Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mid-winter Musings

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is rapidly becoming one of my favorite seed sources. Started by a young man (Jere Gettle) not too many years ago, it has grown into quite the outfit. Not only does he have his catalogue seed business, promoting the propagation of heirloom varieities of fruits and veggies, but he has also established an "old time village" to go with his operation there in Missouri, and now has an impressive shop (The Seed Bank) in an old bank in San Francisco! To top it all off, he also puts out a nice little magazine four times a year, called "The Heirloom Gardener."

When I got my first issue about a year ago, I was disappointed because it was all about Asian vegetables - strange foods that would never grow here in our northern climate. Many of the seeds they sell are also for these exotic veg, which I thought was odd for an American heirloom gardening company. But, just because it's not an American heirloom, doesn't mean it isn't an heirloom in some other country. With the globalization of food, and the seed monopolies that are taking over, it is good to save heritage seeds wherever possible.

The current issue of "The Heirloom Gardener" arrived this week, and it had some great articles (and recipes), like this piece on parsnips:

There was also a good article on hardy kiwis, a fruit that has long gone unnoticed, but is now starting to have its moment in the spotlight. If you like kiwis, you might want to look into growing these, for they are supposedly hardy enough to survive Zone 3!

The bit that always gets me, though, is the FrankenFood column:

Here we are kept up to date on some of the latest breaking news in the burgeoning field of genetically modified seeds/plants/foods and seed monopolies. There's some scarey stuff here - stuff that the Big Companies (like Monsanto) would like to keep under wraps. For instance, one study showed that a particular variety of GM corn killed ladybugs. Developed to be resistant to corn rootworms, this GM corn, should it get out in the field, would have devastating effects on our already suffering ladybug populations. The company forbade the scientists who did the study from reporting these results and got the EPA to approve commercialization of the corn in 2003. Doesn't really sound "late breaking", but it is only recently that one of the scientists had the courage to leak the information. This toxic corn is now out there...killing beneficials without remorse.

Then there's the piece about how another company has admitted that they are unable to control the spread of GM organisms once in the field (this particular case had to do with GM rice contaminating the non-GM rice crops of two Missouri farmers). The company actually admitted that outdoor field trials and commercial growth of GM crops should be stopped IMMEDIATELY before regular crops are irreversibly contaminated. If European countries can ban GM crops, then why can't we?

The last issue had a piece about how these seed giants are devastating traditional farming in India. They are pushing their "latest and greatest" products, stating that farmers will get greater yields with their seeds...and their fertilizers. Oh, and you can't save any of the seeds for next year because the varieties are all either hybrids (which don't produce viable seeds), or are patented and it is illegal for you to save them. So, the great saviour food is now devastating the local farmers, who have a hard time affording the new seeds and fertilizers, which are all chemically based. Organic farming is strongly discouraged (you must sterilize the soil and use our chemicals to grow these great crops) and seed saving is out. Doesn't sound like a sustainable operation to me.

I think most of us Americans are pretty sheltered from the realities of daily life in the rest of the world. As long as we have our chips and dips, our ice cream and cakes, our black angus steaks and Maine lobsters, we are content. The American dream isn't sustainable, and I think more people need to be aware of the realities of the world's food (for starters). I'm not against free enterprise...but when the almightly dollar becomes a diety in its own right, then it is time to step back and take a good long look at the bigger picture.

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