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
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.