Winter signifies an important time of the year if you’re a vegetable gardener or small farmer. Seed catalog season is well upon us and it’s not too late to plan and let the anticipation of this coming seasons planting and harvesting begin. Not only is gardening an enjoyable activity for most of us, but growing your own food is very economical for the home gardener. You’re taking pressure off the food industry to various sustainable benefits, and also saving yourself some money; a few dozen seed packets costing $130 can yield more than $2000 dollars worth of produce over the course of the growing season. Not to say that supporting your local farmers market and small farms is a bad thing, but oftentimes the accessibility of these markets are limited and we all rely on the local grocery store to at some least degree for our produce needs.
Amidst this pleasure of selecting and planning your garden, there are a few realities that are worth taking into account. As we all know, times are changing, oftentimes faster than we care to admit, but we can all benefit from a little honesty so we can grow a garden we can feel good about. Unless you are saving your own seeds and using exclusively those you’ve hand selected, most people buy much if not all of there seeds each year. Being a home seed saver is an honorable endeavor nowadays. Preserving your own lines adapted to your own region and selected for characteristics you prefer, year after year; a home garden or family farm doesn’t get any better than that. Until we all have reached that ideal status and can do such a thing on our own terms, most of us are dealing with the politics of the evolving modern day seed industry.
In the past few decades the commercial seed industry has undergone a vast consolidation. You may have heard of the terrors of agro giants like Monsanto and their Roundup Ready GMO crops of corn and soy. There are far reaching affects of chemical ridden food, contaminated soils and its affects on the natural flora and fauna surrounding these farms. Much of these affects are, in all likelihood, yet to be fully realized. In addition to this, GMO species are already on our plates with little to no research to any ill affects to our health. These “advances” in the agricultural world are not all that they are up to. Monsanto and a handful of other agro giants, like Dupont, Syngenta and Bayer, are actively seeking to reach a state of world domination, specifically by controlling the worlds food supply through the agricultural system.
Monsanto has been on a quest to persecute and eliminate the small independent farmers who decline to buy Monsanto’s genetically modified and trademarked seeds. Hoping to monopolize on natures bounty and charging based on a seasonal one time use basis. The small farmers prefer instead to continue to grow seed varieties that have been painstakingly bred for superior flavor, texture, hardiness and in many cases, passed down from generation to generation. Back in 2005, Monsanto bought Seminis. Seminis controlled 40 percent of the U.S vegetable seed market, 20 percent of the world market supplying the genetics for 55 percent of the lettuce in U.S supermarkets, 75 percent of the tomatoes and 85 percent of the peppers, and smaller percentages of other varieties as well. Seminis was a major supplier to Fedco, a cooperative based in Maine with sales volumes of at least 35 percent certified organic seeds, they stopped selling Seminis seeds due to customer input after the acquisition. Fedco in particular is thriving, along with other small seed companies, despite these threats and setbacks. People are recognizing more and more the growing threats to their food supply and culture, opting to grow organically and choosing heirloom varieties that have been threatened since the advent of industrial agriculture.
Seeing these challenges coming, a growing group of seed companies have chosen to sign a “Safe Seed Pledge”. Created by the Council for Responsible Genetics, founded in 1983, and comprised of scientists, lawyers, public health advocates concerned about the social, ethical and environmental impact of new genetic technologies. The Safe Seed Pledge is as follows:
“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative,
We pledge that we do not knowingly buy, sell, or trade genetically-engineered seeds or plants.
The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families, or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically-engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately healthy people and communities.”
There are hundreds of companies today that have signed this pledge, a promising statement of solidarity in uncertain times. One standout company is Fedco, particularly if you’re a grower in the Northeast, as they select for hardiness in our short and often difficult growing season. Fedco also randomly selects and tests their most vulnerable crops for contamination. Their website puts its hopes for the future of the agricultural world as follows:
“Imagine what a seed utopia might look like. A paradigm based not on envy, greed and control, but instead on an appreciation of the co-evolutionary relationship between plants and people, built upon thousands of years of cooperation between farmers and their crops for their mutual benefit, resulting in an ever-expanding knowledge base shared as a human commons. A system that acknowledged and rewarded plant breeders for their contributions, but understood that each stood upon the shoulders of previous generations contributing to the shared collective knowledge. A system that placed no restrictions on the efforts of farmers, breeders, and communities to continue to expand that knowledge and to continue to develop crops in response to environmental and climatic changes.”
We are lucky to have such a committed company like Fedco (www.fedcoseeds.com) right here in the Northeast to be able to buy our seeds from reliably every year.
Another great company is the Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org). A non-profit working exclusively to preserve heirloom varieties from all over the world, you can buy seed varieties that are nearly extinct to try in your garden. Proceeds go directly to helping to preserve seed biodiversity.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.org) is a family owned business with a huge selection of heirloom varieties, including one of the largest selections of seeds from the 19th century. The company is dedicated to promoting and preserving our agricultural and culinary heritage.
Other companies worth checking out:
Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com)
High Mowing Organic Seeds (www.highmowingseeds.com)
Territorial Seed Company (www.territorialseed.com)
These are only a few of the many companies worth checking out, but these are my personal favorites and many other New England gardeners main sources. It’s worth reiterating the fact that researching where your seeds come from is worth the time and energy. From checking out a company for the first time, or even maintaining an ongoing awareness. Its safe to assume these attempts at acquisitions by the agro giants of the world will likely continue to be a threat, at least for the time being.