Saturday, March 24, 2012

Seed Saving 101; Spring 2012

The Learning Garden in conjunction with the Seed Library of Los Angeles offer

Seed Saving 101

Learning Gardenmaster and SLOLA Chair, David King will teach this introduction to saving seeds from your garden this coming May. Held on Wednesday evenings, participants will learn how to grow heirloom plants and save their own seeds for next year. A truly important step for self-sufficiency and independent living, saving seed is also a powerful tool to gain a more even hand with the likes of Monsanto. By saving seeds, gardeners insure that they can have a reliable safe supply of non-genetically altered food; food not doused with chemicals and food that is lovingly brought from seed to the table.

Participants will learn the reasons for saving seeds, the botany needed to save seeds and mechanisms of seed saving. Students will learn which plant seeds are easily saved and which are more difficult and how to deal with them. We will feature a dedicated lab section which will give participants the opportunity to identify the seed producing parts of flowers and how to use that knowledge to even breed your own new vegetable varieties! You will learn the process of hand pollination and how to ensure the seeds you are saving are the seeds you want to be saving. You will also learn why we need to breed our own organic vegetable varieties to further the cause of organic food production in our own neighborhoods and communities.

Classes will meet May 09, May 16 and May 23, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM at The Learning Garden, on the campus of Venice High School at the corner of Walgrove Avenue and Venice Blvd.  

Before May 2nd:
Members of SLOLA: $30.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $40.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

After May 2nd:
Members of SLOLA: $35.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $45.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

At the door:
Members of SLOLA: $40.00
Non-members of SLOLA: $50.00 – the extra $10 makes you a member of the Seed Library

Please bring your own cup for tea or coffee. Please have a jewelers' loupe for class, we can show you good places to look for your own at the first class meeting.

Class will meet May 9, 16 and 23, 6:30 to 9:00 PM at The Learning Garden. The Garden is often cooler than you would think, come prepared to need a jacket or sweater.

Reserve your spot today using PayPal. 
(Non-members will pay the additional $10 at the door.)
Date Enrolled

Or contact David King for alternative ways to pay.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scary Health Effects of GM Foods

This post is from Care2 Make A Difference where it is broken into eight little bitty bits for easy digestion or low attention spans or more advertising space.  Authored by Dr. Mercola (Dr. Mercola has been passionate about health and technology for most of his life. As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, he treated many thousands of patients for over 20 years. In the mid 90’s he integrated his passion for natural health with modern technology via the internet and developed a website, to spread the word about natural ways to achieve optimal health.) this is the entire article in one commercial free spot. It is perhaps one of the most biting and cohesive analysis of the threat GMO foods pose to your health.  It deserves your attention for the short time it will take to read the whole article.

Scary Health Effects of GM Foods

    Scary Health Effects of GM Foods 
    Dr. Don Huber is an expert in an area of science that relates to the toxicity of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

    (Alternative terms for GE foods include genetically modified (GM), or “GMO” for genetically modified organism.)

    His specific areas of training include soil-borne diseases, microbial ecology, and host-parasite relationships.

    Dr. Huber also taught plant pathology, soil microbiology, and micro-ecological interactions as they relate to plant disease as a staff Professor at Purdue University for 35 years.

    GE Crops are Breaking the Agricultural System

    Agriculture is a complete ‘system’ based on inter-related factors, and in order to maintain ecological balance and health, you must understand how that system works as a whole.

    Any time you change one part of that system, you change the interaction of all the other components, because they work together.

    It is simply impossible to change just one minor aspect without altering the entire system.

    Dr. Huber’s research, which spans over 55 years, has been devoted to looking at how the agricultural system can be managed for more effective crop production, better disease control, improved nutrition, and safety. The introduction of genetically engineered crops has dramatically affected and changed all agricultural components:
    • The plants
    • The physical environment
    • The dynamics of the biological environment, and
    • Pests and diseases (plant, animal, and human diseases)
    In this interview, Dr. Huber reveals a number of shocking facts that need to become common knowledge in order to stop this catastrophic alteration and destruction of our environment, our food supply, and ultimately, our own biology.

    I urge you to listen to the interview in its entirety, or read through the transcript to fully appreciate the importance of this development.

    Herbicides and Pesticides Immobilize Specific Nutrients

    One of the major modifications done to genetically engineered food crops is the introduction of herbicide resistance. Monsanto is the leader in this field, with their patented Roundup Ready corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beets, which can survive otherwise lethal doses of glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup.

    The working premise is that by making the plants resistant to the herbicide, farmers can increase yield by cutting down on weed growth. This premise has been found to be severely flawed however, as farmers around the world are now losing acreage to glyphosate-resistant super-weeds at an alarming rate. According to the British Institute of Science in Society, the US has fared the worst, now combating 13 different glyphosate-resistant weed species in 73 different locations.

    But the introduction of glyphosate-resistance has also had a direct impact on soil microbes.

    While the link between an herbicide (which is directed toward plants) and soil microbes may not be immediately apparent, this ripple effect occurs because, again, it’s an inter-related system. In a nutshell, herbicides are chelators that form a barrier around specific nutrients, preventing whatever life form is seeking to utilize that element from utilizing it properly. That applies both to plants and soil microbes—as well as animals and humans.

    This may actually be one of the primary reasons why genetically engineered foods appear to be able to cause such profound health problems in those who consume them. Any organism that has the same physiological pathways for these nutrients will be impacted in the same manner.

    Dr. Huber explains :

    “You have to realize what an herbicide, or a pesticide, is. They are metal chelators. In other words, they immobilize specific nutrients… [I]t’s a compound that can grab onto another element and change either its solubility or its availability for the critical function it has physiologically. We have herbicides and pesticides that are quite specific just for a particular essential micronutrient like copper, zinc, iron, or manganese.

    Glyphosate is very unique and was first patented as a chelator by Stauffer Chemical Co. in 1964, because it could bind with any positively charged ion. If you look at the essential minerals for plants, you see calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and all of those other critical transition elements, as well as structural components for some of them… They all have an ion associated with them. It’s the micronutrient that is an ion—that is a transition element, or that element that is really critical for a particular enzyme function.

    If you can chelate and, in that chelation process, essentially immobilize that essential nutrient, you have provided an opportunity to either kill a weed or damage and kill an organism—any organism… that have that particular requirement for that physiologic pathway with glyphosate or the shikimate pathway…

    You have to realize that this mode of action immobilizes a critical essential nutrient. Those nutrients aren’t just required by the weed, but they’re required by microorganisms. They’re required by us for our own physiologic functions. So if it’s immobilized, it may be present if we do a regular test. But it’s not necessarily physiologically available in the same efficiency that it would have been if it wasn’t chelated with glyphosate…”

    The Dangers of Glyphosate That Most People Have NO Idea Of

    Glyphosate, even in plants genetically engineered to withstand it, affects about 25 different enzymes in the process of chelating, or immobilizing, critical micronutrients, because those ions (the micronutrients) are required in order to “drive” the physiological engines that make the plant or organism function properly.

    “It is well documented that… having that foreign gene inserted reduces the capability of that plant to take up nutrients and to translocate nutrients,” Dr. Huber says. “Then, when you apply the chemical [glyphosate], you have a further compounding effect in reducing the efficiency of the plants at rates as low as 12 grams per acre.”

    According to Dr. Huber, the nutritional efficiency of genetically engineered (GE) plants is profoundly compromised. Micronutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc can be reduced by as much as 80-90 percent in GE plants!

    Many staunch defenders of genetically engineered foods are under the misconception that GE foods are “better” or have improved nutrition when the exact opposite is true. They also don’t understand that the glyphosate residue cannot be removed or washed off—it actually becomes part of the plant. It cannot be washed off because it’s systemic within the plant itself.

    “It’s going to be in your root tips, your shoot tips, your legume nodules, and in the food that you eat,” Dr. Huber warns.

    Furthermore, about 20 percent of the glyphosate migrates out of the plant’s roots and into the surrounding soil. Once in the soil, the glyphosate affects beneficial soil microorganisms in the same way that it affects weeds, because they have the same critical metabolic pathway. With each new Roundup Ready crop approved, the glyphosate residues in the soil increases, and the tolerance levels in the crop increases as well.

    This is explosive information that should make warning bells go off in most people’s heads! Personally, I firmly believe we must all become activists to eliminate this threat to our food supply as soon as possible.

    Food Quality is Related to Soil Quality

    The quality of the food is almost always related to the quality of the soil. The most foundational and critical components of the soil are the microorganisms that thrive there—more so than the necessary nutrients, because it’s the microorganisms that allow the plants to utilize those nutrients.

    According to Dr. Huber:

    “The plant can only utilize certain [reduced] forms of all the nutrients… The way that it becomes reduced in the soil is through those beneficial microorganisms. We also have microorganisms for legumes like soybeans, alfalfa, peas, or any of the other legumes that can fix up to 75 percent of their actual nitrogen for protein in amino acid synthesis that actually comes from the air through the microorganisms in the soil.

    Glyphosate is extremely toxic to all of those organisms.

    What we see with our continued use and abuse of this powerful weed killer is that it is also totally eliminating many of those organisms from the soil. We no longer have the same balance that we used to have. Consequently, we see an increase of over 40 new plant diseases, and diseases we used to have under fairly effective control, which now all of a sudden is another serious problem.”

    GE Foods Fueling Deadly Botulism in Cattle

    The normal biological control organisms—the beneficial gut bacteria—in animals and humans are also very sensitive to residual glyphosate levels.

    For example, toxic botulism is now becoming a more common cause of death in dairy cows whereas such deaths used to be extremely rare. The reason it didn’t occur before was because beneficial organisms served as natural controls to keep the Clostridium botulinum in check. Without them, the Clostridium botulinum is allowed to proliferate in the animal’s intestines and produce lethal amounts of toxins.

    “Again, the agricultural system, as well as our own ecology, is really a balance,” Dr. Huber says. “It’s a system, not just a bunch of silver bullets that are stacked in a chamber of a revolver. It’s how that ecological system is modified and changed that brings us a new level of diseases and problems with sustainability of our agriculture, our own health, and well-being.”

    MOST Major US Food Crops are Now Genetically Engineered!

    Many still don’t realize just how much of our food supply has been genetically engineered (GE). As of this year, 93 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered, as are:
    • 86 percent of all corn
    • 93 percent of canola
    • 93 percent of cottonseed oil
    Between 2008 and 2009, a full 95 percent of all sugarbeets planted were also Roundup Ready.
    This means that virtually every processed food you encounter at your local supermarket that does not bear the “100% USDA Organic” label is likely to contain at least one GE component! Earlier this year, the US 
    Department of Agriculture (USDA) also deregulated genetically engineered alfalfa, which is a perennial crop commonly used in cattle feed.

    According to Dr. Huber:
    “Alfalfa is our fourth most important economic crop, by far the most nutritional feed for our herbivores. They, all of a sudden, can definitely be threatened—not only because of the direct effect of glyphosate on microorganisms, but also because it predisposes and can make that plant very susceptible to some common diseases…

    We see this on corn… where we have the sister organism with the Goss’s wilt, a bacterial disease. In that situation, we find that when we put glyphosate on, it nullifies all the genetic resistance that, in the past, made that disease of almost no consequence…Now we find it from coast to coast, East to West, from Mexico to Canada. For four years now, we have a major epidemic in a major food production area in the Midwest, just from that disease.

    That is a direct result of our genetic engineering process, which reduces the genetic resistance, and the application of the herbicide that it was designed to tolerate.” 

    Important Questions Still Unanswered

    According to Dr. Huber, there’s currently enough residual glyphosate in animal feed and food to make an otherwise benign organism lethal.

    Unfortunately, research is still lacking to ascertain exactly how great the risk to human health is. It’s possible that those who do not consume an all-organic diet, which is the majority of Americans, to some extent or another, are destroying their gut flora with every bite of food they eat. According to Dr. Huber, the reduction in mineral content through chelation by glyphosate residues in GE plants would certainly make you far more susceptible to potentially dangerous pathogens.

    Studies have already confirmed that glyphosate alters and destroys beneficial gut flora in animals, as evidenced by the increasing instances of lethal botulism in cattle.

    I’ve written extensively about the importance of your gut flora on your health. You NEED beneficial bacteria in your gut, or health problems are virtually guaranteed. Optimizing your gut flora may be one of the single most important things you can do to maintain good physical and mental health, so the fact that GE foods may be adversely impacting your intestinal balance is of extreme importance and needs to be understood.

    Another important question that does not at present have an answer is whether or not glyphosate accumulates in animal and human tissues once consumed. We don’t even know if glyphosate is fat-soluble, which would definitely make it accumulate in fat tissues.

    GE Foods Brings Brand New Threat

    Earlier this year, Dr. Huber wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, informing him of the issues discussed above, as well as another groundbreaking new finding that could spell absolute disaster for our entire food supply. It’s a brand new micro-fungal organism associated with something called Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) in soy. It’s also found in a large variety of livestock given GE feed who experience both spontaneous abortions and infertility.

    Dr. Huber urged the USDA to investigate the matter and suspend approval of GE alfalfa until proper studies have been completed. His warnings have so far been largely ignored, and GE alfalfa was deregulated earlier this year…

    “When you look at the tremendous increase in human diseases that can have a potential tie directly back to either the chemical or the engineering process, it’s critical for that research to be done as quickly as possible. We need resources to do it. The private funds, again, aren’t going to do everything because there’s just too much to be done.”

    The organism was initially identified by veterinarians around 1998—about two years after the introduction of Roundup Ready soybeans, which is one of the staple feeds. The vets were puzzled by sudden high reproductive failure in animals. While sporadic at first, the phenomenon has continued to increase in severity.

    “We [recently] received a call from a county extension educator, indicating that he has a dairy that has a 70 percent abortion rate. You put that on top of 10 to 15 percent of infertility to start with, and you’re not going to have a dairy very long. In fact, a lot of our veterinarians are now becoming very concerned about the prospects for being able to have replacement animals,” Dr. Huber says.

    The cause-effect relationship between high reproductive failure and this new microbial entity has been established, but the research has not yet been published. The reason for the delay is because they really do not know what the organism is…

    “It’s not a fungus. It’s not bacteria. It’s not a mycoplasma or a virus – it’s about the same size of a small virus; you have to magnify it from 38 to 40,000 times. They have pictures of it… You can see the interactions with it. They can now culture it. It’s self-replicating and cultured. It doesn’t grow very well by itself.

    Like most of our very fastidious organisms, it tends to die out after three or four sub-culturing, but grows very well with other organisms. If you have yeast, bacteria, or a fungus in the culture, this entity grows very well.

    We’re waiting on getting enough material, pure material, for DNA analysis, but also looking at some other possibilities… Until you can put a name on it, all it does is create a great deal of speculations.”

    What is known is that it’s an entirely new entity, previously unknown to science, and it’s definitely found in genetically engineered corn and soybeans. It’s also been established that it causes infertility and miscarriage in cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and poultry.

    “We can anticipate with that broad spectrum of animal species, which is extremely unusual, that it will also be with humans,” Dr. Huber says. “We’ve seen an increasing frequency of miscarriage and a dramatic increase in infertility in human populations in just the last eight to 10 years.”

    Why is the USDA Ignoring Such Urgent Warnings?

    Dr. Huber received a response from Dr. Parham, head of the USDA-APHIS, assuring him that “all of the decisions that the USDA makes are based on peer-reviewed science.” Dr. Huber responded with another letter, pointing out 130 published peer-reviewed articles documenting all of his concerns.

    “I asked if they could provide me a peer-reviewed scientific study that would justify the regulation of those products,” he says. “I’m still waiting for that. I haven’t found anyone that can produce that type of document.

    … I did receive a call from Risk Management about two weeks after writing the letter, asking if I could provide details, because there wasn’t anything in the letter. The letter was written to a politician. I didn’t want to disclose names of scientists or details because of the retaliatory effect that we see with anyone researching this area – they can be either fired from their job or their program shut down. That’s a real fact.” 

    The Red-Tape Nightmare of GE Safety Research

    Crazy as it sounds, researchers cannot perform whatever safety studies on GE foods they see fit because the way the red tape has been put in place, they could easily be found guilty of breaking the law by performing research on a patented product.

    “If you read the technology agreement that the farmer has to sign, he can’t even do research on his own farm to compare whether this crop or this product is better than another one without violating the terms of that technology agreement,” Dr. Huber explains. “It’s essentially a closed system to guarantee success.”

    … A group of us that are working together on the new entity causing reproductive failure… have obtained private funding, and have taken it to experts in the areas of specific diseases and tried to encourage them to work on it. In the past year, they have been prohibited from working on it by their universities or department heads…

    That’s one of the reasons why we needed that contact with the USDA officials, in hopes that we could share the problems that concern them, that they would recognize the serious nature of this, and that we could obtain their support and use their resources for funding of individuals and specialists, so that we could overcome that barrier that seems to be there for anyone working on genetically engineered crops that might indicate that they’re not quite everything they were cut out to be.

    It’s almost as though you have to belong to that religion, if you’re going to do any research or publish your research.”

    Obviously, such as setup will produce highly biased and prejudiced results, and can easily obfuscate the truth.

    GE Food and Premature Aging

    Another astonishing effect of this brand new mystery organism associated with GE crops is profound premature aging. Research done in Iowa three years ago showed that prime beef from a two-year old cow had to be downgraded to that from a 10-year old cow!

    So what effect will eating this GE-fed beef have on you? No one knows. But I would bet it won’t make you any healthier… And if animals are any indication, it could spell disaster for your overall health and fertility.

    “When the veterinarians wanted to find the source for this [brand new] entity, they went to the feed. The first place where they found high concentrations was in the soybean mill. Since then we’ve found it in the corn. We find it in silage. Primarily in high concentrations only where we have a genetically engineered crop that has glyphosate applied to it. Those are the crops that we also see high Goss’s wilt, high SDS. They are all correlated together in that relationship.

    The other place you see it, though, is where they have used the manure that has a high glyphosate residue level in it. The manure also has very high concentrations, if the chickens or the animals that have been fed these feeds with high concentrations. When that manure is applied to pastures and cattle graze on it, we also see high infertility rates there.

    It occurs in the placenta, in the fetus, in the sperm and inseminators. 
    Stating that it takes twice as much semen now to get a conception and as many as four to eight inseminations rather than the typical 1.2 to 1.5 for a dairy because of that reduced fertility… I was on a plane with a bull breeder who commented that 40 percent of his bulls had to be pulled out of service, because they can’t get conception anymore.”

    But that’s not all. Glyphosate can also disrupt a number of other biological systems aside from your reproductive system.

    ” … When you have a very potent chelator, it disrupts all kinds of systems, not just the EPSPs system that we find in certain microorganisms and plants, but also all of the other systems involved in liver function, blood function, and hormonal function. They all go right back to that basic nutrient process that keeps all systems functional,” Dr. Huber explains.

    Glyphosate is actually a very potent endocrine disruptor that can affect your:
    • Endocrine system
    • Thyroid function
    • Pituitary function
    Important Summary

    As Dr. Huber said

    “When future historians come to write about our era they are not going to write about the tons of chemicals we did or didn’t apply. When it comes to glyphosate they are going to write about our willingness to sacrifice our children and to jeopardize our very existence by risking the sustainability of our agriculture; all based upon failed promises and flawed science.

    The only benefit is that it affects the bottom-line of a few companies. There’s no nutritional value.”

    What You Can Do To Get Involved

    There’s no doubt in my mind that genetically engineered foods are one of the absolute gravest dangers we fact today as a species. I urge you to educate yourself on this issue and become an active participant in getting GE foods OUT of our food supply.

    If you don’t already have a copy of the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, please print one out and referm to it often. It can help you identify and avoid foods with GMOs. You can also download the free iPhone application that is available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.

    Also don’t let Secretary Vilsack ignore this new problem of a micro-fungal pathogen that may be responsible for killing plants, animals and possibly humans!

    To quote Dr. Huber’s letter to Secretary Vilsack:

    Based on a review of the data, [this dangerous new pathogen] is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn—suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science! … I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status. In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.”

    Do your part to protect your health and the health of your family by avoiding processed foods loaded with GM components and eating whole, live foods that contain the nutrients your body needs to thrive.

    Always buy USDA Organic products when possible, or buy your fresh produce and meat from local farmers, and especially avoid food products containing anything related to corn or soy that are not organic, as any foods containing these two non-organic ingredients now are virtually guaranteed to be genetically engineered.

    If you live in California, volunteer to gather petition signatures to help support the California GMO Labeling Ballot Initiative.  If you live outside of California, please donate to help support this Initiative.

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Garden Master & Author David King At Santa Monica College on March 27.

    CONTACT:   Bruce Smith                                              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
                            Public Information Officer                       DATE: March 12, 2012
                            (310) 434-4209                                


             Santa Monica College is pleased to present a free lecture, “Seeds: Local and Global,” by garden master and author David King on Tuesday, March 27 in Humanities & Social Science Lecture Hall 165 on the main campus, 1900 Pico Blvd.  The Program starts at 11:30 AM.
             King is the founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles and garden master of The Learning Garden at Venice High School. An engaging and popular garden speaker, he is also a noted garden blogger and author of the forthcoming book, “Growing Food in Southern California: What to Do and When to Do It.”
             The Seed Library of Los Angeles was established to facilitate the growth of open-pollinated seeds among residents of the Los Angeles basin. The library is building a seed collection and repository, educating members about the practice of seed saving, and creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners
             King’s talk is sponsored by the SMC Global Citizenship Council, SMC Center for Environmental Studies and SMC Club Grow.
             For information, please call 310-434-3911.

    Friday, March 9, 2012


    I have worked in the nonprofit world for the last ten years.  I used to joke about first coming to The Learning Garden and finding out it was non-profit.  I would quip, "Well then, I'm your man, I've never made a profit in my life!"  

    The Learning Garden has had several donors and we've been awarded a some wonderful grants that have helped us to meet our payroll and our expenses.  It hasn't always been easy - there have been months that have been quite scary, but we've somehow always pulled through.  

    We all have to make decisions about where to put our money.  I listen to public radio and I even listen through the pledge drives.  Sometimes I have been able to donate, often times not.  But for over ten years, I have made annual donations to two organizations for some time and I am adding a third.

    I have paid for membership in Seed Savers Exchange for longer than I can remember. I used to say 'ten years' in an off-handed manner, until I realized I've been a member since sometime back in the mid-1990's.  SSE has been doing seed saving work from the 1970's, predating almost every other organization's efforts in this field.  They are the grand mommy organization of all seed saving ventures and their collection is probably the best in the United States.  Their farm in Iowa is like Mecca for savers of heirloom seeds; a journey to their annual  summer meeting with Greg Brown performing has been on my 'bucket list' for at least seven years, when I was first introduced to Greg Brown's music and found a man I can sing along with comfortably.  At $45 per year, membership in SSE is more important to me than any other optional expense.

    As the Seed Library of Los Angeles was being cogitated, I found the Organic Seed Alliance in Oregon and instantly felt I had found another organization whose focus lasers in on the crises I feel we are facing in food production in this nation. These are people who are doing the work to breed the plants that will be our salvation when the industrial agriculture model breaks down.  It only recently dawned on me that trials for new vegetables made in our existing plant breeding environment are not good for most of our gardens because so many of us (reading this blog) are organic growers and most of the seeds are bred in agricultural stations that are saturated with pesticides of all types and chemical fertilizer.  The seeds produced in that environment are not ideal for our organic lives.  It's like having a Big Mac to get the energy to grow organic salad greens - something gets lost in translation.  OSA is the organization leading the effort to breed the organic vegetables that are essential for an organic life.  I flip them a small amount annually. If I were richer, it would be more.  It is essential work!

    And now that we have the Seed Library of Los Angeles, I have been making donations right down the line - a little money, some seeds, office supplies, whatever comes up because the mission of the seed library is one of the most important issues of the Los Angeles area.  We are talking about being able to feed the population of Los Angeles at some time in the near future with seeds grown in Los Angeles by a cadre of trained Los Angeles gardeners who know how to grow food in Los Angeles and how to save seeds for future harvests in Los Angeles.

    Take a moment right now and join Seed Savers Exchange, surf over to Organic Seed Alliance and drop them a couple of bucks, or go online to PayPal and send a tax deductible donation to SLOLA.  Make your world a better place, and this blog will return to our regularly scheduled programming in the next post... You can feel good about enjoying your food knowing someone is working on keeping the food flowing no matter what the bozo's in Washington and Monsanto do in the future.


    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Svalbard - Concern Behind the Celebration...

    Svalbard, Seed Vault of Last Resort
    Just last week, Svalbard celebrated its fourth birthday. I admit it, I have mixed feelings about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault; its intention is laudable, but, all things being equal, is it up to the task? And, even if it is up to the task, will human avarice allow it to do what it is intended to do?

    The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located on an island in the Svalbard archipelago, some 1300 kilometers from the North Pole. Plant seeds from the world over are stored in underground vaults, dug some 340' into the permafrost of the island. The seeds in Svalbard are duplicate seeds of those stored in other seed banks through out the world – the idea is to provide a 'backup copy' of seeds in case of a large-scale or global calamity that affects our ability to feed ourselves. Anyone who has had a computer crash will allow how important a back up copy can be.

    The facility has the capacity to store some 4.5 million accessions of seeds.

    “The Svalbard Global Seed Vault's mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. While the popular press has emphasized its possible utility in the event of a major regional or global catastrophe, it will certainly be more frequently accessed when genebanks lose samples due to mismanagement, accident, equipment failures, funding cuts and natural disasters. Such events occur with some regularity. In recent years, some national genebanks have also been destroyed by war and civil strife.” (Wikipedia)

    Because these seeds are meant to be 'copy seeds,' as the bank is envisioned, these seeds are stored as a backstop for loss of the genetics of important plant should the initial collection become lost.  The famous seed bank of Russian scientist Nikolay Vavilov's seed collection was over run by the Nazis in WWII, workers in the Vavilov Institute took the seeds to their homes to save them from being destroyed or stolen.  Thank God thieves rarely think to steal seeds and Vavilov's seeds, without a Svalbard back up made it through the war safely.  (For more on Vavilov, which is fascinating reading, find a copy of "Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine" by Gary Paul Nabhan - it's a quick and lovely read!)  

    I do not disagree with seed banks per se, I think they perform a valuable function. I worry, on the other hand that the majority of folks see articles on seed banks and think, “Well then, we've got this whole thing in hand, don't we?” And we don't. Seed banks only support a part of the solution.

    Seed held in seed banks doesn't change. The mark of living is the ability to change. Pathogens adapt; their prey adapt. Pathogens adapt again; the prey adapts to the adaptions. And on it goes. This is the dance of life. Plants grow. Bugs eat 'em. Plants and their farmers adapt. Bugs adapt. Put a seed out of circulation for a couple hundred years and the world they 'wake up' to is not the same world when they went to sleep. Rumpelstiltskin anyone?  

    Seed banks are the back stop, the last resort, but the real way to 'save' seeds is to grow them! Grow the heirlooms, save their seeds and your seeds adapt to your environment year after year. They become a part of your story and your life. In our small urban gardens in Los Angeles, we don't have the room to save all the valuable varieties we need to have a robust diet, hence the need to come together in seed libraries.

    As a part of its mission statement, the Seed Library of Los Angeles, collects seeds and holds them for members to check out. Together we can save hundreds of varieties of seeds and you can be a part of that. You personally don't need to save 100 different varieties of tomatoes – you don't have the time and the room, but you can save one or two of the one hundred and together, viola! We have saved 100 varieties of tomatoes. And you helped.

    But in the case of Svalbard, some ugly juxtapositions of facts are cause for concern, if not alarm. One of the biggest cash supporters of Svalbard is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is only so far the only investment of that foundation that I can applaud, so much of the Microsoft money has gone into ventures that oppress people and rob us of our genetic diversity.

    One of which is Monsanto. The Gates own some 500,000 shares of the bio-tech giant and a former Monsanto vice-president joined the Gates Foundation as a senior program office applying technology to increase crop yields in Africa.

    With their economic clout, who can definitively say there will never be a time when the purpose of Svalbard might be corrupted to help Monsanto control more genetic material? I won't t cast aspersions on Svalbard, but I believe that Gates' sense of right and wrong has certain 'capitalistic' limitations. And Monsanto? I believe they have no moral compass whatsoever and stealing the future from a baby's mouth means nothing, literally, to them if profit can be realized. The United States has the finest government Monsanto can buy. How else do we explain we are the only first world nation that has allowed these suspect crops to proliferate through out our food system?  And our bodies?

    One of the side effects of a seed library is that we exclude all genetically modified seeds. When you get seed from SLOLA, you are getting open-pollinated seed that will produce clean, healthy food. And when you follow some simple steps, you return clean, healthy seed to the library that will be distributed next year.

    For a healthy future, for a future free of genetic modification, grow organic open pollinated seeds. For your children, join the library and help save seeds for the future!