Wood Prairie Farm Seed Piece Newsletter
May 2006

 Special: FREE Seed Potatoes and Headed to the Fields
SPECIAL OFFER - Two FREE 1 lb. bags of Wood Prairie Farm Organic Seed Potatoes (one each of the Butte Russett and the tasty Red Cloud - $13.95 value) when you place an order of $35 or more by Wednesday, May 24. Order must ship by May 26. We still have seed potatoes available and this is a great chance to fill in some empty corners in your garden. Please refer to Code XXXXX.

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Driving the roads like the local road runner (see 'Maine Speak' at the end of this newsletter for our northern Maine version of a road runner) finds oneself slowing down behind a tractor hauling a potato planter or grain drill to sow the oats, wheat and barley grown up here. The equipment that has been brought out in the dooryards to 'get ready' is now headed to the fields.

Here at Wood Prairie Farm between the rains we've begun the springtime farming rituals also. The grain is planted in the fields, the cows are out on pasture, and the all-important planting of our 16 varieties of organic potatoes has begun. We pause during the slow progess in planting a row to admire the various greens of the many trees and bushes that provide the backdrop against which we work and feel thankful to be outside again after the long winter.

We hope that you experience that same springtime awakening and have your own traditions in celebrating this wonderful season. Read this month's 'Potato Bin' to learn how as a co-producer - "farmer-partner" you are important in sustaining organic and family-scale farms. During the coming summer months we'll keep you updated on life here at the farm and as always share Wood Prairie Specials, Recipes, and farm Interviews with you. - Jim and Megan


  Q&A - Potato Yields
Q: What kind of a yield can I expect from my potatoes? KC, Raleigh, NC

A: There can be great variation in the yields of potatoes based on three big factors:

1) The fertility of the soil
2) The steady availability of moisture
3) The success in keeping insect and disease pests at bay

Assuming you’re starting with good certified seed, are planting in good fertile soil, are doing a good job in supplying moisture including irrigation if it turns dry, and are doing a good job keeping disease and insects away you can plan on getting an increase of 7 - 10x. In other words, for every pound of seed you plant you would expect to get back 7 – 10 pounds at harvest. If you have a green thumb and your conditions are excellent you may get a 12 - 15x increase. Some of our customers have reported to us yields of 20 - 30x and more, even 50x in the case of fingerlings. These are blue ribbon yields from skilled gardeners and farmers. - Jim


  The Potato Bin
The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) "National Animal Identification System Implementation Plan" (https://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/index.shtml) calls for an aggressive effort to register all premises that have livestock. The push for a mandatory identification system is moving faster and there are grassroot efforts to organize opposition to the proposed mandatory system. For more information on this far-reaching and controversial issue, check out www.stopanimalid.org and www.noNAIS.org.

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Two Potato Cyst Nematodes were found in a tare dirt sample during a routine testing program in Idaho. While posing no health risks, the nematode pest can reduce potato yields by up to 80% and there are currently no commercial potato varieties resistant. Until the discovery of the pest in February, the only place in North America where the Potato Cyst Nematode was known to exist was Newfoundland. The two Idaho fields where the tare dirt sample were taken have been quarantined and are undergoing extensive testing. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture is also working on tracing the origin of the seed used in the two suspect fields. Source: North American Potato Market News, April 26

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You've heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for fruits and vegetables. Now, in many states where the sale of raw milk is legal, consumers are buying shares of dairy cows and contracting with the farmers to milk and care for them. The shareholders receive fresh, raw milk and dairy products and help small family farms stay in business. Find a local dairy and learn if your state permits raw milk sales from "A Campaign for Real Milk", 202-363-4394. Source: ATTRA News, May-June 2006

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In the Andhra Pradeshregion of India, civil society organizations conducted investigations after nearly 1,820 sheep died after grazing on post-harvest Bt cotton crops. The deaths came after the sheep had been grazing the Bt cotton fields for 5-7 days. Interviews with farmers in different villages throughout the region found that they all had identical grazing histories, symptoms and death of their herds. The deaths of the sheep also reaffirm the findings of an earlier investigation into illnesses in farm workers handling genetically modified cotton crops in another part of India. To read the article in full, go to The Institute of Science in Society's website, https://www.i-sis.org.uk.

        The Potato Bin

  Recipe: Grilled Pizza with Potato and Rosemary
Memorial Day weekend will soon be here. Get the grill out for this easy and great pizza recipe. For added zest, sprinkle Parmesan to mild fresh mozzarella.

Pizza Dough:
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
6 T warm (110 F) water
6 T milk
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T fine cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 T rye flour
1 3/4 c unbleached white flour
1 to 3 T additional flour for rolling the dough

Dissolve yeast in the warm water and set aside in a warm place for 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the milk, oil, and cornmeal in a 1 qt. bowl. Add the yeast mixture, then the salt and rye flour; mix well. Gradually add the white flour, making a soft, workable dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes, sprinkling in a little flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the surface. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and turn it once so the surface is coated with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk, about 35 to 40 minutes.

To shape the pizza, first form the dough into 1 round ball or 2 equal size smaller balls. Roll out on a floured surface, turning it regularly to keep a round shape. It should be about 1/8 inch thick, slightly thicker at the edges.

Chill dough until firm, about 2 to 4 hours or overnight.

Potato Topping:
2 lb red potatoes
3 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp table salt
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 oz fresh mozzarella, grated (2 cups)
Garnish: fresh rosemary leaves and coarse sea salt

Make potato topping while dough is chilling: Preheat oven to 425°F.

Thinly slice potatoes (1/8 inch thick) using a mandoline or other manual slicer, then toss with oil, garlic, salt, rosemary, and pepper in a large bowl until lightly coated.

Spread potatoes in 1 layer on 2 lightly oiled baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tender, about 15 minutes total. Cool potatoes on sheets on racks.

Grill pizza: Prepare grill for cooking.

Remove plastic from dough (if grill is not large, work with individual-sized pizzas) and form into rounds. Lightly brush both sides of dough with olive oil. When the fire is medium-hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack 3 to 4 seconds), carefully transfer dough, trying not to stretch it, oiled side down, with your hands to grill rack.

Grill oiled rounds until undersides are browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip over with tongs, then, working quickly, sprinkle each crust with 1/3 cup mozzarella and cover with potato slices, overlapping them and leaving a 1/4-inch border around edge.

Grill, covered, until undersides are golden and cheese is melted, about 4 minutes.

Sources: Pizza Crust: Fields of Greens Cookbook
Potato Topping: Epicurious.com


  Editorial at Ten Years Later: Organic at Risk
In lieu of an Interview this month we thought we would step back and reprint from our archives an Editorial from a decade ago in our Wood Prairie Seed Piece newsletter. The editorial covereded a watershed forum in the history of biotechnology and agriculture. While bruised at the forum when its concepts did not hold up well to the light of scientific scrutiny, the big money behind biotech has nonetheless pushed its agenda forward in the last decade.

Ten years later the good news in potato country is that the legitimate use of non-transgenic Bt on potatoes was saved. Perception of consumer unease eating gene-spliced Bt-potatoes surfaced and forced Monsanto to voluntarily withdraw their gene-spliced "New Leaf" potatoes from the market before they had enough time to create Bt resistance.

by: Jim Gerritsen

"Bacillus thuringiensis", commonly known as Bt, is a biological insect control. Bt bacteria produce toxic proteins (endotoxins) which when ingested attack the digestive system of insect larva causing death within a few days. Bt occurs in nature and its non-transgenic application in agriculture is a great success. Different species of Bt control different insects. Bt subsp. tenebrionsis kills Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB).

In April 1996 I traveled to Bethesda, MD as an invited guest to the USDA "National Forum on Insect Resistance to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)". In an unprecendented move the USDA sought the participation of stakeholders from the environmental and organic communities. My background is as an organic seed potato farmer and user of Bt. These observations relate primarily to the Colorado Potato Beetle (CPB) and Nature Mark / Monsanto, the developer of the transgenic Bt/Potato though transgenic corn and cotton were also covered. Transgenics is the transference of genetic material from one life form to another, (i.e. gene splicing). Monsanto has gene-spliced the Bt bacteria to potatoes.

1) At the National Forum there was consensus that the transgenic use of Bt will result in resistance by the targeted insect. Despite the posturing of the Biotech industry it is not a question of whether, it is a question of when.

2) The linch pin of resistance management strategy is that of "refugia", or refuges geographically adjacent to transgenic fields where populations of targeted insects unexposed to Bt can theoretically multiply and interbreed with Bt-resistant survivors migrating out of the transgenic plots thereby diluting the level of resistance in their offspring. At best, the refugia concept is seriously flawed and at worst it is intellectually dishonest. For example CPB have only moderate mobility and it's unknown just how close refugia should be to transgenic plots (adjacent fields or alternating sections of rows within a field?). Additionally, it is common for CPBs to mate in the field before out-migration. So much for crossbreeding with CPBs from refugia. Finally and incredibly enough, Monsanto is instructing its transgenic growers to "control" (spray insecticide) CPBs in the refugia. So much for managing a population to dilute Bt resistant CPB.

3) Organic farmers and gardeners who conscientiously use Bt in a true IPM (Integrated Pest Management: The practice of monitoring pest levels and responding to economic threats with varied preventative and control techniques) program have earned the moral right to use Bt. On Wood Prairie Farm we have controlled CPB for the past eight years through the integrated use of foliar sprayed Bt along with cultural practices such as crop rotation, trench-traps and flame control. In 1996 for example we relied upon geographical rotation and flame control and avoided Bt in a strategy designed to extend its useful life. Under such responsible use we would expect Bt to maintain effectiveness for the long term.

On the other hand Bt resistance brought about by Monsanto's transgenic potatoes will ruin and render Bt useless for anyone else. Given the likelihood of resistance one can only conclude that Monsanto has a short term cut-and-run approach: recapture R&D costs, take a quick profit and let Bt crash and burn.

4) Many speakers including high level federal officials referred to the naturally occuring Bt as a "Public Good" or a national treasure akin to fresh air and clean water which belongs to all people: farmers, gardeners, and consumers alike, not just to one chemical company which bought the use rights from another chemical company. A logical extension would be that if a corporation ruins a "Public Good" in the pursuit of profit they should be held accountable to the "owners" of that public good.

5) EPA and FDA must be under incredible pressure from the gene-splicing industry to rush through approval of these transgenic products. This alone can explain the irrationality and seat-of-the-pants behavior coming from those agencies. There is clearly insufficient data available for the EPA to have given its hasty registration approval of transgenic potatoes. In true cart-before-the-horse fashion, industry, researchers, and government view 1996, the first year of wide spread commercialization with child-like giddiness as a colossal large-scale (10,000 acre) "experiment".

Given the likelihood of the development of Bt-resistance by transgenics, EPA should review all transgenic registrations annually and have a back-out plan in place which includes immediate revocation of transgenic registration at the first hint of resistance.

6) The failure of FDA to require labeling of transgenic potatoes at the retail level was a stunning dereliction of duty. Gene-spliced potatoes are no longer potatoes: they are almost potatoes, genetically altered tubers which at the cellular level contain the Bt toxin. Given corporate behavior and logic it is predictable, albeit incorrect, for Monsanto to argue that its pesticide-laced product does not merit differentiation from other potatoes. For the FDA to concur was paternalistic and ill-advised.

In a free society we cast our vote daily by where we spend our dollars. Not requiring labeling restricts the flow of information and disables this citizen responsibility. This is unacceptable. The FDA action needs to be reversed.

7) To those opposed to transgenics there are glimmers of hope. Monsanto is experiencing numerous quality problems with its potatoes. Farmers are not yet convinced that they can't live without Monsanto's product. There is corporate and consumer unease with the concept of insecticide-in-every-bite products.

Monsanto is spending countless millions in development and promotion and clearing the regulatory logjams. While Monsanto pockets may run very deep, the patience of corporate chiefs and stockholders, hungry for recapture of those millions invested, may be wearing thin. And who among them wouldn't be jittery at the growing list of Biotech blunders coming to light including (1) Monsanto's transgenic Bt cotton which in fields from Texas to Georgia failed to control cotton bollworms, a targeted insect. (2) Monsanto's recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) for dairy cattle that is finding shrinking market acceptance, (3) Calgene's tasteless "Flavr Savr" tomato and (4) Pioneer's ill-fated soybean spliced with a gene from the Brazil nut that carries with it the quality that causes a sometimes fatal allergic reaction. There is a loud and widespread consumer opposition in Europe to the import of unlabeled American genetically engineered products.

8) The destruction of Bt by transgenics is a clear, defining issue for the organic community and for society at large. Our seed potato company has joined "Organic Gardening" magazine's call to neither grow nor sell transgenic potatoes and we encourage other companies to do likewise. Purchasing the products of certified organic producers who are appropriately prohibited from using genetically-engineered technology assures you freedom from gene-spliced food that is now in the American food pipeline.



Road Runner: One who runs the roads or drives around aimlessly because they clearly have way too much time on their hands

Usage: "Get that planter off the road, here comes another road runner."

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

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