How Seed Saving Can Save America
Brad Knudsen, Major: Hospitality Management, Hometown: Eden Prairie, MN
I am just a guy with a passion for adventure sports such as climbing, biking, surfing, and skiing. This has given me the privilege to build a close relationship with nature, and to experience first-hand, the changes that have taken place over my lifetime. As for food, my interest sparked when I was young. I grew up watching The Food Network with aspirations of becoming a chef. Now, just 48 hours from graduating college, my path has shifted. I am still intrigued by the restaurant industry; however, I am now more focused on how restaurants source their food and their relationships with farmers.
Local and seasonal fare is no new phenomenon, but until recently, it has been lost, similar to our original agricultural practices involving seed saving. I love my life and I love our Earth, and I am here to explain how seed saving can save this beautiful place we call home. Where Has Our Food Gone?
As the final component to this magnificent blog, I am delving into the grave issue of food security here in America, and how seed saving can combat this pressing issue. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food security is, “when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs for a productive and healthy life,” and in 2008, roughly 15% of Americans had been food insecure at one point or another (Watson). This was a 31% increase from the 2007 numbers, marking the worst year since the USDA began tracking food security in 1995.
Even more disturbing, only 55% of those food insecure individuals received food stamps or other government nutritional assistance (Watson). These haunting statistics reveal the severity of food insecurity here in America.
Along with food prices soaring, the supply pit is falling. The USDA predicted a drop in the U.S. corn reserves by the end of 2011, representing a 15 year low, with the price doubling, as well. The current food crisis is becoming worse, and from an individual to a national level, we all need to implement change.
Why is the crisis occurring? You may ask. The problem stems from the nation’s flawed seed industry led by Juggernaut Corporations like Monsanto. The multinational corporation has put patents on and genetically modified seeds, stripping famers of their seed sovereignty, and ultimately their food sovereignty.
The seed is the most valuable component in the food chain, for it gives birth to our crops. The “modern” varieties of seeds are strictly monocultures, which do not allow farmers to save, improve, or exchange their seeds; thus, eliminating diversity and contaminating our food with genetically modified organisms (Shiva). A patent, according to Dr. Vandana Shiva, a seed freedom activist, is “an exclusive right granted to an inventor to make and sell the patented product.” A seed is by no means an invention; therefore, a corporation’s patent on a seed, giving it ownership, is illegal on many levels (Shiva). The corrupt system has eroded the farming industry resulting in our depleting food supply. Although, this fight against Monsanto is an uphill battle, there are ways to take action against the injustice.
Even while the dissolution of seed sovereignty and biodiversity is creating a major catastrophe for agriculture and food security, corporations are pressuring government to continue using public money to eliminate the public seed supply with the malicious goal to then replace it entirely with unreliable, patented seeds, which must be repurchased year after year. Necessary action, on the national level, must come from political and legal restructuring. There needs to be a stronger influence from the people on government to challenge the illegal and unethical patents on seeds. The overwhelming influence from corporations on government has tainted the integrity of the agriculture sector, and Monsanto claims royalties based on farmer debt, suicide, and the corrosion of the food supply here in the U.S. and worldwide. Does This Affect Me?
This is not the American Dream that we all imagined, whether or not you are currently feeling the effects of the turmoil. Your neighbors, colleagues, and people just like you who you have never met are suffering because of the spike in food prices and decline in supply. The 50.1 million Americans that lived in food insecure households in 2011 need freedom from these chains, and you can help.
Even as a well off individual living in this wonderful city of Denver, you have fellow citizens living in food deserts. These areas without access to fresh, quality foods surround you and the rest of the city. And once again, it all stems back to the legal inability of farmers to save seeds. With small farms being forced out of business, local food supply is erased, and the crops that are growing face the imminent demise of being contaminated by GM organisms. Thus, the majority of the food that is available to poverty stricken areas carries the risk of harming the human body.
Do you think you are safe since you do not live in poverty? Do not think you are out of harm’s way; even the produce at grocery stores like Whole Foods Market or Sprouts are still threatened by GM organisms.
Daunting, yes. The truth can be disconcerting, but it can also inspire change. And change is exactly what needs to take place, in order to save America. Take Action. Take Back Our Seeds.
The current food security crisis in America has become tragic and it is continuing to worsen, but it does not have to. There are many avenues we can take to combat the impending terror. Already, there are groups and individuals taking a stand against the corruption, fighting for seed freedom. Non-profit Greenpeace and Dr. Vandana Shiva are two great examples of peaceful demonstration against Monsanto’s reign over the world’s seeds.
The time is now to recognize that these patents on seeds are killing our nation’s food supply and putting people to bed, hungry. In order to save our great country, we must take action, and save out great seeds. Complacency will allow this problem to augment, confining our nation’s citizens in a state of affliction barring them from a basic civil right - the right to food.
Seed saving is a simple concept dating back to the origins of agriculture. It is time to revive this practice, and grow food as nature intended. Unfortunately, our current system has made implementing this simple solution a difficult task. So what can we do? We can pair other strategies with saving our seeds, and take the step towards a new, yet old America. Let’s not kid ourselves but, you know, retro is in nowadays anyway. National:
- Take legal action to challenge seed patents that are killing biodiversity.
- Take political to require GMO labeling on foods, in order to notify our nation about the health implications
- Support established organizations that are currently contesting the food security issue
- Make a shift towards organic farming, and provide regulations, so as to prevent contamination from GMO’s
- Organize community farms to build awareness for urban farming
- Create education programs teaching gardening and basic farming skills to people of all ages
- Develop a community seed bank, providing a network of seed saving and exchange. This will also spread word about the importance of seed saving to surrounding communities
- Hold community food banks to gather donations
- Be conscious about the food you purchase, striving to eat locally and seasonally
- Compost to reduce food waste
- Try to move away from the obsession for aesthetically pleasing, for this could save a plethora of food
- Grow what food you can. Build a garden, and grow your own produce. Save the seeds and repeat to become self-sustainable. A decent sized garden has the capability of providing produce for an entire family of four.
As we conclude this final installment on seed saving, we thank you for sticking with us on our crusade. We hope that we’ve introduced you to some new ideas and a different way of thinking about the world around us to which are so intricately linked in so many different ways. With this new (or renewed) information, we hope that we’ve piqued your interest and left you with some concrete take away points to apply to your every day lives. Now that you’re with us, we challenge you to share this knowledge with others so that together we can continue to save the world one seed at a time. Works Cited:
Shiva, Vandana. " The seed emergency: The threat to food and democracy." Aljazeera
. n. page. Print.
Watson, Bruce. "The Growing Threat of Food Insecurity in America." Daily Finance
. n. page. Print.http://seedfreedom.in/http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx#
How Seed Saving Can Save the Environment
Kristina Buckingham, Major: International Studies and Spanish, Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
I love food. I love everything about food. I love the way it looks, I love the way it smells, I love cooking it, I love eating it, and I love learning about it. Growing up in the middle of a city, though, I never really knew where my food came from (with the exception of the delicious tomatoes and herbs from my mother’s garden) until I started investigating it myself. That’s when I entered the shocking world of today’s industrial agriculture system. It’s hard to look at a meal, or even just a cup of coffee, the same way once you know more about the conditions it was grown under. What I’ve learned about agriculture, its history and present state, in the past few years has seriously changed my outlook on food. I’ve realized that as a (very) avid consumer of food, I have a responsibility to my own health, to farmers around the world, and to the environment to put my knowledge into practice in my own life, starting with my food choices.
Last week, Summer posted about how “Saving Seeds Can Save Us All. ” From her article, we know that on top of being seriously hazardous to our health (see Nicole’s article), GM foods and the industry giants like Monsanto that control them are ruining the livelihoods, and lives, of farmers across the world. The monopolization of seeds is resulting in a suicidal economy for the farmers who are losing their livelihood, for the people who are losing their food source, and for the human species, as we destroy the natural resources that we depend upon for our survival: our clean water, our fertile soil, our biodiversity, our atmosphere, and our seeds. Saving Seeds can Save the Environment
OK, so that’s a pretty bold statement. Let’s start a little bit closer to home. Do You Remember…
That first kindergarten or elementary school project where your teacher brought in seeds from an apple or a pumpkin and each student got to plant their own seed in a Dixie cup with a little bit of soil and a sprinkle of water? Do you remember the excitement of the day when you finally saw a tiny curl of green stem pushing its way through what was just plain brown dirt the day before? For most of us who grew up in cities, that might have been our first exposure to the magic of the infinite life cycle of plants. I remember running home from that day in class and planting every seed I could get my hands on from the refrigerator. I grew sprouts from peppers, avocados, tomatoes, and cucumbers in the next few months, just by taking the seeds out of each fruit, sticking them in the dirt, and giving them a little bit of TLC. How about a quick biology lesson?
Saving seeds from harvests to use again from year to year is the traditional way that farms and gardens were maintained for centuries. The process of open-pollination and replanting seeds from crops is the most natural thing in the world. As a farmer, it’s a no-brainer; one of your biggest business inputs—seeds—is already in your hands
when you harvest your crop. In addition to that, though, the process of saving seeds from the best performing crops to plant again the next season is a form of reproduction through natural means that allows the plants to adapt to their local conditions over time. In other words, farmers would save natural heirloom seeds (as opposed to GM seeds) from the most suitable (i. e. biggest, healthiest, sweetest) plants and plant them again the next year. The saved seeds would gradually evolve
over several growing seasons to cope with local conditions like the soil, moisture levels, and temperatures. The evolution of these seeds helped them perform better and more reliably in the conditions to which they had adapted (Wikipedia). Most of us know something about Darwin’s theory of evolution…well, there you go. Seed saving is a form of natural selection. Key word: natural.
Our modern agriculture system, on the other hand, is anything BUT natural. The seeds sold today by Monsanto and other industry giants are seeds that have been hybridized and cloned in science labs, artificially cross-pollinated to have specific characteristics, like higher yield or uniform color (Wikipedia). Monsanto’s infamous “Roundup Ready” crops exist because the company found a way to alter the DNA of the seeds to allow them to withstand certain chemical herbicides (SourceWatch). Does that sound natural to you?
The built-in sterility of GM seeds prohibits seed saving practices, instead forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year from Monsanto. This effectively negates the evolutionary process of crops adapting to local conditions. The constant use of crops that haven’t been allowed to adapt to local conditions has caused a huge number of problems. We’ve already talked about the health consequences of our diets of these unnatural, genetically modified foods. We’ve also discussed how the increased yields advertised by Monsanto don’t meet their promises (in large part because the seeds are not adapted to local conditions
), and the effect that has had on farmers in the U. S. and across the world. But what effect does the conventional food and seed system have on the environment? Biodiversity Loss
We learned last week about the legal problems farmers were experiencing because of cross-pollination in their crops from genetically modified seeds. The damage from cross-contamination of GM seeds doesn’t end with the farmers, unfortunately. Cross-pollination of plants in neighboring fields is natural and inevitable, as seeds are carried by the wind or by birds and other animals from one place to another. In the past, this hasn’t been as much of a problem, since most farmers were growing similar crops in natural ways. In contrast, the contamination today of natural and organic plants by GMOs causes irreversible damage to the organic crop.
GMOs aggressively cross-contaminate neighboring organic plants, causing incalculable damage. An unapproved GM rice grown only for one year in field trials was found to have caused extensive contamination of the US rice supply. A Spanish study found
that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”. (Rain, 2011)
In most cases, cross-pollination by genetically modified plants results in the contamination and loss of the organic variety. The world used to have a vast gene pool of crops, with thousands of different varieties of each plant, as a result of seed saving over generations and the evolution and adaptation of crops to unique locations. The take-over of GM crops across the world since the Green Revolution
has eroded this gene pool by contaminating and eliminating the varieties, resulting in a loss of the adaptive and hardy traits of local varieties of crops.
The erosion of the gene pool is referred to as “biodiversity loss” and has far-reaching implications for the environment and the human species, including, as we’ve seen, impacting our ability to feed ourselves and future generations. Soil
Those of us inexperienced with farming may picture the Dixie cup experiment from elementary school, thinking that you can just throw a seed in some soil and sprinkle water on top of it, and out pops an ear of corn. We know that the water and the seed quality are important but the dirt is just what it grows out of. Dirt is dirt, right? WRONG.
Soil is an ecosystem on its own, providing plants with the nutrients that they need to grow. The natural relationship between soil and plants is a mutually beneficial one, where they exchange nutrients to keep one another healthy. Since different crops have different nutrient needs, traditional planting systems used ideas of permaculture
and crop rotation
, which diversified the nutrients being given to the soil and taken from it. These practices ensured that the soil was never leached of its nutrients completely.
Somehow, the science behind those practices seems to have been conveniently forgotten by today’s conventional agriculture industry. Instead of rotating crops each season or planting partner crops together, our agriculture industry sows giant fields with a single variety of a GM crop season after season, for maximum profitability.
By practicing mono-cropping year after year, farmers are seriously depleting the nutrients in their soil, and therefore eliminating the ability of their soil to act as a healthy ecosystem for crops. In addition to problems like erosion and drying out of land, declining soil quality and health forces farmers to increase use of chemical fertilizers, since the soil can no longer provide the plants with the nutrients they need. Chemical Fertilizers, Pesticides, and Herbicides
This category may be the biggest complaint against GM crops from health, human, and environmental standpoints, and it is certainly one of the greatest threats posed by Monsanto and other agricultural giants. As discussed above, mono-cropping practices (as well as unnatural crops) deplete soil health, forcing farmers to use chemical fertilizers for their crops to yield. Even more problematic, though, are the GM crops, like Roundup Ready crops, specifically designed to be resistant to chemical pesticides and herbicides. This incites farmers to use more and more chemical pesticides and herbicides on their crops (surprise: these products are also created and sold by Monsanto
The overuse of these chemicals has led to the growth of “superweeds” that are resistant to the herbicides used against them. Monsanto’s solution has been to develop new products with even more toxic chemicals (Occupy Monsanto, n.d.).
The hugely increased use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides since the adoption of GM crops doesn't just affect our personal health (although I’d say that’s a pretty good reason in itself to pay attention). The chemicals used in farming kill the soil, leak into water sources, poisoning our rivers and groundwater, and cause devastating health problems in animal and human populations. The development and creation of these chemical inputs is also one of the leading causes of global climate change (McDermott, 2008). Back to Nature
With all of that incredibly overwhelming and scary information in mind, it’s time to get back to where this all started. So, how CAN
saving seeds save the environment?
Saving seeds takes us back to the traditional methods of farming, allowing plants to adapt to local conditions over time and evolve to grow better in their unique locations. Maintaining heirloom varieties of crops through seed saving prevents additional biodiversity loss. Used with crop rotation or permaculture techniques, seed saving and the use of a range of crop varieties avoid the problems of mono-cropping and keep soil healthy and productive. Finally, naturally evolved seed varieties will grow more reliably and with higher yields in their adapted environments than would GM seeds, eliminating (or at least drastically reducing) the need for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. (For healthy, natural, and organic alternatives to chemical pesticides/herbicides, check out this page
). This in itself could reduce agriculture’s role in global climate change. Saving seeds may seem like a small way to address a HUGE problem, but as you can see, the effects of just that one small action could, really, save our environment. So, what can we do?
I realize that the issues presented above can be hugely overwhelming. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such widespread problems. As always, though, we want to give you a few ideas of what you can do, on a global/national level, on a community level, and on an individual level to start to address these issues. Global & National Level:
- Globally: Reward a shift back to organic farming techniques
- In the United States: Require Monsanto to accept responsibility for their environmental impact
- Start or get involved with community seed saving and seed swapping organizations
- (Repeated from last week) Pass bills requiring GM foods to be labeled. Don’t you want to know what you’re eating? Putting labels on GM foods will decrease the power that these seed monopolies have over our food and our consumers!
- If you’re a gardener or farmer, buy your seeds from a natural, seed saving seller like one of thes
- If you’re not a gardener or farmer, try the Dixie cup project again. You may be amazed at how fulfilling it still is to witness that miracle of growth.
- Vote with your wallet. Be conscious of what you are consuming, and, whenever possible, support organic and natural food. It’s better for your health, too!
Coming up next week, you’ll get to meet Brad with the last post of this series: How Saving Seeds Can Save America! Works Cited
"Biohazards. " Occupy Monsanto
. N. p. , n. d. Web. 13 Nov. 2012.
McDermott, Mat. "More Than Pretty Heirloom Tomatoes: Saving Seeds Critical to Combatting Climate Change
. " TreeHugger
. N. p. , 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Pearce, Fred. "Saving the Seeds of the Next Green Revolution
. " Environment 360
. Yale University, 22 Sept. 2008. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
Rain, Lois. "5 Reasons NOT To Eat GM Foods
. " Health Freedom Alliance
. N. p. , 27 June 2011. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
Shiva, Vandana. "The Seed Emergency: The Threat to Food and Democracy - Opinion - Al Jazeera English
. " The Seed Emergency: The Threat to Food and Democracy
. Aljazeera, 06 Feb. 2012. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.
SourceWatch Contributors. "Roundup Ready Crops
. " SourceWatch
. N. p. , 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
Wikipedia contributors. "Seed saving. " Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Aug. 2012. Web. 14 Nov. 2012.
How Seed Saving Can Save Us All
Summer Kalei Borowski, Major: Marketing, Hometown: Kailua-Kona, HI
I come from a farm in Hawaii. A cucumber farm. Where I’ve spent many long hours and days picking, tending, washing, weighing, and packaging in our hot greenhouses. Seeded by my hands in the dirt and the sun on my back two things resulted from this upbringing. 1) I can hold a cucumber in my hand and tell you to the tenth of a pound how much it weighs. 2) I grew an affinity towards farmers, food, and agricultural justice.
In reading Nicole’s article last week about how “Saving Seeds Can Save Your Life,” we explored evidence of the adverse effects GM foods on our health. We also discovered the wild world of agribusiness corruption and monopoly that link directly from these GM businesses. So next, we naturally raise the questions: Why do farmers farm these crops? If they don’t want to be caught up in the corporate seed system by Monsanto or other industry giants, forced to repurchase infertile seeds and pesticides each harvest and sell their yields at bottom of the barrel prices, why don’t they just buy seeds elsewhere? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.Why Do Farmers Farm Monsanto?
First, a little history on a big company: Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world. It controls 95 percent of the market for insect and herbicide resistant cotton traits. In 2008, Monsanto had shares of up to 65 percent for GM corn and soybeans and about 45 percent for GM corn. During the late 1990s and through the 2000s, Monsanto acquired almost 40 companies “creating the horizontal and vertical integration that underlies the firm’s platforms in cotton, corn, and soybeans,” according to a whitepaper by American Antitrust Institute’s vice president and senior fellow, Diana Moss. Most of the acquisitions were seed companies.
American farmers’ hands are tied. Not so long ago, traditional methods of seed saving were the norm. At each harvest, a small portion of a farmer’s crop would be put aside for the seeds to be saved, cleaned, dried, and stored to plant for the next season. Seed, as a renewable resource, was simply farming’s and nature’s way of sustaining itself. However, today genetically modified crops are so widely grown that the farms that choose to maintain natural growing processes are in great danger of the GM crops of their neighbors cross-pollinating with their own. Once this happens, the farm is at risk of losing everything. This is not because their yield is now tainted, but because Monsanto could (and will) sue them for infringement on the company’s patents of bioengineered seed. Now contaminated, the farm is then left with no other option than to purchase Monsanto seed, in fear that the company will simply come back the following year and sue them again.
This is not the only scenario in which our farmers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Monsanto is also pushing anti-democracy laws that strip communities of their power to stop GMO crops from being planted in their own counties. Without this control, one GM farm could disrupt the crops of many other farms in the area. Monsanto has also made it illegal to own seed cleaning (and therefore seed saving) equipment without having it registered, an endeavor that can cost from $1-1.5 million for each machine for each type of seed. These restrictions, threats, and unaffordable endeavors are forcing our nation’s farmers, against their will, to become a part of the very system that is devastating them.
But the scope broadens. The Monsanto monopoly not only plagues America; its reach extends far beyond our borders engulfing the entire globe in its enterprise. A Global Terror
In 1998, the corporate machine changed India’s farming industry overnight. With new structural policies put in place by the World Bank, the country was forced to open its seed sector to global industry giants such as Monsanto and switch from farm saved seeds to fertile corporate seeds. This transition required irrigation and fertilization of the seeds which also needed to be repurchased every year due to patents on their non-renewable traits. This transformation of seed from a renewable resource to a non-renewable input had far-reaching and tragically devastating implications for the nation.
As farmers were forced to re-buy their seeds each year, instead of saving their own for no cost, the indebtedness of peasant farmers rose quickly and dramatically. This changed the once positive economy to a negative, debt-ridden one. This change was due to two factors: the falling price of farm commodities and the rising price of production, both the product of corporate globalization and trade.
Pre-Monsanto, cotton seed cost Rs 7/kg. It was rain fed, could be inter-cropped with other produce, and was naturally pest resistant. GM Bt-cotton seed cost Rs 17,000/kg, could only be grown as a mono-culture required irrigation, and actually created new pests. Because of this, farmers were forced to purchase and use 13 times the pesticides they were previously using. The switch from biodiversity to mono-cropping also greatly increased the risk of crop failure, as bulk corporate seed is not adaptable to the diverse local environment. Monsanto sold their seeds under falsifications that they would produce yields of 1500/kg/year. In reality, farmers’ harvests were only 300 to 400/kg/year. Oftentimes even entire crops would fail, leaving peasant farmers in literally dire situations. This equation of high cost for farmers and unreliable production create an inescapable debt trap and a suicide economy.
Since 1997, over 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide. The region in India with the highest suicide rate experiences as many as 4,000 per year, that’s 10 suicides per day. Maybe not so coincidentally, this region also has the highest acreage of Monsanto (GM) Bt-cotton. In acts of protest and hopeless desperation, the main method of Indian farmers taking their own lives is to drink Monsanto pesticides – their only way to escape the incredible debt they have been left in by the company.
And, as the regime of Monsanto doesn't end with the USA so it doesn't end with India. In the US, a $4 billion subsidy is granted to their own GM cotton growers annually. This artificially drives down US cotton prices, creating a barrier unattainable for poor African countries to penetrate. Countries such as Burkina Faso, Benin, and Mali, who previously were competitive in this global market, are now losing $250 million every year, perpetuating the same type of suicide economy as India. In 2007, 1,593 farmers in these regions took their own lives- a number that before 2000 was reportedly zero.
But it’s not only the farmers being robbed. This economy is suicidal on three levels:
1) To the farmer
whose family is now left without a caretaker, whose land is infertile, and whose life is destroyed;
2) To the people
in their community who have lost, with the farmer, their food source and will fall even deeper into poverty and hunger; and
3) To the human species
as we devastate the natural worth of seed, biodiversity, soil and water upon which we depend on for our own biological survival.
The inability to fund commodity production year to year in addition to the unreliability of the mono-culture crops has created unbearable debt for already impoverished farmers. These debts, un-payable from farm revenues, have driven farmers to take the most extreme of measures. According to leading global seed rights advocate Vandana Shiva, the bottom line is simple. “Seed saving gives farmers life. Seed monopolies rob farmers of life.”Seeds of Change
Although suicide economies worldwide are drastic and horrific, they are not inevitability. Although the majority of US farmers have become cogs in the machine of a dictator, there are a few things that can begin to turn the wheels the opposite way. Seed saving can be the answer to so many interlinking global problems we are facing today. Here are some actions that can be taken.On a global level:
• A shift back to natural seed varieties that farmers can save and share [as opposed to non-renewable GMO seeds]
• A shift to organic farming [from chemical farming]
• A shift to fair trade and just-commodity prices worldwide [as opposed to unfair trade based on false prices from government subsidies. (Cotton farmers who have made these changes can earn up to 10 times the revenues of farmers still growing Monsanto cotton.)On a community level:
• Push for labeling of GMO products in your local legislature. Vote.
• Create community seed banks and promote saving and sharing seeds among farms and gardens.
• Support legal action to challenge seed patents and bio-piracy.On an individual level:
• Be conscious of the products you purchase. Support organic and fair trade produce.
• Save your own seeds! Grow what you can. Plant a garden with heirloom seeds and become self-sustaining in any ways you can.
• Support the Seed Freedom Movement and Farmers’ Rights by signing the Declaration on Seed Freedom
and learning more at: seedfreedom.in
Seed saving can be a very simple solution to an enormously complex problem. Plant native seeds in the ground, help them grow, and return to the natural cycle of the earth. But simple doesn't necessarily mean easy. Ahead the obstacles and doubt gravel a long, uphill road. However, if each of us is aware, hopeful, and prepared to take the first steps toward a sustainable future, we will undoubtedly effect global change. In fact, “A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)
Join us next week to meet Kristina and her take on “How Saving Seeds Can Save the Environment!”
Saving Seeds Can Save Your LifeNicole Patterson, Major: Biology, Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Welcome to part one of our blog series “How Saving Seeds Can Save the World.” As a collaborative project between a University of Denver writing course “Food and Culture” and Feed Denver, four DU students will show how seed-saving can save the world. Each of the four parts of the series will tackle seed saving from a different angle.
For centuries, farmers and gardeners saved the seeds from their produce to put towards the next harvest. In fact, even one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, was an avid seed collector and belonged to seed exchange groups where he would introduce new seed varieties to the farmers in his community.(1) It was common practice, even on large farms. As recent as 1960, the seed saving rate for US soybean farmers was 63%.(2) Saving seeds from harvest to harvest enables self-sustainability because farmers don’t need to buy seed annually. Each generation of saved seeds better adapts to the climate, which results in increased yield with less pesticides.
With the dawn of genetically modified seeds and commercial seed manufacturers, like Monsanto, seed saving has become virtually extinct
. There has been a loss of heirloom seeds, which reproduce the same variety of plants for each succeeding harvest, and an explosion of genetically modified, many times sterile, seeds. This shift has completely changed the American food industry. Our supermarkets are filled with Monsanto patented, genetically modified foods. It is easy to look at a cereal box and find the nutritional information and the list of ingredients, but produce doesn’t come with a nutrition label. It must be safe, right?
I am an obsessive label reader. When I heard about this project, I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on, nutrition and health. While I definitely give in to my chocolate cravings now and then (OK, maybe on a daily basis
) I try to eat as much fresh produce as possible. So how does seed saving tie into my nutrition obsession? To be honest I had never thought much about where my Safeway-bought fruits and veggies came from
. I try to buy organic fruits and vegetables when my dwindling college budget allows. When buying organic, I thought that I was paying for less pesticides and contaminants. It never occurred to me that the genetic makeup of an organic tomato might be different from the non-organic variety. I thought that a tomato was a tomato, and seeds were well… seeds
. I didn't know that my beautifully round tomatoes were genetically engineered to increase shelf life. After watching Robyn O’Brien’s talk
about the adverse health consequences associated with GM (genetically modified) foods, I was propelled to delve deeper. I also wanted to know how seed saving could help consumers and producers take control over their own food sources. Genetically Modified Foods are Bad News
We are bombarded with messages about eating organic, avoiding preservatives, and reading labels for artificial flavoring. Nutritional guidelines tell us that it is hard to go wrong if you focus on fresh, unprocessed food; however
, genetically modified produce has proven to be harmful to our bodies. Now what is a genetically modified food?
I will try not to get too technical, but genetically modified plants contain altered DNA. The DNA from the original plant is cut, and foreign DNA is strategically inserted in order to alter the plant’s characteristics. This all starts with the seed. Seed manufacturing companies, like Monsanto, genetically engineer seeds that will produce plants that last longer during transportation and maintain a near perfect aesthetic for picky shoppers. The GM seeds are also able to withstand large amounts of chemical pesticides and herbacides.(2) New copyrights laws and Supreme Court decisions have allowed the patenting of these genetically modified seeds, turning the seed market into a very competitive, industrialized industry
. Monsanto is the leading culprit, producing 90% of the GM seeds in the US market.(3)
So what is so bad about GM plants? It all comes down to the foreign DNA and the increased use of pesticides and herbicides. Our bodies usually breakdown foreign DNA fragments before they can cause any damage; however, blood tests have shown that some foreign plant DNA may go undetected in the blood stream.(4) Whether or not the foreign DNA can be incorporated into our own DNA sequence is yet to be determined, but many animal studies have produced alarming evidence that GM foods are harmful
. One study conducted with mice that were fed GM corn and soybeans showed significant disruptions in liver and kidney function. The GM food is having adverse, toxic effects on the mice. This is suggesting that the seed engineers are introducing harmful substances into the food by incorporating foreign genes. Monsanto has also been incorporating toxins into seed DNA like Bt, which actually functions as a pesticide to kill insects. Would we ever intentionally eat a toxic pesticide? Probably not,
but the reality is that GM plants are being engineered with these chemical components.
There has also been concern over the use of “marker genes” in GM plants. These genes have been used by GM food engineers to aid in DNA splicing and recombination. The jellyfish green fluorescent protein (GFP) has been used in many GM plants as an easy visual marker. Animal studies have not suggested that GFP levels in GM foods are at toxic levels, but there are many other marker genes that have not been tested.(1) Do we put drugs on the market that have had absolutely no testing?
If you watched Robyn O’Brien’s talk about GM foods, you would hear that she started researching the safety of GM foods after one of her children suffered a allergic reaction. The genes in GM plants produce new proteins that can possibly trigger an allergic reaction. The increase in GM food consumption has coincided with the increase in food allergies. Today, 89% of the soybean acres contain GM crop. It has been discovered that sections of the protein produced in genetically modified soy is identical to known allergens. The GM soy is much more likely to cause an allergic response than non-GM soy.(5)
Why is our government allowing dangerous GM seeds on the market? Many countries, such as France, Hungary, and Peru have already banned the use of some genetically modified seeds. Sarkozy himself said that “The French government keeps and will keep its opposition against the cultivation of the Monsanto 810 maize on our soil.”(2) The control of large seed companies, like Monsanto, has defined the US agricultural system. We are losing natural plant diversity, contaminating our soil with chemicals, and even worse we are polluting our bodies. Don’t we deserve, at the bare minimum, to know what we are putting into our bodies? Some states have tried to take a stand against GM food. California, for example, attempted to pass an amendment this year that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods. Unfortunately this amendment did not pass, but that does not mean that GM labeling is a lost cause. It is common practice in other countries.
How Can Saving Seeds Help?
To combat the growth of GM plants and to promote seed saving, there are many vehicles of change.
On the global scale, there needs to be increased regulation and testing in the seed market. While I would love for GM seeds to be banned altogether, this cannot happen overnight. The current seed industry discourages seed saving because non-GM crops are becoming contaminated by the GM seeds simply through wind dispersion. This has resulted in hundreds of patent lawsuits. Although less cost-effective, it is simply easier for farmers to buy GM seeds from Monsanto rather than risk contamination. Until GM seeds are better regulated and tested (or banned) we can still work to avoid GM foods. Buying organic foods is one way to reduce the risk of GM consumption, although organic labeling regulation is not a perfect system. The only way to guarantee pure, fresh produce is to grow it with uncontaminated seeds. Saving seeds removes farmers and consumers from the corrupt GM seed market.
At the community level,
seed banks and urban gardens are great alternatives for growing completely GM-free produce. Feed Denver
has a working urban farm (Sunnyside Farm) in the Highlands community and is also beginning to form a seed library. To get more information about the seed library, check out this link!
If you are interested in starting a garden or farm in your community please explore the Feed Denver
website or attend an urban farming class.
There are also things that you can do individually. Starting a garden with heirloom seeds, keeping a personal seed bank, and supporting local organic farms are all easy ways to protect your health.
Check back next week for part 2 of our series: “How Saving Saving Seeds Can Save Us All.”
1. Ikuta, Benjamin. “Genetically Modified Plants, Patents, and Terminator Technology: The Destruction of the Tradition of Seed Saving” Hein Online. (2009) 567:571-72.
2. Mascarenhas, Michaeland and Bush, Lawrence. “Seeds of Change: Intellectual Property Rights, Genetically Modified Soybeans and Seed Saving in the United States” The Authors: Journal Compilation 2006
3. Gucciardi, Anthony and Barrett, Mike. “Monsanto Declared Worst Company of 2011” Natural Society. Dec. 6, 2011.
4. Dona, Artemis and Arvanitoyannis, Ioannis. “Health Risks of Genetically Modified Foods” Food Science and Nutrition. (2009) 49:2, 164-175.
5. Institute for Responsible Technology. “Genetically Engineered Foods May Cause Rising Food Allergies” Spilling the Beans. (2007).
Last month I had the opportunity to visit the University of Gastronomic Sciences to speak to Masters Students about career opportunities in the food and farming industries in the USA. Founded by the pioneer thinkers of Slow Food International and located in Pollenzo, Italy (I know, poor me…what I do for the Good Food Revolution!) this program draws a full picture of the place of food in the full economy and ecology of the human experience on this planet.
Gastronomically food cannot be separated into tidy compartments. Growing food cannot be separated from the land, people, and culture wherein it came forth. Eating food cannot be separated from the “hands that made the food” (as the Irish would say). Discussions about health – from nutrient deficiency to the obesity epidemic – cannot be separated from the industries that provide the connection between grower and eater. Food justice conversations – from food deserts to land grabbing and forced famine – cannot be separated from local and global political and financial decisions…as well as our own choices at the grocery store.
Many days I am frustrated at the slow, sometimes glacial, movement I experience working to cultivate the mission of Feed Denver. The question that began Feed Denver was: Can we grow the food we eat in and near the City of Denver? Immediately I realized there cannot be a negative answer to that question. Redirected as a statement this must be our quest: to grow the food we eat in and near the City of Denver.
Spending time in the Piedmont Region of Italy reminded me that food production can be small and independent. It can be personal and reflect the culture and community. It can be productive and profitable. I was able to attend a wine tasting of seven cru designated wines from the local Barolo region. We tasted how different one wine was compared to the wine from the next hill over. Same grapes, similar soil and landscape profiles, and very controlled processes but each wine was completely different though all from a very small area.
Vineyards dotted the hills but along the roads field after field alternated between hazelnut groves and polenta corn. Nearer peoples’ homes large gardens flourished. In Colorado small production is so rare I stop to stare when I come across it. Here in Peidmont it is the norm. Each town has small groceries and coops as well as weekly farmers markets. And at the same time I met farmers who were developing coop distribution organizations to provide fresh food to nearby Milan and Turin, with concern that fresh food is not very available in the big cities…just down the road.
My career day co-presenters were from large and small companies, farmers and food companies, and represented six countries and four continents. There were new farmers dedicated to good, clean, and fair production. There were global food corporations wanting to grow but still be at the sustainability table. There were market buyers needing farmers and their production in a world where small is no longer supported as an industry. There were organizations supporting the sustainable food conversation through communication, education, and support networks.
What I learned is Feed Denver stands side by side with these others from around the world. We are all dedicated and passionate. We want to support the “new” gastronomes being shaped by the programs at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. We are simultaneously discouraged by the state of the world yet encouraged by the state of our commonality and shared need for engagement in making that world tastier, cleaner, and more fair.
The students asked me, will there be jobs in the Good Food Movement when they finish their program. My response was, there must be but you might have to create them yourself. If you can’t find a job that supports good, clean, fair food you must make one. I challenged each one that I spoke with that even if they found a great job but it is removed from actual food production that they consider finding a way to engage with food production on the front line. For every person I meet interested in becoming a new farmer, I have already met fifty new food writers, local food website developers, food delivery companies, farmers’ market creators, and local food restaurateurs. More than anything, we need new farmers. And we all need to do what we can to encourage, support, and nurture them so that more new farmers will feel this is a good, clean, fair and profitable career.
Its arching stature, covered by protective materials, shelter the earth’s productive offering of seasons before and those to come. Inside the hoop house, there’s a year round growing process reaping seasonal produce that adapt to weather conditions. The parting growing season - winter - yielded a variety of healthy crops. Arugula, pak choi, salad greens, mustards, herbs and beets were just some of those grown inside and outside the hoop house. Contributing to the success of the outside growing space in Denver’s varying weather conditions are raised four season beds. The remnants of few overwintered sweet pak choi still dawn one of the raised bed.
Growing in a hoop house however does not eliminate the changing weather conditions that affect crop growing. Last winter was challenging because of temperatures in the negatives (-25F) during the night. A few plants didn’t survive but most were grown to withstand winter cold spells and in turn their quality of flavor improved during that time. Bugs are not absent, so if you think you’re going to get away from them think again; their presence is actually very good for the growth of plants. Aphids, one of those annoying and unsightly little bugs, appear during slightly warmer temperatures but attract other bugs that are beneficial and promote growing in the hoop house. Ladybugs and spiders are just two of those great “Beneficials”.
It’s only the beginning days of spring but those beautiful ladybugs are emerging and fuzzy spiders are being chased away from plants about to be harvested. We wouldn’t want them appearing in someone’s freshly picked greens! Ariel Chesnutt, the Director of Production, loves seeing them because it means the hoop house is an actual ecosystem. To expand the space, three new raised beds and one long in ground bed have been structured for growing. In these are the beginnings of snap peas, radishes, greens, mustards, and more. In addition, seeds for summer crops have been started and transplants are being prepared for the additional outdoor beds.
With so much going on, one of the main fertile components can’t be forgotten. Heaps of compost piles that were kept hot through fall and winter filled the beds with beautiful soil. Feed Denver creates their own compost thus allowing for the crops to flourish because it’s done in the correct way under the watchful eye of Ariel and the staff of refugees farmers. Ariel says it’s amazing what wonderful soil will do for crops; all the plants look beautiful. New additions to what was previously grown have also been introduced thanks to the Feed Denver’s New American Farmers who are of Bhutanese descent. They have introduced a special green they call Saag, a seed they brought from their refugee camp. The word Saag in Nepali is used for many different kinds of greens but in the hoop house they are growing a type of mustard with very big, bright green leaves. Ariel notes that it is mild in flavor, has a wonderful texture and is extremely delicious. She says that the refugee families are happy that they can eat something of familiar taste from home here in Denver and the staff also enjoys this mustard as they explore it by cooking with it at home.
This season there are serious challenges such as precipitation which is already behind on the Front Range, it is Ariel’s hope that the crops are bountiful and delicious. The market, one of the key components of Feed Denver depending on the weather, could start anywhere from mid-April to the beginning of May so we’re all keeping our fingers crossed. Ariel also noted that the greens being harvested at the moment are so fresh, sweet, crisp and delicious that she doesn’t think it needs any cooking; she enjoys them raw, just after harvest so much so that she does her own home experimentation on growing. Though she only has a deck to work with she currently has a pomegranate tree, two rosemary bushes, thyme, parsley and greens. She tries to use the space to grow as much food as she can during the season (while fighting off the squirrels) and is going to be trying out hops this year.
For those of you who may only have a small space to work with, that’s okay. A small space can surprisingly produce a good amount once utilized correctly. It’s spring so it’s time to get a move on. Feed your family on the fruits of your labor, literally.
Inside the offices of Feed Denver the quiet minds are diligently working towards building a stronger more efficient operation. The process may be coming slowly but so much has been done already to improve the lives of those in the communities they interact with. I have not been at Feed Denver long but it didn’t take long to figure out that a non-profit takes a lot of dedicated minds and hands. This organization thrives on educating in this time of crisis where food needs to be made a priority. Spending the last year in Italy, I have been able to vastly improve my intake of fruits, vegetables and fresh products because of skilled farmers and the markets held weekly. I see the same faces of hardworking farmers who take the time out to engage with customers. Some of their produce is so fresh that it still has the grains of dirt on them from the field, not what you find in the food stores; the pre-washed and packaged food that has so many additives and preservatives, labeled organic and whatever else they think off to make you think you’re eating healthy. At markets you’re given the opportunity to interact with farmers and to develop a relationship.
Walking into Feed Denver’s hoop house today, it was such an overwhelming feeling to see firsthand what little a space can produce over time a short amount of time. The greens were flourishing; they looked so full of life, vibrant, healthy and lush. Those found in the store are nice but could not compare to these. What makes it so much better is that it’s an unforgettable learning experience that I will be able to share with others. This hoop house is just a small portion of what is being done within Feed Denver. There are other projects in the developing stages like a new location at West 44th Avenue and Vallejo Street, but any organization depends on financial stability; without it an operation’s plans are put off and it sadly ceases to survive. Feed Denver is an organization that is dedicated but relies heavily on volunteers and sponsors and it is facing its fair share of complications.
This is where Feed Denver’s not so quiet minds come into play, sending emails, making calls and attending events that will put the word out about not only the need to learn how to feed themselves but to commit themselves to developing communities that will be able to provide healthy food. Most people only see the end result and don’t fully appreciate the time and effort put into these projects. As it is the beginning of spring and seeds have been planted, the outlook is positive. Communicating with others about developing initiatives is a day to day work load. Phone calls may pave the way but it will require meetings, classes, money, paperwork etc. to get the tasks completed.
I would hope that people come to the realization that they cannot fully depend on large corporations to be responsible for their food supply. When you start to grow a garden, realize that it’s simply the same process a non-profit may go through to plant its mission - hard work. So if you can, take the time out to learn about this work and help. A few essential basic seeds are all one needs to start to feed themselves. Seeds are affordable and the experience of learning to grow is an invaluable life tool. So what if some wilt or die, at the end of the day when you pick that tomato or pepper it will be one of the most rewarding experiences to know that you grew it. What’s even more important is that you don’t have to question what you’re putting in your body. Take control of your own and your family’s health and well being. Watch a seed grow, involve your family and reap the benefits. Feed Denver is looking forward to sharing this experience with anyone who wants to be a part of it this spring season.
Little did I know that the ladies at Feed Denver often have a casual morning coffee ritual. Now, I am not a big coffee drinker but I was open to sharing the experience because like Lisa said, it’s Food Culture. The coffee is a Bosnian tradition. I saw sage twigs lingering around in a dish and I thought it had no real purpose but it actually does. It was tied in a bundle with string and burnt so that the smoky sweet aroma would be released into the air. Its purpose is to cleanse, give blessing and to get rid of bad energy. A good amount of ground coffee was mixed with hot water in a petite silver pitcher. It was then spooned into four tiny porcelain teacups, served on a silver antique plate with sugar cubes in a dish with a floral edged design, all matching the pitcher.
Basically the goal is to drink the coffee slowly until you’ve sipped all of the liquid and only the coffee grounds remain. I thought since I took a sensory analysis class that it would be great to put it to use and see if I could identify any aromas since coffee has so many sensory properties. I honestly still can’t identify a lot of characteristics but it’s nice to have the knowledge to be able to speak about it to others. It in turn evokes conversation about one’s own sensory abilities. I managed to identify nuttiness and burnt butter. On the first sip, of course, my face puckered up since no sugar is allowed and if you must (and that is a must!) have sugar you’re allowed to dip a sugar cube in the coffee and suck on it. While you’re dipping it in the coffee notice how quickly the liquid shoots up the sugar cube. Normally I need sugar and milk but surprisingly when the coffee began to cool the flavor softened and it was easier to drink. When the liquid was gone, the cup was then turned over on the plate and allowed to drain out.
There really is no purpose to it but it’s simply used as a conversational piece and you talk about what you think has meaning in the coffee grounds images. You’re not allowed to read your own cup the first time around though. It was interesting and funny to hear the type of images you can find in coffee grounds left in a cup. It was anywhere from bee hives, ghost mountains, elephants, a perfect square, legs, a groundhog and a piercing eye. Your mind is supposed to run free. It’s like looking up into the sky and finding little animals shapes in the fluffy clouds.
Culture is so diverse and communication at the table is always left for interpretation especially when different cultures are involved. Everyone places meaning on food, good or bad, but coffee represents such a broader social web. It can be found in not only homes but almost everywhere you go and can be consumed at any time of the day. In turn the coffee grounds have a gardening benefit and so Feed Denver uses it as a compost component and nothing goes to waste. Finally sharing an experience with others is a way to understand their heritage and a good way to get ideas flowing.
Jim Gibson, a mushroom enthusiast and native Coloradan loves mushrooms and knows quite a bit about the earthy fungus we enjoy. What many persons don’t know including me is that they provide much more than just being an addition to a meal. In a short conversation with Jim we discussed the importance of mushrooms and what I learned was enlightening. What we see above ground is evidence of a small portion of the organism. Most of the action occurs underground, out of sight and out of mind for us. Below is the soil food-web of the mushrooms where decomposition happens: the gathering of water; where medicine and food for other soil organisms occur; which encourages healthy soil. Mushrooms live symbiotically with other plants in their growing area. Depending on the type of species, mushrooms provide medicinal properties that include antibacterial, antiviral, and antitumor, anticancer properties. They increase bioavailability of nutrient proteins, vitamins and minerals and for example, shitake is known to be high in Vitamin B.
It is Jim’s hope that the growing of mushrooms will be increased in the Denver area. Meanwhile he wants to continue to engage those willing to learn and thus continue the promotion of their qualities. Some mushrooms are relatively easy to grow according to Jim but once an environment is selected they should be introduced to a strict gardening regime and the correct conditions must be provided in order for them to grow. Yet again mushrooms, depending on the species can be grown by using spores, spawn or by using mushrooms and will take an average of two to three months to reach maturity. According to Jim, he wants us to understand the multiple benefits of this lovely fungus family. Their growth should be encouraged, as beneath our feet is their environment. This is where “mycelium” - simply put this is where they absorb nutrients - occurs and the plant progresses. Even if you don’t see a mushroom growing in your garden apparently your garden will still reap benefits but there are things that must be done to ensure its life.
Soil must not be rowed or tilled and basically Jim says don’t put anything in your soil that you won’t put in a glass of water to drink. That’s a positive and unforgettable way to think about your soil. Such products like pesticides that big companies say we should use because it does this and that will only end up killing your soil because they are often harmful and it ultimately affects the ecosystem. I think we should do whatever it takes to protect what we have and our gardens are a great place to start. If you’re not one to garden because you don’t have the time or skills, local farm markets are an affordable option (although growing your own food is better and cheaper) where you can find mushrooms. It will give you the chance to talk to the farmer and gain insight on how they are grown and maybe even obtain a few recipes or ideas.
On speaking about Feed Denver and other organizations who are taking the step forward to educate and train, Jim is excited about their development and believes they provide a real opportunity to build communities and get them in touch to share, grow and learn. Not only that but they give insight to the things that are becoming important in Denver. He appreciates their existence. Jim has an upcoming class about Mushrooms for Health: Food, Medicine and Soil on April 9th, 2011 so if anyone is interested in starting their own mushroom venture please feel free to visit Feed Denver’s classes and events page to register. It will be informative and a class not to miss because this is where he will be able to share recipes and other ideas with you.
It is my pleasure to write blog articles as a part of my Internship with Feed Denver. My name is Tiffany and I attend the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy studying Food Culture and Communications. I came to Feed Denver to expand my knowledge and appreciation of agriculture and to learn about the emphasis that is being placed on local food supply; to understand the fundamentals of a non-profit organization and its essential role in providing stability and education to those in need. I believe that communication is essential to educating communities about the severity of food supply and learning as much as you can from others is the way to go.
To watch plants grow is a joy but to be a part of it is even better. It’s a continuous cycle in the growing of Feed Denver’s hoop house. Before spring began the raised beds were prepared the refugees and Ariel, the Director of Production sorted through the seeds and made the final spring selection. So, finally spring is here and planting has begun in the hoop house. Not being one who really knows how to farm it is inspiring to watch the woman of Feed Denver be motivated and work towards future goals of educating communities. There are a number of classes scheduled for this spring season and at the symposium on March 12th, 2011 was a great pre-view for what is being offered. If you missed it, there will be will future classes (please visit the classes and events page). There is so much to be learned and it gives one a chance to share and talk to others who may face the same challenges and give insight to growing techniques that are helpful.
As a student studying Food Culture, Denver offers its own unique agricultural playing field. On another note, although I have yet to explore other farms of Denver, it is great to be able to experience the locality of produce in a Restaurant. On a recent visit to Fuel, (a popular restaurant in the River North Downtown area is known as one of the best and offers seasonal menus) it was a nice change to have honey glazed turnips that were grown locally as a side dish instead of fries. The baby turnips were tender, sweet and the roasting complimented the earthy aroma. Fuel who is now looking to have their own small garden, is communicating with Feed Denver to develop this idea so patrons experience what it’s like to eat healthy fresh food that may inspire others to grow. It is a great start to the spring season and I look forward to what the gardens will offer to communities.