Farm Bill upcoming

At Wild Garden, February is a time of planting seeds both in flats and in our minds.  The recent opportunities to be with farmers and others involved in organic agriculture has planted a lot of seeds that grow as we contemplate our future and act on our farms, at the market place and in the halls and communication lines of local and national government.

At the Organicology conference, I attended the Farm Policy session. I learned A LOT, especially that there are some amazing people who are doing a lot to work on these issues, and they provide us with opportunities to lend our voice to their valiant efforts.

The “Farm Bill” is generally revisited every 5 years or so and is due

Soy, a commodity crop subsidized by the farm bill

to be visited in 2012.  At that time congress will look at its $90+ billion budget and makes decisions about which programs will be retained and which ones cut.  According to the National Organic Coalition (http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/), food stamps, school lunches, and nutrition programs make up about half of the budget.  Commodity programs which subsidize large scale commodity agriculture (think corn, wheat, soy) account for another 30%.  The rest goes towards programs that range from conservation, forestry, renewable energy to beginning farmer programs and rural development.  You can go to the NOC website and learn more about the farm bill and see what programs they suggest we prioritize for protection and increased support

One of the programs that NOC is prioritizing would be very exciting for organic seed people like us.  Called the Institute for Seeds and Breeds for the 21st Century, it would focus on CLASSICAL breeding to improve public cultivars to meet regional needs.  This is an area that NEEDS public support as the bulk of support for many years has gone to breeding that is geared towards GMOs and hybrids with no effort to create characteristics which are beneficial to organic systems.  These types of varieties are also not as democratic, as farmers become dependent on certain companies which hold the sole rights to the parent lines which create hybrids. In fact Andrew Kimbrell, a lawyer from Center for Food Safety, appropriately named hybrids the original terminator technology. It is impossible for farmers to save the seeds from hybrids and get the results that they need to compete in the market place.  We need to support farmers and universities that are working on developing strong, adaptive open-pollinated crop varieties.  The Farm Bill could help with some of this support if we make our voices heard.

Employee retention plan for Gathering Together Farm and Wild Garden Seed: SNACK!

It’s Electric

Today we had some time to clean a little bit of Delicata squash seed from fruits that had been set aside back in November, in the hopes of being eaten. Unfortunately, we stashed too much and could just not eat it all. A bin of squash sat on my porch through a lot of cold weather and a couple freezes, and the majority were still in perfect shape.

Meanwhile, Hank wired an outlet in the new greenhouse and conjured up some electricity.

Following his show of electrical prowess, Hank was spotted leaving work with a six pack of de-seeded and pre-cut Delicata squash.

Farming for Love

Eric has mentioned all the Conferences we’ve been to lately.  It has been a real treat to interact with other farmers and get inspired. I wanted to write about the Farm Bill (coming soon), but looking at our last few postings, I decided to take a break from policy talk and talk about love.

Eric sowing the seeds of Love (actually lettuce)

At the Organicology conference, the keynote speaker was Andrew Kimbrell.  He is a lawyer for the Center for Food Safety, an amazing organization which has continuously and very successfully sued the USDA for deregulating various GMO crops.

His talk involved some scary talk about the insane overuse of pesticides that is occurring because of herbicide-tolerant GMOs, how companies are moving from

Round-up Ready on to 2-4-D resistant crops (AKA agent orange) and dicamba resistant crops because of the resistance that has developed due to the overuse of glyphosate (Round-up).

But his main message was not doom and gloom.  His main message was love.

Kimbrell proposed some myths perpetuated about organics that keep people in fear that if we embraced organics we would starve (i.e. organic ag can’t feed the world).   Then he refuted them:

  1. Organics is not “scientific”. Science is about observation.  Organic farmers are the best observers.  We pay attention to our soil, our plants our animals.  We adjust to their needs.  Ecology IS science.
  2. Organics is not “efficient”. Efficiency means most output with the least input of time and resources. Do we have to apply this concept to living things?! Would we give our children only the minimum amount of love and food to allow them to survive?  Yes we need to be efficient, but we are farmers that view the land, the soil, our plants and animals as our allies and partners in our goal of producing a product.  We should not be ashamed to balance “efficiency” with LOVE.
  3. Organics is not competitive. Why can’t we cooperate?  This earth is running out of resources and we waste a lot of those limited resources fighting with each other.
  4. Organics is against progress. If we had some money for research and education then we could progress a lot more!

I don’t want to be ashamed to feel love for my job, my coworkers, my crops, my soil.  The reality is that “consumers” also want us to treat our farms with love.  We just need to get the corporate interests out of our universities and halls of congress so that we can provide the products that people want.  Products produced with LOVE.

GMO Labeling, Anyone?

I am off to the Food Justice Conference in Eugene, Oregon this weekend, where there is sure to be discussion about the recent GMO deregulation spree by the USDA. In the days following these three announcements (deregulation of GMO alfalfa and amylase corn, and partial deregulation of GMO sugar beets), there have been some great articles on the issues of labeling and contamination. Since the authors have already said it better than I would be able to, I will link you to the articles instead of paraphrasing.

First, Mark Bittman of the New York Times recently wrote an article entitled “Why Aren’t G.M.O. Foods Labeled?“.   The main idea of the article is this:

“Even more than questionable approvals, it’s the unwillingness to label these products as such — even the G.E. salmon will be sold without distinction — that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?”

The second article, “Chopping through McWilliams’ weeds on GMO Alfalfa“, by Sam Fromartz, provides multiple examples which refute the idea that GMO crops can be successfully contained, even in supposedly closely monitored situations:

“But how would a historian approach this question?…They might find that in 2006, GMO rice spread to conventional rice farms in Louisiana and Texas. It wasn’t from fully deregulated plantings like GMO alfalfa, but from closely controlled GMO test plots. It led losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Taco shells were pulled from shelves in 2000, because they contained unapproved genetically engineered corn meant for animal feed not humans. Genetically modified pharmaceutical corn crossed to non-pharma corn and also contaminated soybeans in 2002 and the crops were destroyed.”

It is high time to bring back the issue of GMO labeling, which could be force needed to restore regulations on these crops. The USDA may be able to look past over 200,000 worried public comments about deregulating GMO Alfalfa, but would the companies who manufacture GMO crops be able to ignore potentially millions of people not buying their products?

New Doors, New Seeds

This week, we completed the construction of our new greenhouse doors, enabling us to proceed with planting the next group of lettuce which included Crispino, Outredgeous, and Blushed Butter Cos, to name a few.

Frank bird-proofs the new doors to protect the latest plantings from avian consumption.

Seven Steps to Fair Farming (N.O.C.)

National Organic Coalition
845-744-2304; email: Liana@NationalOrganicCoalition.org
www.NationalOrganicCoalition.org

SEVEN STEPS TO FAIR FARMING

(With Wild Garden commentary from the Organicology conference.)

Prior to any de-regulation of new genetically-engineered crops, or discussions of “Co-Existence” of GE and non-GE, the following 7 points must be addressed transparently and fairly (for all stakeholders involved). See NOC’s Contamination Prevention Plan for details: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/GMO/GMOContaminationPrevention.pdf
1. Establish a USDA Public Breeds Institute to ensure that the public has access to high quality non-GMO breeds and germplasm. (The farmers say: “All the ‘good’ corn varieties are GE.”)

2. Create a Contamination Compensation Fund [see NOC’s Draft proposal at: http://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/GEAlfalfa/ProposedCompensationPlan.pdf] , funded by GMO patent holders, to provide immediate assistance to persons contaminated by GMOs, from seed to table. (The farmers say: “Conventional and organic farmers absorb buffer zone and screw up costs”)

3. Complete elimination of deregulated GM crop status, including prior deregulations, with on-going oversight and public evaluation of compliance and enforcement. (The farmers say: “If it’s deregulated, USDA considers it safe and not it’s problem.”)

4. Conduct comprehensive, independent, longitudinal studies on the health, environmental, and socio-economic impacts of GMOs, prior to GM crop approvals. (The farmers say: “When reviewing GM crops, the FDA uses data provided by the company, not from independent research.”)

5. Prohibit the growing of promiscuous GM crops that are likely to cause GMO contamination.

6. Prevent food security risks associated with the concentration of our food system in the hands of a few companies.

7. Institute an immediate labeling protocol for all GM crops, products, and ingredients. (The farmers say: “This is where YOU can help. Call your representatives, create clamor for GMO labeling. A recent poll says 86% of Americans support labeling of GM crops. Let’s make it a reality!”)

Breitenbush Days/ Sugar Beet Nights

The Wild Garden has just returned from the 2011 Northwest Farmer to Farmer Exchange

We Northwest farmers are very democratic

(a.k.a. Naked Farmer Conference) at Breitenbush Hot Springs, and I must say I am newly inspired for the season.  The ingredients were as follows:  two days of farm slideshows,nighttime wine drinking in geo-thermally heated cabins, soaking in hot springs, several inches of snow, delicious meals and informative workshops, all peppered with engaging conversation.  Mixing all of these, we created quite a delicious organic-information-sharing cake batter that is useful whetheryour baking pan is 1 acre or 100 acres.

Snow descended on Breitenbush shortly after the farmers did.

Unfortunately our man Frank could not soak his toes with us, as his presence was needed at the 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco. What is the sugar beet case doing in court this time? Well, immediately following Judge White’s order to remove Roundup Ready sugar beet stecklings from the fields this past December, supporters of the beets appealed the decision. In the mean time, farmers were not required to destroy their plants pending the decision of the appeals court. This week, a panel of judges assessed arguments from both sides as to whether or not Judge White’s decision was correct or not. The results will most likely be out within a couple weeks, and we are anxiously awaiting the outcome.

The USDA seems to have forgotten the reason this case was in court in the first place when they announced the partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets last week, just days before the appeal was to be heard. According to the Environmental Assessment the USDA released along with their recent announcement, the beets can be partially deregulated without causing a significant impact. However, as Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented in a Center for Food Safety press release,

“The lax conditions on growing the GE sugar beets in today’s approval are not materially different from those earlier rejected by the federal court as inadequate to protect other farmers, the public, and the environment.  USDA has yet again violated the law requiring preparation of an EIS before unleashing this genetically engineered crop”.

The outcome will be interesting, with a federal appeals court making a decision on  something that a federal agency is saying is legal to plant, for reasons which a federal court has said it is not legal to plant.

Stay tuned folks, and if you want to read more, the Center for Food Safety has a great press release outlining all of this confusing case.

It’s Planting Time, Apparently

A warmer breeze is rustling through the trees these days, and although it is probably going to chill off again before heating up, we at the Wild Garden are taking some cues from USDA secretary Tom Vilsack and beginning to sow our seeds.

Colors

First Wild Garden lettuce of the season.

Citing the fast approaching growing season, among other factors, Vilsack recently announced the complete deregulation of Roundup Ready Alfalfa, as well as the partial deregulation of Roundup Ready sugar beets. This marks the second time in less than a year that the USDA has ignored a court-ordered ban on the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets. In fact, it has ignored and defied two separate court decisions; one banning the planting of Roundup Ready beet seed, and the other ordering the removal of said plants after the first court decision was side-stepped.

In issuing the two decisions to deregulate,Vilsack stated that he believes choice is important to the American farmer. Choice of what to grow, where to grow, and how to grow it. Apparently the choice to have seed free of genetic contamination is not a valid one, while the choice to buy one type of seed from one company is.

In direct defiance of this type of choice, we choose to plant all sorts of things! We have been hard at work sowing and thinning our first flats of various lettuce, radish, fennel, and spinach, with more to come in the next week.

Cardinale

Cardinale lettuce front and center, Anaka lurking in the rear.

If you wish to read more about the recent USDA decisions, here are a couple good links:

New York Times : “USDA Approves Genetically Modified Alfalfa”

Grist: “USDA ‘partially deregulates’ GM Sugar beets, defying court order”