Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

By Jean English

Fifteen years ago, I was being lectured by my department chairman at a Land Grant University that I must not use the word ‘organic’ in reference to agriculture, or even to gardening, and that I had a responsibility to recommend synthetic chemicals. After the third lecture, I decided to hit the road before they threw me out. This was a trying time for me. If only I could have looked into a crystal ball and seen …

Unity. MOFGA’s permanent site. A gorgeous, environmentally friendly office building and exhibition hall. An extensive organic planting of roses. Organic roses? Unheard of two decades ago … An heirloom orchard in the making. A weekend of healthful, delicious food, all prepared from ingredients raised by people with a love for the land, long-term. A weekend? More than that now. So many MOFGA events are accompanied by such wonderful food, and so many more events are being planned, now that the permanent site is a reality.

I am tempted to say that the permanent site has brought MOFGA to a new level, one that has taken on a “life of its own” as plantings, plans and people come together. A couple of years ago, I thought a “MOFGA Village” would be an exciting goal for this organization. The steps that the organization has taken since then have, in fact, created a synergy that, I believe, is leading to such a village. This creation has not, of course, come about through some “life of its own,” but through the determination of a large group of idealists. For someone like me, however, who has been involved primarily from the sidelines, the 1998 Common Ground Country Fair seems like the sudden birth of a great new entity. No crystal ball could ever have foretold such a wonder.

At the same time that we celebrate MOFGA’s emergence into a new era, we have reason to be even more vigilant than ever. Our culture as a whole seems to have grasped, finally, the dangers of pesticides. Even mainstream farmers are increasingly looking for alternatives to toxic pesticides and at ways to farm sustainably. While the pro-pesticide wave has crashed and shows signs of losing its momentum, however, a much more frightening wave is approaching in its wake. A tsunami, in fact.

That tsunami is the oncoming wave of genetically engineered crops – crops that have had their genes reversed or otherwise manipulated, or that have had genes from animals, bacteria, viruses or other organisms inserted into them. Many foods on the market today contain ingredients from genetically engineered crops, and chances are excellent that you’ve eaten some genetically engineered food, unless you eat exclusively certified organic foods or foods that you know haven’t been genetically manipulated.

If you are the average shopper, you may have come across genetically engineered tomatoes, potatoes, corn (think of all the products that use corn syrup …), soy (heavily used in processed foods; genetically altered soy has been found in many infant formulas, including Carnation Alsoy, Similac Neocare, Isomil and Enfamil Prosobee; what are we doing to our babies?), yellow squash, canola and cottonseed oil (in most processed foods) and papaya. A list of crops that have been approved, await approval or are under development runs from abalone to wheat, with at least 38 crops in between. Catfish. Cheesemaking enzymes. Kiwis (the fruits). Prawns. Salmon. Watermelons.

None of these crops or food products is labeled as genetically engineered, of course, because of the excessive and immoral influence that biotech companies have on governments, especially in the United States. Many of them are coming on the market with little or no oversight or regulation from the government. All you can do to avoid these foods at this point is buy certified organic foods or grow your own. Got a craving for corn chips, tofu burgers, bacon substitutes, ice cream or chocolate? Watch out! Allergic to bananas or other foods? Watch out! Think our country’s freedom of religion means you’ll be warned when genes from swine are inserted into your favorite food? Forget it! Think crops that have been engineered to resist herbicides might spread this trait to weedy relatives and pose a threat to the environment? Maybe we’ll look back with fondness on kudzu…

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that this experiment that multinational corporations are performing on citizens without their approval could lead to disaster(s). You may need guidance regarding what to do about the experiment. In addition to eating organic foods, you can ask your grocer which foods have engineered ingredients in them. Call the 800-numbers on food packages and ask company reps if their products have engineered ingredients. Keep asking questions. Keep demanding labeling. Threaten boycotts. Organize boycotts! If a critical mass speaks up, change will occur.

You can learn more about the biotech bomb that is hovering over our collective heads at MOFGA’s Public Policy Teach-In, starring Brian Tokar, CR Lawn and Sharon Tisher, at the Common Ground Fair on Saturday from 1 to 3 in the YEZ Tent. If you eat food or live in an ecosystem, this is the one event at Common Ground that you should not miss this year.