Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Freezing, FEDCO, Seed issues & Monsanto, Good Films! and delicious CSAs

We did some extra windproofing for the chicken coop with the temperatures below freezing and staying this way for at least a week. Plastic for interior sections and using more sign board, to try to let sun in and keep wind out. There is still plenty of ventilation and we have a little bedtime heater for them. It may be more than they need, but they were much happier about coming down for hot mash and warm water by Tuesday morning. We don't have a heater for their water and luckily one of us has been home to change it a couple of times a day and bring it in evenings. If you do need a heater - try pet stores. Both Linnton Feed & Seed and Wichita Feed & Hardware are out, but do have STRAW ! Darcy at Linnton said that a customer at Dal Tile on NW 29th & Yeon, recommends a tile heater for larger troughs for about $50, if you can't find heaters elsewhere. Megan at Pistils, (beautiful new website!), reminds to be very careful about not setting your coop on fire with lights or heaters. Some customers are using a lower wattage red reptile bulb. If you are using a white bulb for heat and or laying, keep it on a timer, so it is not stressful for your hens. Imagine a white light staying on all night in your bedroom all winter.. maybe not so fun... A low of 18 is predicted for Friday in Portland, with more snow coming, so make sure everybody stays warm and secure! One friend's chicken tractor roof blew off Sunday night, they caught it quickly and their hens are safe. The intensity of wind is hard to realize sometimes when working on coops in calm weather and this weekend it felt like it was coming from every direction. Do you have ideas to share?

My friend Katie, of Oakhill Organics, keeps a very honest, well written blog for their CSA and others interested in all matters farming and food. Her most recent post, A cold end to the season, is about the challenges this storm has brought to their farm and other local farmers who are growing crops year-round. It's worth reading from 2006 on up through 2008. (with her husband Casey in a warmer time)

This weekend while the wind was howling, I made time to nestle up with this year's FEDCO Seed Catalog. Love. It is the most morally spunky and plant romantic ever and can be read cover to cover. C.R. Lawn is one of my heroes. We're one degree lower in latitude than they are in Maine and share similar length of daylight, with (generally, ahem..) milder temperatures, so many of the short season recommendations apply. They have a number of codes for their seed to detail organic certifying agencies, size of farm, an ECO label for sustainable non-certified growers and they also list how they spent their budget on seeds. Of the $318,300 they spent buying seed in 2007-8, "$74,100, or 23.3% (up from about 10% ten years ago), went to 51 small farmer / seed growers from 18 states. Oregon had the highest total, followed by Maine, Idaho and Maryland." Pretty neat transparency. They have small packet sizes for home gardeners so you can affordably expand the diversity of your seed herd. I did make myself go through my current seed stock, to try to come to terms with what I already have and what, realistically..., I will have room to grow. My stomach's eyes and my heart's love of flowers are too big!

FEDCO carries a number of seeds from local plant breeder, Frank Morton, which you can also purchase from Wild Garden Seed directly. Their 2009 catalogue is not out yet, but you can get a good idea from last year. Also carried by Nichols, Seeds of Change, Johnny's and other seed companies who often reference him by name. Here's an article on Monsanto's acquistion of Seminis, which in 2005, was the world's largest vegetable seed company. Matthew Dillon of The Organic Seed Alliance, interviewed Frank Morton, C.R. Lawn and Ron Johnston of Johnny's for this article - see "Conjecture and Concern."

And speaking of Frank, see the Genetic Engineering information from the FEDCO catalogue or full article online. As you read on down, the third part "What's Gonna Be in that Hershey's Kiss?" is extremely important to the Willamette Valley. Here is the opening:

“Seed Dreamland” may be turning into a nightmare unless a lawsuit by the Center for Food Safety, the Organic Seed Alliance, the Sierra Club and High Mowing Organic Seeds is successful.

Seed Dreamland is what breeder Frank Morton has called the Willamette Valley in Oregon, whose hospitable climate has made it a center for growing seed crops of brassica, onions, spinach, endive, flowers, beets and chard. The valley is also the home of all sugar beet seed production in the United States. Beet sugar accounts for half of U.S. sugar production. If you indulge in Mars or Hershey bars you are consuming beet sugar. Now the incursion of genetically modified sugar beets threatens the conventional and organic beet and chard seed industry. Sugar beets are the same species as table beets and chard and will cross." (continues)

Okay, so maybe you don't eat from those candy companies and say hershey smershey. It is the cross-pollination and genetic seed contamination that is the dangerous issue. Here is a letter on the Organic Seed Alliance site that Frank wrote in response to the industry's opinion on Roundup Ready sugar beets. Read it! Here is an article on this issue I just found from a recent Oregonian, Oregon's organic farmers fight genetically modified seeds. Both also discuss Roundup Ready alfalfa - which we do not want!! It was unconditionally deregulated / allowed in June, 2005 by APHIS, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. There is currently a nationwide injunction prohibiting it's use pending the completion of an EIS, environmental impact study and then a new decision on deregulation. You can read the court's decision fully here: Geertson Seed Farms v. Monsanto. See in particular p. 12025 and p. 12026 middle paragraphs. The court finds that failure to stop it's use before it is fully studied could, "potentially eliminate the availability of non-genetically engineered alfalfa." Wow. Hopefully the lawsuit against RR sugar beets follow a similar path, in that the court does not seem to want to wipe out all other alfalfa seed.

Alfalfa is widely used for both feed and fertilizer and we must preserve organic and conventional seed from being wiped out by genetically engineered and PATENTED seed. Seed which, once it contaminates growers who are not using it, can then be sued by the very company whose seed has contaminated yours. Sounds insane, but it has been and is going on right now. Check out this report, Monsanto vs. U.S. Farmers, by the Center for Food Safety, one of the plaintiffs in the above case. At the time of this report in 2005, $15,253,602.82 had been rewarded to Monsanto in lawsuits against farmers.

Farmers growing their own crops, with their own seed, contaminated by and then searched by, Monsanto, who then sues them.

I watched Flow: For the Love of Water this weekend and highly recommend it. The two genetic engineering / modification powerhouses films to also see are: The Future of Food and then The World According to Monsanto, both are chilling and inspire me to strengthen my choices of organic for food and seed, whether certified or not. And work to become more informed and active in preserving our seeds and farmers.

Here is a simple action to take, sign Article 31:

Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.
Also speaking of water, the In Good Tilth issue March / April 2008, Volume 19, is great if you've got it stashed away or can get your paws on a copy. There is a review on Vandana Shiva's Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution and Profit. Another book I'd like to read this winter is her new book, Soil Not Oil. She is interviewed in two of the documentaries above and is speaking at the Organicology conference here in Portland on February 28th!

The Organic Gardening Certification Program course will be offered again in the fall of 2009! You can call 503-360-4185 or email to get on their contact list.

Zenger Farm still has classes this winter! Backyard Botany and Beyond has 3 classes left Saturdays 10 to 11:30am, taught by Ryan Hofrichter. January 10th - Vegetable Cultivation, 17th - Hot & Worm Composting, and 24th - Seed Saving, see link for full descriptions. Register ahead: or 786-972-1333. (photo of Zenger on right)

Okay... my simple update on the weather and good films.. has become a bit more. Thank you for reading this far. Maybe you are thinking now, what can I do? Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering, NW RAGE, has an action you can take on Sugar Beets, lots of resources and film screenings.

Growing your own food, preserving and supporting sustainable seed, thoughtful water use, buying from farmers at markets and joining a farm CSA are powerful actions.

Now is a really good time to sign up for a CSA before they're all full. * Check out the listings on the Portland Area CSA Coalition *

Sauvie Island Organics has been farming 15 miles from the heart of Portland for over a decade. They are expanding this year on more acreage and have space for new members in 2009. They usually have a waiting list, so sign up now if you're interested! They have a new pick-up site this year in SW and other convenient spots around town to pick-up your share. The bounty spans 30 weeks of yummy produce, from May through December. Check out their website and blog to see lots of photos, recipes and writings from the farmers. Farm manager, Tanya Murray, just wrote really neat piece on End of the Season Reflections. You can also contact Francesca Benedetti, the CSA Assistant at (503) 621-6921 or This is a great opportunity to become a part of this deliciously dedicated urban farm.

If you have a local CSA with openings this year, I am happy to post it here, just let me know.

Happy Solstice! By Sunday the days will begin unfurling again : )

bawc bawc!
Naomi Montacre