The Urban-Cottage Garden VS Big Agriculture

“Fighting hybrid and GMO seeds is critical to save our diversity and our agriculture. We have the potential to make our lands produce enough to feed the whole population and even to export certain products. The policy we need for this to happen is food sovereignty, where the county has a right to define its own agricultural policies, to grow first for the family and then for local market, to grow healthy food in a way which respects the environment and Mother Earth.”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the

National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay

I begin this edition of Cottage Corner with a question:

Why would the Haitian government refuse 475 tons of free hybrid corn and vegetable seeds donated from U.S. based corporation, Monsanto? Take my word for it: the same folks who brought you DDT, Agent Orange, Aspartame, bovine growth hormone, and the first nuclear weapons, don’t mean this donation as an act of generosity.

In an open letter sent on May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay (MPNKP), called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…, and on what is left our environment in Haiti.”

Thoreau once wrote, “Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk,” (from the Journal. November 11-14, 1850). I take that to mean the proof is in the pudding. So what’s in Monsanto’s hybrid-corn pudding?

Some troubling ingredients include the patented, hybrid corn seeds Monsanto offered to Haiti which were treated with the fungicide Maxim XO. The calypso tomato seeds were treated with thiram.[3]  Thiram belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates (EBDCs). The EPA determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that special protective clothing is necessary when handling them. Read the rest of the article from the Centre for Research on Globalisation here.

In addition to worldwide chemical poisoning, Monsanto has a troubling history of suing small farmers when the farmer’s fields are contaminated by GE pollen or seeds, or when GE seeds from a previous year’s crop sprout in fields planted with non-GE varieties. In other words, once you go Monsanto, you never (can) go back. With control of 90% of the world’s GE seeds, Monsanto is well on their way to monopolizing the market.

While Monsanto grows ever more insidious, many organizations and people are working very hard to maintain biodiversity and authentic heirloom genes, while encouraging food sovereignty, sustainable practices, and public awareness. A bunch of those folks live at my house where we are experimenting with a genetically traditional, diverse, organic, primitive, low cost, urban garden.

Here’s how we’re doing it:

We start in the dark heart of a Midwestern winter where I sit, reading about gardening and dreaming up ways of sticking it to the man. Before, I have been a happenstance gardener: a patch of ground here and there, old seeds found in a drawer or a free pile. Maybe I buy a few healthy starts from farmer’s market. Sometimes, something magical occurs with sun and water, and poof! Flowers bloom, tomatoes bear fruit, we eat. But this year it’s different. This year, I’m invested. This year, I start everything from seed.

I start with Seed Saver’s Exchange, a non-profit organization of gardeners dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. SSE’s 890-acre Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. They permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties. It was hard to choose just twenty or so to grow in my yard!

With help from my housemates and careful research at the public library, I chose heirloom varieties of some amazing vegetables and herbs. My favorites this year are Hidatsa Shield Beans, Blacktail Mountain Watermelon, and Asian Tempest Garlic.

In February, I made a chart of what to plant when and where. Some plants do better if started indoors and some are better off directly seeded in the ground. I am committed to letting the seeds, sun, soil, and water do what they were made to do with as little energy and interference from me as possible. I tell my friends: I don’t grow plants. Plants grow on their own. I cultivate plants, vegetables, fruit, and herbs. In the proper environment and circumstances, plants don’t need me at all. It’s us humans that need plants.

For encouragement and guidance I turned to Food Not Lawns, a global organization focused on turning yards into gardens and neighborhoods into communities. Food Not Lawns inspired me because they made gardening accessible: you don’t need a farm, all you need is your own lawn, or a balcony and some pots, or even just a window sill. They also helped me understand the essential elements of food security, why urbanites face the biggest risks, and how we can encourage food sovereignty and build community connections at the same time.

Starting a garden this way took patience. It was the end of May before we planted the chard, kale, spinach, and arugula. It was mid June when we planted the butternut squash, beans, zucchini, and lemon cucumbers, and carefully transplanted the hillbilly tomato, purple tomatillo, and poblano pepper starts.

To offset costs and put the industry back into the cottage, I am selling my excess starts on a table in the front lawn for donations of $1. I’ve already earned back a little cash. And, it feels great to know I’ve contributed to other folks’ access to local, organic, heirloom vegetables. Time has been the largest cost so far. I am happy to give mine because working the ground and cultivating living things gives me so much energy, inspiration, and hope for the future, that gardening itself is as valuable as the vegetables it produces.

Now, nearing the end of June, the seeding is done, almost everything I planted came up. I am filled with anticipation, imagining what the back yard will look like in September. I could spend pages griping about the evils Monsanto is wreaking upon the world, but my time would be better spent nurturing the diverse plants they aim to wipe out, and cultivating food to feed my global family of resistors, activists, subsistence gardeners, small farmers, and urban homesteaders.

Ready to get growing? Check out my blog and resource page for books, magazines, websites, and neighborly information.

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2 responses to “The Urban-Cottage Garden VS Big Agriculture

  1. What a wonderful post and such commitment. I was just at an event tonight where Bill McDorman (one of the great seed savers) was reading poetry and talking about his work.

    • Thanks Tammy! I appreciate the compliment. Bill McDorman and his organization Seeds Trust offer heirloom seeds for high altitudes and specialize in drought-tolerant, native varieties. A good group to know about!

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