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.