Rally for the Right to Know

Hey Folks,

Our own Hank Keough, Master of the Marys River Grange and recently made famous in the pages of New York Times, will be speaking at the Rally for the Right to Know in Salem, OR tomorrow.

Look for this guy!

This event is to raise awareness about GMO food labeling, and will coincide with a national rally in Washington D.C.  If you want to find a rally in a town near you, check out their website here.

The Salem event is set to go from 12:00- 3:00 pm, and will be located at 900 Court Street NE, the Oregon State Capitol.

Going Rogue

These days at the Wild Garden, we are doing our very first selections on the seedlings we have recently planted.  When planting, we sow more seeds than necessary in each cell of our flats. The

thinning

making the cut

plants then need some space when they come up, so we take that opportunity to remove anything that looks like it should not be there. I also did a different type of selection the other day, separating a variety into its black-seeded and white-seeded types.

separating seeds

don't sneeze

Additionally, we have been observing wildlife. Some hungry squirrels have begun to raid a compost pile in search of delicata squash, bits and pieces of which may now be found in and around nearby trees. One particularly defiant specimen has taken to eating on the front wheel of a subaru:

squirrel

*note: squirrel is cuter than it appears to be

Food as a Strategic Weapon

“America is a powerful and affluent country, but it is also a country in great danger. Depending on how it uses the food it produces, such a large country producing so much food is capable of saving the world  or of throwing the world into chaos…”

-Masanobu Fukuoka, The Road Back to Nature, 1987

Blowing Bubbles

Two weeks ago, I attended the Food Justice Conference in Eugene, Oregon. Fred Kirschenmann gave the opening address on Saturday evening, and Dr. Vandana Shiva wrapped it all up on Monday, speaking about the food desert of industrial agriculture and the dangers of including food in the global casino of financial speculation. This is a theme that appeared repeatedly throughout the conference, with many of the speakers making references to a Harpers article entitled “The Food Bubble” by Frederick Kaufman. This article came out last year, and describes in detail how Goldman Sachs brought food into the futures trading world in 1991, artificially drove up the price of wheat in the course of creating returns for investors, and caused millions of people to go hungry worldwide while silos in the Midwest stood full of over 600 million bushels of unused grain.

In the article, Kaufman asks the CEO of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which used to keep the price of grain low, if this could happen again; if wheat prices could soar like in 2008. The response is, well, yes. Not only is it possible, it is probable, and as the New York Times reported last week in the article In Price of Farmland, Echoes of Another Boom, “Just a few years ago, farmers marveled as land prices began to rise in response to demand for corn to make ethanol. More recently, soaring prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops have driven the increase”.  The bubble machine is hard at work, cranking out the next big one.

Goldman Sachs

At the end, Kaufman asks Minneapolis Grain Exchange executives if it was not the responsibility of the grain exchange to “ensure a stable valuation of our daily bread”, and is informed that, “I view what we’re working with as Widgets…I think being an employee at an exchange is different from adding value to the food system”.   This is food reduced to mathematical equations, separated from the story of its production and consumption, separated from its real value as human nourishment, separated even from the physical food itself, and used as a speculative tool to leverage money into pockets.

As Dr. Shiva said in her closing address in Eugene, “If you get your ethics right, your economics will flow out naturally”; here we have an absence of ethics, and an economy spiraling unnaturally out of control.

March Onwards

floating the row cover

floating row covers really do float.

cutting vents

Cutting greenhouse plastic around the frames for the air vents.

vac-away

The best use we could come up with for these vac-away seed cleaners: a work bench

Around the farm this week: lots of new plantings, and our first lettuces are just beginning to want to go in the ground.

We also got some vents installed in the greenhouse, which will help give the summer dwellers a breath of fresh air.

Before you know it, we will be back out in the fields, taking care of the varieties that overwintered, and preparing the way for the new crops. Our hoes are freshly sharpened, handles oiled, and our boots recently told me that they are excited to be back in the dirt.

96% is an A+

In a current poll on the MSNBC website, 96% of the 40,000 respondents said that they support mandatory labeling of GMO foods, choosing the option “Yes. It’s an ethical issue — consumers should be informed so they can make a choice.”

3.2% say they do not support labeling, because “The U.S. government says they are safe and that’s good enough for me.”

0.8% of people say “Not sure. It all tastes the same to me.”

Anaka oiling a hoe handle, moments before getting online and voting on the labeling issue.

If you want to throw in your own vote, visit the poll here.

Cutting up the Beets

Last Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals came back with a decision in the Roundup Ready Sugar Beet case. Their deliberations hinged on whether or not Judge White was correct in ruling that the sugar beet stecklings (young plants) be destroyed last December.  Here is what the court had to say:

“Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the permitted steckling plants present a possibility, much less a likelihood, of genetic contamination or other irreparable harm. The undisputed evidence indicates that the stecklings pose a negligible risk of genetic contamination, as the juvenile plants are biologically incapable of flowering or cross-pollinating before February 28, 2011, when the permits expire.”

In other words, the appeals court found that the stecklings should not be destroyed because they do not flower and thus cannot cross with other crops. Additionally, the court wrote that “The alleged irreparable harms are little more than an expression that “life finds a way.” Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park 159 (Ballantine 1990). However, an invocation to chaos theory is not sufficient to justify a preliminary injunction.” Applying this story of Jurassic Park to the beet case is surprisingly appropriate:

Do Dino eggs produce Dinosaurs?

Dinosaur DNA was harvested from some hardened amber, and the opportunity to bring dinosaurs back to life was made possible. The government approved the development of dinosaur eggs, because, well, eggs are just eggs and they do not in and of themselves make a dinosaur. Concerned citizens sued, citing possible negative aspects of dinosaurs. The courts then said that the eggs did not present any harm, but that the people were welcome to seek an injunction once the eggs hatched.  And in the story, of course, no dinosaurs actually hatched from the eggs, and everything was fine, right?

Read the full 21 page court decision here, if you wish.

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.