Organic and independent farmers feel under assault

An independent organic farmer tends cropsOn a trip to New England last week, my niece treated me to some really good salsa. It was made in Maine, we were in New Hampshire, and I’m now home in Pennsylvania, way south of where I can buy some.

On the other hand, there are several Mexican stores almost within walking distance of home where maybe …

Meanwhile, I was in the local discount grocery store the other night and picked up a container of Marketside Chipotle salsa. It actually has a nice flavor, and adds a pleasant bite to my favorite chips which, the way I eat the stuff, are simply devices for scooping large dollops of salsa the way someone might otherwise use a soup spoon to scoop the favored ice cream.

If fresh salsa is what you seek, though, you probably won’t find it in a container marked “Manufactured for Marketside, a division of Walmart Stores Inc.” The container does not even say where it’s contents are made. On the other hand, the tomato, onion and pepper growing season is a few months away in south central Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, oral arguments were heard Tuesday in a federal court in New York City in a case that will have a great effect on production of fresh food. An organization named Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, and 82 other plaintiffs and a total 36 organizations, have sued Monsanto Co. in an effort to block the genetic engineering firm from ever again suing farmers for accidentally infringing its genetic seed patents.

The growers do not want to tinker with the genetic designer’s patents. What they want is for Monsanto to stop using its size and money to bully organic and independent farmers out of business – in some cases bankrupting them – for “genetic trespass” occurring because the farmers’ plant genes have infiltrated adjacent Monsanto-seeded fields. And organic growers can lose their crops – and profits – if their produce is found to have been polluted with Monsanto genes.

When I was young, jeans were what you wore to keep your knees from wearing out while you picked strawberries. Ah! That homemade strawberry shortcake, piled high with juicy berries picked that afternoon and covered with a heavy coat of cream, whipped special for the purpose a few minutes before it was served. I promise locally-grown, fresh strawberries taste better than those imported by truck in winter from California or Peru.

That kind of dessert usually followed corn-on-the-cob, and neither was for consumption in winter. Trucks were not new inventions, but we had not yet arrived at a point that summer crops could be trucked to winter grocers from wherever it was summer – and it’s always summer somewhere.

Farmers also rotated their crops, growing, say, corn, then beans, then potatoes or other root crops, each in successive years, allowing one species to replace nutrients used by the others. It kept plant-specific bugs from gaining permanent foothold, and kept the ground alive. Mono-culture – the practice of growing the same crop on the same ground every year – does neither.

Scientists eventually figured out how to make fertilizer from natural gas and insecticides from oil. Then they learned to alter plant genetics so crops could survive and even flourish, sort of, in the manufactured environment.

But monoculture and synthetic fertilizers kill the soil. Bugs become resistant to, for instance, Monsanto’s Round-up, which must be modified to deal with the mutated bugs, which means seeds must be modified to enable their productivity in a bath of the new bug killer.

Monsanto calls it the Roundup Ready System.

By the way, any farmer big enough to grow Roundup Ready food, is prohibited from doing another thing grandfather once thought was part of farming: saving seeds. Monsanto filed suit in federal court last summer against wheat grower Harold Steve Wiser, of Fairview, Pa. The company said Wiser and another farmer had planted seeds from the previous two year’s crops. According to the genetic seed designer’s website, it has filed federal lawsuits an average 11 times a year against seed-saving farmers who tried to gain unfair advantage over growers who played by the company’s rules and purchased new seed every year.

According to the company, only nine of 144 cases the company filed between 1997 and Spring 2010 actually went to trial, and all were decided in Monsanto’s favor.

Coming soon to a farm near you.

Meanwhile, also Tuesday, the San Diego, Calif. city council legalized chickens, bees, goats and other crops and critters being grown within the city limits. There was some opposition. For instance, the county Public Health and Environmental Health departments were concerned that allowing city dwellers to raise goats could mean people would start drinking unpasteurized goat milk. And some people just are not used to the idea of chickens clucking around on their sidewalks.

And last September, Chicago City Council amended its zoning to allow community gardens up to 25,000 square feet, which could allow limited commercial farming within the city.

The urban gardens provide commercial opportunities for green-thumbed apartment dwellers, fresh groceries for themselves and neighbors, and air-cleansing greenery for the communities. What’s not to like?

Some ordinances we suburban and rural dwellers have been talked into passing, prohibiting urban ag, are more for the good of Big Agri-Business than for our own health. And while it’s encouraging to see San Diego and Chicago approving people growing their own groceries, it’s disconcerting to see the response of Monsanto, et. al.

I’m still looking for fresh salsa – and for the results of the organic growers’ suit against the food-genetics designer. But watching a lawsuit progress, especially against a well-lawyered company, is like watching paint dry. I expect I’ll find the salsa first.

© 2011 by John Messeder. Readers may contact  john@JohnMesseder.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.