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.


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