Originally published in The MOF&G, September, 1999
What’s Wrong With Genetically Engineering Crop Plants?
"When you insert a gene into a DNA by using genetic modification, you have no idea where the gene goes--it’s absolutely a shot in the dark. These random mutagenic events can cause plants or crops to produce new toxins, new allergens, or they can reduce the nutritional value of the food...there’s no way to predict their effects. --John Fagan, founder, Genetic ID Inc.
Let Me Count the Problems...
Let Me Count the Solutions...
Put a Farm Tour on Your ‘To Do’ List
How many times have you put "Have tea with John and Jane" at the head of your ‘To Do’ List? How many of you figure into your work day time spent exchanging barnyard bulletins with your neighbors? The most local news items happen right on our small farms and homesteads, and the pieces of information we share without rehearsing or thinking about them are the gems that keep our farm and garden systems dynamic. Informal information swaps keep us all abreast of what weather is rolling in and what pests and pollinators have alighted upon our crops. The camaraderie of talking with another concerned grower can sometimes solve or at least help us cope with the cutworm blues, terrible germination and other dilemmas of farm life.
Farmers and apprentices in the Midcoast/Capitol area have, in fact, scheduled time to talk with one another. For the last three years, spring and early summer potluck dinners have been held at our farms on a rotating basis. The evenings always include a walking tour of the farm, during which the resident farmers inevitably endure a barrage of questions and rank opinion.
Bambi Jones of Alna says that these meetings also offer "a great chance for apprentices to meet each other and make connections that grow throughout the season." Bambi also noted that farmers who have known each other for years but have never visited each other's farms have at long last been able to experience the lay of the land and have a look at the systems of other growers. "It is always so interesting to see how another person handles a similar challenge that I am working with," says Bambi.
These gatherings have no set agenda but provide, instead, just a loose and relaxing climate in which interest and advice flow freely. The challenge to these meetings is, of course, not how or what to discuss but rather when. Finding the time may seem impossible, but we seldom realize how much we glean from seeing another person's farm system. Why not call the farmers and gardeners in your neck of the woods and invite them to a potluck dinner and farm walk? The food for thought and for the body are both bound to be great.
The Other Side of the ECHO StoryTo the Editor:
Some thoughts on reading "Hope for Alleviating International Hunger" in the June-August issue of The MOF&G, about the ECHO farm in Fort Myers, Florida, where "development" workers from other agencies learn about tropical food gardening, and where hard-to-get tropical seeds are sent to groups that need them: There is another side to this "international hunger" story that we should be aware of.
We are often told that overpopulation is the cause of hunger in "under-developed" countries, which may well be the case in the future, and with accelerating climate change, but, until now, according to World Watch and other watchdog agencies, the problem is distribution and access to land, not lack of food. People who do not get enough food are excluded from land on which to grow it and do not have the money to buy what food is available. The good land is used to produce cash export crops for us, here, in North America and Europe: tropical fruits (bananas, citrus, etc.), tropical oils for our processed foods, cotton, coffee, tea, chocolate and flowers (!), all shipped to the "developed" world and eagerly and ignorantly bought by us in our supermarkets. An historical example of this situation is the Irish "potato" famine, when the British were shipping grain and beef out of Ireland while the indigenous people starved.
The people back where these commodities come from are pushed into ballooning cities, up erodable mountain sides (to be washed out by Hurricane Mitch), and into forests that belong to other peoples. Shrimp aquaculture, tourist development, mining and oil operations, and big dams that flood the good bottom land to electrify cities and irrigate export crops all have a like effect. These peasants who are forced off good land often had great skill in gardening and cultivated intricate, very productive, multilayer tropical gardens. (The Mayan "back yards" are, were, year-round tropical edens of food.) But their skills can be lost in a generation of city or fugitive life.
So now, ECHO is learning and teaching what is being lost in these threatened areas because of our own purchasing, investment and political policies. (Our government supports the companies that ship us all this stuff, and often the political regimes in which they function.)
We should be teaching ourselves the skills that are being lost by our economic choices, of how to grow wonderful tropical and temperate gardens, and how to respect the people who do. ECHO is teaching us this lesson.
Another very important service that "development" workers provide, even unintentionally, is to witness the injustice of land ownership and political power in the countries where they work, and to provide some little protection by their very presence, for peasants who might otherwise be bullied or worse under military and oligarchic regimes. (Perhaps political innocence makes them less likely to get into trouble themselves.)
To be in touch, to educate yourselves and help with the political side of "international hunger," contact: