Too Much Information in the Age of Information

I had a customer inquiry this past  weekend  that I probably handled poorly. Then again, maybe  I didn’t.  The customer wanted to know if we handled GMO seeds, or generated greenhouse transplants from  GMO seeds, or  by inference, use them in the field. The customer had been reading  about Monsanto and they were very disturbed about what they had learned. This was my reply:

Dear  X:

To the best of my  knowledge we are not  using any GMO varieties, and we would not knowingly  purchase any. I  have some unanswered questions in my mind as to the value of gene modification to science (I am  by no means a scientist) –  regarding,for example, developing a diabetic cure, reversing  Alzeheimer’s disease, etc., which might be a good use,  but we are not in favor of its use in food  production.  Monsanto developed BST and tried to shove that down the dairy industry’s throat, and my relatives at McNamara Dairy didn’t bite on that either. There are a lot of unanswered questions being  ignored in the name of science and profitability,  and  I have  personally felt that Monsanto is a bad corporate  citizen. Period.
I am  aware that Monsanto is acquiring foreign seed  companies, and a  lot of our  hybrids are from these European seed  houses. However, I would say that 90 percent of our seed comes from  either Johnny’s or Harris in NY,  both companies that are pretty sensitive to the GMO issue  and  buy significant lots from these seed houses for re-distribution. They are very clear and label what is GMO and what is not, as they service the smaller farm and  organic  community in the Northeast.  We here at Edgewater are not certified organic by the  Federal government, so we can save a great deal of money buying the same varieties without the federal organic  certification.
I hope this is helpful information.  Please feel free to get hold  of me  if you have other specific questions.
All the Best,
Pooh Sprague
 My response was crafted to be completely transparent to the customer. Perhaps if I had spun the answer thusly:  ” I would never knowingly allow a GMO variety to be propagated on Edgewater Farm,” (which is  also true),  I would still have her as a customer.  I feel I may have lost the customer  because I gave her a longer,  and  what I thought was a more candid and thoughtful response, and I think I complicated her  agenda.  GMO,  to me,  is a huge issue, larger than Monsanto and sweet corn or tomato seed. I read that there may be cures developed through GMO  for diabetes, and if a couple of my family members can make it to 70 without their extremities amputated from  circulatory complications resulting from diabetes, then I think that is good thing. But I muddied the answer; she was looking  for the black and white answer. Keep it simple.
Today,  most every question I field from customers  is in want  of a simple black-or- white, yes-or-no answer. Do you spray? Yes or no. Are you organic? Yes or no.  Is your produce safe to eat? Yes or no.  This is the age of the sound bite. Today there is more information available than ever before to us and yet we spend less time researching and thinking about things.  I have no illusions that more people look at the  Edgewater Farm Facebook pictures than read the Edgewater Farm blog. I can see it in the eyes of a customer when I am asked if I am certified organic. They  would  much rather see a little green USDA Certified Organic sticker  on the middle of my forehead that enter  into a discussion with me as to why I am not or what organic methods  we  actually do practice . Because the federal government, through its certification process,  has made the “O” word almost proprietary, I cannot even us it  to  to describe the crops we actually do grow organically. Thus not being  certified makes it simple. If its not good (certified organic) it must be bad. Reality is, it’s like many things in life;  mostly shades of gray. But for most people, if it can be viewed as black  or white,  good  or bad, then the decision becomes easier and thus goes away quicker. More time to watch Downton Abby, less time thinking about the GMO.
I wish my world was that simple. I am often paralyzed in the decision making process,  if not internally torn by the decisions I make because there are so many considerations. We are  converting two acres low grade forest into field down at the Putnam Farm. Although I know that two acres of land grows a lot of radishes and green beans and that land conversion just increases the existing field, I confided to the logger some guilt because carbon sequestration that forests provide is really important to environment,  perhaps more important than growing food for humans. If we made decisions based solely on business profitability, things would look totally different when people drove down River Road. Smart money would have  made us move out of here back in the 80’s  when the Asian gentlemen   jumped out of the BMW, started waving his checkbook at me asking me to name a price on the farm. That turned out to be a  simple decision. Most are not.
I realize in my conversation with the customer that maybe there can be a thing as being “too” honest.    I have to become better,perhaps, at crafting sound bites.  In the end, I think the former customer and I probably feel the same way  about the GMO issue . But I think she  made the wrong decision  deciding to  stop doing  business with  us,  because in the end she may hurt Edgewater  much more than she will hurt Monsanto.