can come across with these. Some people store their coin monies at canisters. After a long time, these people found out that these monies are taken out of circulation and useless. Although these monies are useful when they are worthy, now they do not mean anything. Every day, the soil has been changing because of agricultural drugs and changing rains. I believe that these stored soils, just like coins, will not mean anything in the face of changing soil conditions. Thus, I believe that seeds are valuable as they are processed and at soils. I advocate the increasing of seeds instead of storing them.

We found out there are two types of Sorgül seeds: bread and pasta. These seeds are analyzed. Now, we are multiplying these seeds and are working to reach the health food, to heal our land and transfer these to the next generation. As local women, we took the responsibility and hit the road to restart the agriculture in these lands, to re-spread the oldest seed of Mesopotamia to the world. We have securities to transfer to the next generation!

FEATURES OF SORGÜL WHEAT The grain structure is glassy, and its amber yellow turns into red. The vegetable protein is high while its percentage of starch and gluten is lower than its kinds. It has a perfect smell and aroma. Generally, it is long, and its plant height can reach to 140 cm. Its hay is oily and productive. Because the root structure is deep and strong, it is suitable for organic cultivation.

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