Cornucopia Institute http://www.cornucopia.org Economic Justice for Family Scale Farming Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:34:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 McDonald’s Rejects Simplot’s Genetically Modified Potatohttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/mcdonalds-rejects-simplots-genetically-modified-potato/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mcdonalds-rejects-simplots-genetically-modified-potato http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/mcdonalds-rejects-simplots-genetically-modified-potato/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 19:34:56 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14411 The Idaho agribusiness continues to get blowback over the Innate line of spuds. Idaho Statesman by Zach Kyle Source: Bowen Chin The J.R. Simplot Co.’s freshly approved genetically modified potato is not being welcomed by one of the company’s oldest business partners. McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food company and a longtime buyer of Simplot potatoes for french fries, says it doesn’t plan to buy Simplot’s latest genetically modified organism, the Innate potato. “McDonald’s USA does

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The Idaho agribusiness continues to get blowback over the Innate line of spuds.

Idaho Statesman
by Zach Kyle

Source: Bowen Chin

The J.R. Simplot Co.’s freshly approved genetically modified potato is not being welcomed by one of the company’s oldest business partners.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast-food company and a longtime buyer of Simplot potatoes for french fries, says it doesn’t plan to buy Simplot’s latest genetically modified organism, the Innate potato.

“McDonald’s USA does not source GMO potatoes, nor do we have current plans to change our sourcing practices,” the company said in a statement.

The Innate line of potatoes received federal approval Nov. 7 to go to market. The potatoes have fewer sugars than conventional potatoes and less asparagine, which has the potential to become a carcinogen – acrylamide – when fried. The modified potato contains only potato genes, not genes from other organisms. Hence its name, “Innate.”

Simplot spokesman Doug Cole didn’t address the company’s plans to sell to the fast-food industry or the dehydrated potato industry, which both have urged growers against planting GMO potatoes. But Cole said the fresh potato market would embrace Innate.

Consumers will be receptive to the reduced sugars and carcinogen-causing asparagine, Cole said. Because only 400 test acres of Innate varieties were planted and harvested this fall, production can’t ramp up until after the 2015 harvest, he said.

Rupert potato grower Duane Grant said he’s been told by buyers in the dehydrated potato industry not to plant the GMO potatoes. He hopes to line up willing buyers so that he can plant the biotech potatoes and reap the higher yields that come with their reduced bruising, he said.

This isn’t the first time the fast-food industry has resisted GMO potatoes. More than a decade ago, Monsanto brought its bug-resistant “New Leaf” line of genetically modified potato to market. Buyers, led by the fast-food industry, rejected the Monsanto spud, and it was pulled from production due to lack of business.

Grant said consumers will be more receptive to Innate because it benefits them, not just growers.

The key for Simplot and for growers, Grant said, will be persuading the food industry, which is worried about consumer backlash, to trust the product.

“Brand equity is extremely important to quick-serve restaurants,” Grant said. “They will avoid conflict whenever possible in order to protect equity of their brand name.”

McDonald’s stance was first reported by the Capital Press, a Western agricultural news service.

Zach Kyle: 377-6464@IDS_zachkyle

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/11/15/3487642_mcdonalds-rejects-simplots-gmo.html?sp=/99/1687/&rh=1#storylink=cpy

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New Report Criticizes Yogurt Industryhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/new-report-criticizes-yogurt-industry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-report-criticizes-yogurt-industry http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/new-report-criticizes-yogurt-industry/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 06:02:22 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14381 Major Brands Accused of Turning Health Food into Junk Food A new report, Culture Wars: How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, into Junk Food,issued by The Cornucopia Institute, accuses Dannon, Yoplait, Chobani and other major marketers of misleading parents, who are looking for healthier foods for their families, into purchasing yogurts loaded with sugar and containing a myriad of questionably safe artificial sweeteners, colors and emulsifiers. The group alleges that agribusiness, in

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Major Brands Accused of Turning Health Food into Junk Food

yogurt-report-cover final with borderA new report, Culture Wars: How the Food Giants Turned Yogurt, a Health Food, into Junk Food,issued by The Cornucopia Institute, accuses Dannon, Yoplait, Chobani and other major marketers of misleading parents, who are looking for healthier foods for their families, into purchasing yogurts loaded with sugar and containing a myriad of questionably safe artificial sweeteners, colors and emulsifiers.

The group alleges that agribusiness, in their marketing approach, has capitalized on yogurt’s historic, well-deserved healthful reputation while simultaneously adulterating the product, sometimes illegally, to gain competitive advantage and popular appeal.

In addition to The Cornucopia Institute’s comprehensive report on the yogurt industry, they also released a related buyer’s guide rating 114 brands and separating the truly healthy options from those that would be found on any dietitian’s shortlist of foods to avoid.

“What is most egregious about our findings,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, “is the marketing employed by many of the largest agribusinesses selling junk food masquerading as health food, mostly aimed at moms, who are hoping to provide their children an alternative, a more nutritious snack. In some cases, they might as well be serving their children soda pop or a candy bar with a glass of milk on the side.”

Cornucopia, a Wisconsin-based food and farm policy research group, found that the flavored varieties (strawberry, for example) of certain brands contain no actual fruit, and include total sugars that rival those in candy bars.

Alternatively, rather than with sugar, some yogurt is sweetened artificially with such substances as aspartame (also marketed as NutraSweet®).

According to Dr. Qing Yang, a professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, “A rise in the percent of the population who are obese coincides with the increase in the widespread use of non-caloric artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.” The use of aspartame is controversial and has been linked to brain tumors and neurological diseases in laboratory animals.

Non-caloric sweeteners are not the only controversial materials found in many popular brands of yogurt. Another, carrageenan, a bioactive ingredient derived from seaweed, has been linked in published research to serious gastrointestinal inflammation and disease. Some of the yogurts specifically aimed at young children, in squeezable tubes, are among the offerings containing carrageenan.

In addition, yogurt manufacturers add artificial colors, which have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Some manufacturers have even started adding nanoparticles, currently unregulated, which interact with cells in unknown ways.

Cornucopia’s report also looked at the industry’s labeling campaign: Live and Active Cultures, which purportedly assures a high level of healthful probiotics, which are microorganisms thought to improve digestion in the intestinal tract. Cornucopia tested yogurt purchased directly from the dairy cases, in grocery stores, rather than the industry’s practice of testing at the factory prior to shipment.

CI_YogurtCheckToSee_1aThe report’s finding revealed that many of the top-rated organic brands in Cornucopia’s buyer’s guide — that are not part of the industry’s Live and Active Cultures marketing campaign — actually contain higher levels of beneficial bacteria than some of the most popular brands displaying the seal. The University of Nebraska’s Food Processing Center conducted the testing.

“Our laboratory analysis also showed that there are nutritional benefits to eating whole milk, organic yogurt,” said Dr. Linley Dixon, one of Cornucopia’s researchers.

The Cornucopia study, consistent with other recent peer-reviewed and published findings, found that organic yogurt had more advantageous ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and higher levels of beneficial fats, including conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), than conventional yogurt.

Based on its industry investigation, The Cornucopia Institute has filed a formal complaint with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the agency to investigate whether or not certain yogurt on the market, manufactured by such companies as Yoplait, Dannon, and store brands including Walmart’s Great Value, violate the legal standard of identity for products labeled as yogurt. The Cornucopia Institute requests that the legal definition of “yogurt” be enforced for product labeling, just as it is for products labeled “cheese.”

“The reason that Kraft has to call Velveeta® ‘processed cheese-food’ is that some of the ingredients used, like vegetable oil, cannot legally be in a product marketed as ‘cheese’,” Kastel explained.

Cornucopia alleges that some of the ingredients manufacturers use to produce yogurt, such as milk protein concentrate (MPC), typically imported from countries like India, do not meet yogurt’s current legal standard of identity.

As Greek yogurt has become popular, one of the ways that companies have cheapened the manufacturing process is by adding MPCs to increase the protein level and improve what the industry calls “mouth feel.”

Finally, Cornucopia looked at the comparative costs of yogurt on the market. The report found that many organic yogurts can often be purchased for less, on a price-per-ounce basis, than conventional yogurts. This price comparison includes many of the popular Greek styles and heavily processed products, in special packaging, that are marketed to children, like Yoplait’s Go-Gurt and Dannon’s Danimals, with their long lists of artificial ingredients.

The healthiest choices in Cornucopia’s study include yogurts with a short list of ingredients, including organic milk and live cultures — with limited amounts of added organic fruit or unrefined sweeteners such as maple syrup.

“The good news is that there are wonderful yogurt options in the dairy cooler,” Kastel added. “We hope that yogurt lovers will use our report and buyer’s guide to choose the very safest and most nutritious products for their families, especially for children.”

MORE:

One of the most cost-effective and advantageous choices for consumers, especially parents, is to purchase larger containers of plain organic yogurt and mix them with fresh fruit and/or granola.

“This makes an incredibly wonderful snack for a child’s lunchbox,” said Cornucopia’s Kastel. “All it takes is a few reusable containers and two minutes of your time to throw in some blueberries, strawberries, peaches or other sliced fruit. To retain its crispness, granola can be included in a separate small container large enough to be mixed with the yogurt at mealtime.”

In addition to the synthetic sweeteners, and sometimes cane sugar, many yogurt products also contain high fructose corn syrup, some with exceptionally high levels of fructose. “This highly refined sweetener, also controversial with many dietitians, is misleadingly labeled as ‘fructose’ on ingredient lists, leaving off any reference to corn syrup,” added Dr. Dixon.

In a Harvard study released last week (October 13), and published in the Journal Molecular Metabolism, researchers found that fructose may promote obesity and diabetes by overstimulating a hormone that helps regulate fat accumulation.

“There is no question that fructose is a sugar that promotes fat storage in the liver,” researcher Christopher Newgard told the New York Times. “In that sense, it’s a sugar that is a bad actor in the development of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that no more than 5% of calorie intake come from added sugars. That means limiting added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons for men. The AHA says that most Americans consume between 22 and 30 teaspoons of added sugars per day. The entire recommended daily limit can come from a single serving of sweetened yogurt.

As an example, Fage 0% fat, honey flavor yogurt contains the equivalent of 9.34 teaspoons of sugar, with Yoplait’s Go-Gurt Blueberry Blast coming in at 7.07.

There is also some question as to whether some sweeteners and other artificial ingredients added to yogurt might disrupt the microbiome in the gut, which, for many, eating yogurt with live cultures is an attempt to beneficially support.

In another gut-wrenching twist of irony, many people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or other intestinal maladies, eat yogurt because it is cultured with beneficial bacteria. However, independent, peer-reviewed published research indicates that carrageenan, included as a thickener in some yogurt, can greatly exacerbate the conditions. Some manufacturers, including WhiteWave (Horizon), have recently announced that they are removing carrageenan from their natural and organic products.

Additionally, vegetarians may be surprised to find that many yogurts contain gelatin, a byproduct of slaughtered animals, which is also added as a thickening agent.

When commenting on the plethora of sweeteners and natural and artificial flavors found in processed foods, including yogurt, former FDA chief Dr. David Kessler lamented, “We’re living in a food carnival …. These flavors are so stimulating they hijack our brain.”

Reacting to the release of Cornucopia’s yogurt report, a spokesman for Dannon, Michael Neuwirth, emailed the New York Times that “it made many different yogurts, including plain, unsweetened yogurt in traditional and Greek varieties as well as “nonnutritive sweetened yogurt.”  Neuwirth added that “to help people achieve a healthy diet in the way they define it for themselves, we make a huge range of nutrient dense varieties of yogurt to fulfill different needs and preferences.”

A representative for General Mills, which distributes Yoplait in the United States, told the New York Times that “Cornucopia advocates on behalf of organic, and routinely recommends organic products over alternatives. That has been their focus – and it’s clearly the agenda here.”

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EPA Accepting Comments on Pollinator Health Until November 24, 2014http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/epa-accepting-comments-pollinator-health-november-24-2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=epa-accepting-comments-pollinator-health-november-24-2014 http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/epa-accepting-comments-pollinator-health-november-24-2014/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 22:28:24 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14371 Beyond Pesticides Co-Chairs of Pollinator Health Task Force: USDA’s Tom Vilsack and EPA’s Lisa Jackson Image Source: USDA At the close of Pollinator Week 2014 President Obama called on government agencies to create a plan to “promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.” However, at the end of last month the Task Force announced it would miss its self-imposed December 20th deadline on its action plan, delaying needed steps towards improving pollinator health. EPA will

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Beyond Pesticides

Co-Chairs of Pollinator Health Task Force:
USDA’s Tom Vilsack and EPA’s Lisa Jackson
Image Source: USDA

At the close of Pollinator Week 2014 President Obama called on government agencies to create a plan to “promote the health of honey bees and other pollinators.” However, at the end of last month the Task Force announced it would miss its self-imposed December 20th deadline on its action plan, delaying needed steps towards improving pollinator health.

EPA will be accepting written comments at this link until November 24, 2014.

Talking Points for Comments:

EPA and USDA have a duty to protect our nation’s pollinators, and the Presidential memorandum has directed federal agencies to take action. Given average loss rates near 30% over the past 8 years, there is an urgent need to move quickly on finding long-term sustainable solutions for pollinator protection. A growing body of scientific evidence reveals connections between pollinator declines and pesticide exposure, making it evident to the public and government agencies that action must be taken to rein in these harmful chemicals.

EPA should:
- Suspend the most harmful uses of the neonicotinoids promptly after assessment, pending resolution of the severe risks.
- Expedite the development and implementation of valid test guidelines for sub-lethal effects of pesticides on pollinators and require data from these studies for all currently-registered and any proposed new pesticides.
- Ensure that EPA’s assessment and all future ecological assessments fully value the broad array of ecosystem services threatened not only by neonicotinoids, but all systemic pesticides.
- Increase investment in research and funding for implementation of alternatives to neonicotinoids.
- Recommend incentives for farmers to create healthy pollinator habitats in the form of diversified, pesticide-free landscapes as an alternative to our current system of intensive monoculture.

USDA should:
- Ensure any new pollinator habitat is free of neonicotinoids and other systemic pesticides.
- Avoid pro-neonicotinoid bias in USDA activities by working to increase farmer access to neonicointoid-free seeds.
- Provide recommendations that reverse the trend of converting conservation land to cropland.
- Disseminate information to field offices across the country regarding EPA’s recent findings that neonicotinoid seed treatments do not increase yield.

Thank you for taking action to help our pollinators! For more information on Beyond Pesticides efforts to protect honey bees and other wild pollinators see the BEE Protective webpage.

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Linux for Lettucehttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/linux-lettuce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=linux-lettuce http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/linux-lettuce/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 19:52:12 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14398 Revolutionizing American agribusiness from the ground up, one seed at a time. OpenSource.com by Lisa Hamilton Image Courtesy of Rich Marolda From a distance, Jim Myers looks like an ordinary farmer. Most autumn mornings, he stands thigh-deep in a field of wet broccoli, beheading each plant with a single, sure swipe of his harvest knife. But under his waders are office clothes, and on his wrist is an oversized digital watch with a push-button calculator

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Revolutionizing American agribusiness from the ground up, one seed at a time.

OpenSource.com
by Lisa Hamilton

Image Courtesy of Rich Marolda

From a distance, Jim Myers looks like an ordinary farmer. Most autumn mornings, he stands thigh-deep in a field of wet broccoli, beheading each plant with a single, sure swipe of his harvest knife. But under his waders are office clothes, and on his wrist is an oversized digital watch with a push-button calculator on its face. As his hand cuts, his eyes record data: stalk length and floret shape, the purple hue of perfect heads and the silver specks that foretell rot. At day’s end his broccoli goes to the food bank or the compost bin—it doesn’t really matter. He’s there to harvest information.

Myers is a plant breeder and professor of genetics at Oregon State University. The broccoli in his field has a long and bitter story, which he told me last September at the University’s research farm. We sat at a picnic table under a plum tree that had dropped ripe fruit everywhere; around our feet, the little purple corpses hummed with wasps that had crawled inside to gorge on sweet flesh. Myers has dark hair and dark eyes that are often set behind tinted glasses. In public, he rarely registers enough emotion to move the thick mustache framing his mouth. Still, as he talked about the broccoli his voice buckled, and behind those shadowy lenses his eyes looked hard and tense.

In 1966, a breeder named Jim Baggett—Myers’s predecessor at Oregon State—set out to breed a broccoli with an “exserted” head, which meant that instead of nestling in the leaves the crown would protrude on a long stalk, making harvest easier. The method he used was basic plant breeding: Mate one broccoli with another, identify the best offspring, and save their seed for the next season. Repeated over decades by Baggett and then Myers, this process produced the broccoli in the field that day. The heads were so nicely exserted, sparrows used them as a perch.

Most classical plant breeders will tell you that their work is inherently collaborative—the more people involved, the better. Baggett had used versions of another broccoli called Waltham, released by the University of Massachusetts in the 1950s, as part of the foundation for his original exserted-head lines. Hoping to advance its evolution by letting others work on it, he and Myers shared their germplasm (an industry term for seed) with breeders throughout the United States. One recipient was the broccoli division of Royal Sluis, a Dutch company that had a research farm in Salinas, California. Through the channels of corporate consolidation, that germplasm ended up with the world’s largest vegetable-seed company, Seminis, which in 2005 was bought by the world’s largest seed company, Monsanto. In 2011, Seminis was granted US Patent 8,030,549—“Broccoli adapted for ease of harvest”—whose basic identifying characteristic was an exserted head. More than a third of the original plant material behind the invention was germplasm that Baggett had shared in 1983.

As Seminis began previewing its Easy Harvest broccoli to the farm press in 2011, the company’s lawyers began calling Myers, requesting more samples of broccoli seed. The patent they held covered only a few specific varieties that the company had bred, but now they were applying to patent the trait itself—essentially, any sizeable broccoli with an exserted head. They needed the Oregon State plants for comparison to prove their invention was, in patent language, truly “novel.”

Last August, the examiner seemed dubious, writing, “Applicant is in possession of a narrow invention limited to the deposited lines; however, they are claiming any and every broccoli plant having the claimed characteristics.” The application was given a “Final Rejection.”

And yet, as Myers told me at the picnic table in September, “That’s not necessarily final.” Just before Thanksgiving, Seminis appealed, beginning a process that may last for years. As one intellectual-property manager who helps write patents for the University of Wisconsin told me, some examiners simply “cave and grant the broader claims as they get worn down by the attorneys’ arguments.” If Seminis receives the patent, their claim would likely encompass the plants growing in Myers’s plots at Oregon State, meaning they could sue him for infringement.

Myers is not alone in this predicament. Irwin Goldman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, had been developing a red carrot for fifteen years when, in 2013, he learned that Seminis had an application pending for “carrots having increased lycopene content”—in other words, very red carrots. Likewise, Frank Morton, a small-scale, independent plant breeder in Oregon, had finally achieved a lettuce that is red all the way to its core, only to find that the Dutch seed company Rjik Zwaan had received a patent on that very trait. Their cases are just some of many.

When Myers talks about the issue, his frustration seems to turn him inward toward greater silence. But Morton is considerably less reserved. “It rubs me the wrong way that works of nature can be claimed as the works of individuals,” he said, his voice growing louder and louder. “To me, it’s like getting a patent on an eighteen-wheeler when all you did was add a chrome lug nut.”

Myers contends that, when applied to plants, patents are stifling. They discourage sharing, and sharing is the foundation of successful breeding. That’s because his work is essentially just assisting natural evolution: He mates one plant with another, which in turn makes new combinations of genes from which better plants are selected. The more plants there are to mix, the more combinations are made, and the more opportunities there are to create better plants. Even some breeders who work for the companies that are doing the patenting still believe in—indeed, long for—the ability to exchange seed.

“It’s this collective sharing of material that improves the whole crop over time,” Myers told me. “If you’re not exchanging germplasm, you’re cutting your own throat.”

If all of this seems like the concern of a specialized few, consider that plant breeders shape nearly every food we eat, whether a tomato from the backyard or the corn in the syrup in a Coke. Because of intellectual-property restrictions, their work increasingly takes place in genetic isolation and is less dynamic as a result. In the short term, that can mean fewer types of tomatoes to plant in the garden, or fewer choices for farmers and, by extension, consumers. In the long term, it could hinder the very resilience of agriculture itself. Having access to a large genetic pool is critical for breeders who are adapting crops to the challenges of climate change. Every time intellectual-property protections fence off more germplasm, that gene pool shrinks.

What infuriates Myers, though, is that patents such as the one Seminis is seeking don’t just impede sharing; they deter others from using their own germplasm. As the examiner noted, Seminis’s patent application claims essentially all broccoli with an exserted head of a commercial size. If Myers’s plants are too similar to those grown by Seminis, he won’t be able to release his own variety for fear of patent infringement. Even if he did, no farmer or seed company would use it lest they be sued for the same violation.

“If they get the patent, they really hold all the cards,” Myers said, wasps buzzing around his feet. “Then it comes down to at some point deciding whether to continue my program or to hang it up. Sell off the germplasm…” His voice trailed off. Then he gave a sad little laugh. The only buyer, of course, would be Seminis.

*

Fueled by both frustration and outrage, Myers, Morton, and Goldman helped establish a subtly radical group called the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) in 2012. Operating under the radar, its mission was to reestablish free exchange by creating a reservoir of seed that couldn’t be patented—“a national park of germplasm,” Goldman called it. By 2013, the group had two dozen members, several of them distinguished plant breeders from public universities across the country.

OSSI’s de facto leader is Jack Kloppenburg, a social scientist at the University of Wisconsin who has been involved with issues concerning plant genetic resources since the 1980s. He has published widely about the concept behind OSSI, and his words are now echoed (even copied verbatim) by public plant-breeding advocates in Germany, France, and India. As he explains it, for most of human history, seeds have naturally been part of the commons—those natural resources that are inherently public, like air or sunshine. But with the advent of plant-related intellectual property and the ownership it enables, this particular part of the commons has become a resource to be mined for private gain. Thus the need for a protected commons—open source seed. Inspired by open source software, OSSI’s idea is to use “the master’s tools” of intellectual property, but in ways the master never intended: to create and enforce an ethic of sharing.

Kloppenburg’s office plays to caricatures of lefty academics: every flat surface stacked with books and papers, a poster of Karl Marx on the wall. At OSSI meetings, amid a sea of plaid button-downs, he sticks out in his collarless, hemp-looking shirt. But he is fiery and, as one OSSI member says, “persistent as hell.”

“The reason I’m doing this,” he said, leaning forward in his creaking swivel chair, “is that I’ve spent the last twenty-five years doing the other thing, and what have we got?” That “other thing” has been exploring nearly every possible avenue to put control of seeds back in the hands of farmers and public-minded plant breeders: orchestrating international treaties, challenging interpretations of patent law, lobbying to amend the laws themselves—in other words, slow change. Indeed, over the course of three decades, it has felt to Kloppenburg like barely any change at all. Now nearing retirement, he wants action. He sees open source as a kind of end run. “The beauty of it,” he said, “is that finally we get to create some space that is ours, not theirs.”

As Kloppenburg talked about OSSI, he covered territory from the monopolistic tendencies of the American Seed Trade Association to Colombian peasant protests to the little-known story of German prisoners of war being used as forced labor in American corn-breeding fields. He pulled a hulking dictionary from the bookshelf and read aloud the precise definitions of “ownership” and “property.” He made it clear that while OSSI’s practical goal was to create a reservoir of shared germplasm, its true mission was to redistribute power.

In this era of ownership, the consolidation of seed companies has meant the consolidation of control over germplasm, the industry’s most essential tool. The plant breeders behind OSSI decry that trend for the constraints it puts on their individual breeding work, but they also see its damage in global terms. As founding member Bill Tracy, a sweet-corn breeder at the University of Wisconsin, articulated in his paper What is Plant Breeding?: “Even if we assume that the one or two companies controlling a crop were completely altruistic, it is extremely dangerous to have so few people making decisions that will determine the future of a crop. … The future of our food supply requires genetic diversity, but also demands a diversity of decision makers.”

*

People who sell seeds have always struggled with an inconvenient reality: Their merchandise reproduces itself. In the past, this has meant that farmers needed to purchase it only once, and competitors could make a copy by merely sticking it in the ground. In order for seeds to become a commodity and generate a profit, there had to be a reason for people to buy them year after year. Over the course of the twentieth century, the industry devised certain solutions, including hybrid seeds and “trade-secret” protections for their breeding processes and materials. But perhaps the most effective solution is the application of intellectual-property rights, of which the utility patent is the gold standard.

More commonly associated with things like electronics and pharmaceuticals, the utility patent is a fortress of protection. It lasts for twenty years and allows even inadvertent violations to be penalized. Since the Patent Act of 1790, its intent has been to inspire innovation by giving exclusive rights to reproduce or use an invention, allowing its creator to reap a just reward. It was in exactly those terms that Monsanto’s Vegetable Communications Manager, Carly Scaduto, explained the Seminis exserted-head broccoli patent to me. “On average, it takes Monsanto vegetable breeders between eight and twelve years to develop and commercialize a new vegetable seed variety,” she wrote. “Obtaining patents [is a way] for us to protect our time, ideas and investment spent to develop those products.”

It took seed companies nearly a century to secure that protection. As early as 1905, industry leaders advocated “patent-like” protection for plants, but they ran up against society’s ethical resistance to patenting a product of nature. This view was famously aired by the United States Patent Office itself in 1889, in its denial of an application to patent a fiber found in pine needles. If it were allowed, the commissioner reasoned, “patents might be obtained upon the trees of the forest and the plants of the earth, which of course would be unreasonable and impossible.” But many plant breeders insisted that their work was on par with that of mechanical and chemical engineers. Their desire to achieve the same exclusive control over their inventions eventually led to the Plant Patent Act (PPA) of 1930.

According to the Committee Report accompanying the Senate’s version of the bill, the purpose was to “assist in placing agriculture on a basis of economic equality with industry… [and] remove the existing discrimination between plant developers and industrial inventors.” Thomas Edison, already a household name for his own inventions, was enlisted to lobby for the bill, and later lauded the PPA’s passage to a reporter from the New York Times. “As a rule the plant breeder is a poor man, with no opportunity for material rewards,” he said. “Now he has a grubstake.”

What finally became law was in fact quite narrow. Instead of allowing utility patents for plants, the PPA created a new “plant patent,” which applied only to plants reproduced asexually, like roses or apples, whose limbs are cloned. It excluded plants that reproduce sexually, through seed—which included wheat, corn, rice, and nearly every other staple food crop. The official reasoning was that sexually produced offspring weren’t guaranteed to be identical replicas of the original plant—“true to type”—and so enforcement of a patent would be difficult. (It is notable, though, that an additional exclusion was made for tubers, which reproduce asexually but include potatoes—another indispensible food.) Writing in the Journal of the Patent Office Society in 1936, patent examiner Edwin M. Thomas explained the true reasoning: “The limitation, ‘asexually reproduced,’ was put in the law to prevent monopolies upon the cereal grains or any improvements thereof, while the limitation, ‘other than tuber-propagated’ was introduced to prevent patent monopolies on potatoes, etc.” Congress had condoned the general concept of patenting plants, but it had drawn the line at patenting seeds of the sort that farmers plant and people eat.

By midcentury, the official reasoning was moot. Advances in breeding had enabled seed producers to ensure that their plants would grow true to type, leading the industry to renew its efforts for protective legislation. Its first victory was the Plant Variety Protection Act, approved in a voice vote by a lame-duck session of Congress, on Christmas Eve, 1970. The act granted intellectual-property rights that were much like a patent, but it was tempered by concessions to those who continued to oppose the exclusive control an actual patent would have granted: Farmers were allowed to save and replant seed from protected varieties, and researchers could use them in breeding their own plants. The real victory—the one the industry had been seeking for nearly a century—happened in 1980, when the US Supreme Court ruled that life forms could be patented if they were a new “composition of matter” produced by human ingenuity. That case concerned bacteria, but in 1985 the US Patent Office extended the logic to plants. By the time this policy was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2001, already 1,800 utility patents had been granted on plants, plant parts, and seeds.

The availability of this long-sought protection transformed the industry by solidifying the opportunity to treat seed as a proprietary technology. Already the promise of genetic engineering was attracting investment from international chemical companies and others whose experience lay more with developing industrial products than with breeding plants. Wielding this newfound, impenetrable intellectual-property protection, companies like Monsanto, Ciba-Geigy (now Syngenta), and Dow redesigned the business using a revolutionary metaphor: Seeds were software. Genetics were improved almost surgically, with breeders altering DNA the way programmers rewrite code. The resulting corn, soybeans, and other commodities were modular components of a larger agricultural operating system, designed to work only with the company’s herbicides. Even some labeling began to take a play from Microsoft: The seller’s licensing agreement was printed on the back of seed bags in six-point font. Users didn’t sign it; as with a box containing a copy of Microsoft Office, they agreed to it by simply opening the package. Among other things, those terms specifically prohibited use in plant breeding.

Market analysts Phillips McDougall calculated that in 1995, right around the time the software metaphor began to take hold, the global seed business was worth $14.5 billion. By 2013, it had grown more than 250%, to $39.5 billion. Transparency Market Research, which calculates a similar figure for 2013, forecasts the business will grow to $52 billion by 2018. In this context, the patent office’s 1889 assertion that patenting the “plants of the earth” would be unreasonable and impossible sounds dated, if not naïve. Seen through the lens of this new metaphor, patents make perfect sense. If seeds are software, then protecting them as intellectual property is a natural, even essential, requirement for their technological development. In a 2004 legislative study, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization explained that this encouraged breeders “to invest the resources, labour and time needed to improve existing plant varieties by ensuring that breeders receive adequate remuneration when they market the propagating material of those improved varieties.” In other words, innovation no longer grew out of sharing, it came from monopoly. “In the absence of a grant of exclusive rights to breeders,” the report concluded, “the dangers of free riding by third parties would be considerable.”

*

In 1997, as the laws of intellectual property had begun supplanting the ethic of sharing, a mild-mannered bean breeder named Tom Michaels also began thinking about seeds as software—but with radically different results. Michaels was struggling with the brave new world unfolding at his job in the University of Minnesota’s horticultural sciences department. Until recently, germplasm samples had simply been mailed between colleagues with no more than a friendly note, just as the exserted-head broccoli seed had been. But Michaels began to see this tradition of open exchange being curbed by legal documents that restricted research and demanded royalties. He tripped on the new vocabulary, which stipulated conditions about “unmodified derivatives” and “reach-through rights.”

“If you’re in plant breeding, you know you can’t do it on your own,” Michaels told me. “But I remember thinking, ‘If this is the direction we’re going, we all become islands.’ So what could we do to assure that we continued to work interrelatedly?”

During that time, Michaels’s computer-savvy son was messing around with alternative operating systems for his PC. Through him, Michaels learned about Linux and other software that was free to be used, altered, and shared by anyone. Linux came with a license that turned the concept of licensing on its head: Instead of restricting people from copying the product, it restricted people from restricting it or any of its offshoots. It marked the code indelibly as part of the commons.

One fateful morning in Minneapolis, Michaels awoke with a Linux-inspired epiphany: What if we did the same thing with our seeds? Just like hackers, he and his colleagues would make their germplasm “free” by attaching a license that kept it in the public domain. No one could patent or otherwise restrict it or its offspring. Over time, Jack Kloppenburg and others heard about the idea, and together they honed it into the shrewdly elegant concept of open source seed.

When Michaels first presented his idea to a group of fellow bean breeders in 1999, it wasn’t greeted as a grand prophecy. Jim Myers was in the audience then and recalls that while he and others found it interesting, they simply didn’t feel a need for it. Intellectual property was on the rise, but utility patents were still rare in vegetable crops. There were, however, already more than 500 on maize, and at least 250 on soybeans; today, most germplasm of practical use for those plants is restricted as intellectual property, much of it by patents.

Because they comprise a smaller share of the world agricultural market, only recently have vegetables begun to attract the multinational investment and technological attention that commodities have had for decades. Also, because there are so many types of vegetables, and countless variations within each, they are much harder to blanket with intellectual property. Traded by gardeners around the world, vegetable seed still has a cultural identity—it is not yet simply software. Even within the industry, much of vegetables’ breeding and control of its germplasm remains in the public sector.

Kloppenburg sees vegetables as the realm where open source can take root. “Corn and soybeans don’t turn anybody on,” he told me. “Nobody eats corn and soybeans. But they do eat what our breeders are doing.” When he speaks with consumers about the open source seed concept, he asks them, “Do you want the same people who are breeding corn and soybeans to be making decisions about the stuff you buy at the farmers’ market? Or do you want Irwin’s beets and Irwin’s carrots?”

That Irwin is Dr. Irwin Goldman, the University of Wisconsin vegetable breeder in patent limbo with his red carrots. If Kloppenburg is the brains behind OSSI, Goldman is the conscience, as warm and sincere as Kloppenburg is intense. When asked a question, he sits with his head of curly gray hair tilted to one side, neck thrust forward, in a posture of really listening. When he answers, he often begins with, “That’s a great question.”

Curiously, despite his role as a founding member and unofficial vice president of OSSI, Goldman holds three utility patents on vegetables—two on beets, one on carrots. He explains that the patented vegetables are used to create industrial dyes and have little crossover with food plants. Plus, it was the university that sought the patents in his name. Still, Goldman offers the disclosure like a personal confession. His explanation for going along with it is that he was young and foolish, a new professor seeking tenure. At the time, his only reference point was his grandfather Isadore, a poor Russian immigrant who had designed and managed to patent a unique barber coat that didn’t collect hair in its pockets. His family had always been deeply proud of Isadore. When Goldman found himself listed as the inventor of those beets and carrots, he flushed with the honor of this parallel achievement.

“But over time,” he told me, “the experience of doing it made me realize what the implications of patents like those are. I asked myself, “What would make me feel like I had made a contribution to the future—to a sustainable future?” After a hiatus during which he served as the college’s dean, he returned to breeding and devoted the rest of his career to developing germplasm that is “free and clear.”

Goldman agrees with Kloppenburg that vegetables are the most likely arena for OSSI to come to life. In his more hopeful moments, he envisions a food label alongside “organic” and “fair trade” that tells consumers their food is “open source.” But, he warns, if they are going to claim any significant amount of genetic territory, OSSI needs to act fast. Patents already cover everything from “low pungency” onions to “brilliant white” cauliflower, and a gold rush is taking place, with seed companies scrambling to claim what territory remains. Since 2000, lettuce alone has garnered more than one hundred patents; an additional 164 are pending. When Goldman went online to show me Seminis’s red-carrot application, his search brought up another, newer application for a different red carrot that he hadn’t even known about. During the writing of this article, seven more applications for patents on carrots have been filed.

“Open source still has a chance with vegetables, but our window is only as long as the bottleneck at the patent office,” Goldman said. “It could be a matter of less than a decade before what has happened with corn happens with crops like carrots and onions.”

On a sunny August day, at a research station in Mount Vernon, Washington, the men and women of OSSI were arranged around a flotilla of conference tables. The group was almost comically homogenous in appearance: two-dozen men with gray hair, glasses, and collared shirts; a dozen women, young and athletic, mostly graduate research assistants. Kloppenburg sat at the head of the tables in a linen shirt and a turquoise necklace. Goldman was at his side.

The group had convened in order to finally transition open source seed from a clever idea to a legally defensible system. They were all clear on the basic principle—that, as Kloppenburg has written, “the tools of the master are repurposed in a way that… actively subverts the master’s hegemony.” But an hour into determining exactly how to do that, eyelids were drooping. The coffee machine began gurgling out refills. “OSSI has indeed found,” Kloppenburg would later write, “that the tools of the master are technically very cumbersome.”

A sweet-corn breeder named Adrienne Shelton made the case that the “political jujitsu” of open source software wouldn’t work for seeds. When computer code is written, she explained, the author automatically gets copyright. That ownership allows the author to then take out a copyleft that says the material can be used freely. But plant breeding isn’t governed by copyright law, and by breeding a plant one does not automatically own it. One would need to patent the plant first in order to then claim the “patent left” of declaring it open source. “Most of the people that would be supportive of what we are trying to do as open source,” Shelton said, “they probably would be very, very skeptical if we said, ‘Well, first we have to patent it.’”

An alternative would be to employ another of the master’s tools: contract law. No patent would be necessary. Instead, before receiving germplasm, a person would sign a license agreeing to the open source rules. On the table in front of Kloppenburg lay a draft of such a license, but no one could suffer the legalese long enough to survive even the first page in that cold pile of paper.
Goldman tilted his head and looked at the license with concern. “I can’t imagine handing over a vial of seed and, oh, let me go to the copy machine and give you this seven-page, single-spaced document,” he said. “It seems incompatible with what we’re trying to do: the open seed, and then a license that if you want to understand, you need to ask your attorney.”

Discussion turned to the quick and dirty “bag tag” licenses modeled on the stickers that sealed boxes of software; by opening the box or bag, the user agrees to the terms. Could a similar mechanism be used to mark seed as open source? Would it be legally binding? No one was sure.

Kloppenburg directed the group’s attention to a series of slides on the screen behind him. They were advertisements for private security firms and other organizations that enforce plant-related intellectual-property rights in the United States, Europe, and South America. Many of the largest seed companies are partners, as are numerous land-grant universities, including the one where this meeting was being held. The “Farmer’s Yield Initiative,” or FYI, offered a toll-free hotline where callers could submit anonymous tips about people using patented seed illegally.

Heads shook in disbelief and disgust, but the point had been made: Intellectual-property protections work because of deterrence; the ill-fitting metaphor of seeds as software was held in place by fear. None of the OSSI members I asked was able to name a plant breeder who had been sued for patent infringement or broken contracts, and yet nearly every one of them was willing to abandon material he or she had been working on for years rather than test how forgiving the intellectual-property holders might be. Later, Bill Tracy, the sweet-corn breeder, put it bluntly: “If you fear the company, you’re not going to cross it and the patent works. If you don’t fear the company, it doesn’t work. It comes down to who has the most lawyers.”

Looking around the room, it was clear this was not the group with the most lawyers. They had had one, who drafted their open source license pro bono. But the week before, she had stopped returning their calls.

*

After the meeting, I spoke with Andrew Kimbrell, a public-interest lawyer and the executive director of the Center for Food Safety. He has led numerous legal challenges to plant patenting, and he certainly sympathizes with OSSI’s intentions. “In the midst of climate disruption,” he said, “having a diverse seed supply created through a robust public breeding program is a food security and national security issue. For that alone we should get rid of this patent issue and invest in public plant breeding.”

He advocated slower kinds of change: Legislation to return to the days when farmers and plant breeders were free to use any seed as they wished. More legal challenges to puncture the precedent that leads courts to rule consistently in favor of intellectual property protections. He even encouraged the basic, boring act of publishing research on plant breeding, since the most effective way to prevent something from being patented is to have documented that the thing already exists.

But the jujitsu that OSSI was trying to pull off he found “problematic” at best. “Just because you declare something open source doesn’t mean it’s off limits,” he said. “It could simply mean that you passed up your chance to get to the patent office.”

In the following months, Kloppenburg, Goldman, and a few others began meeting weekly to try to salvage the idea and launch it, somehow, before another growing season slipped by. They spoke to half a dozen lawyers, who confirmed that the licenses wouldn’t work. They were advised to patent their seed. “I never wanted to hire lawyers,” Goldman told me, exasperated. “I don’t want to be in the business of tracking licenses. I just want to free the seed.”

*

The reason OSSI stumbled in trying to make like computer hackers and open source their seed wasn’t just their naïveté with legal matters. In a way, the larger problem was the metaphor itself. Seeds are not software, they are living entities that grow and reproduce. Indeed, that’s the reason why the industry sought intellectual-property rights in the first place. But those protections can’t truly contain biology—seeds slip right through barriers made of words. If you want to reproduce a patented soybean, just lift one from a farmer’s field at harvest time and plant it in a pot. Without deterrence, a plant-utility patent is just an expensive piece of paper.

Even with a fleet of lawyers, chances are OSSI could never outsmart the intellectual-property system: Normally patents and licenses need to last for only one generation of plants; they say the seed can’t be planted back, and that’s that. But open source was supposed to allow the material to proliferate, which means OSSI would need to make sure that its license accompanied every new generation of plant—an exponentially expanding demand. Enforcing that viral replication would be nearly impossible. Without it, the seed would go right back to the unprotected commons, where anyone could claim it and patent it. The fluid nature of seeds, their natural impulse to regenerate, is both the impetus for the open source concept and its legal undoing.

In January, the group drew up a new license. This time, they dispensed with the legalese altogether and instead wrote from their hearts. At just three sentences long, it wasn’t much of a legal document; it would never stand up in court. Instead, they would print it on the outside of each packet, just as Seminis does theirs, but with the opposite effect. “This Open Source Seed pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users,” it read. “By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses, or any other means.”

Goldman toyed with the idea of also printing the pledge on slips of paper to be included inside the packet, like fortunes in a fortune cookie, to encourage people to pass it along. “I’m coming to see it more as a performance-art piece,” he told me brightly.

Despite his optimism, the group was admittedly disappointed. The goal had been to replace their defensive stance around intellectual property with a legal mandate. “Instead of just saying, ‘Oh, please don’t patent these things, it’s not right,’” Kloppenburg said, “we wanted a commons protected by law.” Now they were back to relying on the thin armor of ethics and morality for protection. They were back to slow change.

But with a blue-sky tone, Kloppenburg said that the true objective had never been to create a license per se. Instead, it had been to create a positive alternative to the intellectual-property regime. He was confident they could still do as much. The open source idea had generated enthusiasm from all corners of the agricultural world. (Even the inventor of the Seminis red carrot, an old-school plant breeder caught in the tangle of the modern industry, had expressed his support.) This signaled to Kloppenburg that perhaps finally there was enough momentum to build an American seed movement big enough to have an impact.

OSSI was one of many nuclei organizing around the larger topic of seeds. Over the previous two years, the national seed-swapping nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange had grown its membership by 33%—to 13,000 gardeners. Later, in 2014, Vermont would pass the first law in the country requiring the labeling of all foods containing genetically modified ingredients, a goal anti-biotech activists had sought for years. But there was still no concerted, sustained effort around that most fundamental issue of control and ownership, as there was in other countries. Kloppenburg pointed to Canada, where the National Farmers Union had been waging war against increased intellectual-property protections, and to countries throughout the developing world, where seed issues were an integral part of the international struggle for peasant rights. Across the Atlantic, there had been an uproar for more than a year over European Patent 1,597,965: “Broccoli type adapted for ease of harvest”—granted to Seminis in May 2013. As the title suggests, the claim is essentially identical to the company’s American patent on exserted-head broccoli. But while Jim Myers was about the only person upset about the US version, a coalition of twenty-five organizations from Europe and India filed a formal opposition to the European patent within months of its approval. Along with the requisite paperwork requesting that it be revoked, they delivered 45,000 signatures from supporters.

“Patents on naturally occurring biodiversity in plant breeding are an abuse of patent law,” the opposition statement read, “because instead of protecting inventions they become an instrument for the misappropriation of natural resources.” [1]

Their argument centers around a single line in the European Patent Convention, Article 53b, which states that patents shall not be granted on “plant or animal varieties or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals.” Recent objections to similar claims (one on a different broccoli, another on a tomato) led the European Patent Office’s board of appeals to clarify that a new variety created by simply crossing plants and selecting their offspring—exactly the work of Myers and the Seminis broccoli breeders alike—was considered essentially biological and so not patentable.

The latest American ruling on the topic, in June 2013, established just the opposite. In the highly publicized case Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, the US Supreme Court ruled that DNA itself was “a product of nature and not patent eligible.” But in delivering the opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas made the distinction that new plant breeds developed by conventional plant breeding were patent eligible. He cited the American Inventor’s Protection Act of 1999 as well as court precedent—namely, the opinion in the landmark 2001 case, which he also authored.

So while OSSI believes in the same basic principles as the European coalition—whose statement about the ethical implications of patents could have been written by Kloppenburg himself—the Americans’ fight is arguably much tougher. Its challenge is to amend patent law, which involves lobbying Congress against the powerful forces that are deeply invested in maintaining, if not strengthening, intellectual-property protections. Slow change, indeed.

Kloppenburg hopes that OSSI, with its new approach, can at least help speed things up. Listening to him and Goldman describe their new vision, it’s almost as if they have replaced seeds as software with a new metaphor—one inspired by plant breeding itself. Instead of building a protective barrier, OSSI would reach out into the world as widely as possible. Each time open source seed was shared, the message on the packet would germinate in new minds: It would prod the uninformed to question why seeds would not be freely exchanged—why this pledge was even necessary. It would inspire those who already knew the issues of intellectual property to care more and spread the word. As the seed multiplied, so would the message. With three simple sentences, OSSI would propagate participants in the new movement like seedlings. They would breed resistance.

*

On April 17, the Open Source Seed Initiative announced itself to the public in a ceremony at the University of Wisconsin. The original plan was to rally on the steps of grand Bascom Hall, next to a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln—“an appropriate witness to our emancipation of seed,” Kloppenburg said. Instead, the rally took place outside the less charismatic Microbial Sciences Building, beside a tree still bare in the young springtime. Unfazed, volunteers planted the dry lawn with dozens of short, white flags reading free the seed!!!, which shivered in a brisk breeze. Clad in winter jackets, about sixty people gathered to hear Kloppenburg, Goldman, and others talk about food sovereignty and the importance of genetic diversity. Then organizers handed out packets printed with the OSSI pledge. Each contained seed from one of thirty-six open source varieties, ranging from barley to zucchini. They included two carrots bred by Goldman, one of which he named “Sovereign,” in honor of the occasion.

They also included a broccoli from Oregon whose history began in 1997, the same year as Tom Michaels’s epiphany about the future of plant breeding. That year, Jim Myers began breeding a plant he now calls “The O.P.,” which stands for “open-pollinated.” Until then, his broccoli were either hybrids or inbreds, created by a process of narrowing the genetics until one select mother is bred with one select father to create a single, most desirable combination of genes. The O.P., by contrast, is the result of a horticultural orgy. Myers began with twenty-three different broccoli hybrids and inbreds, including some of the lines behind the exserted-head trait. He let insects cross-pollinate them en masse, and the resulting plants were crossed at random again—and again, and again, four generations in a row. He then sent germplasm to farmers around the country, had them grow it in their fields, and send back the seed they collected. Over the winter, Myers bred it in another greenhouse orgy, then sent it back to farmers. For six years, he repeated this process.

The broccoli evolved in two ways simultaneously. The back-and-forth of the breeding scrambled the plants’ genetics, making the germplasm wildly diverse. It also let the environment whittle away at individual genes. For instance, plants without pest resistance produced less seed or simply died, reducing their presence in the gene pool. When it was hot, plants that could tolerate heat produced more seed, increasing their presence. Survival of the fittest.

In the seventh year, Myers sent most of the seed back to the farmers—just gave it to them, without licenses, royalties, or restrictions. The idea was that each farmer would adapt that dynamic gene pool to his or her farm’s particular climate and conditions, selecting the best plants every year to refine the population. In other words, they could breed it themselves. In time, each would end up with his or her own perfect broccoli.

The beauty of the O.P. is that rather than challenge the intellectual-property system, it inherently rejects the concept of ownership. It contains many of the desirable genetics of Myers’s commercial broccoli lines, but in a package that is designed to be shared, not owned. Because it is open-pollinated, not a hybrid, its seeds can be saved by any farmer. And because it is genetically diverse, it would be difficult to pin down with a patent. Even if someone did claim to own it, because each new seedling is a little different, that claim would be all but impossible to enforce. In this case, the plant’s natural instinct to mate, multiply, change—to evolve—isn’t an impediment at all. Rather, it is a central reason why people would want to grow it in the first place.

One of the farmers who received seed from Myers was Jonathan Spero, who grows and breeds vegetables on his farm in southwest Oregon. After a decade of working with the O.P., he released his own variety, a sweet, purplish broccoli that sends out numerous side shoots after the main head is harvested. Spero named it Solstice because it produces earlier than most—if planted by mid-April, it will yield florets by the first day of summer. Some people also refer to it as Oregon Long Neck, because it has an exserted head. On April 17, in front of the Microbial Sciences Building at the University of Wisconsin, it gained another title of sorts: the world’s first open source broccoli.

That day, as the last act in the ceremonial birth of OSSI, the audience turned over their crisp little packets of seed and recited the pledge on the back. What they held in their hands was no silver bullet. It wouldn’t keep Seminis from getting its broccoli patent application approved, much less rewrite the laws of intellectual property in favor of free exchange and genetic diversity. But still, as Kloppenburg and Goldman read those precious words in unison with the small crowd gathered in the cold before them, there was a new power to their voices. The seed wasn’t even in the ground yet, but already open source was taking root.

*

[1] Opposition was filed also by Syngenta, the Swiss biotech company and direct competitor to Monsanto. Their objection followed the same general logic as the coalition’s: that the broccoli under protection was created by an “essentially biological process.” It was ironic, then, that they had just applied for their own patents in the United States and the European Union, covering a broccoli plant distinguished in part by a “protruding” head that makes harvest easier.

Editor’s note: This article was produced with support from The UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship program.

Originally published at VQR: A National Journal of Literature & Discussion, in the Summer 2014 issue. Republished here with permission.

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Considerations for Out-Wintering the Organic Dairy Herd: Webinar by eOrganichttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/considerations-wintering-organic-dairy-herd-webinar-eorganic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=considerations-wintering-organic-dairy-herd-webinar-eorganic http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/considerations-wintering-organic-dairy-herd-webinar-eorganic/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 19:40:18 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14366 eOrganic Source: Tony Fischer Join eOrganic for a webinar on considerations for out-wintering the organic dairy herd by Dr. Brad Heins. The webinar will take place on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 11 AM Pacific Time, 12 PM Mountain, 1 PM Central, 2 PM Eastern Time. The webinar is free and open to the public, and advance registration is required. Click here to register. Out-wintering cattle involves keeping livestock outside for some or all of

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eOrganic

Source: Tony Fischer

Join eOrganic for a webinar on considerations for out-wintering the organic dairy herd by Dr. Brad Heins. The webinar will take place on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 11 AM Pacific Time, 12 PM Mountain, 1 PM Central, 2 PM Eastern Time. The webinar is free and open to the public, and advance registration is required. Click here to register.

Out-wintering cattle involves keeping livestock outside for some or all of the winter. In this webinar, Dr. Brad Heins will describe a study that evaluated the effect of two winter housing systems on organic dairy production, somatic cell counts (SCC), body weight, body condition scores (BCS), and dry matter intake (DMI). The study included cows that were housed outdoors on a straw pack and indoors in a compost-bedded pack barn at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, MN. Heins will also describes some basic considerations when out-wintering organic dairy herds, including access to adequate feed, water, and shelter.

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Are These Nicotine-Like Insecticides Killing Bees?http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/nicotine-like-insecticides-killing-bees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicotine-like-insecticides-killing-bees http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/nicotine-like-insecticides-killing-bees/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 17:12:58 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14362 Modern Farmer by Brett Essler Source: William Warby Halfway between Düsseldorf and Cologne lies Monheim am Rhein, Germany, a town of about 40,000 tucked into a bend of the Upper Rhine River. Here you will find the Bayer CropScience Facility, a sprawling, 160-acre campus that is home to the Bee Care Center, where the 150-year-old company’s top researchers on honeybee health come together. Four hundred miles away, Brighton, England’s Stanmer Park — a nature reserve reached by

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Modern Farmer
by Brett Essler

Source: William Warby

Halfway between Düsseldorf and Cologne lies Monheim am Rhein, Germany, a town of about 40,000 tucked into a bend of the Upper Rhine River. Here you will find the Bayer CropScience Facility, a sprawling, 160-acre campus that is home to the Bee Care Center, where the 150-year-old company’s top researchers on honeybee health come together.

Four hundred miles away, Brighton, England’s Stanmer Park — a nature reserve reached by a narrow, dirt road not far from the University of Sussex — is a study in contrast. Just past a large mansion built in 1722 (and once home to King George IV’s mistress) sits a collection of small, overgrown organic farming plots, beautifully unkempt meadows and the occasional large-scale sculpture. This is where Dave Goulson, University of Sussex biology professor and one of the world’s foremost bumblebee experts, studies the effects of neonicotinoids, a kind of pesticide, on pollinators.

These two facilities neatly represent two sides of a raging debate over the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the phenomenon of bee colonies dying off at an alarming rate. Many blame the neonicotinoids for the scourge. Research has poured in largely from two sectors: universities and private companies. Often, those private companies are the same companies that manufacture the pesticides. Scientists like Goulson see a glaring conflict of interest; companies like Bayer see a need for more research and have the dollars to back it.

* * *

Over the course of a tightly-scheduled business day, Bayer allowed me access not only to the Bee Care Center, but to a massive storage facility housing 2.5 million chemical compound samples in 16 racks stretching 22 feet high and nearly 50 feet deep. The facility adds up to 150,000 new compounds each year and fields as many as 2,000 requests a day from Bayer crop scientists.

A five-minute walk from the climate-controlled comfort of the Bee Care Center are ten honeybee hives set in a small meadow kept by Peter Trodtfeld, Bayer’s Bee Health Expert, a thoughtful and talkative man with whom I would spend the better part of an eight-hour day.

Trodtfeld drove me to a nearly-300-acre trial farm in nearby Burscheid where white tents, called tunnels, are used to test the effects of insecticide-treated flowers and crops on honeybees. Along the 17-mile route from Monheim, we passed Bayer Leverkusen, a 30,000-capacity arena emblazoned with the company’s logo.

* * *

In Brighton, Goulson drives me in his black Renault van to a fenced-off plot deep in Stanmer’s reserve where he and his research assistants maintain bumblebee nests.

Bumblebees, along with other wild pollinators like butterflies and beetles, tend to get short shrift when it comes to doomsday headlines and research funding. One, bumblebees do not produce honey; two, they can be harder to study given the manner in which they nest.

“It’s not especially beautiful,” Goulson joked. “The bumblebees are in the outdoor phase of the research.”

“They’re all just foraging. They’ve been dosed with pesticides or parasites. We’ve basically exposed them to a disease and different mixtures of pesticides, in different combinations.”

Goulson and his team will track the bumblebees over time. Scattered throughout the small organic farm, the nests are essentially plastic boxes with small valves from which the bees can travel in and out. In the fields, the dosed bees will feed on a wide variety of pesticide-free flowers, trees and crops, and Goulson and his team will measure their health and habits.

Back on the University of Sussex campus, Goulson and a research assistant lead me into small darkroom with a “WARNING — LIVE BEES INSIDE” sign. There, under red light — bumblebees can’t see red — was another bumblebee nest under observation. Goulson cracked open the plastic lid and I craned my neck to listen to the buzz saw-like drone.

“It’s actually pretty unimpressive, what we have here,” Goulson says, and compared to Bayer’s sprawling Monheim campus, it is. But what Goulson’s operation may lack in wow factor, it makes up for in influence.

* * *

In late June, days before I met with Goulson and visited the Bayer facility, the Obama administration announced the creation of a Pollinator Health Task Force, acknowledging that pesticides may be harming honeybees and other essential pollinators.

Since 2006, ten million U.S. honeybee hives have been lost, at a cost of $2 billion. Honeybee pollination supports about one-third of all food we consume, a value of an estimated $37 billion to $91 billion worldwide.

Scientists are still unable to pinpoint a single cause of CCD, but many believe that neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides that is now the most widely used in the world, are a significant factor.

Neonicotinoids (literally, new nicotine-like insecticides, but commonly referred to as neonics) are designed to protect the plant in its early growth stages by attacking the central nervous system of their targeted pests, causing paralysis and, eventually, death. The delivery method is presumed preferable to alternatives that affect mammals’ nervous systems, but according to a recent report by the Xerces Society, a nonprofit invertebrate conservation organization, the evidence suggests that neonicotinoids, even in lower, sub-lethal doses, may be harmful to a wide variety of beneficial insects and birds, and are becoming pervasive in rivers and streams.

Researchers have also begun looking at the effects of neonics on humans and the early results are cause for concern. A study from UNC Chapel Hill and UC Davis released earlier this year suggests that exposure to neonicotinoids present in Bayer’s commonly-used flea and tick medication Advantage by pregnant women may be linked to Autism spectrum disorder.

Goulson first became interested in the potential impact that neonicotinoids could be having on pollinators like bumblebees four or five years ago. “I didn’t take it very seriously,” he says. “There were simply a growing number of people flagging neonics as a big issue.”

Goulson, who has written several books on bumblebees, began reading other literature in the field — much of which found that neonics may be hindering bees’ navigational abilities — and then set about his own research.

“It was really simple,” he says. “We just got bumblebee nests and we either gave them clean food or food plus neonics for two weeks in the lab. Then we put the nest outside. They have to go gather their own food and do what the bumblebee nest would naturally do in a natural way. We weighed them and then we just monitor how they all did.”

The effects, according to Goulson, were “massive.” There was an 85 percent drop in the number of new queens produced in the neonic tree compared to controls. If a bumblebee nest were feeding on a crop treated with neonics, the damage would be far reaching, he concluded.

Goulson’s 2012 findings — along with a paper from French researchers demonstrating that nonlethal exposure of honeybees to neonics caused high mortality due to homing failure — proved highly influential, helping to persuade the French government to pressure the European Commission into banning the use of neonics on flowering crops and other bee-attractive plants. The two-year moratorium on three types of neonicotinoids — thiamethoxam, imidacloprid, and clothianidin — began December 1, 2013.

Goulson is not impressed with the ban, saying no benefits will emerge in just two years.

“It’s better than nothing. That’s probably the kindest thing I can say about the moratorium,” he says.

* * *

Upon entering Bayer’s Bee Care Center conference room, the eye is drawn not to a top-of-the-line espresso maker or the quirky honeybee facts on the walls, but to two large models. The first is of a Varroa mite, ferocious-looking at hundreds of times its actual size. The second model shows a honeybee besieged by its nemesis, the Varroa attached to its thorax in all its parasitic glory.

The Varroa destructor, a 1.6 mm wide and 1.1 mm long reddish-brown parasite, has been attacking honeybees for thousands of years.

The mite’s small size allows it to fit between bees’ abdominal segments, where it feeds on hemolymph, the arthropod version of blood and bodily fluid, and also spreads deadly viruses. The female mite enters the honeybee’s brood cell — the part of the colony where bee larvae develop — and lays eggs on the larvae once the cell has been closed.

Bayer spends a large amount of its bee-related research, development and public relations efforts on combating the Varroa mite, in what critics have called a distraction from the very real impacts of neonicotinoids.

The link between Varroa and neonics is still an open question. Bees have natural ways to fight off mites — such as grooming and brood rest — but there is evidence that neonic exposure may weaken bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to viruses spread by Varroa, like deformed wing virus.

“Varroa control is possible, but what we need here is a very harmonized strategy,” Trodtfeld says, noting that currently the strategy is “heterogeneous,” varying from beekeeper to beekeeper at the local level. “We are working close together with bee institutes and universities to find here a better support and solution for the beekeepers.”

One way Bayer hopes to standardize the fight against Varroa is the Varroa gate, a new product expected to hit the German market in 2017. The gate is installed at the hive entrance, forcing bees to brush against an anti-mite chemical upon entering.

Bayer’s focus on the Varroa mite may, indeed, offer innovative solutions to lowering the threat of the mites, curb Colony Collapse Disorder and empower beekeepers to contain their hive losses. But many have raised questions about the company’s research credibility, as it has a direct financial stake in the production and use of neonics.

According to recent figures from Buglife, a European organization devoted to the protection of invertebrates, neonics boast a “global market share now estimated at around 40 percent and sales of over U.S. $2.63 billion in 2011.” A Bayer spokesperson would not comment on the company’s neonic profits or market share, but did note that the ban has affected neonic sales.

“The net impact was significantly less, as alternative products compensate,” he added.

Bayer has vigorously defended themselves against the recent research findings of Harvard School of Public Health’s Chengsen Lu, who found that “neonicotinoids are highly likely to be responsible for triggering CCD in honey bee hives that were healthy prior to the arrival of winter.”

At Bayer’s Monheim campus, I sat down with Christian Maus, Bayer’s global pollinator safety manager, and Trodtfeld to discuss Bayer’s criticisms of research findings.

Maus felt that studies produced dire-sounding results when neonics were incorrectly applied. The damage to bees in the Lu study, he says, is similar to giving a human “the caffeine equivalent of 200 cups of coffee.”

Maus also addressed the concerns of many critics who argue that some neonicotinoids may present a danger to bees when paired with chemicals such as fungicides. While he says that there are a few combinations that are harmful, the simple solution to not co-apply those chemicals.

The problem with studies conducted by Bayer and other agrochemical companies, critics like Christian Krupke, a Purdue University pest management researcher, warn, is that they are largely proprietary and not publicly available.

“We, in the research community, truly have no dog in the fight,” says Krupke. “I work a lot with pesticides and pesticide companies and I’m not going to suggest that the world go organic overnight because that’s a luxury that most of the world doesn’t have.”

According to Krupke, research conducted on behalf of companies involved in the pesticide business stifles frank discussions of the effects of pesticides within the scientific community.

Maus argues that many studies incorrectly tackle the problem of CCD on a micro level, looking at the effect of neonics on individual bees instead of colonies.

“The individual worker bee has a lifespan of three to four weeks only in the summertime,” says Maus. “A bee colony is very resilient when it comes to things that affect individual worker bees.”

Goulson, among others, disputes the company’s assertion that what harms the individual bee does not harm the colony.

“You’re constrained by what’s possible,” Goulson says about the difficulty in executing realistic field studies. “Your control is getting contaminated with pesticides, every time. If you want a good experiment, you have to compromise a little on realism.”

* * *

Driving back to campus from Stanmer, Goulson told me he could no longer be just an academic dedicated to objectively presenting research in the face of large public relations and lobbying operations. Days after I met with him, Goulson joined Buglife at a Brussels conference announcing a new study critical of neonics, and he does not shy away from confronting companies like Syngenta on social media.

If the neonic ban is extended in Europe — as many, including Goulson, suspect it will be — all eyes will be on North America, where Canada is now considering a ban, and the U.S. still faces a lengthy debate. Currently, it seems the U.S. may take a more incremental, decentralized approach to mitigating neonic use. Following the lead of other Washington cities, a recent Seattle resolution bans the use of neonics on municipal property. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also pledged to phase out neonics in federal wildlife refuges, along with GMO feed crops, beginning in 2016.

But simply banning another chemical, says Goulson, will not solve the bee crisis.

“I think the bigger picture is how do we shape the future of farming and food production in the world,” Goulson says. “Banning one thing is not going to change anything. It’ll just mean that they’ll replace it with something else.”

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Syngenta Faces Dozens of Lawsuits Over GMO Seedhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/syngenta-faces-dozens-lawsuits-gmo-seed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syngenta-faces-dozens-lawsuits-gmo-seed http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/syngenta-faces-dozens-lawsuits-gmo-seed/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 19:54:56 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14353 LaCrosse Tribune by David Pitt DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Agrochemicals giant Syngenta is facing a growing number of lawsuits challenging its release of a genetically modified corn seed that China had not approved for import, with losses to farmers estimated to be at least $1 billion. More than 50 lawsuits have been filed in 11 major corn-growing states, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska with hundreds more being prepared. Some suits are from farmers

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LaCrosse Tribune
by David Pitt

syngenta-logoDES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Agrochemicals giant Syngenta is facing a growing number of lawsuits challenging its release of a genetically modified corn seed that China had not approved for import, with losses to farmers estimated to be at least $1 billion.

More than 50 lawsuits have been filed in 11 major corn-growing states, including Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska with hundreds more being prepared. Some suits are from farmers represented by individual attorneys, others are class-action lawsuits representing hundreds more.

A federal court panel that manages complex lawsuits involving large numbers of plaintiffs has scheduled a Dec. 4 hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, to decide where to consolidate the cases. It’s likely to be in Iowa or Illinois, according to Rick Paul, an attorney representing 13 farmers who filed suit in federal court in Iowa.

The legal dispute centers around Syngenta’s sale of a hybrid corn seed called Agrisure Viptera, which was genetically altered to contain a protein that kills corn-eating bugs such as earworms and cutworms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved it in 2010, and Syngenta first sold it to farmers in 2011.

It has been industry practice for biotech seed developers to wait until major trade partners have approved new products before selling it widely, Paul said. But China, a growing importer of U.S. corn that refuses to buy genetically modified crops it hasn’t tested, had not approved Viptera.

China discovered the Viptera corn trait in several U.S. shipments in November 2013 and in February began rejecting the nation’s corn. It has rejected more than 130 million bushels as of late October, the lawsuits say.

Damages have been estimated to exceed $1 billion for the last nine months of the marketing year ending Aug. 31, according to research by the National Grain and Feed Association, a grain marketing trade group.

Exports of U.S. corn are down 85 percent this year compared to 2013 and that has driven down corn prices, according to the 13 suits filed in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa.

“The loss of a large purchaser of U.S. corn like China as a result of the Viptera contamination has had a sudden and calamitous impact the U.S. corn market,” Iowa farmer Ward Graham says in his lawsuit.

Graham, 47, who farms 700 acres of corn and soybeans, said he believes the impact is extensive. “Even for a small farmer like me when these markets are just depressed like this because of exports it’s a huge number,” he told The Associated Press on Monday.

A Syngenta spokesman said the right of U.S. farmers to use the newest technology to improve profits should not be dependent on the approval of other countries.

“Syngenta believes that the lawsuits are without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies that can increase both their productivity and their profitability,” spokesman Paul Minehart said in a statement.

He said the company has been in full compliance with regulatory and legal requirements for the new seeds.

The lawsuits seek to compensate farmers for the alleged lost market and additional money to punish Syngenta. Since many factors affect corn prices, the lawyers representing farmers must prove the extent to which the Viptera trait contributed to falling corn prices.

Graham said he hopes the legal actions lead to a new precedent, “that makes it mandatory that they get approval for exports and trade overseas before they release this stuff out to the farmer and put it in the food chain.”

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Monsanto, Dow Unit Sue Maui County Over GMO Lawhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/monsanto-dow-unit-sue-maui-county-gmo-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=monsanto-dow-unit-sue-maui-county-gmo-law http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/monsanto-dow-unit-sue-maui-county-gmo-law/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 14:08:30 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14349 ABC News (AP) by Audrey McAvoy Source: David Casteel Monsanto Co. and a Dow Chemical Co. unit filed the lawsuit in federal court in Honolulu, asking a judge to immediately prevent the law from taking effect and to invalidate the measure. “This local referendum interferes with and conflicts with long-established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful cultivation of GMO plants,” John Purcell, Monsanto Hawaii’s business and technology lead, said in

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ABC News (AP)
by Audrey McAvoy

Source: David Casteel

Monsanto Co. and a Dow Chemical Co. unit filed the lawsuit in federal court in Honolulu, asking a judge to immediately prevent the law from taking effect and to invalidate the measure.

“This local referendum interferes with and conflicts with long-established state and federal laws that support both the safety and lawful cultivation of GMO plants,” John Purcell, Monsanto Hawaii’s business and technology lead, said in a statement.

The case has been assigned to Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren, who earlier this year declared a Kauai County law regulating genetically modified crops was invalid because it was superseded by state law.

The Maui law imposes a moratorium on the growing of genetically engineered crops until scientific studies are conducted on their safety and benefits. The moratorium would be lifted only after a vote by the Maui County Council.

County voters narrowly passed a ballot initiative last week that imposes the ban after an intense campaign. The seed companies poured $8 million into advertising opposing the measure, vastly outspending the initiative’s supporters.

The law, which doesn’t apply to crops in mid-growth cycle, goes into effect when officials certify the election results. That’s expected to happen late this month.

The initiative’s authors sued the county in state court Wednesday to ensure the county implements the law.

Michael Carroll, their attorney, said they would request the federal court to hold off from deciding this case until the state court on Maui has ruled.

“A Maui Court is best equipped to decide any issues associated with the enforceability of the new GMO law,” Carroll said in a statement.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the county was unable to comment because of pending litigation.

Monsanto and Mycogen Seeds, which is part of Dow Chemical unit Dow AgroSciences, both conduct research on new varieties of genetically engineered seeds in Maui County.

Hawaii’s warm weather allows them to plant multiple crop cycles each year, speeding up their seed research and development process. The world’s biggest corn seed developers all have operations in the islands to take advantage of the climate. Other research is done at farms in Honolulu and Kauai counties.

About 90 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered and has been developed partially at Hawaii farms.

The lawsuit notes “a significant percentage of the corn seed planted in the U.S. have originated from Monsanto’s facilities in the county.”

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Open Sesame: The Story of Seeds – Official Trailerhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/open-sesame-story-seeds-official-trailer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=open-sesame-story-seeds-official-trailer http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/open-sesame-story-seeds-official-trailer/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 22:13:29 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14344 YouTube by Open Sesame One of the world’s most precious resources is at risk. This timely and emotionally moving film illuminates what is at stake and what can be done to protect the source of nearly all our food: SEEDS. Seeds provide the basis for everything from fabric, to food to fuels. Seeds are as essential to life as the air we breathe or water we drink…but given far less attention. According to the FAO

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YouTube
by Open Sesame

One of the world’s most precious resources is at risk. This timely and emotionally moving film illuminates what is at stake and what can be done to protect the source of nearly all our food: SEEDS. Seeds provide the basis for everything from fabric, to food to fuels. Seeds are as essential to life as the air we breathe or water we drink…but given far less attention.

According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), approximately 90 percent of the fruit and vegetable varieties that existed 100 years ago no longer exist today. Heritage grain is near extinction. Seeds that were lovingly nurtured over decades or even hundreds of years have been lost forever. Maintaining seed biodiversity allows us to breed new varieties that are resistant to pests or thrive in temperature extremes. This is essential in a changing climate.

Meanwhile, corporations are co-opting seed genetics using patent law. In the past, seeds were communal. They were a shared resource not unlike the water we drink or the air we breathe. One hundred years ago things started to change. Today, corporate-owned seed accounts for 82% of the world-wide market.

In this film you will meet a diverse range of individuals whose lives center around seeds. Farmers. Renegade gardeners. Passionate seed savers. Artists. Seed activists. This film tells the story of seeds by following their challenges and triumphs as they work to save this precious resource.

It’s not too late…yet.

http://www.opensesamemovie.com

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Seasoned Organic Gardener Shares His Top Lessons Learnedhttp://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/seasoned-organic-gardener-shares-top-lessons-learned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seasoned-organic-gardener-shares-top-lessons-learned http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/11/seasoned-organic-gardener-shares-top-lessons-learned/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:38:44 +0000 http://www.cornucopia.org/?p=14340 Effective deer control, efficient composting, timely irrigation, labor-saving weed control, and worthwhile variety selections help you grow tasty organic produce. Rodale News by Derek Fell Source: Sally Hammerman, In My Backyard Misty Hollow LLC When I purchased historic Cedaridge Farm in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1989, I needed it to use it as an “outdoor studio.” Formerly a dairy farm established by Mennonite farmers in 1791, the 20-acre property allows me to test different

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Effective deer control, efficient composting, timely irrigation, labor-saving weed control, and worthwhile variety selections help you grow tasty organic produce.

Rodale News
by Derek Fell

Source: Sally Hammerman,
In My Backyard Misty Hollow LLC

When I purchased historic Cedaridge Farm in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1989, I needed it to use it as an “outdoor studio.” Formerly a dairy farm established by Mennonite farmers in 1791, the 20-acre property allows me to test different gardening techniques and different varieties of flowers and vegetables.

It also allows me to photograph the results, both good and disappointing. As the author of more than 100 garden books and calendars, I have used the property to test vertical growing techniques for my book Vertical Gardening and variety selections for my book Grow This! As a consequence, I have developed 20 theme gardens connected by a trail that leads from one area to another, creating a visual adventure. From the very beginning, I decided to do it all organically, using no harmful chemical controls, and the results have been spectacular, with blemish-free lettuce, asparagus as thick as a man’s thumb, and armloads of man-high gladiolus.

Critter Control
The biggest problem I encountered was controlling the deer. Cedaridge Farm shares a boundary with the Ralph Stover Park trail system, and we have deer in the garden every night looking for food. Without deer control, we couldn’t have a garden. My first project was a vegetable garden about the size of a tennis court, and I soon realized that the only way to keep out the deer was to fence it in with deer netting that extends 8 feet high. The space inside the netting is divided into four large rectangles, each growing a different plant family that rotates from one space to the next in successive years to minimize disease problems.

For years I had difficulty growing carrots—the seed is so tiny I just could not get around to thinning the seedlings properly after emergence, and a big fat groundhog would burrow under my netting and eat them just before harvest. I now get my carrots perfectly spaced by first taking a roll of toilet tissue and lightly spraying it; then with the tip of a pencil, I transfer seeds individually from the seed packet onto the paper, spacing them precisely 1 inch apart in rows spaced 2 inches apart. I then cover the pre-spaced seeds with another piece of damp toilet tissue to lock the seeds in place, and like a commercial seed tape, I placed the ribbon of paper over bare soil and cover it with just enough soil to anchor it. The groundhog, I caught with a Havahart trap—using carrots as bait.

Cutting Garden
The second major project was a cutting garden close to the farmhouse, since my wife Carolyn loves to create flower arrangements for every room in the house and we have collaborated on books about flower arranging, including the very popularImpressionist Bouquets (Friedman/Fairfax), which recreated still-life arrangements from famous painters such as Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne.

Our cutting garden is a 20-by-30-foot space divided by a flagstone path, with the flowers planted in rows across the width. Featuring mostly annuals such as zinnias, marigolds, rudbeckias, sunflowers, celosia, lisianthus, and cosmos, it also includes some summer-flowering bulbs like gladiolus, garden lilies, and dinner-plate dahlias. I didn’t want this area enclosed by deer fencing, as it would have spoiled our view from the farmhouse, so I chose to test various deer repellents, including coyote urine, which we found to be ineffective.

The only deer repellent that really worked is an organic formula called Liquid Fence, which is made from garlic concentrate and powdered rotten eggs. We spray it on all ornamental plants as soon as they emerge in the spring (including the deer’s favorite foods, tulips and daylily shoots) and again at four-week intervals or whenever there is more than an inch of rain. We mix coconut oil with the spray as a sticking agent so we need to reapply only after we get a heavy rain of more than an inch.

Woodland Garden
A third of the five-acre cultivated area at Cedaridge Farm is a woodland garden, with a wood-chip trail that begins at an entrance arch of old barn beams, then leads across a bridge, through a sunny bog garden planted with a colony of hardy swamp hibiscus and ostrich ferns, beneath a canopy of mostly sugar maples, and out to a sunny lawn area.

The edges of the path are planted with an assortment of local shade-loving native wildflowers like trillium, foamflower, ostrich ferns, and blue phlox, along with some flowering nonnatives like primroses, daffodils, hosta, and heuchera. The deer are kept at bay by spraying with Liquid Fence at the same time we spray the cutting garden, using a three-gallon pump-action backpack sprayer.

Where the woodland path emerges onto sunlit lawn, we’ve planted an especially beautiful plant partnership of pink-flowering native redbuds, native pink dogwoods, pink-flowering nonnative crabapples, and pink-flowering nonnative Korean azaleas.

They all bloom together to create a striking pink monochromatic color harmony. The inspiration for this monochromatic color harmony is a Van Gogh painting of peach orchards.

Sunny Perennial Beds
Walking up the lawn toward the farmhouse, visitors encounter several sunny perennial borders that are mostly kidney shaped to make islands in the lawn. One bed borders a pond, where the soil is moist, making it the perfect environment for Japanese irises, astilbe, and the gigantic parasol-shaped leaves of Japanese butterbur. Another bed features a collection of garden lilies, notably fragrant Oriental types such as white ‘Casa Blanca,’ red ‘Star Gazer,’ and glowing burnt-orange ‘Schehezerade.’ Some small-size flowering shrubs augment the perennials, including ‘Pinky Winky’ hydrangea, bicolored ‘Sensation’ lilac, and several colors of hardy tree hibiscus (Alcea rosea).

We use herbaceous peonies in all the beds and have a special sunny area devoted to them—beside a white Victorian gingerbread gazebo—for cutting.

The perennial beds are topped up with compost every autumn before frost. During the growing season, we also use a foliar spray of an organic fish formula called Bill’s Perfect Fertilizer, coupled with an organic fertilizer additive called Spray-N-Grow, which promotes profuse flowering.

Water Features
Carolyn spent a career in fashion designing clothes for famous fashion house like Pierre Cardin and Calvin Klein. Today, she’s a professional landscape designer with projects like designing three waterfalls for a New York vineyard and a stream garden for a celebrity entertainer. It’s our belief that every garden needs a water feature, both for the musical sound of running water and for the beauty of its sparkling movement.

Up near the farmhouse at Cedaridge, in what was a paddock, we also created a series of waterfalls and a stream that combine to form a plunge pool, with all the water recirculated through a filter so that the plunge pool is suitable for bathing during the heat of summer. One section of the pool is devoted to growing water lilies, while other areas feature colorful moisture-loving plants like cardinal flowers, swamp sunflowers, and insect-eating pitcher plants. Several specimens of ‘Waterfall’ Japanese maple, large-leafed hostas, erect cinnamon ferns, and bronze-leafed ligularia are used to create a tapestry of foliage colors and textures.

The water lilies are contained in submerged terra-cotta pots to prevent their spreading into unwanted areas, and we have a pink lotus that’s also confined to a submerged pot for the same reason. The pots are lowered below the ice line during winter to prevent the roots from freezing.

Cottage Garden
We have a small guest cottage with a cottage garden surrounding the foundation, as well as a flagstone patio off the bedroom where we generally arrange a collection of containers with colorful plant partnerships. Shrub roses such as the disease-resistant ‘Flower Carpet’ and ‘Knockout’ series provide continuous color all season, and most years, we create an exotic effect for the patio by displaying tropical plants in containers, including several ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ bananas, ‘Tropicanna’ cannas, and giant elephant ears. Other years, we grew vegetables in containers, relying on ‘Bright Lights’ chard and various colors of lettuce for ornamental effect.

Soil Health
To keep the soil in good health, I designed a three-compartment compost bin that holds finished compost in one bin, maturing compost in another, and fresh compost ingredients in another so there is a continuous supply all season.

I have separate bins made from cylinders of chicken wire that hold shredded leaves, which provide an attractive weed-suffocating mulch for all the beds. The ingredients for the compost bins include garden and kitchen waste, wood ashes from our three fireplaces, generous amounts of stable manure from local horse farms, and a wonderful dark, crumbly compost from a nearby township compost center that’s provided free to members of the community. This is made from shredded woody plant material mixed with decomposed leaves.

Irrigation
We obtain potable water from a deep well, and also have the benefit of several submerged cisterns that once held an emergency supply of water for livestock and we now use to water the garden so we do not stress the well. Over the years, we have tried several irrigation systems. We generally water the containers with a watering wand attached to a garden hose so we can poke the end through foliage and apply water close to the root zone.

We sometimes use a lawn sprinkler on our melon and sweet corn beds, and in other areas, we use an inexpensive drip irrigation system connected to our well. We like the brand called Irrigro because it sweats water all along its length and it can be buried. We grow warm-season crops like tomatoes and peppers through a horticultural fabric similar to black plastic but with pores to allow water to penetrate. This effectively controls weeds around our vegetable crops. In the fall, we also gather leaves that have been shredded with a lawn mower and use them as an organic mulch to further control weeds in our flower beds.

Space-Saving Ideas
We like to grow vines, both flowering and edible. In particular we favor clematis and varieties of wisteria, although wisteria can be aggressive and easily rot wooden supports, while clematis are better behaved. We have several plantings of the hybrid trumpet creeper, ‘Mme Galen.’ A cross between the native American trumpet creeper and the Chinese, it attracts hummingbirds like a magnet and flowers non-stop from early summer through fall frost.

Of all the many kinds of containers we have tested, wooden whisky half-barrels have proved to be the best for growing both edibles and ornamentals. They can accommodate a good amount of soil at sufficient depth to prevent rapid drying out, and the wood will not overheat like plastic and metal containers. To prevent rotting of the wood from soil contact, we line the inside with black plastic, ensuring that holes are punched through the bottom to facilitate good drainage. Some of our most productive vegetable varieties include pole snap beans and pole lima beans, indeterminate tomato varieties such as ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Early Cascade,’ vining ‘Sugar Snap’ peas, ‘Vegetable Spaghetti’ squash, and climbing, ever-bearing ‘Malabar’ spinach. All these are grown up trellis, garden netting, or bamboo teepees to save space.

Derek Fell is the author of two Rodale books, Vertical Gardening and Grow This! He is also editor of the Avant Gardener, an online, full-color newsletter. His three-compartment compost bin, made from rot-resistant Western red cedar, and a vertical gardening kit are available from www.cedarstore.com.

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