Give ‘Em Hell, Percy!

percy schmeiser, copyright image randbild.de, Timo VogtThis 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.

tower of squash, National Heirloom Exposition, Santa Rosa

The tower of squash didn’t seem quite as imposing this year.

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.

seed purchases, National HEirloom Exposition

Yes, of course I overpurchased seeds at the event.

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?

I flashed this photo in front of every expert I could corral. Carefully referencing the internationally recognized unit of “The Terrier” to calibrate size.

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?”

sonoma toad

The friendly little toads who keep my garden slug-free don’t want Monsanto genes in their flesh.

The little leopard-spotted garter snakes who patrol for bugs don’t want to be contaminated by Monsanto.

They can’t vote on this. But you can. You must.

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Author: Lisa

Although I'd like to think of myself as a rootin', tootin', wine-makin' cowgirl, I currently only live in Sonoma part-time. Mostly I'm on freeways between San Jose, San Francisco and Sonoma. With two yapping terriers in crates behind me. We try to enjoy all three places and points in between. Which will explain why my post subjects are all over the map.

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11 Comments

  1. Lovely post. As a Canadian I have followed Percy for years, and even sent him small donations now and then. The story boggles the mind. It is rather like getting pregnant from a rape, and then have the perpetrator sue you for a stud fee. I am ashamed at Canada’s supreme court for not outright vindicating him, though Monsanto didn’t get all it wanted either. For details and to donate to him visit http://percyschmeiser.com. By the way, followed you here from Erica. That woman just keeps getting better.

  2. Pam, you hit on another danger of “the Monsanto way”: the collapse of whole communities. Nowhere is that more clear than around Salinas where you can see the mansions of the wealthy farmers who lived there in Steinbeck’s day. They made money and stayed in town to spend it locally. Now those mansions are largely uninhabited or office space or cut up into apartments. The profits from the agribusinesses that run the place go elsewhere and most of the towns residents are at the poverty line.

  3. I wish I could vote in California…for many reasons! :-) My father grew up farming his daddy’s sharecropper 40 acres in Iowa (they never had a mule…hmmm…) after his father died when he was 9, neighbors took over the planting and harvesting and Grandma got a share. They were all organic (all that manure from the cattle, too!) and all eventually driven out of farming by Monsanto-esque intimidation and limitless budgets that could pay for lawsuits, property and the chemical means to assure bigger and “better” crops. It was sad to see a small Iowa town literally die off as a result. No to GMO, and good on yer, Mr. Schmeiser. Such courage. I wish his neighbors would stand with him….Go Percy indeed!

  4. I wish I could vote in California…for many reasons! :-) My father grew up farming his daddy’s sharecropper 40 acres in Iowa (they never had a mule…hmmm…) after his father died when he was 9, neighbors took over the planting and harvesting and Grandma got a share. They were all organic (all that manure from the cattle, too!) and all eventually driven out of farming by Monsanto-esque intimidation and limitless budgets that could pay for lawsuits, property and the chemical means to assure bigger and “better” crops. It was sad to see a small Iowa town literally die off as a result. No to GMO, and good on yer, Mr. Schmeiser. Such courage. I wish his neighbors would stand with him….

  5. Finally got to read this post. So happy that you reported on Mr. Schmeiser’s appearance. Thank you for spreading his gospel. I hope that California will show some since and Vote for labeling GMO products. There’s nothing wrong with showing people what is in the the food we buy…right? Monsanto is an evil company with too much power over the food supply. Soylent green is coming! Fight the power!

  6. Surprisingly, even some Berkeley professors are coming out against it. Or I guess not surprisingly since Monsanto is a major provider of grants for professors and university research arms (provided their research lines up with Monsanto’s wishes.) I’ve heard the lawyer angle and I don’t buy it. The ability to sue was put in their to give the law some teeth. So the simple solution is “label your products truthfully and no problem.” As to labeling costs, having been in advertising where we did lots of packaging, I can tell you that labels are changed and reprinted CONSTANTLY. There is even a provision for small producers (if there even are any making GMOs). They can arrange for the grocery store to clearly mark the shelf their product is on.

  7. And since I last commented the Bakersfield Californian has come out against Proposition 37 which is strange since that newspaper is thought of as liberal in these parts. Further, I noticed radio advertisements against Proposition 37 on Monday – 09/17. The adds do play to the area in that they focus on lawyers will be the ones benefitting from 37 and that if it passes labeling costs will increase. Just keeping you posted from the middle of California farm country.

    Would love to learn your thoughts on the Governor’s proposition to raise taxes.

  8. Monsanto has an evil reputation, period. They act the same way about their corn. Black vehicles with thugs threatening farmers, lawsuits, etc. And the sad thing is that they own so many grain companies that the average farmer who wants to get away from them finds that to be very difficult.

  9. Thank you so much for this article. I have been against GMO for years and am happy to see a ground swell. I could not understand why “scientists” have recently been coming out against organic foods–it all makes sense when one sees what Monsanto has done to Percy Schmeiser. What a good laugh with the internationally recognized unit “The Terrier”.
    Another one for the record.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-19597250

    Thanks for a wonderful blog.

  10. Funny. While enjoying lunch this afternoon I was reading today’s Bakersfield Californian. There was a short article about Proposition 37. Even though it is dated 09/10/12, it was published on 09/14/12. I’m surprised there weren’t more comments. Please feel free to leave a comment.

    http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/x2067067263/Opponents-supporters-weigh-in-on-genetically-modified-food-labels?utm_source=widget_63&utm_medium=latest_entries_widget&utm_campaign=synapse

    Hope that link works. Sorry if it doesn’t.

  11. Wish I could have made it up to the expo. I am united with you in voting Yes on 37. I haven’t heard nor seen any advertisements regarding this proposition. Perhaps the storm is on the way.

    Thanks for the expo update.

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