Watch Out for GMO Seeds, Veggies This Spring

We, as a rule, stay away from genetically modified organisms (GMO) in both our growing and our eating.  Yes, it’s impossible to stay away from them completely in any processed foods unless you are purchasing 100% organic food at all times.  I read so many labels and ingredients when shopping, I’m about blind by the time I get to checkout.  But you do what you can, when you can.  I think it’s even more important when buying fresh, unprocessed foods.  That’s part of the reason we started growing our own food to begin with.

Seed catalogsIf you’re anything like me you get super excited when all those seed catalogs start rolling in.  As professional growers (I use that term lightly) we get a ton of catalogs from all kinds of places, including those we’ve never ordered from.  Some of these are strictly for commercial growers – those who order in large quantities not suitable for home growers.  This is where I found the horrible truth that our customers will have to watch out for this season.

Imagine my dismay when, in one of those shiny commercial grower catalogs, I came across three varieties of GMO zucchini, two GMO summer squash and four GMO sweet corn.  We knew these were out there, of course, but the options to purchase these seeds hadn’t yet been in front of my face.  Times they are a-changing.  While most of you won’t encounter these seeds, it’s important you know what to look for when ordering for your gardens this year…and what you’re buying at the farmers markets.

What to Watch for When Ordering Seeds

Any seed that says it’s “Roundup resistant” is GMO.  This will mainly apply to sweet corn (in addition to soy, cotton and a host of other items a home gardener wouldn’t plant).  These have been genetically engineered to be able to withstand having Roundup herbicide dumped on it (often heavily) without damaging the crop.  Ucka.

GMO Zucchini SeedsAny seed that lists “Transgenic” as one of its attributes is also genetically engineered.  These are the zucchini and yellow squash options.  They have had genes spliced into the seeds to make them resistant to specific viruses or plant diseases.  Depending on the type of seed, the gene spliced in may be from another plant or even an animal.  Weird science, folks.

Again, you probably won’t find these seeds in your home-grown garden selections and, if you do see them, they can only be ordered in mass quantities you more than likely wouldn’t order anyway.  It’s just good information to have.

What to Watch for at Market

GMO Sweet Corn SeedsHere’s the rub.  These seeds are being offered to us, a small-scale grower who sells mainly at farmers markets.  Which means any of the growers at any of the markets you attend could be growing these.  Plus, three of the varieties of sweet corn have the SAME NAME as three varieties that were previously not GMO!  If you’ve shopped  for sweet corn and asked the name of the corn you may have heard a farmer tell you “Obsession”, “Passion”, or “Temptation.”  If you hear any of those varieties you MUST ask the farmer if it’s “Obsession 2,” “Temptation 2,” etc.  The 2nd generation of these varieties are the modified ones.  When shopping for zucchini or yellow squash most customers don’t ask the name, so you’d never know if you’re buying GMO squash or not.

It’s important to know your grower and their growing practices.  Ask them if they use GMO seeds.  Visit the farm, if you can.  Ask what organizations they belong to.  If they’re part of groups that require grower agreements to not use GMOs (like the Kansas City Food Circle), it’s a good bet they’re not using them.

As a rule of thumb, always ask the seller if they are growing what they sell; never assume.  You may be surprised that many of them are not.  They may be purchasing from multiple other farms and reselling it.  That, in and of itself, is not bad.  They are simply distributing goods grown by other local farmers.  What’s important is whether they know these farmers personally and know of their growing practices.  Ask them the names of the farms they purchase from and whether they’ve confirmed the farms are not using GMO seeds.

Many sellers purchase their goods from local produce auctions.  Again, that isn’t a big deal as long as you as the buyer know that’s what they’re doing and are okay with it.  The buyer has access to the list of who is selling and can individually verify these farms aren’t (or are) growing GMO crops.  It’s getting a bit more tricky, though, with so many new options for fresh foods grown from genetically engineered seeds.  At the auctions now, they may announce the corn they’re selling is “Temptation.”  An uninformed wholesale buyer may not know to ask if it’s “Temptation 2” and the auctioneer (or seller) may not make the distinction.  It’s becoming an even more slippery slope, folks.

Bottom Line: Know Where It Comes From

If you’re ordering seeds for your own garden, start with companies that vow to never sell GMO seeds.  Two of our favorites are Baker Creek and Johnny’s.  And always read the entire description to look for keywords.

IMG_20130608_071758-1Now, I can’t stress this enough.  It’s time to get to know your grower or seller.  Make sure you’re asking questions of your farmer.  Know their growing practices and the types of seeds they’re using.  If the person you buy from regularly is a reseller, make sure you know them well enough to trust their purchases.  If staying away from GMO foods is important to you, don’t leave that decision to just anyone.  Know where it comes from, period.



Vote NO on Missouri Amendment 1 – “Right to Harm” not “Right to Farm”

Vote No on Missouri Amendment 1

Right to Farm should not include the Right to Harm

Several of you have asked about our opinion on Missouri Amendment 1, the “Right to Farm” amendment.  We know it sounds like something we would be supporting, but it’s exactly the opposite.  We are encouraging all of you to vote NO on Missouri Amendment 1.

At first glance, the wording of the amendment (and what will be on the ballot) sounds encouraging: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the  right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching  practices shall not be infringed?”  This does not tell you the true content of the amendment. Voters are simply asked to vote “yes” or “no” on the above language, which sounds like a good thing.

However, let’s look at the actual amendment, which contains two Resolutions, nos. 11 and 7.  Here is the verbatim wording from those Resolutions (I’ve bolded the passages that are most concerning to us):

Resolution 7:  “That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices.

Resolution 11:  “That agriculture, which provides food, energy, and security, is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, it shall be the right of persons to raise livestock in a humane manner without the state imposing an undue economic burden on animal owners. No law criminalizing the welfare of any livestock shall be valid unless based upon generally accepted scientific principles and enacted by the general assembly.”

There are no definitions provided in the language of these bills; “agricultural technology” usually means the biotech industry, including genetically modified plants and animals (they’ve already come up with spider goats… what’s next?).  “Modern livestock production” generally includes confined operations, including chickens in warehouses, pigs in farrowing crates, cattle in feedlots.

This does NOT protect family farms.  This does NOT protect sustainable farmers or those who believe in the welfare of their animals.  This allows corporate and large farms to use all the GMOs, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers they want without anyone being able to say anything against it.  This allows CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) to operate freely without the ability for anyone to argue against their practices or try to enact laws that restrict their harmful practices without getting a multitude of the scientific community to back them (And, if the state decided to have cats and dogs fall under the livestock category, puppy mills would be protected, too).  This protects producers of GMO technology (i.e. Monsanto, Syngenta, etc.) and destroys the ability of sustainable and organic growers to protect themselves against what they call “agricultural technology.”  This leads to air pollution, water pollution, and so much more.

This could allow the government to later mandate practices that are completely out of line with our growing ideals, like requiring the irradiation of our produce before we offer it for sale.  It could prevent our ability to save seed or preserve livestock bloodlines.  We would have no recourse against genetically altered crops that infiltrate our fields.  It will further jeopardize the ability of small farms to compete in an open market and lead to more of them going bankrupt.

The rights of Missouri farmers are already, inherently, protected.  It’s the corporations and big ag special interests that are taking that away from us.  This, from the Joplin Globe:

Darvin Bentlage, a Barton County farmer, made a compelling case in this newspaper that what’s threatening small, independent family farms is big ag — corporate ag — which is what some critics think this amendment is designed to protect.

“I remember our right to farm when we didn’t have to sign a grower’s contract to buy seed, a document telling us what we could and couldn’t do with what we grew on our farm,” Bentlage argued. “I remember when family farmers could load their own feeder pigs in their truck and go to the local auction and sell their livestock in an open and competitive market. So who’s taken this right to farm away from us? It is the same corporate factory farm supporters, corporations and organizations that have pushed this constitutional amendment through the Missouri Legislature.”

 

The ballot question asks, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranging practices shall not be infringed?”

Infringed by whom? What practices? And who qualifies as a farmer in Missouri?

Smithfield Foods, for example, owner of Premium Standard Farms? How about Tyson Foods? Both of those are Fortune 500 companies that count their revenue in the billions.

Which Tyson practice “shall not be infringed,” the one that left more than 100,000 dead fish in Clear Creek this spring?

It’s Missouri that may need protection from big ag.

We can’t state it any more plainly.  Please, please, please, pass the word to your friends and neighbors.  Vote NO on Missouri Amendment 1.  The right to farm should not include the right to harm.

Karin and Arcenio Velez

Heirloom vs Open Pollinated; Hybrid vs GMO

Yes, planting season is drawing near, although you couldn’t tell by the 15″ of snow we’re expecting today.  I’ve recently been answering a lot of questions from people about the differences between heirloom seeds and open pollinated ones, hybrid plants and GMO crops.  The confusion is understandable considering the amount of attention these subjects have been getting in recent years.  Here’s a brief primer on the differences of each so you know what you’re shopping for when it’s time to by seeds for your garden!

Heirloom

An heirloom, by definition, is a valuable object that has been in a family for several generations.  You can think of heirloom seeds the same way.  Heirloom fruits and vegetables are varieties that have been around for a very long time and the seeds were originally passed down through families or communities for several generations.  They are true to their original form and you can save the seeds from the fruit and produce the same plant again the next year, no problem – which means they are open pollinated (more on that in a minute).

Seed savers and growers use different methods to classify a variety as an heirloom: 100 yrs old, 50 years old, pre-1945 (end of WWII) and pre-1951 (when the first commercial hybrids were introduced and commercial seed selling began booming).  So, classifying a seed as an heirloom can be a little subjective when it comes to how long the variety has been around; however, the absolute requirement is it must be able to produce true to type when planted from saved seed the next year.  And it must be old – how old is the subjective part.

Often, heirloom seeds are in danger of being lost if they’ve fallen out of popularity.  Seed Savers Exchange is just one organization that is dedicated to making sure many of these old varieties don’t dissappear.

Open Pollinated

All heirlooms are open pollinated, but not all open-pollinated varieties are heirlooms.  There have been varieties that came out after 1951 that do produce “true to type.”  In other words, growing a tomato, drying it, saving the seed and planting that seed the next year will produce the same tomato.  The next generation will look just like the parent.

Of course, “open pollinated” is a little bit of a misnomer.  There’s nothing at all “open” about pollinating heirlooms.  They need to be pollinated by another of the same type, or you’ll end up with a hybrid (see where I’m going here?).  The result of the two types cross pollinating may be wonderful or a complete disaster.  In fact, this is how many heirlooms began.  Someone took a few different varieties in their own garden, crossed them, saved the seeds, planted them again and really liked the result and just continued saving and replanting.  Some heirlooms were just a unique mutation in one particular veggie of a variety that someone really liked, saved, replanted and continued to cultivate.

Hybrids

There are really two types of hybrids.  The first are cross-pollinated varieties of older cultivars.  The offspring of these hybrids cannot be reproduced true to type from the seed they produce.  They may produce a plant but the resulting vegetable will not be the same as the parent.  Many of these have been around for decades or longer and were originally crossed to take the best characteristics from two or more varieties, such as flavor, shape or color, and combine them into one plant.

The second type of hybrid are called F1 hybrids.  These are usually varieties developed to be commercially sold because of unique characteristics of disease resistance, fruit size, ability to hold up well during shipping, etc.  If you attempt to save and replant the seeds of these cultivars, they may not even sprout because of sterility.  If they do sprout, they may not produce anything.

In any case, all hybrids are cross-pollinations of two or more varieties but are not genetically modified.  That’s a whole different animal, er, vegetable.

GMOs

A GMO is a genetically modified organism.  Also known as GE seeds, or genetically engineered, these seeds are created in a lab.  The genetic structure has been altered at the molecular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes.  The range of GMO seeds is enormous; some have been modified to accept a higher level of pesticides or herbicides without being affected, others have the DNA of other plants, animals or even human organs (yes, I said human organs) spliced in with them to increase their production level or level of vitamins.  The most common types of GMO seeds are used in commercial commodity crops: corn, soybeans and sugar beets.  However, there are now varieties of GMO sweet corn and zucchini on the market as well as pretty much all the papaya coming from Hawaii.

Time to Plant

So, how do you know what you’re planting in your garden?  The good news is unless you are buying your seeds from a commercial growers catalog, you won’t be planting any GE seeds.  These would contain some very specific language in them including descriptions of the genetics used to create them.

As far as heirloom vs open-pollinated vs hybrid, most seed packets will tell you which one is which.  The decision is up to you on what the most important thing about gardening is for you and your family.  If your goal is to have the tastiest produce possible, you may want to stick to heirloom varities.  Though they are very unpredictable and germination can be erratic, the flavor of heirloom varieties is very hard to beat.  If you’re more concerned about the amount you can grow, check out some of the older hybrids.  They can retain a lot of the flavor of the heirlooms but combine that with a more steady and predictable growth pattern.  And, again, unless you’re shopping from a commercial catalog you probably won’t find any F1 hybrids, either.

Your best bet is try a few different varieties each season, pick your favorites and go from there.  Happy planting!