What I Learned from Vandana Shiva, Part III: 10 Everyday Actions To Take Down the Poison Cartel and Grow a Resilient and Delicious Regional Economy
See What I Learned from Vandana Shiva, Part 1 for a refresher on the poison cartel and the struggle for seed freedom.
- Plant a garden. Each year, you'll get more intimately connected to the way food grows. The soil life, the seeds, the pollinators, the flowers, the fruits, the bugs, the challenges, the wonder and intrigue make us more connected to food and better able to appreciate it. This also allows us to make better decisions about food, whether we grew it or not.
2. Save seeds from your garden. Or just grow one plant in a pot with the purpose of saving seeds from it. Seeds are remarkable teachers in their abundance and generosity, and they teach us about the life cycle of plants. If you're looking for a way to be helpful to the larger food movement with just one pot on your back patio or balcony, check out the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance's Gardening with Grains project. You can sign up to grow just a few seeds of an endangered heritage grain, like an ancient wheat or oat, and help multiply those seeds from the 5 or 6 you planted into your pot to dozens that you can send back to increase the seed stock. What an awesome way to play a big role on a very small scale! Of course, you can also save seeds off whatever else you are growing in your garden, and if you've never tried, I highly recommend it. It's easy, fun, and saves you money on seeds! We offer a printed beginning seed saving guide through our webstore, as does Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. The Organic Seed Alliance offers a free downloadable pdf, and there are so many other great resources out there to get you started! Plus, we offer several seed saving classes each year.
- Visit or participate in a local farm, especially one where seed saving is a part of their production model. Farms vary in the ways they invite the public to participate, from classes to farm tours to you-pick hours to volunteer opportunities to apprenticeship programs to employment, and everything in between. Earthly Delights Farm in Boise offers a season-long, curriculum-based internship program in partnership with the Snake River Seed Co-op that really dives deep into the world of urban food and seed production. Many of our SRSC partner farms offer other opportunities, from you-pick to on farm classes. Research farms that offer the type of involvement you're looking for in your area, and contact them about the best ways to get involved. A word of caution on this: farmers work hard for very little pay, and it's important to remember that when approaching them for a tour or some education. If you are asking them for something they don't have an explicit program in place for--say a tour, or advice on your own farm or garden project, consider offering to pay them for the time they're willing to spend showing you around or giving you consultation. Your recognition of the value of their hard-earned wisdom and limited time goes a long way.
- Choose more diversity in your diet. The more diverse diet you choose, the more diverse agriculture you support, which creates better resilience in our food system. See Part 2 of this series for an in depth exploration of the benefits of eating a biodiverse diet, from better health to a stronger economy to a more resilient agriculture. As a general rule, landrace varieties and heritage or heirloom varieties are often more diverse in their genetic makeup than more modern varieties, especially hybrids or genetically engineered crops. That genetic diversity is extremely important both in the field and inside your body.
- Use locally-grown seeds to plant your garden. Seeds that were grown in your area are better adapted to thrive there, and using them as the foundation of your garden will bring you more success. In addition, by buying locally-grown seeds, you help in creating a local seed system and a local economy. In our work with the Snake River Seed Co-op, in 2017 we sold over 30,000 packets of seeds to local gardeners. None of that seed was available 6 years ago, which meant that, at that time, every seed gardeners were planting had been grown and trucked in from somewhere else. While saving your own seeds is amazing and useful, simply purchasing seeds from a local seed company (who actually sources their seeds from local farmers and doesn't just ship them in from all over the world and pack them locally as is the common practice) brings many of the same benefits. You allow more farmers to grow a greater diversity of seed crops and to be compensated for doing that important work. That is the backbone of a healthy regional economy.
- Buy from local farmers. Do not underestimate the power you have as a consumer. You absolutely vote for the world you want by choosing what you spend your hard-earned money on. And while you're at it, encourage the farmers you buy from to grow more open-pollinated (non-hybrid) crops or to source the seeds for the crops they grow from a local seed source if they don't grow their own. In most farmers markets, the vast majority of the crops farmers bring to market were grown from seeds grown and trucked in from somewhere else. Without local seeds, we don't have a local food system. And when purchasing prepared foods from local processors, ask them about the source of the ingredients in their product. Many folks buy their ingredients from big box stores like Costco, then make their salsa or granola locally and sell it as "local". Use your power as a consumer to encourage local sourcing.
- Educate yourself. We live in a world dripping with sound bytes and marketing hype. When a chain grocery store is selling something as "local," ask questions. What does that mean to them? Grown in your city? Your state? Your region? The United States? When someone says, "We need GMOs to feed the world," start asking questions. Who is saying that? Who is being rewarded and who is being left out by that declaration? What policies might be in place that support the type of agriculture they are espousing? Who might be paying someone to put that message out into the world? There is tremendous power in education, and there is tremendous pressure to keep us ill-informed for the benefit of those who wish to keep us buying what they're selling. Our own curiosity and inquisitiveness is one of our most powerful tools as individuals. When we do our own research and when we engage in thoughtful dialog with others, we begin to reclaim our power as architects of our democracy, not just passive consumers. On the seed front, the film SEED: The Untold Story is a great place to start.
- Resist laws that criminalize seed saving. From white laws in Europe to utility patents to a crackdown on seed libraries, our fundamental right to steward the seeds that feed us is under attack. When someone wants to take away our right to save seeds, the line of questioning in #7 is crucial: Who is making that law? Who does that law benefit? While we sleep, corporations are working hard to dismantle our democracy. Resistance takes many forms and has many heroes, from Mahatma Gandhi to Rosa Parks to countless others. It can be as simple as saving and planting a seed that you're supposedly not "allowed" to save and replant, or as complex as joining or leading a movement to resist these laws in the places they're written, like the Organic Seed Alliance and Food First so powerfully do. Every person possesses a unique skillset, and all the skills are needed in this resistance!
- Learn to cook from scratch. By working with whole ingredients, you bypass large parts of the most corrupt portions of our food chain and have the opportunity to plug in more effectively in the movement to create a local food system. Plus, it's cheaper when you learn to do it well, which means you can stretch your food money farther, allowing you to afford local and organic foods you might otherwise not be able to afford. Learning to cook beans, for example, saves you money over buying cans of beans or boxes of pre-made, frozen burritos. And for the record, Idaho has a LOT of varieties of organically-grown beans that consumers can purchase at the Boise Co-op and elsewhere, thanks to the efforts of farmers like Mike Heath, Nate Jones, and Fred Brossy. As an aside, joining a CSA: Community Supported Agriculture farm is a great way to get introduced to the large variety of seasonal foods grown in an area, and most CSAs offer cooking tips and recipes to help you make the most of your season's worth of possibly scary and unfamiliar foods. Many of our SRSC growers also offer CSA programs, so you could support their local food production AND local seed production efforts by joining their CSA for the season! And actually, right now is the time of year when folks are accepting new members for their CSAs!
- Pay more for good food. According to the USDA, most people in the US spend less than 10% of their income on food. That's less than in any other industrialized country, and it's also less than at any other point in our country's own history. Of course, we're not actually paying less for the "cheap food" pushed on us through fast food and processed food. We pay for it through our taxes, in the form of subsidies that overwhelmingly support, massive, chemical-intensive monoculture agriculture. When Dr. Shiva talks about the Poison Cartel, she's talking about the companies who pay off our congresspeople to keep their GMO seeds and their chemicals flowing into the farmlands of the US, subsidized by taxpayers. Our "free market" is anything but free. It's unfair that we are forced to subsidize unsustainable agriculture through our taxes while simultaneously paying the higher prices for the foods and farm models that make up a healthy, bioregional food system, but that's the reality we live in. So often I have heard middle-class liberals complain that local food is too expensive for poor people, and somehow that gets them off the hook from buying it. Just because at this point in our juncture good healthy food isn't available to every person doesn't mean we all shouldn't use whatever means we have to build functioning local food systems. Folks across all socioeconomic classes are working on this issue from different angles. It's up to us to plug in how we can, using the resources we have. Every dollar into a local food economy is not only a dollar withheld from the poison cartel, it's a dollar into the creation of a food system that feeds us well right now and has the promise to do so well into the future. Think about it next time you're faced with the choice to pay 50 cents more for a locally-grown cucumber of packet of seeds. That price difference is actually quite trivial when you think of the power behind your decision. And to bring it back around, learning to grow more of your own food and seeds will save you money! For the inside scoop on SRSCs views on seed costs, check out this blog post next!