Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
August 2006

 Special: FREE CARROT CAKE MIX and Growing Communities
SPECIAL OFFER - This month's recipe in 'Megan's Kitchen' includes a delicious twist on using the Wood Prairie Farm Organic Carrot Cake Mix. Try one FREE ($7.95 value) for all purchases over $35. Orders must be placed by Wednesday, August 23 and must ship by Monday, August 28. Please refer to Code XXXXX.
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Some of the summer's fresh ripe tomatoes simmer on the stove for this evenings meal. Our Wood Prairie Farm home garden not only feeds and nourishes our family but teaches our kids life lessons. They plant the seeds (we don't worry about even rows!), help with the weeding, harvest the produce and share with others who work with us. The goodness of a garden goes well beyond its food capacity.

Don't miss this month's 'Conversations With...' section. We've picked some favorite highlights of some great interviews we've done over the past year. Enjoy original thinkers on the subject of agriculture and sustainability.

All of us can play a part in keeping sustainable agriculture moving forward. Sit down with a bowl of Apple Crisp from this month's recipe section and enjoy reading how others play their role. - Jim and Megan


  Q&A - Fall Potato Crop
Q: I’m in Virginia and would like to plant a Fall potato crop in August. Can you help? - PA, Richmond VA

A: Yes and no. Our crop of Certified seed potatoes is still growing. We will harvest them in late September into early October and will begin shipping immediately. But that won’t help you for this Fall. We continue shipping seed potatoes out of our underground storage throughout the Fall, Winter and Spring.

A number of our customers in southern tier states from Virginia to Florida to Texas to southern California will plant a Spring crop in late winter (February/March) and from the harvest taken in June hold back some peewees which they will store through the summer in their refridgerator and then plant in August as a Fall crop. They return to using our Certified seed for their next Spring crop and in this way are no more than one generation removed from clean, vigorous Certified seed.

This practice is also harmonious to the fact that a newly harvested potato must go through a dormancy period of a minimum of 4-6 weeks before it will sprout and grow. After the potatoes emerge from their stint in the refridgerator the best varieties will be all set to grow. By “best” I mean short and medium dormancy varieties like Rose Gold, Caribe’, Reddale and Carola. I would avoid long dormancy varieties like Red Cloud and Swedish Peanut for this Fall planting scheme. Their extra good keeping qualities reflect their resistance to sprouting and are not suited to off-season growing. - Jim


  The Potato Bin
After waiting four years for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adopt grazing proponents' recommendations into a marketable standard, producers were dismayed to see that animals could be fed harvested forage, antibiotics and hormones in a feedlot and still fit the proposed "grass-fed" description.

At an association meeting in July, Dr. Patricia Whisnant, president of the American Grassfed Association noted “We are pretty close to our customers, and their perception of grass-fed means animals that go from birth to harvest on pasture, not in a feedlot." To read the USDA's decision in full, go to

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Hawaiians have been growing and modifying taro (a tropical plant grown primarily as a vegetable food for its edible corm, and secondarily as a leaf vegetable. Its flowers are also eaten) for 1,000 years and the plant has a unique kinship with the people of the Hawaiian islands. In the 1990's, University of Hawaii scientists began working on breeding different varieties of taro to develop strains resistant to leaf blight disease. Three of those strains were patented in 2002. Because of the belief that taro is the "elder brother" of the Hawaiian people and should not be owned, taro farmers and community members began protesting the patents in January of this year - culminating in the university dissolving its proprietary interests on the patents. Source: starbulletin.com

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The School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) provides basic levels of protection for children and school staff from the use of pesticides in public school buildings and on school grounds.

According to the National Academy of Sciences report, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, children are among the least protected population group when it comes to pesticide exposure. The report finds that EPA generally lacks data on children necessary to protect them. Due to their small size, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, developing organ systems and other unique characteristics, children are at higher risk than adults to pesticide exposure. Thirty-one states have taken some action to step in and provide protective action to address pesticide use in, around or near their schools. These include a mixture of pesticide restrictions and parental notification and posting of signs before certain pesticides are used.

To sign the petition or learn more about this issue, visit the Organic Consumer Association’s SEPA website at: https://www.organicconsumers.org/sepa-petition.htm.

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Dupont's Pioneer Liberty Link corn was bioengineered to withstand high levels of the toxic herbicide glufosinate, allowing farmers to apply higher levels of herbicides to the plant and surrounding weeds. Recent studies on rats and goats found that in some cases the chemicals were reconverted back to the toxic herbicide within the digestive tract of the animal. Glufosinate is known to cause nerve damage and is a likely endocrine disruptor. Scientists are also concerned with the herbicide killing off beneficial bacteria necessary for healthy digestion. To learn more go to https://www.organicconsumer.org/2006/article_637.cfm

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According to the trade journal Dairy Food and Market Analyst, giant retailer and distributor Wal-Mart and Dean Foods are considering eliminating rBGH from their products. rBGH is a genetically engineered drug that is designed to make cows produce more milk. Banned in Canada and Europe because of its increased risks for cancer, consumers in the U.S. are becoming increasingly concerned over the use of the synthetic hormone. To learn more go to https://www.organicconsumer.org/2006/article_637.cfm

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On June 20, 2006, Santa Cruz County joined three other counties in California in prohibiting the planting and production of genetically engineered (GE) crops. The ban was based on findings from a nine month study of the laws and risks associated with genetically engineered crops. The ban passed with no opposition. To read the article go to https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/archive/2006/June/21/local/stories/10local.htm

        The Potato Bin

  Recipe: Apple Crisp...Wood Prairie Farm Style
Quick, simple and a wholesome, delicious dessert. What could be better?

6-8 fresh apples
1/2 c water
1/2 c butter
Wood Prairie Farm Carrot Cake Mix

Peel and slice apples into an 8 x 12 glass baking dish
Pour water on the apples.

In a separate bowl mix until crumbly
1/2 cup butter
Wood Praire Farm Organic Carrot Cake Mix.

Press topping over the apples.
Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown and bubbly.


  Highlights of Conversations With...
Stephen Jones has a PhD in genetics from the University of California, Davis and leads the winter wheat breeding program at Washington State University.

Wood Prairie Farm: Biotechnology has broadcast many promises: use of fewer pesticides, greater yields, inconsequential contamination, saving the starving masses. Research and experience has shown these to be false promises.

In Michael Pollan's book, The Botany of Desire (Random House 2002, pg 235), he quotes an Idaho potato farmer growing Monsanto's GMO Newleaf Potatoes, questioned about any downside to biotechnology, "It gives corporate America one more noose around my neck." Stepping back a minute, is the whole of society being benefited by biotech or is society being bled by biotech?

Stephen Jones: Bled at an alarming rate. We are losing our public universities to corporate interest and our long range science has been replaced by short term get rich quick ideas that rarely if ever help society. The same society by the way that pays the salaries of these folks. I just hope that people will finally begin to ask scientists that have promising great things for 20 years now "where are the results that you have promised?" It is similar to the human genome project when they finished it several years ago. Time, Newsweek and everyone else ran cover stories that the end of human disease is just around the corner. Oh yeah? Same with golden rice on the cover of Time before that with the claims that it will save 1 million kids a year. Did it? No. Did anyone notice? Very few. All of this biotech hype results in false hopes and simultaneously takes money and resources from projects that really do work.

Matthew Dillon is Executive Director of Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) in Port Townsend, Washington and a member of the Seeds & Breeds Planning Committee. OSA's educational programs train farmers in organic seed production and crop improvement. The Alliance also works with the seed trade and farmers to develop Participatory Plant Breeding designed for organic systems.

Wood Prairie Farm: With Monsanto's buyout of Seminis, the trend in seed companies consolidating and patenting has reached a pinnacle of sorts. If, as speculated by many in the seed industry in your recent article, [Ed. Note, read entire article at https://www.seedalliance.org/newsletter] traditional seed varieties will be dropped in favor of developing gene-spliced versions, what happens to the conventional and organic farmers who have relied on those Seminis varieties as part of their farm's crops and what effect will this have on genetic diversity for the longterm?

Matthew Dillon: Farmers are going to have difficult decisions ahead of them – agricultural, economic and political decisions. Historically, with consolidation you have the accountants coming in and telling the production team to drop the least profitable varieties from the seed list. I believe we can expect that to happen here, even if Monsanto doesn’t go transgenic on these vegetable varieties. Also, many farmers are frustrated by Monsanto’s policies towards farmers – suing seed savers, nasty contracts and threatening letters – and don’t want to do business with them. But who wants to drop varieties that work? Where are the replacements? These are not easy questions.

Let me give you an example. In February, at the Upper Midwest Organic Farm Conference, I was approached by a couple that grows a considerable number of peppers for a Community Supported Agriculture project (CSA). Seminis/Monsanto varieties such as Red Knight are the most important varieties for them. They don’t want to give their money to Monsanto, but they also don’t want to lose money by dropping the variety without a replacement. They wanted advice. I suggested they save seeds from the hybrid, plant them out the following year and evaluate the F2 swarm (a segregating population, showing variance from the hybrid) with their eye on plants that perform like the F1 hybrid. They might get lucky and pull a decent OP out of the mix. More importantly, I highly recommended that they start trialing other peppers – even if it means fewer plants in production this year. I believe that farmers should always have a backup variety for any seed they're not producing themselves, or to keep two years worth of seed on hand. You don’t want to rely on a seed company to provide you with seed for a major cash crop –crop failures, insufficient availability, or varieties being cut from the catalog can be as problematic as consolidations.

In regards to genetic diversity there is the little issue and the big issue. The little issue is if Monsanto decides that the money is in the major markets in central America, Mexico and California and drops varieties that serve regional markets. This is a serious loss to the farmers and gardeners who depend on those varieties. But it is nothing in comparison to the big issue – if Monsanto decides to push Round-Up Ready Resistance genes, or other transgenic traits in the vegetable sector. They already have a genetically engineered squash on the market, and have made a serious investment in Round Up lettuce. [Ed. Note, Lettuce with gene-spliced resistance to Monsanto's herbicide "Roundup"] If this accelerates we will have farmer and home gardeners planting these crops, and when they go to seed contaminating other non-biotech vegetables as we have seen in corn and canola. This level of contamination in such a broad range of crops would be truly catastrophic. We’re at an extremely serious threshold.

Frank Morton is a self-described old time salad grower gone to seed. He and wife Karen sold their Wild Garden Salad Greens to great restaurants on both coasts from 1983 to 2001. They now operate Wild Garden Seed in partnership with their friends at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, Oregon, selling only the organic seed they grow themselves. They supply the organic lettuce seed we sell online and in our catalog.

Wood Prairie Farm: Explain the philosophy. Why is good organic seed great for organic growers?

Frank Morton: Plant genetics function by subtle means. Conventional seed is produced by conventional means. This usually implies that seed strains maintained and selected within conventional systems are living a chemically sheltered life, which is not the world they will find on an organic farm. If the seed variety is maintained in an organically managed environment, then losses due to stress and antagonists, and the roguing eye of the organic seed grower, are actually genetic improvements in the varietal population. Crop strains that have been selected in organic systems and that do well on the organic seed farm are in a better selective position to do well on an organic vegetable farm. They do well on a compost/covercrop soil-food diet, in the natural environment without fungicidal protection. They have a selective history that creates subtle changes in population genetics: better root systems, more responsive immune systems, better weed competition due to seedling vigor or plant architecture... things that are difficult to see with the eye, but result in a better adapted crop in the organically managed environment. Seed quality, of course, is a huge component. It is my experience that seed from our fields is larger than the same variety from commercial sources. There might be a hundred reasons why, but this is what I see time and again. Fat seeds have more stored food for the emerging seedling--I consider that an observable benefit if you can get it.

The other aspect of this question is agrosocietal. If we buy good organic seed from other farmers like ourselves, we are strengthening the organic web (infrastructure), and ultimately improving our self-sufficiency and independence from corporate interests that are at odds with our own. This is good in itself. Remember when organic produce looked bad next to conventional? Not anymore. That's because someone bought a little sad produce in the beginning, and gave us enough practice to get good. And now we are very good. Organic seed is following the same trajectory. I think we are past the sad sack period--quality, availability, and price are all moving in the sustainable direction. We couldn't say that in 1999.

Sharon Tisher, former President of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), former Chair, MOFGA Public Policy Committee and Instructor, Ecology and Environmental Sciences program, University of Maine

Wood Prairie Farm: Imagine a situation where Detroit automakers customarily sold cars with recognized flaws, say steering wheels that routinely fell off. Detroit further maintains it is they that retain ownership of the cars, not the consumer, but that consumers are the ones liable for damages when a car crash occurs. Is this fantasy really very much removed from the actual situation of Biotech and farmers? How has Biotech gotten away with it?

Sharon Tisher: I love the analogy, Jim, and it brilliantly exemplifies the inconsistency in Monsanto's position that it holds the patent rights to its genetically-engineered (GE) seeds, but should bear none of the responsibility for genetic contamination of crops or wild plants. I believe that ultimately the courts will find Monsanto liable for genetic contamination. State legislatures may sooner enact liability provisions, but I believe there is enough precedent in the common law notion of "chemical trespass" for a court to impose liability in a specific case. Of course, the reason we'd rather address this through prospective legislation is that the courts only get involved after the damage is done. The critical question is how long we will have to wait before Monsanto is held accountable. And whether it will be too late to reverse harm already done such as the development of insect resistance to Bacillus Thuringiensis, or the development of herbicide resistant superweeds.

Getting back to your analogy, remember that while cars were first marketed in the teens, Congress didn't pass a law effectively addressing consequent air pollution until 1970. It's not unusual for law to have to play catch-up with emerging technology, but when the technology creates new life forms that can replicate with themselves and cross-breed with other related life forms, the need for an effective system of regulation becomes urgent. We still don't have anything remotely adequate for GE technology. A lesson of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is that humans lack the capacity to anticipate the consequences of their scientific exploits as well as the discipline to control those consequences. GE technology is a frightening illustration of this dilemma.

Brian Halweil is the Senior Researcher for the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization that works for an environmentally sustainable and socially just society.

Wood Prairie Farm: What does food sovereignty mean? How does food sovereignty tie in with Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and labeling of local products?

Brian Halweil: As our food travels farther than ever before, we have become removed from it geographically and psychologically. We have less control over how our food is raised. The local community sacrifices some of its food sovereignty, as decisions about food are made by distant trade bodies or governments or food companies. When Europe refuses to import hormone-treated beef from the United States, since European farmers are prohibited from using such hormones, Europe is declaring its food sovereignty. COOL laws or other labels that tell us where food is grown are an important step in restoring food sovereignty.

For the Wood Prairie Farm website, click here


Often used when questioning the mood of someone

What ails him/her?: When the question uses the verb "ails" it means "what's wrong?"

Example 1. "You know better than that! What ails you anyway?"
Translation: "You have more sense than that. What's wrong with you today that makes you act so?"

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(c) Jim and Megan Gerritsen, Wood Prairie Farm, 49 Kinney Road, Bridgewater, Maine 04735

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