Picture Snob

February 28, 2011

A seedling heat mat will make the growing season arrive sooner

41f0Y1OaIGL._AA280_.jpg It's been warm and sunny here for all of January up until now. I worried about the water table and snow pack and river level and now it's started raining again and snow is forcast for the next week. Suddenly I feel restless and wish I could get in the garden.

It's hard to imagine gardening unless you have a sunny room or porch. But for those of us who can't wait to start some plants, I'm thinking this heating pad looks perfect. It's 20" by 10" so it fits underneath a large seed flat. It's waterproof and made of heavy fray proof material. It will warm the soil in the flat 10 or 20 degrees above room temperature so that seed germination is faster. It comes with a 6 ft. power cord and instructions for use and also comes in larger sizes. No matter where you are, if you can't bear the thought of another month or two of winter, you might try hastening the season with this seedling heat mat.

At Seedling Heat Mat

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February 25, 2011

A good article from the New York Times on GMOs

This is written by Mark Bittman for the NYT.


If you want to avoid sugar, aspartame, trans-fats, MSG, or just about anything else, you read the label. If you want to avoid G.M.O.'s -- genetically modified organisms -- you're out of luck. They're not listed. You could, until now, simply buy organic foods, which by law can't contain more than 5 percent G.M.O.'s. Now, however, even that may not work.

In the last three weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved three new kinds of genetically engineered (G.E.) foods: alfalfa (which becomes hay), a type of corn grown to produce ethanol), and sugar beets. And the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a super-fast-growing salmon -- the first genetically modified animal to be sold in the U.S., but probably not the last -- may not be far behind.

It's unlikely that these products' potential benefits could possibly outweigh their potential for harm. But even more unbelievable is that the F.D.A.and the U.S.D.A. will not require any of these products, or foods containing them, to be labeled as genetically engineered, because they don't want to "suggest or imply" that these foods are "different." (Labels with half-truths about health benefits appear to be O.K., but that's another story.)

They are arguably different, but more important, people are leery of them. Nearly an entire continent -- it's called Europe -- is so wary that G.E. crops are barely grown there and there are strict bans on imports (that policy is in danger). Furthermore, most foods containing more than 0.9 percent G.M.O.'s must be labeled.

G.E. products may grow faster, require fewer pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, and reduce stress on land, water and other resources; they may be more profitable to farmers. But many of these claims are in dispute, and advances in conventional agriculture, some as simple as drip irrigation, may achieve these same goals more simply. Certainly conventional agriculture is more affordable for poor farmers, and most of the worlds' farmers are poor. (The surge in suicides among Indian farmers has been attributed by some, at least in part, to G.E. crops, and it's entirely possible that what's needed to feed the world's hungry is not new technology but a better distribution system and a reduction of waste.)

To be fair, two of the biggest fears about G.E. crops and animals -- their potential to provoke allergic reactions and the transfer to humans of antibiotic-resistant properties of G.M.O.'s -- have not come to pass. (As far as I can tell, though, they remain real dangers.) But there has been cross-breeding of natural crops and species with those that have been genetically engineered, and when ethanol corn cross-pollinates feed corn, the results could degrade the feed corn; when G.E. alfalfa cross-pollinates organic alfalfa, that alfalfa is no longer organic; if a G.E. salmon egg is fertilized by a wild salmon, or a transgenic fish escapes into the wild and breeds with a wild fish ... it's not clear what will happen.

This last scenario is impossible, say the creators of the G.E. salmon -- a biotech company called AquaBounty -- whose interest in approval makes their judgment all but useless. (One Fish and Wildlife Service scientist wrote in material obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, "Maybe they should watch 'Jurassic Park.' ")

Also curious is that the salmon is being categorized as a "new animal drug" which means that the advisory committee in charge of evaluating it is composed mostly of veterinarians and animal scientists, instead of, say, fish ecologists or experts in food safety. Not surprisingly, the biotech industry has spent over half a billion dollars on G.M.O. lobbyists in the last decade, and Michael Taylor, the F.D.A. deputy commissioner for foods, was once vice president for public policy at Monsanto. Numerous groups of consumers, farmers, environmental advocates, scientists, supporters of organic food and now even congressmen -- last week, a bill was introduced to ban G.E. salmon -- believe that the approval process demonstrated a bias towards the industry.

Cross-breeding is guaranteed with alfalfa and likely with corn. (The U.S.D.A. claims to be figuring out ways to avoid this happening, but by then the damage may already be done.) And the organic dairy industry is going to suffer immediate and frightening losses when G.E. alfalfa is widely grown, since many dairy cows eat dried alfalfa (hay), and the contamination of organic alfalfa means the milk of animals fed with that hay can no longer be called organic. Likewise, when feed corn is contaminated by G.E. ethanol corn, the products produced from it won't be organic. (On the one hand, U.S.D.A. joins the F.D.A. in not seeing G.E. foods as materially different; on the other it limits the amount found in organic foods. Hello? Guys? Could you at least pretend to be consistent?)

The subject is unquestionably complex. Few people outside of scientists working in the field -- self included -- understand much of anything about gene altering. Still, an older ABC poll found that a majority of Americans believe that G.M.O.'s are unsafe, even more say they're less likely to buy them, and a more recent CBS/NYT poll found a whopping 87 percent -- you don't see a poll number like that too often -- wants them labeled.

In the long run, genetic engineering may prove to be useful. Or not. The science is adolescent at best; not even its strongest advocates can guarantee that there aren't hidden dangers. So consumers are understandably cautious, and whether that's justified or paranoid, it would seem we have a right to know as much as Europeans do.

Even more than questionable approvals, it's the unwillingness to label these products as such -- even the G.E. salmon will be sold without distinction -- that is demeaning and undemocratic, and the real reason is clear: producers and producer-friendly agencies correctly suspect that consumers will steer clear of G.E. products if they can identify them. Which may make them unprofitable. Where is the free market when we need it?

A majority of our food already contains G.M.O.'s, and there's little reason to think more isn't on the way. It seems our "regulators" are using us and the environment as guinea pigs, rather than demanding conclusive tests. And without labeling, we have no say in the matter whatsoever.

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February 24, 2011

A snowed in garden still gives vegetables


When your garden looks like this, covered with snow, someone might think that it is in bed and undisturbed until spring melt. But if you've planned your garden well, you can go out with the shovel and dig up some ruby red treasures and some golden nuggets. I did just that today. The snow was about 6 inches deep. It had melted from the day before and I was able to fine the beet and carrot rows without any trouble. Surprisingly, the earth was not frozen and not soggy, but broke up well as if ready to plant.

Here are the carrots ready to clean and peal. The looks so bright and chock full of nutrients.


And here are two of the beets, semi cooked. I'm going to cover them with olive oil and roast them in the oven. They will be sweet and delicious. Detroit Red is an easy variety to grow and mid winter, a great garden treat.


At Detroit Dark Red Beet Seeds

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February 23, 2011

A bedside garden book--a good night companion


This is a great idea for a bedside book you can browse as you prepare to sleep. It will help you ever learn about plants you may never be able to grow and some you can, and to discover gardens you may never be able to visit or some you might, then here is your bedside companion.

This book can teach you how people gardened in the past and what they have contributed to our gardens today. There are features about interesting garden facts and lore, including sections on great gardeners in history; extraordinary and surprising plants; remarkable fences; the wildlife in our backyards; and things for the plant lover to do indoors. The book is illustrated throughout and is the perfect book for every nature lover.

At The Bedside Book of the Garden

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February 22, 2011

Johnny's Seed Catalog is unique among seed companies

Johnny's catalog just came and is very impressive. The company is employee owned and was started in the 70's by a 22 year old with $500 savings. The employees own 30% of the company and should own 100% by 2015 which is unusual and commendable. Ownership-Image.jpg

The company originates in Maine and as one might guess, is geared toward cool weather growing. The lettuce section is the most extensive I've seen, ten pages of familar and rare varieties, but a special section on baby salad mixes and another on micro mix varieties which are vegetable seedlings harvested while small and used for salad and gourmet cooking. They sell ounces and up to 25 pounds of seeds so they are used by large growers as well as home gardeners.

Many vegetable sections come with a very helpful chart showing the variety and the days to harvest, the color, disease resistance and other attributes of seed. The corn section is small, only three pages, but they advertise a an innoculant which should help corn survive in less than ideal conditions. There is a good explanation of SE, SE+, and Synergistic varieties which helped me understand what those labels mean.

This Spring Treat corn is a "slightly sturdier plant and better eating quality than Kandy Kwik, which Spring Treat replaces. Good cool soil vigor."


They have an extensive selection of herbs from Angelica to Wormwood, eighteen pages and about thirty pages of flowers which includes some wildflower mixes. The tools and supplies section ha a lot of season extender items. Agribon is featured as both a lightweight insect barrier and a heavy weight heavy freeze protection of down to 24 degrees F. They show plastic and biodegrable mulchers which I've never seen before. A white on black mulch keeps the soil cool and the black side down suppresses weeds. They sell a red plastic mulch developed by Penn State which suppresses weeds, keeps the soil warm and hastens the ripening of tomatoes. It's not recommended for hot weather states.

Lastly, they sell a range of harvesting knives and tools and are featuring a Tubtrug which is a flexible food grade plastic tub to use for harvesting or for mixing fertilizer.
They come in three bright colors and can be left outside with no harm from frost or UV.

At Johnny's Seeds

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February 18, 2011

Kellog's Gardner and Bloome soil conditioner--a disappointing mix


I bought a 3 cubic foot bag of this product from my nursery and opened it to find exactly what I don't like about so many soil building, fertilizing, or soil amendment products. There was a generous use of wood chips for filler. And this bag had the nerve to call itself also "compost" when real composting of this product would take another year!

I'm using it anyway, mixing it in with the well composted steer manure I bought from the same nursery and I'm sure over time it will decompose and be useful as a soil amendment but as it is it was a huge ten dollar disappointment, I checked out the website for Kellog's organic products, thinking it might be a subsidiary of Kellog's cereals, but this is a family owned business since 1925 and has been organic from the beginning. The website has a utube videa touting the wonderful properties of Organic Gardner and Bloom. This product has according to the information provided composted Red wood, forest humus and bark fines screened to a uniform 1/4" minus size. The compost is further blended with Chicken Manure, Worm Castings, Bat Guano and Kelp Meal. Oyster and Dolomite Limes are added as pH adjusters (pH=6.5).me products. It sounds great! Unfortunately, the screened to a "uniform 1/4" minus size is a pretty big exaggeration.

Here is what I found in my bag:


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February 17, 2011

Bat Guano has a long history of being used for fertilizer


The Inca were the first peoples to use and regulate bat guano for fertlizer. Guano is a name applied to both bat and sea bird droppings which accumulates to great depth in caves and on islands in the Pacific. I never used bat guano until it started appearing in nurseries in both big and small bags a few years ago. "The Incas assigned great value to guano, restricting access to it and punishing any disturbance to the birds with death."

It's importance as a fertilizer was widespread in the 1800's and the US passed the Guano Islands Act in 1856 giving citizens discovering a source of guano the right to take possession of unclaimed land and entitlement to exclusive rights to the deposits. That's how important it once was. But by the end of the 19th century, the importance of guano declined with the rise of artificial fertiliser. And now it has made it appearance again and I have used it the past few years with great success in the garden.

However, a commentor on this blog wrote that bat guano was dangerous and that maybe the organic world had gone crazy to be promoting such fertilizer. I appreciate comments like that which make me dig a little deeper for information. As a result, I came up with information on Histoplasma capsulatum or histoplasmosis. This disease is caused by a fungus found throughout the world. It is endemic in certain areas of the United States, particularly in states bordering the Ohio River valley and the lower Mississippi River. It also common in caves in southern and East Africa.

H. capsulatum grows in soil and material contaminated with bird or bat droppings. The fungus has been found in poultry house litter, caves, areas harboring bats, and in bird roosts (particularly those of starlings). The fungus once inhaled into the lungs can germinate and then transform into budding yeast cells which cause flu like symtoms. Histoplasmosis is not contagious and can only be contracted by inhaling the fungus.

So it is relatively rare although I also found there is a budding industry of bat removal and the clean up of droppings of bats and birds to avoid personal contamination.

Where does that leave me on using it as a fertilizer? I think I will handle the guano more carefully in the future, but I don't think the danger is immanent enough to stop using what has become a great help to me in the garden. I have never used it as a foliar spray but when used in a water based mix and sprayed on the leaves of plants, it is a fungicide. Figure that out! I might also look for the word, composted, on the package as the high heat of composting would kill any bacteria or fungus.

At Dr. Earth 726 Bat Guano

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February 16, 2011

Today I put lettuce in the ground


The warm dry weather continues here in NOrthern California. It's worrisome because the river is below normal and the snow pack is negligible. We need more winter here desperately!

But today in the warmth of the 2pm to 4pm sunshine, I dug a small row and planted some lettuce, a mix of Black seeded Simpson and Buttercrunch and romaine. It's supposed to rain next week so I watered a little and am hoping some sprouts will show themselves. The night time temperatures are down into the twenties and that might discourage the seeds from germinating but it's certainly worth a try. It means early lettuce at the end of March or early April which would be wonderful.

At Select Salad Blend Lettuce

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February 15, 2011

Forcing wild shrubs and bushes brightens the winter day

When I was young, I used to go out into the countryside for long walks. Those were the days when I could actually walk out of town. There were lovely creeks and wooded hills and those walks set the course for the rest of my life, because I moved to the woods and have lived in them ever since.


During the course of my wanderings in February or early March, I would look for and find Pussy Willows and Redbud. I would break off branches of the these shrubs and bring them back to my mother. It always pleased her so much. Those memories are very tender and precious to me. Any of us who have access now to wild country or even farm land can probably find bushes of forsythia gone wild, pussy willow, quince, spirea, redbud, and dogwood. Any of these plants, wild or tame, can be forced for indoor bloom. It is best to make long, slanted cuts when collecting the branches and not break them like I used to. Then you place the stems in a vase of water. The water needs to be changed every four days. They should bloom in about 3 weeks and bring an early spring into the house to enliven your life.

At Forsythia

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February 14, 2011

Southern Exposure Newsletter has a few good tips - February 2011


If you're in the Mid-Atlantic region, February is the month for seed starting! Right now you can start lettuces, parsley, early brassicas, and bulb onions from seed in flats. Ira recommends starting hot peppers during these first few weeks of February since they take a long while to get going. During the middle of the month, get your sweet peppers and eggplants going and continue other greens and brassicas. Start globe artichokes now from seed to get in their required chilling days and you'll have a better chance of harvest in their first year.

If you have troubles with your radish, spinach, pea, carrot, or beet starts, try pre-sprouting them on paper towels in an incubator to give them an extra advantage, and keep planting every two weeks. Incubators and heating mats in general are great tools for speeding up your germination and helping your seedlings wake up ready and raring to go. If you're working outside with cold frames or Reemay garden blankets, start spinach, bok choi, lettuce, Mizuna mustard, and other cool weather greens. Forellenschluss is a great lettuce for this time of year and br ings a pleasing crunch to early spring salads.

At Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat

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February 10, 2011

More on the Monsanto victory for GE alfalfa

Monsanto's GE Alfalfa: Obama's Organic Betrayal

In last week's Bytes, we made the case that the Organic Elite had betrayed the organic community when they naively sat down to cut a deal for "coexistence" with the USDA, essentially giving up on confronting Monsanto where it matters: in the market (including Whole Foods Market), where unlabeled GMO and factory-farmed foods are routinely purchased by unwitting consumers. OCA chided Organic Inc. for abandoning grassroots "activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions" and internalizing the defeatist notion "that the battle against GMOs has been lost."

At nearly the very moment Bytes was broadcast to our members, news came that President Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack had betrayed the organic industry. As OCA expected, Vilsack, apparently on direct orders from the White House, abandoned the idea of "controlled deregulation" for something much more Monsanto-friendly. Monsanto's controversial RoundUp Ready alfalfa will likely be planted this spring and - like all of the biotech industry's GMOs - it remains untested, unregulated, unrestricted, and unlabeled. It seems that Obama has elected to joins the ranks of Monsanto Minions, just like Bush Jr., Clinton, and Bush Sr. before him.

The good news is that the organic industry is finally showing some anger and passion! In the wake of this betrayal foretold, the Organic Trade Association published an open letter condemning Vilsack's decision, signed by United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), Stonyfield Farm, Organic Valley, as well as a host of organic advocacy groups and individuals, including Michael Pollan. Here's the letter:

We Stand in Opposition to GE Alfalfa!

The Organic Trade Association also finally criticized Obama directly:
"The hope ignited by electing a president that would represent the people, against special interests and business as usual in Washington, was sadly extinguished when your office chose sides. As quoted by Maureen Dowd in Sunday's New York Times, your chief advisor David Axelrod offered a parting pun to "plow forward" on genetically engineered alfalfa, before heading off to get you re-elected. The cynicism of biotech lobbyists has penetrated the inner most sanctum of your White House and I am deeply disappointed. ... Since GE it is not currently labeled or tracked in our food supply, it is impossible to conduct long-term studies on the link between GE and human health problems.

"I want to be able to choose whether the foods I eat contain genetically engineered ingredients. When it comes to GE crops in America, I will vote for choice both at the grocery store and at the polls in 2012."

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February 9, 2011

Dropping by your local nursery sometimes pays!

I41niSOfALyL._SL500_AA300_.jpg've been buying trees to plant around the house. Last week I bought two cherry trees, a Bing and I Queen Anne to help with pollination. I put them in what will be the front yard where they will grow tall but not tall enough to block the view! Cherries do pretty well here, but the birds are a real competitor for the fruit and like all fruit trees in the area, a bear can really trash a tree easily. Nonetheless, I'm very happy with the purchase and fell optimistic about maybe having some cherries in my front yard.

While I was at the nursery, I saw some ratty looking lavendar plants, four of them, which she gave me. No one else is going to buy such a sad looking plant and so I brought them home to plant around the foundation of the house. I'm going to intersperse them with Gazanias, rosemary, and Shasta Daisys to bring an array of color which will be perinneal and easy to care for. The deer don't like rosemary or lavendar and I'm not sure what they will do to the flowers, but I'm excited about making the area outside which is such a mess from construction, into a pleasant place to be.

If you can't find freebies at the nursery, here's some lavendar from Amazon:

At The Patent Magic Herb- Lavender

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February 8, 2011

Gardeners Steer Manure is the best buy!


Now you'll be lucky if your nursery carries this brand of steer manure. Mine does! I just bought three more sacks of it because it is the best I have found. The steer manure is really composted and doesn't have a bunch of filler to add bulk and weight without any nutrients.

Many of the brands I have tried are really disappointing. Even the high end bat guano which, is suppossedly high nitrogen, comes mixed with bark chips. Gardeners is finely screened and has no visible fillers. It looks like really good quality compost and smells sweet. I've looked online and can find no resource which sells it, but Lowe's advertises it so I would look there to find it.

My nursery had a 2 cubic foot bag for $2.59. A real bargain! Lowe's has one cubic foot for $1.25.

At Lowe's

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Hosta in the shadow of the house


I have a dark triangular shaped corner of the house where only shade loving plants will grow. I've been doing some investiaging and have come up with several good species to use at this site. Of course Hosta comes to mind immediately. Hosta comes in many varieties. In New England you see it everywhere as it loves moisture and shade. Some have leaves that are small, curly and variegated while others have wide, broad leaves and a single shade of green. Hosta grows from spring till fall, then will die off during the winter. They are great to share with family and friends because they are easy to divide. This is best done in the spring and if replanted in good soil and they will thrive. There is not much you can do to kill off these plants.

The down side is that Hostas are notoriously a favourite food for deer, slugs and snails, which commonly cause extensive damage to hosta collections in gardens. However, the hosta makes up for this failing by sending up stalks of lovely lily like flowers that come in a variety of colors from white to blue. There are as many as 45 varieties and the plant is used for food in Japan where it originated.

At 'Delta Dawn' Hosta - Shade Perennial

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February 7, 2011

Eden's Dark Margin, a shade loving perennial


I had to do some searching to get the name of this plant. The nursery owner thought it was a Bergenia Cordiflora. The leaves are a deep purple rather eggplant hue. She tola me that it would do well in shade and is also easy to care for. Now I find out it has big violet blossoms in the spring, so I'm very hopeful this will thrive in the partial shade along with the Hosta.

What I've learned is that Bergenia are incredibly hardy, and reliably evergreen throughout nearly the entire continent. Eden's Dark Margin forms a mound of large, leathery green leaves with pencil-line red edges, turning deep maroon during winter. Short stems of magenta-purple flowers rise above the foliage in mid spring. It seems perfect for edging along the house or massing as a groundcover. They say Bergenia sometimes look a little beaten up by winter. This one certainly does, but I love the purple leaves and best of all, the name! Eden's Dark Margin! Wow! I guess paradise had a shadow side and this is what would grow there!

At Heart Leaf Perennial - Bergenia Cordiflora

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February 4, 2011

Organic Consumer News--93% want GE food labeled

NPR has some interesting tidbits related to organic food news and genetically engineered food. Would you eat a genetically engineered salmon? Are you even sure what the difference is between the regular variety and one that's been tweaked to grow faster?

Don't feel bad if you're unsure. Only a quarter of Americans say they fully understand what genetically engineered food is all about, according to a survey of more then 3,000 people conducted for NPR by Thomson Reuters last month.

Press people a little further by asking them if genetically engineered foods are safe, and the uncertainty climbs higher. Only 21 percent of people are convinced the foods are safe. Most are unsure -- 64 percent. The remaining 15 percent think the foods aren't safe.

People who are a little older, make more money and have at least a college degree are most likely to think safety is not an issue for the foods, whose qualities have been altered by laboratory manipulation of DNA.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that a food should say on its label if it's from some genetically modified animal or plant -- 9 in 10 people surveyed said so.

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February 3, 2011

Organic Comsumer Association takes on Monsanto continued...

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?
By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Jan 27, 2011
Straight to the Source

"The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must." - Whole Foods Market, Jan. 21, 2011

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases (recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers "for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling; and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well True coexistence is a must."

Why Is Organic Inc. Surrendering?

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the consolation prize. The consolation prize they seek is a so-called "coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project, funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI) is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

From their "business as usual" perspective, successful lawsuits against GMOs filed by public interest groups such as the Center for Food Safety; or noisy attacks on Monsanto by groups like the Organic Consumers Association, create bad publicity, rattle their big customers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, Supervalu, Publix and Safeway; and remind consumers that organic crops and foods such as corn, soybeans, and canola are slowly but surely becoming contaminated by Monsanto's GMOs.

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February 2, 2011

Stonyfield Farm responds to Monsanto and OCA


Yesterday, we reported how the Organic Consumers Association was accusing what they called "the organic elite" of caving to Monsanto and facilitating the USDA's unrestricted approval of GMO alfalfa - a move that could seriously undermine the integrity of organic foods.

Today, Stonybrood Farm responds - and they say that on the contrary, they want everyone to stand firm - together - against Monsanto.

Let me first state the obvious - leaving aside the fact that USDA's own organic standards do not allow the use of genetically engineered crops, Stonyfield is absolutely and utterly opposed to the deregulation of GE crops.

We believe that these crops are resulting in significantly higher uses of toxic herbicides and water, creating a new generation of costly "super" weeds.

  • Pose severe and irreversible threats to biodiversity and seed stocks.

  • Do not live up to the superior yield claims of their patent holders.

  • Are unaffordable for small family farmers in the US and around the world.

  • We believe that organic farming methods are proving through objective, scientific validation to offer far better solutions.

  • We also believe that unrestricted deregulation of GE crops unfairly limits farmer and consumer choice.

And they take strong exception to the OFA's characterization of them as an "Organic Elite" that is betraying the needs of consumers.

Making matters worse, on the day of the decision, the Organic Consumers Association distributed an inaccurate, irresponsible and frankly appalling letter that attempted to pin the blame for the USDA's decision squarely on Stonyfield, Organic Valley and Whole Foods. OCA's letter is blatantly untrue and dangerously misleading, but also deeply divisive at a time when we all need to be focused on immediate actions necessary to stop this new policy from going into effect.

Stacked against us

Stonyfield's Gary Hirshberg sums up the past 6 years of this fight, and says that while it's hugely disappointing, considering how much firepower Big Ag threw at congress and the regulatory system, it's not surprising that it turned out this way.

Thursday's decision and the long and hard fought battle leading up to it began in 2005 when the USDA deregulated GE alfalfa for the first time. Stonyfield actively supported the organic community's challenge to the deregulation and eventually the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2007, the Court ruled there could be no deregulation without the USDA making a full assessment of GE alfalfa's environmental impact and the court placed an injunction on planting of GE alfalfa.

Since then, Monsanto and big biotech have spent tens of millions lobbying in Washington and funding studies that support the use of GE alfalfa. These biotech giants have terrifyingly deep pockets. But despite their efforts, organic advocates were able to persuade the USDA that organic interests must also be considered. And so, for the first time, the USDA in recent months convened stakeholder groups of pro- and anti-biotech organizations including farm groups, manufacturers, industry associations and non-profits to try to reach a consensus on GE alfalfa. This was essentially an attempt to convene meetings between the Davids and Goliaths. Given the overwhelming firepower on the other side, and a decade's worth of biotech-funded "science", it was a bold and worthy attempt. Stonyfield, Whole Foods, Organic Valley, and the Organic Trade Association along with many other organic advocates including the Non-GMO Project, Organic Farming Research Foundation, National Cooperative Grocers Association, National Organic Coalition, Beyond Pesticides, and the Center for Food Safety brought forward our arguments for a complete ban on GE alfalfa.

From the outset of these stakeholder discussions, it was clear that GE alfalfa had overwhelming political, legal, financial and regulatory support and thus the odds were severely stacked against any possibility of preventing some level of approval, just as has been the case with GE cotton, soy and corn. Keep in mind that, according to Food and Water Watch, biotech has spent more than half a billion dollars ($547 million) lobbying Congress since 1999. Their lobby expenditures more than doubled during that time. In 2009 alone they spent $71 million. Last year they had more than 100 lobbying firms working for them, as well as their own in-house lobbyists.

In December, to no one's surprise, the USDA took a complete ban of GE alfalfa off the table as an option, leaving only two choices: complete deregulation or deregulation with some safeguards to protect organic farmers, which they called "co-existence." The choice we were faced with was to walk away and wait for the legal battle in the courts or stay at the table and fight for safeguards that would attempt to protect organic farmers and consumer choice, still maintaining the option for legal battle later. A smaller coalition of organic interests participated in the meetings with the clear caveat that any decision to deregulate GE alfalfa must include restrictions that protect organic farmers and consumers' choice. When faced with the overwhelming reality that GE alfalfa would be released despite our best efforts, we believed fighting for some safeguards to protect organic consumers and organic farmers was the best option.

We specifically advocated that any regulatory approval must ensure: (a) protection of seed purity - for organic farmers' use, and as insurance in case something "crops" up that causes a later reconsideration of the use of biotechnology; (b) organic farmers whose crops become contaminated by GE alfalfa must be compensated by the patent holders for their losses due to losing their organic certification; and (c) the USDA must oversee all testing and monitoring of GE crops to ensure compliance as part of its role in protecting all US agriculture. Needless to say, the biotech coalition was firmly opposed to all three caveats, but we remained united and fought hard for them.

Not once did Stonyfield consider buying what Monsanto was selling - nor will we ever. We have never wavered from our position in defending organic and opposing GE crops. Back in the 1990's we went head to head with Monsanto over synthetic growth hormones and we were the first US dairy to pay farmers not to use rBGH. We have been fighting them ever since, and will continue to do so. In the days since this very sad decision, we have convened multiple times with our fellow organic advocates and have already begun to plan and invest in our next wave of legal, lobbying and educational efforts.

Marilyn Renaker Permalink | Comments (0) | social bookmarking

February 1, 2011

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