Monday, February 27, 2012

Avoiding Monsanto Seeds

For the home gardener, avoiding Monsanto's Genetically Modified seeds is pretty easy:  they are not sold in quantities a home gardener can purchase and purchasers of GM products are required to sign a contract assuring Monsanto that you won't try to replant the seeds of your crop.  

However, Monsanto purchased the seed seller called 'Seminis,' itself a purchaser of a multitude of smaller seed purveyors.  Seminis' purchases made them the owner of a good many patents on seeds that are among the nation's favorites.  To be very clear, these are not genetically modified seeds.  There is no harm in planting them except the profit made on your purchase of these seeds goes to support Monsanto's research, Monsanto's lawyers and Monsanto's mission of subjugating of those in the world who wish to eat.

Go to the Seminis website and look at the list of seeds owned by Seminis, if you want.  

Some of the offending seeds are, using tomatoes as an example:  Amsterdam, Beefmaster, Betterboy, Big Beef, Burpee’s Big Boy, Caramba, Celebrity, Cupid, Early Girl, Granny Smith, Health Kick, Husky Cherry Red, Jetsetter brand of Jack, Lemon Boy, Margharita, Margo, Marmande VF PS, Marmara, Patio, Phoenix, Poseidon 43, Roma VF, Royesta, Sun Sugar, Super Marzano, Sweet Baby Girl, Tiffany, Tye-Dye, Viva Italia, and Yaqui.  This list was copied directly from the Seminis site.  Don't confuse 'Super Marzano' with San Marzano, I did for a second and it freaked me out.

The other way of avoiding Seminis/Monsanto seeds is to simply buy only open pollinated seeds.  Some of these are called 'heirloom.'  But any seed packet bearing the words "Hybrid" or "F1" are suspect.  Monsanto, or anyone else for that matter, cannot patent any seed that is not a hybrid or F1. By buying open pollinated seeds, you have avoided any chance of buying a seed patented by anyone, thus insuring you've avoided buying seeds that profit Monsanto/Seminis.

I would love to see some organic seed growers work to create open pollinated versions of some of these seeds... Buy one packet and work with succeeding generations to create a variety that has the 'improved' qualities of the patented seed without having to buy the seeds year in and year out.  It will be incumbent on us to get open-pollinated varieties of seeds that embody some of these improvements if we are to succeed in creating a food system that is fair and equitable, and, for SLOLA, that's the bottom line.  I would love to do that with 'Viva Italia' a paste tomato I grew before I was aware it was in the Monsanto lineup.  It's a good tomato and its qualities should be available to anyone who wants to eat a tomato with its traits.

Join us and learn how to beat Monsanto at it's own game.  This isn't just about 'not buying Monsanto' seeds and feeding the beast.  SLOLA is here to help create a new viable food system available for all Americans no matter economic status.  It isn't right that being poor deprives anyone of non-tainted food.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

SLOLA Eastern Branch General Interest Meeting on Sunday

SLOLA in growing every day, and we need to cover more ground in our sprawling Los Angeles metropolis. This Sunday February 26th at 2pm there will be a general interest meeting on starting an Eastern "branch" of the Seed Library of Los Angeles. Bring any seeds or other garden paraphernalia you would like to exchange--there will also be SLOLA seeds to "check-out" for members. Official membership to SLOLA is $10 for a lifetime, and if you aren't a member already you can join on Sunday. There will also be a brief how-to presentation on seed saving.

The meeting will take place in the garden in front of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute office at Occidental College: 1882 Campus Rd, LA, 90041. Ample parking on the street.

Please RSVP to the Facebook event:, or to Megan at (Just so we have a sense of how many people to expect.) Please feel free to invite others to this--the more the merrier! This is just a preliminary interest meeting so if you can't make it to this one but are interested, just send an email to the address above.
--Megan Bomba

Saving a Compromised Old Favorite

Luther Burbank is one of my heroes.  I wrote a glowing review of his recent biography, The Garden of Invention by Jane Smith, a book I devoured in a weekend and when I toured his home in Santa Rosa, I felt like I had come to holy ground when I got to walk into his greenhouse.  Luther Burbank gave us the Burbank Potato, Santa Rosa Plums, Shasta Daisies and hundreds of other plants.  Luther Burbank ranks up there with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison (both of whom admired him as well).  He was a genius at plant breeding and we all have eaten better because of him. 

One of the annual vegetables he bred is the Burbank Red Slicing Tomato introducing it in 1915.  Burbank reported his family put up shelves' full of tomato sauce every year and this was the only tomato they used. In seed catalog after seed catalog, the tomato is noted for excellent production of 'medium sized' firm fruits.  A recent meeting with Terry Allan of Seeds of Change, inspired a community project for the Seed Library of Los Angeles.  

Terry told me that the Burbank Slicer had been falling out of favor over the years because the fruits were getting consistently smaller, less on the 'medium' size and more on the 'cherry' size.  I don't know if this is the reason the Slicer isn't in this year's selection from Seeds of Change, but it isn't. Intuitively, it became apparent that SLOLA could be instrumental in saving Luther's prized tomato variety.

What a great project for a seed library!  We are, after all, learning how to grow plants out to seed and how to save that seed.  Tomatoes are self fertile which means even beginners can help.  It's a perfect project for a seed library and its members.  Terry gave me a couple packets of seeds which were divided into envelopes of six seeds each and distributed to the SLOLA membership in last meeting.  I had enough left over for my UCLA Extension class to also plant six seeds each.  

The instructions for this project are to plant the seeds and grow the plants; save seed from only the biggest fruits - but try to select a fruit from the earliest fruits, one in the middle and one towards the end, so we don't inadvertently select for an early or late tomato.  The only selectivity we want is larger fruit.  

I don't know how many years we will need to select for larger tomatoes to make an impression on the genome, but we can do it.  I am excited about this project and I hope we can find others where our seed saving expertise can be tweaked even more and we can make an impression on the seeds in the market today.  

It's a great time to be on this seed saving front!  And we are on the lookout for more projects like this for our membership.  We can make a difference in what people have to eat too! 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Heirlooms Protect World’s Food Supply

(This is reprinted from The Nashua Telegraph, written by Maureen Gilmer.  It is reprinted by permission.  This brief, but very cogent, article presents the SLOLA side of things succinctly; a good read.)

Tomatoes that ripen all at once on a perfectly sized bush aid in mechanized harvesting, but that’s a short season for fresh picking.

Tomatoes that keep a long time in cold storage also please commercial farmers, but we all 
know what those taste like.

If a variety produces an entire crop of fruit each pretty much the same size, they fit into packaging assembly lines but offer little diversity in the kitchen.

None of these benefits is of value to a backyard gardener, so why do we continue to grow the same modern hybrids?

Inside every modern variety are genes of earlier vegetables known as heirlooms, which were developed by farmers around the world to make plants better adapted to local conditions. Each year, growers selected the most vigorous, prolific and healthy individuals and gathered their seed to plant the next year’s crop. This process of selection dates to the dawn of agriculture.

The foundation of each heirloom variety is the culture that created it, the climate that shaped it and the culinary traditions from which it sprang.

Heirlooms are also problem solvers because we experience many of the same challenges as early farmers before the birth of agricultural chemicals.

For example, the short growing season in Russia made farmers want crops that matured in a few weeks. The fruit might ripen better when conditions are cooler than average, too. Knowing this tells a South Dakota gardener that this variety might work better in her climate than a modern one-size-fits-all tomato such as Celebrity.

The seed of that Russian tomato seed, like many other heirlooms, doesn’t live long in storage. If they stopped growing that variety altogether, the stored seed may last a few years and then it’s gone forever.

The only way to protect its unique genetic foundation is to grow plants every year and use those fresh seeds to grow it again the next year. This status of continual cultivation is vital to the Russian tomato and every other heirloom known today.

This is why there is so much interest in heirloom vegetables. Growing them is more than just cultivating a food crop, it’s a significant act that helps protect the genetic diversity of our food supply.

It was abundantly clear one year when I planted modern hybrids and a group of heirloom tomatoes. We had a cold spring. The modern hybrids languished, while the heirlooms took off despite the cool season.

This proved that the hybrids didn’t have the wide range of climatic tolerances as the heirlooms. If I hadn’t planted heirlooms, I wouldn’t have had a tomato harvest that year.

Such lessons teach us much about the value of older gene pools and why they’re so vital to our modern world.

There are a number of excellent heirloom-seed catalogs to choose from both online and in print. The Seed Savers Exchange (, for example, grew out of a nonprofit that helped gardeners connect around the world and trade seed of their locally adapted heirlooms with others from similar climates halfway around the globe.

For the adventurous cook, the curious foodie and the armchair traveler, selecting heirlooms to grow is fascinating as you learn the varietal origins and characteristics.

But remember: This is far more than just shopping for plants. It’s an almost sacred act that can help save the world’s food supply one seed at a time.

Other heirloom-seed catalogs:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:

Native Seed/Search:

Seeds of Change:

Victory Seeds:

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at Contact her at or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.


Monday, February 13, 2012

A Collection of Seed Catalogs

I have quite a collection of seed catalogs for the current year. I’ll order from some, peruse others and ignore the rest. I choose my catalogs carefully for many reasons.

Most importantly, I want to make certain that they are not listed as dealers for Seminis. Seminis is the seed selling arm of the corporate giant Monsanto and any profit Seminis makes helps to fund Monsanto's omnipresent drive to dominate the seed business. Their drive to obtain monopoly status is well-documented and makes for some depressing reading. You can find the seed companies listed as dealers for Seminis on their home page. There you'll find such home-gardener favorites like 'Burpee Seeds' and supposedly organic stalwarts like 'Gardens Alive.'

The listing of these two draws particular attention. I grew up with Burpee; as a kid, in the long winter months of northeast Kansas, I read and re-read the Burpee catalog end to end, marking it up, folding down corners to mark special notations. Honestly, I spent more time with the Burpee catalog than I did with my homework. My grades in those years can prove it. Conversely, my knowledge of seeds doesn't necessarily prove it, but I got my start there by the fire with the gardens covered in a blanket of snow. W. Atlee Burpee and Company introduced a lot of very good vegetables for home gardeners in the late 1800's and early 1900's. They were one of America's premier breeders of vegetables and flowers. Names we know and love today are part of the Burpee legacy; the Golden Beet was a Burpee creation, Fordhook Giant Chard another – anything called 'Fordhook' is a Burpee introduction, that's the name of their research farm. They did amazing work with marigolds and other plants offered primarily to home gardeners.

On the other hand, Gardens Alive has been suspect in my book for as long as they have been around – which isn't nearly as long as Burpee. Gardens Alive promotes pest solutions that are organic, but their attitude towards pests has been anything but organic. I remember one catalog series that was headed “Declare War On Aphids!” Decidedly a non-organic approach. I know, instinctively that 'declaring war' on Nature in any of Her guises is a futile project. Declaring war on nature is the Monsanto way – the concept is that we thinking human beings can out-bomb the bugs and win.

We can't. Never have. Never will.

Every time Monsanto has been out to fight Nature, it has had unexpected consequences. How about DDT in the 1950's. That was a Monsanto product. How about Agent Orange in Vietnam? Another Monsanto product. Bovine Growth Hormone, which is under suspicion as an initiator of human health problems is a current Monsanto product – it has not been tested by outside organizations (current FDA policy has the manufacturer do their own testing which is – oftentimes – rubber stamped by the agency). In addition, there are the genetically modified seeds produced by Monsanto technology. There are others, but Monsanto is the biggest by far. Their inventory of GM seeds is a catalog of what is planted by American farmers today.

Monsanto claims to be feeding the world with their technology, but such claims are bald-face lies which can be undone with very little research. A recent release of data from a 15 year USDA (gasp! the same USDA Monsanto has bought and paid for!) revealed that 'there was no appreciable yield increase' by using GM seeds!  Then there is the simple fact that Monsanto does not do research to merely create a higher producing seed. It's not on their agenda. Nor do they do research for a more nutritious seed. That has no appeal to them. All of their research has been done to find a plant that will grow when dosed with the weed killer Roundup. The result is that millions of tons of seeds have been sold that ensures the sale of billions of gallons of Roundup. You have, by now of course, deduced who makes Roundup, right? Yes, Monsanto. So Monsanto's only guiding principle is find out what will make Monsanto's stockholders rich. Sick too perhaps, but hey, that's the price of true wealth, right?

The American nursery trade is a 39.6 billion dollar a year industry. With the purchase of Seminis in January of 2005, Monsanto is now estimated to control between 85 and 90 percent of the U.S. nursery market. This includes the pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer markets. By merging with or buying up the competition, dominating genetic technology, and lobbying the government to make saving seeds illegal, this monolith has positioned itself as the largest player in the gardening game.

Monsanto holds over eleven thousand U.S. seed patents. When Americans buy garden seed and supplies, most of the time they are buying from Monsanto regardless of who the retailer is.

So that's why the diatribes against Monsanto. And now, back to my seed catalogs. So the Burpee and Gardens Alive catalogs are thrown out. Johnny's Selected Seeds is also on the Seminis list, but I don't automatically toss it. Why? The employee owned company has signed the safe seed pledge which declares they will not ever sell 'genetically engineered or modified seeds or plants.' So how do they end up being a Seminis dealer?

In Monsanto's drive to become the only seed company in the world, Seminis has purchased many different seed companies and along with those purchases, they got the inventory and patents of those companies. This means, Big Boy tomatoes are now one of many  Seminis/Monsanto products. Profits from Big Boy feed the Monsanto beast. Johnny's gets an exemption from being tossed, but if I find I need to order from Johnny's, I scrutinize my purchases to make certain I'm not buying anything that feeds the beast. Often-times, from Johnny's I am only getting one or two seed varieties that I can't find elsewhere and that's after I've looked far and wide..

My short list of the good guys is, as follows:

BAKERCREEK HEIRLOOM SEEDS; 2278 Baker Creek Road Mansfield, MO 65704; 417.924.8917 What a catalog! Beautiful pictures of the produce – vegetable porn for sure. I have never ordered from them, but I have heard good things about them. Anyone who works this hard in putting out a beautiful seed catalog is working with a great deal of love. Drooling is hardly optional while browsing here.  These are the people who perfected 'veggie porn.'  

BOTANICALINTERESTS660 Compton Street, Broomfield, CO 80020; 720.880.7293. I 'have been dealing with these folks for only a couple of years - I have seen their seeds on seed racks here and there, but I really got to know them for the quantity of seeds they donate to Venice High School and other educational programs. Good seed.  Clean.  Good variety and a good price. Open pollinated and often heirloom!  Great packaging!

18001 Shafer Ranch Road; Willits, CA 95490; 707.459.6410  Organic seed; open-pollinated. A part of the work done by John Jeavons, a proud and active member of the population of organic and open-pollinated gardeners. If you see him, he owes me a laser pointer.

FEDCO; PO Box 520, Waterville, ME 04903 207.873.7333  They are rabidly anti-GMO, though they do carry hybrids in addition to open-pollinated seeds. A wonderful and extensive selection. Someone who writes this beautiful deserves to get some of our money!

PO Box 2209; Grass Valley, CA 95945; 916.272.4769 I have purchased many seeds (and a lot of other things!) from Peaceful Valley – I love their catalog. They have an excellent selection of cover crop seeds as well as a lot of organic gardening supplies and tools. I have used their catalog to teach organic gardening because they clearly explain their products and how to use them.

526 N. 4th Ave. Tucson, AZ 85705; 520.622.5561 (Fax 520.622.5591) Specializing in the seeds of seeds of south western United States, concentrating on the ancient seeds of the First Nations People from amaranth to watermelon. A worthy cause for your money. And good seed – some amazing varieties found no where else.

PINETREEGARDEN SEEDS; PO Box 300, Rt. 100; New Gloucester, ME 04260; 207.926.3400 Probably the best economy for a home gardener – small packets of very current seed, a very good value. The smaller packets mean a smaller price so a person can order a lot more varieties and experiment. I have been a customer for many years. Please note that this company, even though they have a fabulous model for the home gardener, has not signed the Safe Seed Pledge so one must make certain that anything you order from them, is listed as 'open-pollinated.' If in doubt, find it from someone else. Pinetree should sign the safe seed pledge and let us all breathe easier about supporting their own gardening philosophy and outlook towards the home-gardener. (N.B. Please see the comment section for Pinetree's response to my comments.  I am pleased with their response and gratified that they cared enough to respond so passionately.)

Rt. 3 Box 239; Decorah, Iowa 52101; 563.382.5990 Membership fees $40. Free brochure. Some organic, but ALL open-pollinated. There are two ways to save seeds: one is to collect them all and keep them in a huge building that protects them from everything up to (and including) nuclear holocaust. The other way is to grow 'em. You can find the chance to grow them here. I have been a member for about 10 years and believe in their work; remember a Seed Savers' purchase supports their work and their work is vital to our survival in a post-Monsanto, chemical-deluged agricultural world. They are an essential part of the battle against Monsanto.

SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE; P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, 540.894.9480 (Fax: 540.894.9481) A commercial venture that is somewhat similar to Seed Savers Exchange, but really isn't an exchange. They do carry seed saving supplies - nice to have if you are going to save seed.

Transnational corporations can't build communities, they can't celebrate identity. Only we can do that, and we can do it with every seed we plant.  (ibid)