For the Love of Seeds

What an easy week to be a farmer who has only a kitchen garden.  Yes, I know, I should be planting something, but we have such a long growing season in North Carolina – I don’t do much in the way of seedlings, pretty much throw everything except tomatoes and peppers straight in the ground.  But yes, I should at least be going through my seeds, discovering what I’ve forgotten I harvested, what I’ll need.

It is truly the season of the seed.  That tiny keeper of vast potential.  Waiting through the dark of winter, holding its mystery of kinetic energy.  Yes, I’d most certainly like to buy some of your magic beans, sir!  You can bet I’m figuring Jack and I got the bargain of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those magic beans are increasingly coming from a single source and wearing a patent chastity belt.  Food Democracy Now reports: “In the past two decades, Monsanto’s seed monopoly has grown so powerful that they control the genetics of nearly 90% of five major commodity crops including corn, soybeans, cotton, canola and sugar beets” (1).

Ninety-percent!  Did you catch that?  So out of every ten soybeans we can potentially harvest for seed each fall, only one of them isn’t from Monsanto genetics and can actually, legally be harvested.  Does that scare you as much as it does me?  Talk about genetically putting all of our eggs in one basket.  And if that doesn’t seem unwise in and of itself, then let’s talk about the insanity of one corporation having so much control over the seeds that we need to feed ourselves.

Forever and ever and ever and ever, farmers have saved seeds.  It’s what you do.  Buy once, harvest forever.  Do we truly need to make a massive profit on everything?  C’mon folks, we all have to eat.  No one corporation should own the keys to the food supply — and by keys, I definitely mean seeds.

The new regime began in 1980 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, overturned the historical position held by the United States Patent and Trademark Office that patents can’t be granted on seeds because they are life-forms with too many variables to be patented (2).  This decision paved the legal way for Monsanto’s aggressive cornering of the seed market.

As explained in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange newsletter: “In many cases organic and conventional farmers are forced to stop growing certain crops in order to avoid genetic contamination and potential lawsuits. Between 1997 and April 2010, Monsanto filed 144 lawsuits against American farmers in at least 27 different states, for alleged infringement of its transgenic seed patents and/or breach of its license to those patents, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. As a result of these aggressive lawsuits, Monsanto has created an atmosphere of fear in rural America and driven dozens of farmers into bankruptcy” (3).

Now three-decades later, there is hope on the horizon.  On January 31, 2012, a judge in New York City will hear opening arguments in the case of Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et. al vs. Monsanto.  The suit was filed on behalf of 300,000 organic and non-GMO farmers and citizens to protect them from future accusation of patent infringement.

Very cool.  300,000!  They may have 90% of the genetics for five major crops, but they can’t fool all the people all the time.

When you buy your seeds this year, remember all magic bean sellers aren’t created equal.  Might there be a seed savers association near you such as Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Virginia or the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa?

We reap what we sow . . . and in that simple act can be our salvation.

  1. via Food Democracy Now | Stand up: Family Farmers vs. Monsanto.
  2. via Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear | Politics | Vanity Fair.
  3. via Assembly to Support the Anti-GMO Lawsuit : Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Saving the Past for the Future.

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