Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Chance to Derail GMO Corn In Mexico!

(Reuters) - A top Mexican government official said Thursday that the long-awaited but highly controversial approval of genetically modified (GM) corn fields on a commercial scale will drag into next year.
Only one ear of corn showing considerable diversity!

El Presidente Felipe Calderon was scheduled to approve a commercial scale planting of Genetically Engineered corn in Mexico, but now it appears he will leave office without giving the project his blessing. Incoming President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, will be inaugurated on December 1st and his aides have indicated the approval is not expected for up to five months after that date.

This presents us, the anti-GMO forces, with a small slice of time to derail this approval. Mind you, I don't know if anything of the kind is in the realm of possibility, but I do know this has got to be our goal. This task, whether or not it is possible, has got to be the focus of everyone who harbors doubts about the veracity of human meddling in the DNA of our food. Mexico is home to the birth of corn, which means it is also home to a diversity of corn that is not possible to fathom; we do not know what there is to loose.

The government of Mexico is undoubtedly being offered economic bonuses to make this happen. But they should be wary: It is the Devil's bargain. For a few pesos, the amount of money is not relevant, Nieto can sell the pride of his county into a new, and more deadly, colonialism that will bankrupt the economy and throw the pride and dignity of Mexico onto a dung heap from which it may take another hundreds of years from which to recover.

Look at the business plan of genetically modified food production. You buy the seeds (or, as a drug dealer might suggest, “the first one is free...”) and plant them. You have to also buy the inputs necessary to make that crop produce. Look who sells the inputs! Whether the farmer gets a crop or not, he (or she) must invest in new seed next year and all the attending inputs. Mexico is betting these seeds, with all the fertilizers and pesticides, will produce enough food to make the bargain profitable. It doesn't.

A fifteen year study done by the US Department of Agriculture, itself practically a branch office for Monsanto, showed that genetically engineered corn did NOT out-produce the GM corn to any real degree. So, all of those inputs and their expense, were for naught. And this is the scenario President-elect Nieto considers throwing his county's farmers into. We also know the number of Indian farmers that have committed suicide after making this Devil's deal with GM cotton. The first bad harvest, the wife takes off her jewelry to sell for fertilizers and pesticides. The second year, with no jewelry left, the families go into debt and it's a debt many cannot recover from. Is this not just a chemical process of subjugation that imitates the slavery of colonialism?

But the stakes are so much higher than that. If countries were assigned wealth according to their genetic resources, Mexico would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Corn, one of the most important food crops of our world, has it's origin in Mexico. Nikolai Vavilov identified Mexico as one of the most important centers of origin of food because of the tremendous diversity of corn. This diversity is threatened by the introduction of genetically engineered corn.

When Monsanto was asking for FDA approval for their unproven product, the genetically altered corn, they stated in their application that corn pollen was viable for five miles. This figure is important because it lets one know how far away from the genetically engineered product a farmer must be if that farmer wishes to have none of the altered genes in his corn.

The figure, like so much of what Monsanto claims, was a lie. Research since then has demonstrated that corn pollen can be viable up to twenty miles from the source, or, four times as far as Monsanto had reported. Mind you, this figure represents ideal conditions, but until we can predict conditions in the future with pinpoint accuracy, this is the figure we have to have and use.

With the diversity of corn throughout Mexico, we cannot allow genetically modified pollen to spread through those fields! The DNA of every cell of the Monsanto (and allied corporations) corn plant, is modified, or engineered and therefore the pollen's DNA is also altered and whatever qualities has been engineered into the altered corn, will become manifest in the corn of Mexico. Imagine the so-called terminator gene being let loose in Mexico! Thousands of years of corn breeding could be terminated if that pollen was let loose.

It would be far worse than all the Spanish conquistadoras combined.

It would be a scar on Mexico's soul that nothing could ever heal.

It would be the Rape Of Mexico.

We cannot sit idly by and allow this to happen.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Honest Food

Ms. Honeybee pollinating a broccoli plant.
We need MORE nature, not less, in
our gardens and our farms!

Over the past decade, I've taken to calling organic and non-GMO food, 'clean food.' I've used 'clean' as my adjective of choice for seeds, plants, varieties and food, using it to meanthis food that is not the product of industrial agriculture and the multi-national corporations that support chemicals and laboratory experiments on the DNA of plants destined to become food.

Having lost a fight to industrial agriculture with Proposition 37 going down to a narrow defeat, and having seen BIG AG at work, I am now calling organic and non-GMO food, 'honest' in addition to clean.

I've not been a part of a proposition campaign before, but I do keep up on politics. I can say without reservation, I was totally blown away by the amount of lying and the dirty tricks played by the 'No' campaign! It was disgusting and the lack of enforcement against them was appalling. The final straw for me was the other day hearing a 'No' operative explain on NPR that 'people just used their good sense to defeat a poorly written law...' I could have driven off the road in disgust, because, of course, that is the truth stood firmly on its head.

There was not one whit of truth in anything they said in their $43 million campaign – and the remarkable thing, in the end, was that they lied so much and it was still so close! I do not have to reiterate each one of their lies, that has been done amply elsewhere, but there was nothing in their entire arsenal that was honest: from the Stanford professor (he wasn't) to the study that said it would increase our food bill (they paid for the study to be done to show that and the history of other countries requiring labeling disproved that by historical fact vs the so-called study's 'findings'); nothing they said was true. Which brings us to wonder why they didn't lie to us about how wonderful GMO crops are? You will note, they did not say a single word about why we even needed GMOs.... like that was a foregone conclusion.

Now, after absorbing the sting of defeat (I do not like to lose!), I have been reflecting on the history of GMOs in the US food supply and, guess what? I can't find an honest representation in anything Big Ag says and wants us to believe as far as GMO's are concerned. Nothing they are doing can be backed up by science or common sense.

  • Feed the world.... Not by lowering the number of species we depend on for food! That is the way of starvation!
  • Help farmers.... Not by lowering the number of varieties available to plant. This is another starvation trap waiting to be sprung on us... This is run up to the Irish Potato Famine game being played out in America today.
  • Feed the world, Part II... Not by ridding the world of its seed heritage and attempting to replace it with patented seeds owned by multi-national corporations that don't have allegiance to even one country; only to profit.
  • Help farmers Part II.... Not by making farmers totally dependent on seeds from a company that has no skin in the game, see above.
  • Save the ecosphere... Not by polluting the ecosphere with all kinds of poisons! What does all this herbicide do to the critters in the soil (which are the real source of fertility, not chemicals)? No one knows because no one's bothered to study it.
  • Save the ecosphere Part II... Not by killing off so many insects that pollination is imperiled by a lack of insects.
  • Feed the world Part III... The world already produces enough food for 12 billion humans, with only 7 billion on the planet. Most of the starvation in the world comes from a lack of political will to change it.
  • Our products are harmless.... Are they? We don't know that. Only now are tests being performed that will determine the veracity of this statement. And when the tests are performed, they will face scrutiny from professional scientists that are getting Big Ag grant money. Like the NPR program I heard recently about the French researcher whose work showed 80% death rate of rats fed GMOs after two years. They cut over to an American researcher who stated the study was 'flawed science' because the Frenchman used a rat that was susceptible to tumors and cancer. If the story had ended there, all listening would have come away thinking 'silly Frenchman...' but NPR went back to the French scientist and asked him, “Why those rats?” He said, “I was replicating the Monsanto study used to get FDA approval. I used the same rats they used, but I ran my study two years while Monsanto's study ran 60 days.” (Emphasis mine)  Remember, Monsanto called Agent Orange safe too.
  • They increase yields.... Ah. Except, even the US Department of Agriculture, which is practically just a different address for Monsanto, did a 15 year study that stated, “there is no appreciable increase in yield” over the length of the study. In other words, all this hype about GMO plants is all for naught.
  • No till agriculture is good for the environment.... Not if you count a loss of top soil as bad for the environment! Current agriculture practices of spraying the very life out of the soil has not produced a viable method of controlling weeds and retaining top soil.
  • We will control the weeds without labor costs.... Not for very long you won't. And this is one of the things that really toasts my bagel: No one in agriculture, big or little, chemical or organic should have believed this one at all. If you spray One Thing for a bug or a weed, in a few years, the bug or weed becomes resistant to your One Thing, I don't care what it is. Invariably, it was only a matter of time before the weeds would be impervious to Round Up. I am shocked that Round Up Version 8 wasn't waiting in the wings. Apparently, it wasn't, which makes me think that Monsanto really didn't have a clue about what they were doing. Nature evolves. Maybe they were believing the anti-Darwin factions in the mid-west. But even if you believe in Creationism for the past, you have to admit that evolution is alive and well in the garden and the farm. Nature abhors monoculture and repetitiveness. Do the same thing long enough and nature finds a way to disrupt it. American agriculture is on the verge of a horrendous collapse because of it's disregard for the laws of Nature. You can lie to us, but you can't lie to Nature.

Companies pushing GMO agriculture have nothing to show for an almost 20 year run at this. They have no outside documentation to prove ANY of their claims. None. To the contrary, multiple sources are beginning to take issue with almost everything said about GMOs.

Here's the problem: if GMOs are allowed to proliferate, their pollen spreads to non-GMO plants, inserting itself into the environment in ways that are not understood (because no one bothered to research them) and may wreck considerable havoc with our world in the future. They may not, but from the track record of Monsanto and Big Ag, I am not reassured.

Honest food, our real food, can be corrupted. We, as consumers, as eaters, as bearers of children and as custodians of the earth and the future (comes with the territory, you don't get to opt in or opt out), have got to stand up for good, clean and honest food. Our next fight with Big Ag looms and we know now that they will lie to anyone and everyone from the start to the end.

Our next round is to get Los Angeles City and Los Angeles County declared GMO-free zones: no GMO organisms can be grown in the county or the city. This will help us ensure that the plants grown here are not contaminated with the genetically altered genes and will allow us to save seeds from the past that are the key to survival in the future. They are not GMO, they are not controlled by some malevolent corporation, nor can they be.  And it will send a message to those companies that they have just begun to dig into their profits to defend against an informed populace that is mad as hell and getting madder.

More on that ahead.

I wish you and yours a joyous and resplendent Thanksgiving and hope you will enjoy the whole day with loved ones and not be seduced into the madness of Black Friday or even Gray Thursday. The tradition of Thanksgiving is to look at what we have with gratitude and humility that we should be so blessed. I wish you the peace of that gratitude and humility.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seed Saving 101 Syllabus

In this seminar, participants will learn the reasons for saving seeds, the botany necessary to saving seeds and the mechanisms of seed saving. Students will know which plants have easily saved seeds, which are more difficult, and how to deal with both. Through use of actual plants and flowers, students will learn the process of hand pollination on different plants and the devices and supplies used in pollinating different seeds. Students will be shown how to breed their own vegetable varieties and learn why that is an important contribution to modern agriculture.

Class will meet from 6:30 to 8:00 PM for three Thursdays in a row, October 26, and November 1 and 8. Dress warmly as our room is not well heated and close to the ocean: we can get chilly.

Upon completion of the course, students should confidently be able to save seeds from a wide variety of vegetable species and understand the importance of doing so and be able to commence breeding new vegetable varieties.

Instructor: David King 310.722.3656 (my cell phone)

Office hours are by appointment, I will meet with you at any reasonable hour of the day to help you understand the material. If you are confused by ANYTHING, contact me. I expect every student that completes this seminar to achieve the goals outlined above. If you are not comfortable with anything, call, email or come see me (by appointment) and we will clarify as needed. I want every one who completes this course to feel they have met the goals above.

Week 1
Why Save Seeds
Botany of Seed Saving /Seed Morphology
Open Pollinated vs Hybrid

Week 2
Inbred and Outbred Plants
Practical Process of Seed Saving
Recording Your Work

Week 3
Seed Storage
Practical Lab – flower dissection
Course Applicability and Review

I will provide tea from the garden – students should bring their own cups. We need to leave the classroom as clean as we found it. In most cases, it won't be hard.

Students are urged to become active members of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and even to participate in the Best Practices committee which is the standard setting committee of the Library – it needs people with your knowledge of seed saving and the skills you have learned here.

Handouts will be available at the SLOLA blog site;

The class is not full. If you have friends you know would like to be a part of this class, please let them know. We are holding the class outside as much as we can. Please have layers handy to keep warm as we get an onshore flow during class time that can be downright nippy some nights. If it is too cold, we do have indoor spaces to use. Coffee/warm herb tea will be available. Bring your own mug. We have LA tap water from a hose – if that's not your kind of thing, you'll need to bring your own.

Please go to and download A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers. That will be our textbook. It is free.  I've given the OSA a donation every year I've been involved in seed saving – the work they do is so germane to the mission of the Seed Library Of Los Angeles and my personal goals for our society; They deserve our support.

By the third class, I would like each student to have a 10x or more jewelers' loupe. If you have questions about this, wait until the first class, I will show you some that I have and your can decide what you want will serve you best.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fall 2012's Seed Saving 101 Announced

Essentials of Seed Saving

Generations before we arrived on scene, understood the importance of saving seeds. It was an essential part of the lives of all our ancestors. This vital connection was lost as we began to purchase our seeds from seed sellers. In recent times, the specter of GMOs and monster corporations controlling the seeds they created and the very real prospect of seed corporations having control over our food supply.

Saving our own vegetable biodiversity today provides us
  • those old open pollinated varieties that taste good.
  • a wider range of vegetable varieties and more control over what we can have.
  • a closer participation in the cycle of life. In our gardens. 
  • a hedge against personal financial misfortune.
  • a safeguard against food shortages. 
  • our own way to mitigate against climate change and it's impact on agriculture.
  • the means to fight our shrinking biodiversity.
The final class is a hands on lab, people who have had this series before are invited back for the last class because the lab is always different depending on what is going to seed in the garden.

Upon completing this short course, participants will know why we urgently need to learn how to save seeds, the basics of saving most vegetable seeds, optimum conditions for seed preservation, how to preserve the genetic lines of differe
nt types of seed and short-cuts and tips from someone steeped in the seed saving ethic. New in 2012:  the course will have an added workshop component!

David King began his time in the garden at his Grandfather's knee in northeast Kansas.  He has been an avid gardener for most of his life and has taught gardening and horticulture at UCLA Extension and UC Cooperative Extension.  He has been with The Learning Garden at Venice High School for over ten years and is the Chair of the Seed Library of Los Angeles. He has written the LA Garden Blog for over three years as well as several columns for periodical publications.  A course of information, delivered with passion and humor is guaranteed

We have limited seating, reserve your space now!

Dates for the
 Fall series are : October 25th, November 1st and 8th.  All three classes comprise one offering, each class builds on the previous lecture.  The classes are 6:3 to 8:00 PM.  We will meet at The Learning Garden and move to an indoor lighted space.  
Prices:  $35 from now until October 18th, $45 until the 25th and $55 at the door.  Deduct $10 if you are a SLOLA member.  If you are not a SLOLA member before, you are one once you register.

Date Enrolled



Friday, September 21, 2012

The Organic Seed Problem

Some seeds on display at the Seed Matters booth,
Heritage Seed Festival
I have been a proud supporter of the Organic Seed Alliance for several years. While there are many good reasons, including their blog, and their numerous publications, one of the most pressing concerns they have a clear focus on, his the lack of organic seed available to growers everywhere. It is an acknowledged problem to the extent that organic certification allows a farmer to remain certified even if she doesn't use organic seed, if she cannot find organic seed for her crop.
Few home gardeners face this problem because organic seed is usually available in the small quantities we use. Farmers though, think in terms of "pounds of seed" vs. "grams of seed" that most of us are familiar with.  This is where the hoeing gets tough because those large quantities of seed are available, if at all, at a premium price. But the problem is much more systemic than meets the eye.

Not only is there a dearth of organic seed, there is a dearth of new varietals being developed by and for organic growing. You can buy organic Big Boy Tomato Seed (don't, by the way, its patent is owned by Monsanto), but it was bred to be grown in a chemical environment. Big Boy will most likely only reach its full potential if coddled with chemical fertilizer and protection from insects because that is the environment where it was created and it was 'designed' to co-exist with all that petroleum-based help. Big Boy and most of the modern hybrids assume you will spray insecticides and add copious amounts of nitrogen to your garden. Like buying a car that only runs on premium fuel and filling it with regular, you are asking for trouble to ask a modern hybrid  to perform in an organic garden.

We need more organic seed producers. Many, many more. OSA has seminars (including one near Ojai in November) teaching organic farmers how to become seed producers. And they have seminars on breeding plants predisposed to growing in an organic environment. 

It is not necessary to sit on the side line and contemplate this problem. Remember, all the great varietals that fed mankind through the 1950's, including some of the most prized varieties of the modern age, were bred by people not unlike you and me. I could tick of a list of twenty or thirty varieties that were bred by folks who had no degree in agriculture – and a couple that didn't even finish high school.

 In this vein, already, the Seed Library of Los Angeles has begun to find ways to contribute some plant breeding as well as seed saving to the community. Several projects are currently growing  in members' gardens to improve a few breeds and, in one of special note, taking a hybrid and patiently growing it out over several seasons to find similar eating qualities in a non-nybrid form. So far from that, we have the original and two other very promising varieties coming from the same planting. It's very exciting.  More will be revealed in the coming years - it will take some patience!  

You know, oftentimes the focus of SLOLA members and this blog is very often only on the how and why of seed saving and saving these wonderful varieties for future generations. It dawns on me, that this is not our real purpose. Our real purpose is growing a new kind of gardener who will take responsibility to steward our precious seeds for the future. While we do this and we talk around it, I think we fail to acknowledge that this is what we are really growing. I would like to appoint someone “Goddess of Direction” (could be a God too, I'm not going to discriminate!) to tap board members on the shoulder from time to time and say: “Your real job is to educate and grow gardeners.”  

Like all our positions, it is unfunded. I'll be accepting applications until the next SLOLA meeting...


OSA just announced the launch of a new Organic Seed Database a free online tool for anyone hoping to find organic seeds.  Going online October 01, 2012 at  the seed finder will facilitate connecting growers with seed suppliers - as noted above, finding organic seed can be an obstacle for organic growers.  One more time Organic Seed Alliance has shown leadership in solving these problems.  I am proud to be one of OSA's supporters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Organic Seed Saving: The Next Big Thing

SLOLA member Dana Morgan explains a concept to SLOLA Vice-chair Lucinda Zimmermann in the SLOLA booth- we shared the booth with two other libraries, Richmond Grows Seeds and Bay Area Seed Library.
Welcome to a whole new paradigm!  Seed saving has become the next big thing in the gardening world!  Who knew?  I remember my Grandfather's tomato seeds drying on newsprint in the kitchen.  We planted tomato seeds with newsprint still stuck to it so frequently I tended to think tomato seeds came with newsprint attached.  Mind you, all that was so normal it didn't dawn on me that there was something sacred going on. 

I came to seed saving faster than most, but slower than one might have thought, given my background.  Starting my plants from seed every year is one of the things that has set me apart from many, if not most, of my gardening friends.  But several things did not dawn on me until the last five years:

Saving seed affords one an independence that is obtainable no other way.  At least in a 'legal' way.  This, in and of itself, means very little to me until you see the ones that are willing to step up and fill that void - for a price.  It also affords an intimacy with the seeds - and we, as a culture, try to avoid too much intimacy with the world at large - primarily because it is, by and large, a corporate, profit-driven world devoid of soul and life-enhancing reality.

And that price!  If we just had a kind uncle who would save all the seeds for us and help ensure that we all had access to good food no matter how much money we had or didn't have, all would be well.  Not only did the generations preceding 'leave the farm' in a very real sense, they 'left the farm' metaphorically too.  They abdicated control over their food supply in a way that no other generation in history has done before.  Instead of trusting a neighbor, a family member or, even a small shop keeper down the road, they allowed multi-national corporations to have unfettered control over the seeds we depend on for food.  

So you end up with an apathetic populace that relinquishes control of the seeds that previous generations regarded as sacred.  Bad enough; but not the end of it.  The corporations that moved to fill the void came in with a rapacious appetite for profit above and beyond all else.   Not interested in just playing in the sandbox, these corporations intend to own the sandbox.  This is not acceptable for any commodity, but for our FOOD this is horribly unacceptable.

And these are some of the most obtuse and irresponsible companies the world has ever known.  In an irony that would double a person over with laughter if it weren't so horribly ugly, Monsanto, one of the sue-happiest corporations on the planet is funding the anti-proposition 37 campaign with the claim that proposition 37 will inspire lawsuits!  Like they care!  These are the same folks that threatened to sue the Vermont legislature when they had the temerity to consider passing a law requiring labeling.  'Suing' governments is nothing new for a corporation that has successfully sued non-GMO farmers out of business on a regular basis.  

This the monster we created (or, at the very least, allowed) which has now turned on us and threatens to control all our food for their profit alone.  What will our response be?  

Over the past years, it has become abundantly clear that the US government is enthralled by these corporations and their profits whether or not either are in the interests of the populace or the country as a whole.  We have voted to change administrations on both sides of our political divide.  Both sides have hired Monsanto executives and lawyers to positions where they should be exercising control over Monsanto and their ilk.  This has resulted in a carte blanche for these corporations.  Even if their technology was sound and their intentions benevolent, and both contentions are arguably false, this should not happen. All the more so because once their government job is done, these same people will go back into the industries they were 'controlling' and their future income depends on not fouling the water for their previous/prospective employers.  That really doesn't pass the 'smell' test.

The only real response is to take responsibility for the seeds again:  seed saving.  Anyone who has hung around the seed library for even a few meetings quickly realizes why seed saving was abandoned so easily:  It is work!  Seed saving, aside from the spiritual and pragmatic reasons to know, is mental work, requires knowledge (much of which is no longer common knowledge) and it takes effort.  But it is essential work that needs to be done on a plant root level.  We cannot abdicate our responsibility for the seeds any longer.

All this is an introduction to the Heritage Seed Festival in Santa Rosa last week.  Disneyland for seed heads! SLOLA stood out as having the most members of any of the seed libraries present.  While no official account exists, I know of at least half a dozen members and enough Board Members to have a board meeting with a quorum!   It was very gratifying.  And we got to meet so many other seed savers and seed libraries; a lot of 'cross-pollination' going on.  

Coming home, I read this article from the Organic Seed Alliance.  Now that we know what can happen when we abdicate our responsibility of saving seed, we are learning what is wrong with abdicating breeding our seeds for the way we want to garden!  There is no major corporation or institution breeding seeds for organic growers, which covers most of us homegrowers.  It was wonderful to stop by the OSA booth and get to gab about seeds with them:  they are a much better funded player in the seed sandbox than most and I urge everyone to visit their page and look at the resources they make available to us seed savers.

"This week Organic Seed Alliance is celebrating the next generation of organic plant breeders. These breeders are improving organic seed to meet the changing needs of farmers and the broader organic community."

Believe me, as time permits, I'll have a lot more to report on the Heritage Seed Festival - and I'll be exhorting all of us to go next year!  There is work to do, a lot of information to learn, but it's all fun and it's all empowering.  This is how we really fight back and regain control over our food.  This isn't a nice fight.  The corporations that have stepped in to fill the void are making bucks.  Everything we stand for at SLOLA probably will suck their profits away.  So they'll trot out this sign that accuses Prop 37 of fostering lawsuits and most folks will buy that because they do not know the beast behind the poster.  

We have a lot to do.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Prop 37 Attracts Money To Defeat It

    Non-GMO tomatoes. I know. I grew 'em myself!
    The shouting has yet to really start and already startling amounts of money are being reportedly spent on behalf of defeating Prop 37, the labeling of GMO food in California. That there is money to oppose this law is of no surprise, but the amount of money is somewhat disconcerting. At the top of the list, of course, is MONSANTO COMPANY. Monsanto checks in at a cool $4,208,000.00! Those of us who have spent some time opposing Monsanto are not surprised that they are the number one opponent. Monsanto has spent a good deal of their profits in lawsuits and litigation is practically their middle name. I do not for one second doubt that they are already preparing a court case to stall Prop 37 if it does pass. The one consistency of the Monsanto corporation is it's willingness to spend money to stop bad press or to enforce their vision of the world. They share a remarkable similarity to Scientology in that way, but I do not want to disparage Scientology, they haven't, as far as I know, gone out of their way to wreck the ecology of the planet in a mad dash for profit and world control.

    E.I. DUPONT DE NEMOURS & CO. comes in as an incredibly close second at $4,025,200.00. They are another agricultural powerhouse in the GMO marketplace.That DuPont and Monsanto have a lot to loose is obvious. First off, a number of Americans, once they know their food does, in fact, contain GMO ingredients, are going to question the safety of GMOs and will get the shock of their lives when they learn that the safety cannot be vouched for – it is not necessary to prove a genetically modified organism is safe; the American government allows the companies to pretend that it's the same thing as an equal non-GMO. GMO rice = non-GMO rice in every way; in every substance and in every component.

    They are, however, so unique they can be patented. Which is it really?

    Obviously the money says, these companies are not only convinced their GMO products are unique but likely to be found dangerously unique and so are spending money to avoid the eventual court cases over damages and possibly wrongful death.

    And if that is true of DuPont and Monsanto, I think this logic applies to these following corporations even more so:  PEPSICO, INC. $1,716,300.00; BASF PLANT SCIENCE $1,642,300.00; BAYER CROPSCIENCE $1,618,400.00; DOW AGROSCIENCES LLC $1,184,800.00; NESTLE USA, INC. $1,169,400.00; COCA-COLA NORTH AMERICA $1,164,400.00; CONAGRA FOODS $1,076,700.00

    Truly, if Pepsi and Coke had no lawsuits like that to worry about, why in the world would they spend so much of their investor's profits to defeat a simple bill to label?

    The truth that I see is they have nothing to hide. Today. Many Americans will ingest GMO food without a second thought if it is cheaper than the non-stuff. If you are addicted to Pepsi or Coke, you will drink your Pepsi or Coke no matter what is in it – as a serous ex-smoker, I can tell you I smoked cigarettes for over ten years after I decided it was killing me. Why? Because I had to fight the addiction. It took me over 14 years of fighting to quit, before I finally did quit; and for years afterward I would subconsciously feel my shirt pocket and think, “Oh damn, I've left my cigarettes at home...”

    So GMO or not, people are going to drink their sodas despite the GMO label.

    No they are scared that with the label, when science finally catches up to GMO effects on our bodies, the lawsuits will come screaming. Children today will come up sterile – how much would that be worth in a court of law?

    Sadly the time is coming when truth will catch up with GMOs. The truth stands to wreck the US economy worse than George Bush could ever do. Our grain will find no importing country and our people will not want to eat it or the animals fed on it. The grain eventually will be considered as toxic as atomic waste with a half life that is not dissimilar.

    The effect on our agricultural economy will be devastating. There is so little non-GMO seed available, grocery shelves of prepared foods that use rice, soybeans and corn will be bereft. New solutions will have to be found to put food back on the shelf until enough pure seed can be produced to make these foods again. This could be a time of revolution; revolting against being a consumer society into a net producer society where almost everyone has some hand in producing his or her food; where we travel to a store that is almost equidistant from the makers of the food itself and not some 2400 miles away; where we eat seasonally and we eat available food. A new paradigm of 'food' is needed in this country and we are at the brink of the flash that will make it so. Labeling GMOs is just the first step.

    Vote for Prop 37 in November. Start the revolution! Vote for Prop 37!


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Seed Purity & The Single Seed Library

An unopened male squash flower, sacrificed for study

I looked at many different models of seed libraries before I undertook the first meeting to form the organization that has become SLOLA. They seemed to coalesce into two camps: something that bordered on anarchy and some thing that resembled Big Government. I didn't resonate with either.

In one camp, seeds are returned, but other than mostly self-education, there was not really much control on the genetic purity of the returned seed. For tomatoes, lettuce and some of the bean family, their seed would remain 'true to type,' others like squash could be quickly derailed into the unknown with second generation seed coming up as 'zuccicorns' or 'azinis.' In the other model, professional growers kept the library supplied with seed grown out in controlled standards but library members were no more involved in active preservation than they could be with Seed Savers Exchange purchases.

There are advantages to both, but I wanted a library that was really 'of the people, by the people and for the people.' Genetic purity was (and is) important to me as it has been for the SLOLA Best Practices Committee . This group of dedicated volunteers who have studied vegetable purity and how to keep it pure, has spent many hours wrestling with this issue and still find it fraught with uncertainty.

If people are to bring back seeds, how do we, as a seed library, ensure it is genetically what we say it is?

First off, what is this 'genetic purity?' When you buy a packet of Trail of Tears bean seed, the beans you get are descendants of those beans carried by Cherokee Native Americans as they were forcibly moved from their homeland to 'reservations' decreed by the United States government in one of our more ugly actions. You are getting seeds that are remarkably similar to the very seeds carried by those being relocated. If you purchase Acorn Squash, the company that packaged that seed would be shocked if you did not harvest acorn squash from that packet. I wanted a seed library where participants borrowed seed and brought back seed that was genetically like the seed they had taken. I did not want to loose the stories and heritage of our seed varieties.

SLOLA members are asked to self identify their level of competence at seed saving. Those with limited seed saving skills are asked to return only the easy seeds and eschew the more complicated ones. Failure to bring back seed you have borrowed from the library nets you a $1 fine although we can mitigate that charge in other ways.

First off, we are going to assume that beans, peas, tomatoes and lettuce are true to what we think they are; these flowers, containing both male and female flower parts actually pollinate themselves prior to opening. The probability that they are is so high we are willing to assume purity even though a desperate bee might have opened a flower or two and accidentally pollinated with something from another tomato. This would be more likely if nothing else was flowering nearby forcing bees into desperate acts of violence upon flowers. When these plants are flowering in Los Angeles (and anywhere else I can think of) there are plenty of other flowers blooming so this scenario becomes less likely. We have few desperate bees now and for the foreseeable future (at least not desperate for forage).

Everything else provides some challenges, but they parse out into different levels. Before we start, lets more or less trash the guidelines that everyone has been using here-to-fore: those guidelines were written using agricultural station test plots which look nothing like our urban gardens. We have many more and more active insects because we are gardening without chemical insecticides and fertilizers and we are keeping flowers in bloom in and around our gardens. Secondly, we are not planting in wide open fields without wind breaks and channeling of the wind. We need to do our own research, but until that day I am willing to allow for the following assumptions in how we arrive at a safe and sane way to keep our seed varieties pure.

Next in difficulty are species that CAN cross but can be easily controlled. Beets will cross with chard and other beets (of course, that means chard seed can be contaminated with beet genes too) and they are wind pollinated. These two different vegetables are actually the same species. However, it is rare in any one's garden that beets are left to go to seed, so all one has to look out for is chard that is flowering. All a seed saver needs to do, is to make certain there are not flowers on other plants nearby. If you can't see a flowering chard (or beet) along line of site, you have a good chance of not getting unwanted pollen.

Corn is also wind-pollinated, but corn pollen is especially light and has a viable possible distance of 20 miles! Ouch. Corn also challenges a home gardener because of the space needed to plant enough plants to achieve a minimum population. I don't want to get into deeper here, but let it be said, we need about 200 corn plants to keep the genetics of our seed viable, it's just built into corn to need large populations. This is one of our unresolved seed saving dilemmas. How do we save corn seed and certify purity? I don't know yet, except to ask our seed be grown out for us by a grower. I could see SLOLA buying the seed and the grower planting it out – selling a portion of the crop for his or her efforts and returning a supply of seed to the library for loaning out.

Squash, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers are insect, primarily bee, pollinated and can pose specific problems to saving seeds that is going to grow true.

'Isolation' is given as the answer, however, that isolation is almost always considered as isolating the plants in space; like, so many feet or miles between plants of one variety from another variety. Like, keeping White Lebanese Zucchini one mile away from Yellow Crookneck summer squash. These are both the same species, Cuburbita pepo, which is why you see our seed library always referring to these funny Latinized names, same Latin name means they will cross. Acorn, spaghetti, and other summer squashes are C. pepo and all will cross. The distance of 'one mile' is, of course, absolutely absurd in an urban setting – although if you have a garden space over one mile, I want to talk to you!

Isolate your seed purity by time. Have your White Lebanese flowering earlier than the Yellow Crookneck squash – or later. It doesn't have to be a great deal of time, in fact the flowers of White Lebanese could be just a few weeks ahead of Yellow Crookneck and you save only seeds from the first few fruit. You can also hand pollinate, but that's a whole other chapter. Squashes and cucumbers are difficult. Right now, I am saving seeds of a South African squash that is it's own species and the Armenian cucumber that is also it's own species and neither will cross with anything else so I can save seeds of these. I also have one squash that is a C. moschata; it is a lot easier to control for this group because no one else in my garden grows from this group. In this way I feel I have controlled enough for crossing. If you are in a community garden where plants of the same species are just feet apart, you cannot successfully save seeds from your plants without hand pollinating.

Eggplants and peppers are fairly easy to save seeds. A simple cage surrounding them will prevent bees from pollinating the plants. This leaves you to hand pollinate, or if you have control over what is planted nearby, you can save seeds from several varieties of pepper. Let's say you, like me, want to save seeds from a hot and a sweet pepper. They will cross. In my plan, I can have up to four plants of each – I have four cages. As flowers begin to form on the peppers, I place cages around all four plants of one variety. The next week, I move the cages to be over the other variety and I alternate exposed varieties over the flowering period that way. Pollen survives only for a short time and if you make the switch, late in the day, the bees have all gone back to the hive – in the morning, they will start fresh. Week one, cover the JalapeƱos. Week two, move the cages to the Anaheim peppers. Week three, back to the JalapeƱos, week four, back to the Anaheims.... Same procedure for eggplants.

Any structure that will cover your plants will do – I use some wooden ones a friend built for me, can cover them with 'spun fabric' called a 'floating row cover' stapled to my frames. They allow sun and water in, but obstruct the pollinators while they cover the plant, allowing pollination to occur in the weeks they are not covered.

SLOLA members are taught these procedures in regular monthly meetings and we are in the process of putting videos up on our site, It is a massive undertaking and there will be errors and there will be genetic foul ups. However, we need to learn to do this now. There will come a time when we will need to know how to do this, so now is the time to learn!

I am aware I have not covered all seeds. If you have specific questions, write to me (use the comments section below) or refer to Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners or Carol Deppe's Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving, both available from any online store or from your local book monger.

I hope you will come learn with us at our next meeting (that will be this August 18th at 2:30 PM as this is written). There is much to do and there is little time. Please join us and become a master seed saver and preserve this legacy of diversity we now have.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Urban Agriculture Threatened by More GMO Technology

Monsanto will sell GMO sweet corn for plantings this fall, said Danielle Stuart, a company spokeswoman.

The seed, to be sold under Monsanto’s Seminis Performance Series label, protects against European corn borers, corn earworms, fall army worms and corn rootworm larvae and is resistant to Roundup weed control herbicides, Stuart said.

Looking around at the agricultural landscape of America today, I have always felt that the undiscovered 'ace in the deck' was urban agriculture. It is in an urban setting that organizations like SLOLA (Seed Library Of Los Angeles) can create a lending library of seeds uncontaminated by GMO technology. Most of the pesticides and chemical pollution that is wrecking havoc on the rural ecosystems have been avoided to a large degree in the city. In fact, as I drove in to work this morning, I was writing a blog post to extoll the virtue of Urban Agriculture. Little suspecting the furor I would find via Face Book about Monsanto's GMO sweet corn making its way to market.

I knew that GMO seeds were only sold to farmers which left our little plots in the city free from the contamination afflicting most of America's rural communities. In the sanctuary of the city, bee populations could be saved and no matter what horrors M0nsanto's greed could conjure up, we were the oasis from which a decimated US agriculture could be rebirthed once the lies and greed of chemical ag were exposed and the cancer removed.

Sadly, we might be turning a corner that can wreck that concept. Monsanto has developed a GMO sweet corn they intend to market directly to consumers. Seeds to consumers for consumers to grow. This is a new paradigm.

Monsanto's work with corn has been disturbing all along. In the first place, corn is a wind pollinated crop, the pollen from the tassels is carried on the wind to alight on the silks (the female flowers of corn) on other plants. Monsanto, when applying for the permit to begin selling GMO corn, told the US Department of Agriculture that their research proved corn pollen had an effective range of five miles; in other words, fields within five miles of a field of GMO corn had the possibility of being contaminated with the modified pollen. Subsequent research has shown that Monsanto lied with that figure: Corn pollen can be viable up to 20 miles from the site of origin. Mind you, this is under ideal conditions, but that's the figure we should have been working from in the beginning (and calls into question a good deal of the lawsuits Monsanto has brought for their technology being “stolen,” by adjacent farmers; was it simply pollen drift?). At any rate, it is only one figure where Monsanto has been less than honest with the facts.

Furthermore, their gene splicing for this product (as with other GMO corn varieties) involves the use of Bacillus thuringiensis, called Bt by most, and much beloved by organic growers. Bt is one of an organic farmers' best weapons against several different food plant pests. Monsanto's use of Bt in this fashion, a wholesale prophylactic over millions of acres, will soon render Bt useless by organic growers; it is simply a fact of nature that any pesticide used on a mass scale, to the exclusion of any other pesticide is guaranteed to produce a resistant strain of pest – thus rendering Bt useless to everyone, but especially to organic producers who cannot go back to the lab and come out with a new and bigger Frankenstein to fall under Nature's scythe of progress.

This is the dance of life: if you invent a bigger flyswatter, Nature replies with a faster fly. We see this already with Monsanto's Round Up Ready GMOs. Already, weeds are evolving into what are being called 'super-weeds.' It was inevitable. Scientists working on Round Up ready crops, surely had to be thinking to themselves, “I need to get to work on Round Up Ready 2013!” and Monsanto, being the buck making machine they are, had to planning the release up updates with the same frequency as Microsoft's many versions of Windows. And Monsanto's upgrades each have to have a harsher effect on the environment in order to continue to be effective.

Let's put this into perspective: we don’t need GMO technology to feed a starving world. GMO technology is not a tool for progress. It is simply a way for some rich men to get richer. And believe me, when the shit hits the fan, which it will sooner or later because the very model is flawed, you and I both know they'll be crying poverty as birth defects and disease wash over their unsuspecting victims who were only trying to find cheap food. The wash of their products is already all over our plates: you cannot eat pre-prepared food (?), nowadays, or food from ANY chain that is not contaminated, there simply isn't enough non-GMO soybeans and corn in our food systems to supply these big chains with non-GMO products.

And meat? All that corn being fed to cows and chickens is GMO, so most of the meat needs to be considered GMO food too.
ALL major brands of food in the US are made with GMO crops. Already. Unless you buy from someone you know and trust at a farmers' market or you grow your own. Or you are independently wealthy enough to buy from specialty markets. We are fast approaching a food system that is healthy only if you have the money and time to find the uncontaminated stuff. Those without the means are left to poison themselves and their children (in a sad twist of fate, we also ration our medical care to the wealthy, a plank the Republican Congress seems perversely proud to acknowledge).

Allowing GMO pollen into our city gardens stands to ruin our national agriculture and set it bac even further. It is our last bastion of genetic freedom from the criminal likes of Monsanto and the other industrial ag companies that have never had the slightest twinge about poisoning you, your children and the earth. When their chickens come home to roost, as they surely will, agricultural exports from the United States will be banned the world over and it will take decades for our agriculture to recover. If there are islands of GMO free agriculture, our country can recover more quickly – we'll have non-GMO seeds to work with and we have nonGMO technology to step in to rebuild our agricultural infrastructure.

There is no quick fix for this. Calling our representatives in Washington has had little effect in the past, to slow the USDA from adopting GMO technology (even though their own 15 year study showed little or no increase of productivity over conventional nonGMO production), but call them anyway; perhaps mounting pressure will do the trick. Monsanto has bought and paid for the best government their money can buy.

However, on the local level, even Monsanto cannot to afford to buy off many different local governments over the country. Thus, let's work for Los Angeles County to adopt an anti-GMO ordinance like we find in Mendocino County! We need to establish a GMO free zone around our seeds in Los Angeles to protect us from the contagion of unproven technology infesting the rest of our country. Monsanto probably isn't as willing to spend big bucks – after all, we are an urban county. But we have the potential to be a massive food growing region. Remember, LA was settled first as an agricultural paradise – we can produce a lot of food here. We might not be able to feed ourselves all our food needs, but we can make a dent and, even if all we can do is make a dent, we must make that dent.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

International Seed Day

As I sat down to write this, I learned that the Farm Bill has been approved by the Senate Committee and will be brought to a vote in the Senate Floor. I have yet to see what was a part of the finalized bill, but I am hoping that the Gillibrand Amendment was a part of the bill. That amendment, proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, would have required that five percent of annual funding for the AFRI program (Agriculture Food & Research Initiative) be used for making sure that farmers have access to locally adapted seeds and breeds, by focusing on public cultivar and bred development, and removing the hurdles that have hindered USDA's progress toward this goal.

This initiative was in the 2008 Farm Bill, but the United Sates Department of Agriculture (USDA) has succeeded in putting up roadblocks to avoid dealing with anything like open pollinated, farmer bred seeds, even though all of America's successful agriculture is based on just such seeds.

Remember that the seeds most gardeners cherish are not seeds bred by trained scientists and research facilities. Most of the seeds gardeners love and trust were bred by folks without degrees and often times even without education. They grew food in their own gardens for their families and prided their crops on much the same criteria we still do today: does it taste good? Is it suited to my climate? Does it succumb to disease or insects? And does it produce under adverse conditions?

Sadly, our modern seed production has little effort put to taste and nothing about adverse conditions. Food is bred to be shipped, ripen on the way to the market, last until the grocer has sold all of it and ease of picking for a picking machine. Not exactly qualities we admire in our gardens. But that's what we got when we began to allow professionals to do the breeding. Thank God we stepped out of our slumber in time, while there are still lots of varieties still left (although if you've seen the National Geographic July 2011 chart on our lost diversity, you have been staggered by what has been lost).

All was not lost. After all, Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, AZ has been saving the genetic diversity of the Southwestern Native tribes for a number of years and Bill McDorman and his wife, Belle Starr, have been offering classes in seed stewardship (and seed library stewardship); Seed Savers Exchange is probably the largest and most vibrant of our American seed saving organizations and now seed libraries are suddenly the rage across an awakening nation. And the work of the Organic Seed Alliance helps position our current culture to seed a more local and diverse agriculture. More people are aware of the value and importance of seeds – especially seeds that are not controlled and cannot be controlled by corporations.

It would be fitting for the Farm Bill to leave committee today with Gillibrand Amendment in place because, today, I learned, is International Seed Day. April 26th was chosen as the day because it was April 26th, 2004 that Paul Bremer, the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in IRAQ, issued and signed Order 81, which prohibits Iraqi farmers from reusing seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. Thank the powers that be, Order 81 could not be successfully implemented due to the instability inside IRAQ. It may go down in history as one of the quirks of fate that denied Monsanto and other industrial ag firms their biggest victory of the new century.

Next year, I would love to see International Seed Day take on a lot more meaning and become a holiday that is recognized by gardeners and farmers everywhere. Time to celebrate the Percy Schmeiser's, the pioneer seed savers and people like Bill and Belle. Time to chose to eat a meal and consciously chew each bite thinking about the history of the seeds that nourish us still to this day – the same way our ancestors before us survived without the plenty we have today and it was those seeds that persisted through the drought or the flood or the war or the dust. They were sustained by these seeds; gifts from a grandmother to a son, from an old hand to a young one – over centuries, each generation in turn perfecting them a little more, whether consciously or not. WE were given this largess. WE must pass it on no matter what our government or society says.

In a large sense, we are like prophets of old that know where the richness of society really lies and know what must be done to save it – to pass it on to our children. So today, April 26, chew each bite one extra time with memory of the history you eat and resolve that we will not be the generation that fails our children.