This week is the second year of the National Heirloom Exposition at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The first had me completely overwhelmed and buying way too many seeds — something I have a tendency to do. At first, the second iteration seemed to be in a Sophomore Slump. The vegetable sculptures weren’t as high, the vendors seemed too familiar and there didn’t seem to be the plethora of Amish there were last year. But I quickly did something I didn’t do last year, and that made all the difference. I attended some of the many seminars and speakers who were scheduled throughout the three day event. Well, it doesn’t matter what else I saw because one speaker alone blew everything else out of the water. That was Percy Schmeiser. If you don’t know him, you should. Because, at the expense of his family farm, his children, his grandchildren and his great-grand-children, he’s fighting to save yours. If you do know him, you know him as the Canadian Canola farmer who has been sued and countersued by Monsanto when his organic crop was contaminated by Monsanto GMO strains of Canola. The agri-chemical business accused him of “stealing” their patent when his plants absorbed their pollen — regardless of the fact that he and his wife had been organically selecting for better and better Canola and the contamination of their crop polluted and destroyed those decades of work.
I wish I could tell you the whole sad story of what ensued from there. But I got lost in the suits, countersuits, the Federal judges who ruled against Percy and the small claims court judges who ruled in his favor. Suffice it to say that, more than a dozen lawsuits later, the harassment of this small family farmer continues at the hands of one of the largest petro-agro-chemical corporations in the world. Adding to the horror of the story is the telling by a low-key, plain-spoken, soft-spoken father, grandfather and great grandfather. He has endured more officially sanctioned harassment than a Jew under the early days of Nazi Germany. And I don’t make that comparison lightly. In evenly modulated tones, Percy told how he still receives daily threats by phone, black SUVs that pull up outside his property line and intimidate his wife of sixty years and the myriad threats he receives that “Monsanto will get you.” And he tells how other farmers who tried to join him were derailed by nervous breakdowns, bankruptcy and cancer — all aggravated by the ongoing harassment. Again, all this was made more horrible by the retelling in those calm, flat, Canadian tones.
But Percy wasn’t at the Heirloom Festival to rehash old history. He was here to remind us that we, in California, have a historic chance to turn the tide with this November’s ballot initiative that lets us vote to mandate that GMO food content be clearly spelled out on the labels of all food. If, as Monsanto is telling us, there are no dangers from GMOs, I’m not sure what the agri-chemical businesses are worried about with full disclosure. And don’t tell me that this will hurt small business. Because I don’t know a small farmer in the world who is farming with GMOs. In fact, I find most small farmers are more than ready to provide full disclosure above and beyond what is required. At my farmers’ market, most will readily discuss their organic practices but admit that they don’t yet have official organic certification because they can’t yet afford it. Small farmers are all about transparency.
If you do one thing to pay back Percy for his efforts, visit this site, educate yourself and get to the polls in California to vote on Proposition 37. Whether you hate GMOs or love them, you should vote yes which is a vote to demand that all food products containing GMO produce be so labeled. Heck, if you love GMOs, this will help you seek them out. What’s to lose?
In the meanwhile, Percy will keep working for you. As he said when he closed his talk:
“I don’t know how many good years my wife and I have in us. But what good years we have we will use going down fighting against Monsanto, against GMOs and for the people’s right to know what is in their food!”
As Percy points out, California is at the spear’s tip now. If we pass this thing, we set the precedent for the rest of the country and large parts of the world. Let’s do this!
At this point, I was reeling. I almost left. But after traveling all the way out to the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, I figured I better press on. I’m glad I did, because I changed my expectations and got so much more out of the Exposition. The first hurdle was to realize that this is not a County Fair with organics. This is really a serious, hands-on trade show on taking back the country’s food supply through organics, heirlooms and seed saving.
I’d like to say I participated in that. But I was on my own mission. That was to identify these weird winter squashes I grew that came out of a packet labeled “Butternut Squash” which, as was evident as they grew, they clearly were not. Basically, who needs GMOs, when you can plant alleged Butternut Squash and get something like this?
The consensus from the Heirloom Exposition and from Facebook Peeps is that I have some sort of mutant Banana Squash. I will report that, although the flesh is soft and fluffy, it isn’t very tasty. And my research tells me that “curing” it won’t be much help. My research also tells me that “underripe” Banana Squash doesn’t have much flavor. So perhaps this particular varietal should be harvested at Two Terriers, rather than One Terrier. That would be appropriate.
So I returned to Two Terrier Vineyards somewhat wiser and much more frightened. Percy Schmeiser’s warning words were ringing in my ears. One of the judges who ruled against him had concluded that any gene that Monsanto patents is theirs. No matter where it is ultimately found. As Percy warns, “Where is that? In your crops? In your beneficial insects? In your grandchildren?”
They can’t vote on this. But you can. You must.