ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot
Since the dawn of agriculture, edible plants that thrive in the bioregion in which they grow have been domesticated through plant breeding. Traditionally, local farmers were the stewards of these seeds, passing them on from harvest to harvest. Knowledge garnered over 10,000 years meant farmers were well qualified to select seeds of plants with the most desirable traits, such as high yield, drought tolerance and disease resistance. These “landrace” varieties were passed on from one generation to the next. At the dawn of the 21st century, the situation looks radically different.
Ninety-eight percent of the world’s food seed sales are now in the hands of six corporations: Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Aventis and Dow. While Monsanto is not in the business of feeding the world, it conducts most of its research in a living laboratory – farmers’ fields throughout the world. This corporation’s business is the genetic modification of seeds, which have to be sold in a package just like their pesticide products, such as Roundup. In order to control these GMOs, Monsanto has patented its seeds and, even more alarmingly, is now trying to sterilize them through proposed terminator technology. Monsanto’s objective is seemingly to control the way the world feeds itself, but it appears that its methods are not sustainable on many fronts. We are now seeing the impact of mass quantities of food being flown around the world, while people working the fields go hungry and the planet warms up. Cheap food is costing the Earth!
Our ancestors recognized food as the staff of life; without seeds there is no agriculture to grow food, and without agriculture, there is no civilization. It’s incredible that across the planet people have become so disconnected to the source of their food, the very essence of their survival.
How can we accept that we are feeding the world with food grown in the absence of nature? There’s no place for wildlife on hundreds of acres of monocultured crops. There’s no habitat, food or water for the birds, bees and butterflies. What happens to the fragile soil-food web of life when the soil is dosed with Roundup? It’s time to reconnect with nature by finding a place for Her in the food production cycle.
Plants are dependent for their nutritional content on the soil in which they grow. Fertile soil is alive with organic matter, which feeds the myriad organisms that dwell within it. What kind of food is being grown through industrialized food production? Is it real food that nourishes us? We are now seeing the consequences of eating food grown in depleted soils, or no soil at all (as with hydroponics): neurological problems such as dementia in the elderly and attention deficit disorder in youth.
When fed empty calories, we always feel hungry. When we eat too much, we create Type 11 diabetes in children and obesity throughout the populations of developed and developing nations. Our healthcare systems will soon be bankrupt through the necessity of caring for a society of undernourished people.
Perhaps it’s time for a resurgence of the ‘60s hippies’ “back to the land” movement. Perhaps if we grow real food where we live, we will reconnect with nature. Perhaps all we need to do is go back to the garden to remember how to feed ourselves and future generations. But we need the seeds to do that.
Around the world, many small groups of seed savers are actively working to safeguard global food security by preserving the genetic diversity of plants. Our capacity to feed ourselves in the future depends on defending our global, agricultural heritage today. Grassroots organizations are saving the seeds in a living laboratory by growing heritage varieties of food plants whose seeds have not been genetically altered or hybridized in the interests of large scale industrialized food production. (See sidebar.)
Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.
Grassroots Seed Savers