Harbinger of change

Most gardeners will attest to the pleasure of perusing seed catalogs in January…especially on a cold, blustery day like today.

There are many great seed catalogs, like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which has lovely four-color photos, great descriptions, and innovative tools. However, I’ve ordered from Fedco Seeds these past few years, enjoying the black-and-white newsprint catalog interspersed with quotes, drawings and interesting bits of information (there are color pictures on their website, so you can see what the plants actually look like). One of my favorite parts of the catalog is the editorializing by the founder of Fedco Seeds (and longtime advocate for seed propagation), CR Lawn.

The 2012 catalog discusses climate change (with some helpful planning suggestions, given the reality of a longer growing season, as well as a warning about its dangers). And it mentions Fedco’s decision to join a lawsuit against Monsanto: David vs. Goliath—hopefully with the same outcome.

If you aren’t familiar with Monsanto, it is a huge company which produces herbicides, like Roundup®, as well as genetically engineered seeds (although I just learned from the Fedco catalog that this term is not completely accurate; the precise word is “transgenic”). Many of these seeds (created for most major crops, such as corn, soybean, wheat, canola, cotton, sugar beets, among others) are Roundup Ready®, which means they’re “tolerant” to Roundup®. You can kill your weeds with the herbicide while leaving your crops unaffected. As far as we know.

These seeds are patented, and it is illegal to save them, which is significant for many reasons. Seed saving is integral to farming; farmers and gardeners save seeds from the most desirable plants: those which produce well, are hardy, taste delicious. These seeds are often passed down through generations. This practice allows us to maintain the diversity critical to the health of our food system, and enables people in developing countries to grow the food they need to survive. Monsanto has persecuted farmers whose crops inadvertently became tainted with Monsanto seed—nature sometimes distributes seed without regard to property boundaries.

Protection from prosecution for inadvertent contamination is at the heart of the suit that Fedco joined. CR Lawn says: “If we win on the issues of applicability and enforceability of the patents in cases of unwanted genetic drift, none of the 83 co-plaintiffs will ever be sued for adventitious presence, and it will set a precedent that applies to all other in a similar fix.”

One expects seed catalogs to provide a glimmer of hope in the bleak midwinter. Fedco Seeds offers revolution.

The following are some links for further information, including a riveting in-depth piece called “Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear” which ran in Vanity Fair  May 2008. Also, an excellent article that explains the impact of patented seeds on poor African farmers.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805

http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/slow_food/blog_post/organic_farmers_v_monsanto/

http://www.pubpat.org/monsanto-seed-patents.htm

http://www.fedcoseeds.com/

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