We Oregon and Washington farmers just had a great mid-week idea sharing session at Breitenbush Hot Springs outside of Salem Oregon, where we met up with a lot of farmers we had not seen since last year’s Farmer to Farmer Exchange. We enjoyed workshops,
great food, and most of all, discussions in the hot healing pools and sauna. Especially when it decided to snow five inches on Tuesday afternoon. We met up with our friends at Uprising Seeds, from Bellingham, Washington, and despite the difficulties of rounding up five seed people long enough to snap a photo, I did manage to arrange this.
Getting back to the farm, we were welcomed by 300 flats of happy, freshly germinated lettuce and mustard plants. Next week we will have plenty of thinning and making our first selections, getting rid of plants that do not belong.
We have come across a couple exciting and ponder-inducing morsels from Europe in the past few weeks that we would like to share, hopefully they will get the gears rolling in brains far and wide. The first is from Germany, where last week there was a discussion in Parliament on the problems farmers face due to the patenting of plants and animals. An open letter was sent to members of parliament, with the core request being : “We ask you to call for an urgent re-think of European patent law in biotechnology and plant breeding and to support clear regulations that exclude from patentability plants and animals, genetic material and processes for breeding of plants and animals and food derived thereof.” The co-signers, and there are a lot, cited market concentration in the seed industry due to patents, higher prices to farmers for using patented seeds, and the negative impact to innovation in plant breeding when genetic material is patented. The plea seems to have fallen on sympathetic ears, because the next day the German Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution against patents on plants, animals, and traditional breeding methods. We need to do the same thing, for we are facing the same difficulties listed by the Germans.
Secondly, we recieved a great video from our friends at Real Seeds in the UK. They have been doing some seed cleaning innovation, and have shared the product of their latest attempt to duplicate an expensive piece of equipment, at home:
Keep it up, folks, together we could soon be building more affordable, scale-appropriate seed equipment and ensuring that corporations do not privatize the genetic resources that have been owned by no one, or everyone, since forever.
The WGS crew has recently returned from a weekend retreat with our organic seed comrades. The Organic Seed Alliance hosted their 6th organic seed conference in Port Townsend, Washington. It was three days of tall talk and three nights of smoky scotch whiskey. Here’s what I learned:
- Prime your peas!
A study comparing the effects of several different seed treatments for damping off in peas showed that simply soaking the peas in good ol’ water overnight, with occasional agitation, followed by a quick dry before seeding was more effective at reducing damping off than a host of branded commercial seed treatments. The presenter, Lindsey du Toit of Washington State University, went on to note that the USDA has standards of review for the acute toxicity and environmental impact of new chemicals, but has no standards for whether or not they actually work. We don’t need any of these bogus products for our seeds. This spring, soak your peas like your grandmother did. Get real, get a bowl of water.
- Get off your corn cob!
Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin told us a surprising story about corn genetics and the “green” revolution. When scientists finally had the right genetic analysis tools, they compared corn from before and after the green revolution to see what caused the dramatic increase in yield that conventional agriculture is always crowing about. They were expecting to find more chloroplasts or some kind of enhanced protein synthesis. To their surprise, they found a slight difference in leaf angle, and a shorter tassle length. That’s it. Mainly there were just more plants per acre, and corn plants with more upright leaves could be crammed closer together. Now we have the same corn that is slightly adapted to living in a corn city, and we grind it up to feed to cows living in cow cities, and we grind them up to feed people living in people cities. We don’t need all that unhealthy processing in our food system. Chew for yourself. Get real. Get fresh sweet corn on the cob.
- Get Radical!
It’s not enough to be right, said Eric Holt-Gimenez from the Food First Institute. We can lobby Congress all day long to throw us a bone from the Farm Bill, but it won’t do any good if we don’t have the political power, the will of the people behind us. Don’t waste time persuading politicians, convince the audience: the people. Dr. Holt-Gimenez told the story of his work in the early days of la Via Campesina. Together the farmers of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua did a massive study comparing two thousand organic and conventional farms spread across the three countries hit hard by hurricane Mitch in 1998. Their meticulously collected data showed that peasant farms practicing organic methods were more resistant and resilient than their conventional neighbors. They were right, but the World Bank had the power. Instead of supporting the burgeoning organic peasant farming movement, the World Bank decided to build a network of roads and sweatshops that ultimately crushed the movement and moved thousands off the land. No change can come from a movement without power. Get real. Transform what power is.
- Stand together, brand together!
Adam Butler, cofounder of Butler Bros, a values led advertising company, showed us some numbers about industry spending on advertising. The orange juice industry spends millions of dollars annually to convince people to drink more OJ. Monsanto spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually telling us all how wonderful biotechnology is for feeding a growing planet. The organic industry spends zero dollars on any advertising. Mr. Butler’s point was not that we rush out and buy up some TV ads, but that we as a movement and a profession could us a little public relations help. He proposed combining a brand logo with a values statement that would unify our movement and help to explain what we stand for. The organic seed industry has the Safe Seed Pledge; perhaps the organic food industry needs a Safe Veg Pledge. What we can’t do is continue to allow Monsanto and its minions to dominate the global food conversation. The power is in the people, and we need to take our side of the conversation directly to them. Get real. Talk organic.