All posts by edgewaterfarm

Double Dipping or Government Redundancy

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The other day,while working in  the greenhouse, I was listening to a show called Vermont Edition on Vermont Public Radio. The discussion was gun control legislation, a topic I am only  mildly interested.  But the  anti gun legislation proponent’s argument  made my ears  dial in. His  point  was that there are federal laws on the books that deal with gun registration through the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Vermont, by creating another bureaucracy to duplicate the process was expensive and wouldn’t  make  anyone safer in the process.

To me, how you feel about gun control is irrelevant. But I am coming to a point  in my life where I feel that  there is an awful lot of  duplicated  bureaucracy around  in my world. And I believe  that it is  unnecessary and costing me—or all of us—a lot of money, time of aggravation.

Recently at our New Hampshire  Vegetable  and Berry Growers  annual meeting, I listened to  Kelly  Connelly from the Federal Department of Labor, whom we had  invited to speak to our trade group. She is a federal inpsector, and she is the  person who would come to our farm if there was a  labor or wage violation.  Because many farms in the northeast use volunteers or interns on the farm, we wanted her to qualify the legality of the point. She said, on no uncertain terms, that if we were not a federally registered non profit,  we had to pay  all interns and volunteers at least minimum wage. Nor would the Fed DOL   recognize any “payment in kind” arrangements like work swapped for room, or food. There was an exemption   volunteer labor  under a certain number of man hours, but it  wasn’t enough to get a person through a normal growing season. I went  and posted  the info I took from the meeting on a couple of list serves so that it might clarify the DOL ‘s read on things to those farmers who might be impacted by it. There are many farms in Vermont and NH whose use of interns constitutes a significant portion of their farm  labor. What I  precipitated was a discussion about the confusion of what the state laws allow and what the federal laws allow, and needed clarification  from both state and federal agencies.  Do the feds trump the state laws?    Who  do we listen to?

The same thing is developing in food safety. Around  8 years ago  USDA (US Department of Agriculture) developed a voluntary certification program called Good Agricultural Practices (GAP-for short)  with a set of guidelines and documentation to follow for the production of  food . Large wholesale buyers—like  Hannaford or Price Chopper- could request GAP certification from their ag vendors (farms like Edgewater)  in order to be able to sell to them.  Here is a science based  program already developed and  in use…albeit a voluntary one. If you don’t want to get GAP certified, you don’t get to sell to Hannaford.  Pretty simple..the choice is  yours and their. and it is as  strong step towards food safety that p[rotects both the buyer as well as the vendor.

Along comes the 2013 Food Safety and Modernization Act.  Now, the FDA(Food and Drug Administration)   wants  to get into the act. They  get busy, gather up a bunch of  people in white coats, some people in suits and put them in a room in Washington and  devise a set of guidelines  for food production for  farms without even visiting  a farm.   For that little oversight, they find out the cost of  compliance to the initial set of rules would crush the development of a local food economy in the northeast. So  after some congressional delegations chastise them, they agree to rewrite the rules and even visit a few farms (which now becomes a photo  opportunity at places like Edgewater Farm). Now they have retired back to the confines of their Washington offices to see if they can do a little better.   You might think that someone  in the FDA would have the common sense to say “Hey guys, the USDA has this GAP program, and maybe we should look at it, see how it works and give them a call.” But Washington being Washington, and the FDA  being  the bureaucracy that it is, chooses to reinvent the wheel  in the assumption that nobody else is as smart or diligent as they  are when it comes to food safety.  Ultimately what will happen is that there are some farms that will have to   fulfill a food safety requirement  from their buyers (GAP) as well as keep a separate set of books and documentation for the federally mandated program  (FSMA).

I often jokingly say that “The new growth industry in  America is federal bureaucracy” to my friends who  want talk about investments. Truth is, I really believe that.   Why FSMA and  USDA GAP?  Who is the primary person to answer to  FED DOL  or NH DOL?   Where  does NH Department of Environmental Sciences  end and federal EPA begin?

The  redundancy, in the end, makes nobody’s food,environment or work space any safer,more productive or easier.   In our case bureaucratic redundancy makes our jobs here   harder and our product  dramatically  more expensive.

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Farm Enterprise Budget: Chix-a-Lay

Hardtimes come in November. My friends come to greet me at for breakfast...
Hardtimes come in November. My friends come to greet me at for breakfast…

The chickens went down the road a couple of days  ago.  Literally.   Once the fall CSA was over, we shut them up one night in their Portable Affordable Chicken Coop and drove them down the road where they took  up permanent winter  residency with the  flock at  Macs Happy  Acres  Farm. Once the ground froze up inour fields here  the clover and grass  was harder to  come by in the field  for the chickens and the insects that scurry around were gone. Gone also was the vegetable refuse that  we make seasonably available to them from the farmstand. I tried to encourage them by throwing them some frozen heads of cabbage and  cauliflower. They just ran up to me and looked forlorn and hungry. Now they live where there is  an unfrozen water supply and bottomless grain feeders.

We got into the chicken business 3 years ago when we did our farmstand upgrade and added a commercial kitchen.   I grew up  on  a dairy farm, so I had some experience around cows, but chickens?   I surmised that they  wouldn’t  make as much manure as  cows, and a chicken stepping on your foot wouldn’t hurt half as much as a cow  would.  How hard could it be?   Besides, Ray was  raising  meatbirds for sale and everyone can use eggs, right? How hard  to take care of a flock of laying hens be?  The kitchen sure would use eggs ….and we would be able to  sell the rest.

So armed with this bullet proof business plan,  we took an old   four wheeled  hay wagon running gear and built a  little  10x 12  house on it with  roosts and nesting  boxes.  I bought a book by Joel Salatin, the Guru of American Pastured Poultry Farming and read it.  We had a couple  acres of  clover and  fescue on which  we could pasture them on.    I drove down to Wellscroft Fencing and spent a small ransom on   portable electric poultry fencing. Then after some discussions Ray had  with a gentleman known only  to me  as “Bucky the Chicken Guy from Connecticut”, a pickup truck piled high with chicken crates drove into the yard. The chickens came home to roost.

Of course they were pullets, and we knew  they were going to lay little eggs for awhile.  What we didn’t know  is that it would be  some time before they started to lay little eggs at all.  About three weeks to be exact.   But they were full sized birds with full sized appetites. Despite the  fact they  had lots of  grass to supplement their grain habit,  a pallet of 25 lb grain bags was  vanquished in short order .  In no time we  understood that  putting up a grain silo and buying grain in 3 ton deliveries would pay  off the  capital investment in about 26 minutes.  But we didn’t see it coming….the hidden costs.

By week five the girls were laying a quantity of what  were now large eggs. The kitchen was  loving them, and the sales through the farmstand were   indeed cleaning up what our 175 chickens are  producing. Pasture  poultry eggs are a very different product  than anything that you find in the store. The yolks are a deep colored orange and the  total   egg and plops onto the frying pan and it doesn’t run at all. They taste really good. Probably the result of a varied  diet and exercise…(where have we  heard that  said before?)    But I realized that my role as  Old Geezer Who Cares for the Laying Hens is taking a lot of time.  Fresh water twice a day.   All the  kitchen and farmstand refuse is being diverted from the compost pile to the chickens, and dedicated  garbage cans must be  removed twice a day. The eggs have to be  picked up and cleaned. And boxed.  And taken up to the farmstand. Even the damn  chicken nesting boxes  became repositorys for chicken shit and had to  be cleaned  out and fresh straw added weekly.  So I tracked my time. And I tracked the number of  dozens of eggs that went to the stand.

There was predation and attrition. Chicken hawks would help themselves. Although we feared the eagles, they seemed to prefer fishing to picking off our bony little chickens. But the weasels, coons and foxes would move  in occasionally and help themselves. A couple of our family dogs, despite their affable and good nature with humans, discovered latent hunting urges occasionally when presented with a strutting chicken.   And that 4 foot poultry fencing?  Even  with clipped wings the more resourceful and energetic chickens  could  get a running start and  clear the top of the fence to freedom. (Fortuneatley most are still not smart  enough….)  So this year  our original flock of 175 birds dwindled  to  about 100-115 birds by the  time they went south on River Road to their winter home.

At the end of year two I had some figures to work with.  I calculated  the gross dollar sales from the eggs that I boxed  up for sale.  I totaled up my hours and charged myself out at$13 an hour.  I deducted the grain costs, the cost of the egg cartons  and the cost of 3 bags of oyster shells.   Looks like I made made $1100 profit.  Cool!  That’s not a lot, but at least we aren’t loosing money.   That is, if you didn’t amortize the capital investments in the  fencing ,the grain silo or the RTV I used to haul grain  garbage, water,straw to them.  Whoops.

So there are some lessons we learned  here along with the standard lesson of  “all that glitters is not gold”. We have to raise our price on eggs, and get  it  at  least in line with the pastured poultry egg prices in the stores (when you can find them).   We have to figure out  the reduction of bird loss.  What do can we do  to streamline some part of the chore  process that I perform to save time? This is a process that we  should use to figure out many aspects of our farm. We just don’t  raise eggs for  a living. We grow strawberries. Potatoes.  Basil.   And about a thousand other things.      It would be easy to figure out profit and loss for Edgewater farm if we just grew eggs, but we do not.  Turns out best idea for us  may not be the idea to grow pastured poultry, but the utilizing an exercise  that determines  whether  raising eggs and meatbirds  makes any real sense at all.

A couple of crafty chickens participating in Extreme Free Ranging
A couple of crafty chickens participating in Extreme Free Ranging

 

2014 Growing Season….Its a Wrap, Folks!

This farmer’s time clock says that 2014 is pretty much over, despite the fact that there is no New Year’s Eve party in our immediate future or even the thanksgiving Turkey. That said, 2014 is pretty much done. The time to alter anything to change the outcome is past.  We are truly in chore mode; a steady diet of fall maintenance and packing out of root crops.  Daylight savings time shows up this coming weekend and we then will truly know what is in store for us.  Most of us remaining will probably go down to two meals a day so that we can capitalize on the short amount of daylight allowed us. (In my case that will be a difficult sacrifice, but maybe I won’t balloon up this winter.) Still, I welcome this time of year because it is probably the only time of year that we feel   relieved of any pressure that the growing   and retail season brings.  That will all return the first week of January when we seed the first greenhouse tomatoes.175

2014 was a pretty nice year to farm in. We had adequate moisture, and despite a late winter that would not loosen its grip, we had a pretty temperate and sunny growing season (perhaps a bit on the cool side, but what farmer is incapable of not saying something slightly negative about the weather?) followed by a long warm fall. Who knows where we may go from here, but so far the farm workforce acknowledges this gift.  No temperatures in the 90’s, no spring frosts (the first year in 38 that we didn’t have to  protect the strawberries from frost with  irrigation….I  never had to get out of bed.Whooo-Hoooo!)   And lots of sun.   A fellow could get spoiled with weather this good.

It was an unusually busy year as well as we  incorporated the Putnam Farm into  the regular activities. We planted about  6 acres of potatoes there as well as a little sweet corn and 3.5 acres of strawberries that will be up to bat this coming spring.  We got a new barn and a greenhouse up as well…as much for Ray and Jenny’s wedding as for the 2015 growing season. We are also in the process of constructing   a dedicated office space and lunchroom in the barn.  So we had our hands full with accommodating some projects during the growing season.

Crops all fared well, except our fall squash and pumpkin crops which failed through some colossally bad management decisions I can only blame on myself. Jenny continued to grow our CSA programs by adding some business drop offs and our commercial kitchen seems to be just about at profitability in year 3.  We won’t attack the books until December when we move most of the operations inside. There will be seed orders to do as well, and tax work to be done as our year ends December 31. But first we must get the strawberries mulched and ready for winter, the rest of the carrots dug, greenhouse sides rolled up, stock plant house back in order, perennial pots covered for winter. The plow has to go on the truck and the snowblower mounted on the tractor. Blueberries could be pruned if the weather allows and if we don’t get too much snow we have lots of brush to cut along the field edges.

And maybe we will get to go south for a week in the winter before we have to start grafting tomatoes for spring of 2015…

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Made in America? Really? What does that mean?

 

“Stuff that works, stuff that holds up.The kind of stuff you don’t hang on a wall.

Stuff that’s real,and stuff you feel. The kinda stuff you reach for when you fall”  ……Guy Glark, Texas songwriter

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It first happened  when one day in 1987 that  my Dad proudly announced that he bought an American John Deere green tractor, because he didn’t want to support the Japanese economy by buying a Kubota tractor like mine. (This sentiment was fairly common amongst World War II veterans.)

So I  lifted the hood of his newly purchased green John Deere and found the serial number plate,– A Mitsubishi  motor married to a Yanmar tractor assembled in Osaka, Japan.   It resembled his old John Deere two cylinder Model  420U because it was painted green, but therein the similarities ended    It was a dog in my estimation…and I believe that  he would have been more comfortable operating the Kubota I thought he should have.

Its pretty confusing today trying  to buy American, such to the point that you have to read the fine print just to find out who exactly  did produce it.   For example:  Case – International  Harvester is pretty much an American Company,  right?  Recently they introduced a new line of low horsepower tractors to the market and branded them  Farmall   after the venerable predecessors with the same  name  that successfully butted marketing heads with John Deere  in the period from  the late 1920’s to the mid  1980’s.  I was looking  for a no frills tillage tractor with about 90 hp and the new Farmall  95 seemed to  be what was available to me.  The verdict is still out on whether it is a good tractor or not, considering the active life of  tractors can span anywhere from 20 to 35 years and its only 3 years old.  (We still use actively  6 tractors that range in age of 35 to 60 years).  Turns out my Farmall 95 is in reality a Fiat tractor put together in Ankara, Turkey and the loader on it is built in Sweden.  It’s American in name and paint scheme only.

Wait! What about  the new clawhammer style banjo I just bought form the Morgan-Monroe Banjo Company?  Sounds pretty  American, doesn’t it?  Wasn’t Bill Munroe the father of American bluegrass music? Yeah, but his namesake banjo was built  by oriental luthiers in China.  And, like a lot of the pacific rim instruments ( and farm machinery),   it’s pretty reasonably priced and  pretty well made.  And if this isn’t baffling  enough….my old 2004 Toyota Tacoma truck was assembled by American workers in Atlanta, Georgia. And it  just so happens that  Atlanta is also home to a plant  that assembles Kubota tractors.

Huh?

The interesting thing is that quality  used to be  synonomous with the American name. Its  a great deal more  complicated than that now. I maintain that the chessey  sheet  metal fenders on my Kubotas wont be around in 50 years,  but my little 245 Kubota tractors  don’t cost any money  to run, are  easy to get parts for and I suspect if I can keep a seat on them and  decent rubber under them  those little motors and transmissions will make 50 years of farm work  long after their  fenders turn to dust.  And my little Georgian  2004 Toyota truck is as comfortable as any sedan, and has given me 98000 trouble free miles with a little brake work, oil undercoating biennially, and a  piece of the muffler replaced. Cant beat that with a stick, as the locals would say.

I like supporting the local  economy as much as possible. Buying American made goods is a natural extension of that, and I am willing to pay some extra for that privilege.  But determining what is produced  in the US and is produced elsewhere is now a complicated proposition made  more complicated by the American companies like Case IH who slap branded American names on overseas products.

Are Carharrt pants still made in America?   I  better check.    Levis aren’t…..

"Stuff that works,stuff that holds up...."  83 year old ex dariy farmer George Cilley beating the weeds into submission with a 18hp  Model 1956 Farmall 100
“Stuff that works,stuff that holds up….” 83 year old ex dariy farmer George Cilley beating the weeds into submission with a 18hp Model 1956 Farmall 100

 

 

 

The State of PYO Strawberry Picking vers;2014

 

It had to happen. The other night there was an indignant , impassioned message  left on the answering machine.  It went like this:  “Why are you not opening your  PYO strawberry beds? Wellwood  Orchard  is open, and they are farther away than you are. Why aren’t you open? You are stupid. You are wasting money.”

I was tempted to return the call, but the fear of reprisals from my dear wife and daughter made me hesitate.  Then I considered the intellect of whom I might be trying to argue with. How bright could they  possibly be? Do they really think that we are hoarding  strawberries  from them because we don’t like to make money? I reconsidered my call, and opted not to.

But when we started harvesting  our first strawberry crop 38 years ago, we really counted on the PYO folks essentially to harvest that crop for us.   Anne and I were the only  pickers and we had no wholesale accounts. It worked well for many years.  Back then there was  no profusion of berries all winter long at the grocery store so strawberry season was as real summer landmark event, and people  came in weather good and bad. They turned out frequently during the season and then frequently returned again. They picked for themselves, some  picked for  resale, others  picked for shut ins  and elderly folks. The PYO crowd was a tangible, dependable work force for us in 1980.

Hey Pops, lets go fill this rascal up with strawberries, I got a jones for some
Hey Pops, lets go fill this rascal up with strawberries, I got a jones for some shortcake.

Fast forward to 2014. We have a new word- agritainment.  Some people come to the farm not for the strawberries but for the experience….usually on a sunny day. They   come to the farms because they like the wagon rides, or the petting zoo…. But this measurable fact exists that we harvest essentially the same tonnage of fruit with twice as many patrons in 2013 as we had in the field in 1980.  Why?  Pretty decent product abounds in warmer areas and gets shipped here.    Strawberries from Watsonville or Plant City.   Blackberries from Arkansas in the spring, but Mexico during the winter.  Raspberries from Guatemala.   Our strawberries  just aren’t as big a deal as they were 30 years ago(despite the evidence of our phone call the other night). People aren’t  as motivated to pick, and  they pick smaller quantities.  Fewer people freeze or make their own jam.  It is now as much a nice sunny day’s activity as it is fresh strawberries on a shortcake.

So over time we have had to modify our harvest. PYO is still important and there not as many PYO Strawberry farms statewide as there were in the 80’s, but we need to  have a way of guaranteeing that the crop will be harvested. So we  have a field crew on the farm that harvests the vegetable and fruits as well as grows and cares for them. And we  have some wholesale accounts  as well as pick for our CSA customers and folks who visit the farmstand. The crew works on rainy days  (PYO folks do not) they need  very little management-other than coffee and donuts and pay-  (PYO folks  need extra  facilities, parking and lots of  direction and management). The crew monitors crop development and ripening for us (PYO folks are generally  only interested in what they have in their bucket and their own experience in the field.  There really has to be a large critical mass of ripe fruit out there ready for them when you open) and our farm crew  picks  in a clean organized fashion  (some PYO folks harvest cleanly, but not as a rule).     Bottom line is that running a good harvest crew is a profitable and dependable way to harvest the crop  whereas PYO is more fickle and weather dependent.

Too much coffee and donuts for the picking crew? Guilt as charged!
Too much coffee and donuts for the picking crew?       Guilty  as charged!

So that explains the integrated approach we currently employ. We always grow more than we need for our stand, CSA and wholesale needs,  and do so specifically for the U-pick.  But more and more PYO is a gamble.  And you know how I prefer to bet on a sure thing.

This is my only reward????

 

After 16 years of biodynamic pest control in the greenhouses and this is what I have to show for my efforts?

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Meet Phiddippus audax.  He is a tiny member of the arachnid family  known generically as  Jumping Spiders. He is a fast-moving little fellow about 1/4  of an inch in length, who can  actually jump 3-4 times his body length when he needs to get somewhere in a hurry. As he is a timid little guy, we more often see him in escape mode. I wouldn’t say he is cuddly, and certainly if you were  a potential meal for him, you   might feel different about how he looks. But to me he is in the “Good Guy” category,  and he doesnt seem as creepy as the over- sized barn spiders that move into the garage in late summer, or as sinister as the  beautiful black and yellow orb spiders that  move into the  field tomatoes in the summer and weave those  incredible webs. My  Dad  actually went so far as to  bestow the name  ‘Mr. Witloof’ on the little jumping spider, as to almost humanize him.

So what has this got to do with anything?

Well, for most of my life as a greenhouseman, Mr,  Witloof  made his appearance in the greenhouse furnaces in the fall, when he moved into the greenhouses looking for warmer winter quarters. In early winter, while I would be cleaning burners and  doing annual checks of my furnaces,  I would find him beating a hasty retreat.  But Jake Guest (of Killdeer Farm in Norwich) and I  have been  noticing  that for the last two years there seems to have been a population spike. These funny little fellows are now  in the pot trays and plant canopies. I can find an occasional  Witloof wandering around up in the brugmansia and fuchsia standards. Or meandering around the  shelf behind the  seed boxes  and radio.  They seem to be everywhere now.

Beyond their comical movements and the enjoyment that seeing them brings to me , I think that  there are some real reasons why they are now omnipresent. That reason could be that we  have actually gotten to the point after 16 years that we can control our pests in the greenhouse biologically, without the aid of conventional or certified  organic  pesticides.  It hasn’t been an inexpensive learning curve to do this, but  for the last three years we have been dialed in enough to  achieve control with biological insect releases alone.

I am by no means an entomologist  or out on the edge of this , but we certainly have learned a lot about biological pest control in the last 16 years.   This is due in no small part to the  efforts put forth by  some determined individuals in the University  Cooperative Extension Systems of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.  Annual meetings, studies, internet access, on-farm education and scouting  have additionally contributed. Even vendors have gone from  just selling “good bugs in a can” to being  proactive in making sure the product they sell to us  has good quality control (the good bugs get delivered in the best possible  condition) as well as talking with us at length about the possibilities of choice of one predatory or parasitic control  over another. Lots of info.

I don’t think I’ll be problem-free  in the future. Problems and  hurdles always crop up in  natural systems. But to go three years without dragging my sprayer out and dumping a bottle of some goo in the tank to go spray for white fly or aphids is huge for me, and something for the farm to feel good  about.

So maybe Mr. Witloof is out and about because of this. Even though the arachnids are generally  insensitive to most pesticides in the greenhouse, the total absence of any  materials makes his household more inviting. In any event, he is a funny little guy who is now part of our defense arsenal  for greenhouse pest management for  aphids and other soft-bodied plant pests.  Welcome home,   Mr. Witloof.

Now go get ‘em..

th

 

March….where the farmer is caught thinking too hard about the issues

Alan Jackson’s song “It’s Five O’ Clock Somewhere” keeps coming into my head, but its lyrics transpose in my head  to “It’s Got to Be Spring Somewhere.”  Here it is March 6, and the temperature has broken 40 degrees only once in the last month and a half, and it’s pretty tough to  even remember when last it was in the  30’s.   But farming is done by the clock as much as the weather, and so the greenhouses are up and running.  Despite the fact that the sun is getting stronger by the day (when the sun actually shines) the nights have been brutally cold.  A couple of after-hours trips to the greenhouses have already been executed to tweak temperature alarms, thermostats and propane furnaces.  This cold weather is playing hell on our propane contracts.

But we have had some sunny days this week and the greenhouse crew have begun trickling back after their long winter’s nap. There are sprigs of green in the pots and baskets.  Despite the outdoor temps in the low twenties, I have been shedding layers on sunny days as I work in the upper greenhouses. The furnaces will not come on if the sun is anywhere near out,  and I duck outside to cool off from time to time in the  midday.  I know that this weather will break, so we are trying to keep up with things and not be caught napping.  It could well be that the snow is all gone and we will be having 70-degree days in April.  This is, after all, New England.

One of the benefits of working at a bench in the greenhouse – besides being warm – is that I get caught up on world events through news broadcasts and talk radio shows. Much of the time I spend grafting tomatoes, taking cuttings, watering flats and seeding,  so there is plenty of time to hear what is going on beyond the realm of the weather at Edgewater Farm.   Of course, we have had the Olympics and the developing events in Ukraine, but the talk shows resound with many of the same issues as last year at this time.  Many are pertinent to what we do here. The ongoing issue of food safety, global food supply,  hydrofracking,  the FDA’s re-vamping of FSMA ( see earlier blogs for more info on that)  and how that will affect how and what we do for business on this farm.  We hear about GMO and gene splicing in plants and animals.  Yesterday I listened to a call-in program on NHPR where people were lamenting the fact that  many of New Hampshires’s  open  fields were growing up to woods, meaning the loss of open land. Meanwhile, two other callers talked about the benefits to the  environment that forests  provide through carbon sequestration.   Talk shows, discussions and the media are full of all sorts of authorities on all sorts of subjects.

I find myself marveling at the fervent nature and assured authority from which these media panelists argue their point of view.  Most of the time I can understand all points of view, and empathize to a degree.  Many of this season’s discussion  involves  mankind’s use of technology to solve problems. The GMO question is frequesntly  brought up to us all at the farm.    Do we use GMO seeds?   Is our sweet corn Round-up Ready? These are fair questions, and for the record we do not.  Upon investigation we do, it seems, use some varieties of vegetable seeds that come from companies whose parent company is Monsanto, who actually does  produce large amounts of   GMO soy and grain and feed  corn seed to complement the sale of their proprietary herbicide Roundup. Monsanto accumulated vegetable seed companies,   I suppose, for the simple fact there is money to be made selling seeds.   Then there is the GMO  labeling issue as well, which is not altogether  removed  from the GMO/gene modification discussion.

I find the food labeling issue a no-brainer. I think GMO foods should be labeled, since there are some issues regarding the safety and politic of its use, especially where  transgenic gene modification is used.  These are of burning interest to consumers,v as been demonstrated by petitions circulated by movements like MoveOn.org.     People have a right to know, and if the FDA mandates that the producers of Slim Jims have to state that they use “processed beef lips” in their product, then  I think folks should be allowed be able to determine whether their foods have GMO products in them.

However, how I feel about GMO as a science gets more complicated. I am against transgenic GMO plant production (remember the death of the Monarch butterflies?).   But GMO in plant development as a way of expediting  the process of hybridization?  I don’t know enough about that to be for or against it.  The other day NPR had  panelists discuss the introduction of genes into  the human reproductive process to prevent   generational transmission of endocrine immune deficiency into children.  Some panelists were fervently opposed because it would be “opening a Pandora’s box of medical mad science” and  might well lead to  the creation of “Franken-babies.”  On the other side of the fence the people who had this immune deficiency  maintained that they would have have cut off their arm not to pass the same  problem on to some  of their children.  So what is it….good science or evil science?

It is all about the march of technology.   I don’t envy scientists.   Poor old Robert Oppenheimer.    Did he really want to be remembered as the father of the atom bomb? Wouldn’t he rather be remembered as a physicist who  further the development  of the fission reaction that heats homes and powers  air conditioners?  The guy who expedited, in some small fashion, the development of radiation treatment for cancers?  Technology is always a double-edged  sword.    DDT was a swell way to treat soldiers in World War II when they came back from battle covered with body lice. Worked  well in agriculture, too, or so we surmised. Seemed harmless enough  for those  who used it as directed until some years later when  Rachael Carson pointed out it was accumulating in the food chain. Whoops.   Monsanto  developed  Roundup back in the 70’s.  We all were led  to believe that  there was  rapid breakdown of the active ingredient,  and it was the safe to humans.  But the Emperor’s clothes started to deteriorate  when it was discovered that  the compound actually did bind with certain soil types under certain conditions and  rendered damage to the very  plants  farmers  were trying to protect.  Meanwhile the parent company got involved in developing Roundup-resistant corn and  soybeans through GMO. Then they went about with their legal police force looking to  protect their proprietary rights and taking anybody who looked suspicious to court.  As if this weren’t bad enough or terminal confusing, we can look at some of the medical compounds  medical science  developed to fight diseases and infections over the years.   Many   have been pulled from the market  since because of the unintended side effects on some  humans.  Makes the old head spin.

This is all part of the human dilemma as we march forward.  Will technological advancement help humanity go forward or guarantee our species’ extinction?  Can we operate in a void and try to ignore it  while  it spins everywhere around us?  I have no answers, only questions.    We here just try to inform ourselves and make the best possible decisions with the fewest compromises as we  move forward.