This article was interesting:
Fair use - education purposes
The gardening game
Do you know where your seeds come from?
You may be surprised...
By Jerri Cook
Somehow I always thought the seeds, bulbs, and roots I purchased from mail order companies came from a quaint American farm, somewhere in the heartland, with burgeoning rows of high quality vegetables and flowers. I was as wrong as a two-headed frog.
It all started last August when I used a coupon from Gurney's to order asparagus roots. By the third week of September my order hadn't arrived. I decided something was amiss and called the company.
The customer service representative I spoke with assured me my order would arrive at the proper planting time for my zone, sometime near the beginning of December.
I was confused, how was I supposed to plant anything in zone 3b in December?
The cheery voice told me to put the crowns straight in the ground and mulch over them. They would be fine.
I expressed my doubts. I already checked with my local extension agent, the president of the local Master Gardener association, and a knowledgeable neighbor before calling. No one thought planting asparagus after October in our area was a good idea. I would just take a refund.
The less-than-knowledgeable representative asked me to hold while she checked with someone. Silence. A few minutes later a chipper voice came on the line and said, "Spring Hill Nurseries."
Huh? I explained that I was holding for someone at Gurney's. "No problem," the jaunty voice assured me, "I'll transfer you."
More silence and another voice came on the line, "Henry Fields."
"I'm holding for Gurney's. What's going on?"
Not to worry, she could transfer me. I hoped so, this wasn't a toll free number and I was racking up the minutes running around in this long distance circle.
More silence and then-click. They hung up on me.
But who had hung up, Gurney's, Spring Hill Nurseries, or Henry Fields? And why was I transferred from one to the other?
The name game
I decided to take a closer look at Gurney's. I remembered hearing something about them going out of business a few years ago. The large mail order company Foster and Gallagher, who owned Gurney's and many other seed companies, filed for bankruptcy in Indiana, putting hundreds of people out of work.
Like most gardeners, the logistics of the seed industry were of little interest to me. I simply shrugged the whole thing off and went on my merry way.
Now I found myself staring at the FAQs page on Gurney's website, where it says the company was bought at a bankruptcy hearing a couple of years ago by a group of "lifelong mail order gardeners."
After scrolling to the bottom of the page I noticed the copyright for the website is held by Scarlet Tanager, LLC doing business as Gurney's. This must be the group of lifelong mail order gardeners that bought the company.
Anyone can find information on a company (or corporation) by contacting the Secretary of State in the state where the company is located. Since Gurney's is located in Indiana, I decided to pop over to the Indiana Secretary of State's website to see if Scarlet Tanager, LLC is listed in their corporate database.
Sure enough there it was. It is an umbrella corporation for The Garden Store, The Michigan Bulb Company, Gurney's, and Henry Field's. For a mere $1 fee to the fine state of Indiana I was able to find the owner of Scarlet Tanager, LLC, Niles Kinerk. A couple of peripheral searches turned up more information on Mr. Kinerk. He also owns Spring Hill Nurseries, Breck's Bulbs, Audubon Workshop, Flower of the Month Club, and Gardens Alive. Wow, Niles has a lot of companies under his umbrella.
It turns out he's not alone. Totally Tomatoes, R.H. Shumway, The Vermont Bean Seed Company, Seeds for the World, Seymour's Selected Seeds, HPS, Roots and Rhizomes, and McClure and Zimmerman Quality Bulb Brokers are all standing shoulder to shoulder under the J.W. Jung Seed Company's umbrella.
Under Park Seed Company's canopy you'll find Wayside Gardens, Park Bulbs, and Park's Countryside Garden.
The list goes on.
No matter which catalog you order from, the chances are pretty good you are getting the exact same seed as everyone else. Virtually every large mail-order garden company in the United States uses a seed broker to supply them with stock. The broker's job is to find tons of seed at a low price. They contract with competing umbrella corporations, selling the same seed to everyone.
As if the waters weren't muddy enough, each mail-order seed company can resell the same seed using different names for it. For example, you see a wonderful red lettuce named Sheep's Tongue in catalog A and place your order. A couple of days later you see another red lettuce named Camel's Tongue in catalog B. You really like red lettuce so you order some from the other catalog too. A few weeks after planting you notice they look and taste exactly alike. What's going on?
Well, the patent on the lettuce known as Sheep's Tongue has expired, or it is an heirloom and never had a patent. If there is no patent anyone can grow and sell it. However, if the company that owns catalog A has a trademark on the name Sheep's Tongue, other re-sellers will have to call it something else. This is true for plants, roots, bulbs, and trees.
At first glance this just seems like good old American business forging ahead. But there is something unsettling about this whole arrangement. How are we supposed to know who we are dealing with when we buy seed? And where does all this seed come from?
Trying to find out is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, the only way to know for sure is to take off the blindfold.
King of the hill
The American nursery trade is a 39.6 billion dollar a year industry. With the purchase of Seminis in January of 2005, Monsanto is now estimated to control between 85 and 90 percent of the U.S. nursery market. This includes the pesticide, herbicide and fertilizer markets. By merging with or buying up the competition, dominating genetic technology, and lobbying the government to make saving seeds illegal, this monolith has positioned itself as the largest player in the gardening game.
Monsanto holds over eleven thousand U.S. seed patents. When Americans buy garden seed and supplies, most of the time they are buying from Monsanto regardless of who the retailer is.
Most home gardeners started noticing the initials PVP appearing next to selections in the mail order garden catalogs a few years ago. This stands for Plant Variety Protection. It means the seed or plant carries a U.S. patent. It is illegal to save seed from or otherwise propagate PVP varieties. Consumers will have to buy more each year if they wish to grow a PVP variety.
Greenpeace chides, "Monsanto-no food shall be grown that we don't own."
They could be right.
Terminator Technology promises to be a big money maker for Monsanto and its subsidiaries. Plants are genetically modified so they won't produce seed, or if seed is produced, it is sterile. With this maneuver they are guaranteed a continuing market for vegetable, fruit, and flower seed.
Consider the newest Frankenstein called Traitor technology. This charming little piece of genetic engineering will help Monsanto's chemical division rake in billions of dollars a year from across the globe. It allows growers to control the genetic traits of plants by applying an array of chemicals, all owned by Monsanto. Do your genetically modified watermelons have blight? No problem, for a price you can buy the chemical that will turn on the plant's blight fighting gene. No kidding. It is estimated Traitor technology could dominate world seed supply with an astonishing 80 percent of the market by 2010.
Six companies Du Pont, Mitsui, Monsanto, Syngent, Aventis and Dow control 98 percent of the world's seeds. These companies are opening research facilities and acquiring local seed companies and farmland on every continent, and they can't do it fast enough.
Imports of seed and stock from Pakistan, India, Mexico,Thailand and of course China, are on the rise. Countries like Thailand boast of seed exports rising at 12 percent per year from 1998-2001. American seed exports fell at twice that rate for the same time period.
As biotechnology forges on, something is lost. At first it is barely noticeable, just a sense that something is different.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down
Before it was acquired by Monsanto, Seminis eliminated 2,000 varieties of seed from its inventory. The first things to go were the older open-pollinated varieties; vining petunias, butterfly weed, butter beans, German green tomatoes, and other heirlooms grown by gardeners for generations, replaced by genetically engineered varieties.
High-tech patented hybrid varieties are far more profitable for transnational seed companies to produce and sell. These new frankenseeds are bred to perform adequately over a wide geographical area, giving the patent holder a much larger market.
As consumers are losing the freedom to choose what they will buy and grow, thousands of varieties of garden seed are walking the plank, straight into the abyss of extinction. Consider this, in 1981 there were approximately 5,000 vegetable seed varieties available in U.S. catalogs. Today there are less than 500, a 90 percent reduction.
Seeds removed from commercial production are left in private corporate seed banks. Open pollinated seed will not store indefinitely, it must be propagated to ensure its survival. This is an expensive proposal, one not likely to happen in the world of capital consolidation and wide profit margins.
The more likely scenario is the "unprofitable" heirloom seeds will be allowed to expire and patented hybrids will take their place. Seed biodiversity will be compromised globally, while the corporate stranglehold tightens around the throat of the consumer.
Kent Whealey, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, says "Few gardeners comprehend the true scope of their garden heritage or how much is in immediate danger of being lost forever."
Taking the ball and going home
Like the glaciers that rolled across North America, heaving and prying the earth into new forms, giant transnational seed companies are changing the face of gardening as it once was. What's left behind is the product of a destructive force to be sure, but something beautiful and promising also remains.
Across the globe people are growing and saving heirloom seeds, ensuring the promise of diversity and heritage for future generations. Groups like Seed Savers Exchange are blooming in the remains of corporate devastation. Some of these organizations are large, offering seeds from across the globe. Others are neighborhood and regional groups saving and trading local favorites. Whatever their size, they are dedicated to preserving the earth's biodiversity.
All it takes to form a seed saving club is for one neighbor to pick up the phone and say to another, "Do you want to trade some seeds this year?" There you have it, a seed saving club.
Imagine if one neighbor called another neighbor and that neighbor called yet another, and so on. The next thing you know black gardeners and white gardeners, southern growers and northern growers, farmers and city folk, church goers and non-church goers, would be united in an effort to prevent the extermination of thousands of varieties of seed. What a beautiful thing it would be.
Before you could shake a dollar at it, the landscape of the nursery trade would change. It's the age old law of supply and demand, if no one wants patented hybrids, then they become unprofitable in short order. The reigning corporate kings of the gardening game would be forced to take their ball and go home, leaving consumers free to choose a more sustainable pastime.
It could happen.
Ollie ollie oxen free
My asparagus roots showed up two days before Thanksgiving. Several inches of snow blanketed the ground and the temperature hadn't risen above the single digits for days. I decided against planting them directly in the ground and mulching over the top as instructed by the Gurney's representative. I didn't feel like shoveling all that snow. Instead I tossed them in the back of the refrigerator to wait for spring.
While winter wore on I visited the Seed Savers Exchange website (www.seedsavers.org), several times. I filled out the catalog request and spent time checking out the site. It is chock full of information and inspiration. There's an online catalog bursting with heirlooms I've never heard of. I'm not sure what lazy housewife beans are, but you can be sure I'm going to get some.
I asked my neighbors to save seeds this year. We'll get together in the fall for a harvest celebration and share our gardening glories and stories. You can bet there'll be a tale behind every seed saved. I hope I hear them all.
Transnational corporations can't build communities, they can't celebrate identity. Only we can do that, and we can do it with every seed we plant.
Do you know where your seeds come from? You may be surprised
This article was interesting:
Thanks for sharing. I'm really bummed to know the businesses I love may be seated next to the shabby ones I abhor. I guess it's time to do a little research before I make my Spring orders.
Might be more of an argument here, indeed, to support your local growers, local nurseries, etc. into providing the selection you (y'all) want, so you don't have to resort to internet purchases from nursery mongers. Only problem is, the local nurseries probably just get them from the mongers, anyway.
As a small business owner, I support buying locally 100%.
I know it depends on your rurality as to buying online, but this is definitely a good reason to take the drive into town. You buy online (from "them!") for your convenience at what expense?
I am again learning more about heirlooms, seed savers, etc. .... seems easy enough for the consumer to take back control .... but, I know, history shows .... the consumer won't exercise its undeniable power.
Loon ; realy makes you think dosen't it I am going to have to check things out a little more before I send for my seeds this year;0)
I'll tell you that I have been unhappy with Wayside and Parks for a couple years. I think their quality control is terrible.
I buy our seeds from Baker seeds.com
I plant cash crop organic,heritage,rare and endangered
I have managed to save some tigger melon seeds.
Many of the non gmo seeds have a low viability. they
certainly need more cosseting and care to sprout, than
the super seeds we see for 10cents a pack in walmart
or the amazing seeds from burpee.
Non gmo tomatoes benefit from upside down planting! really!
no hornworms, or beetles crawling up them.
we had 6" hornworms here two summers ago. dis-gust-ing.
I loved Jerri cooks article. It was extremely readable, and
thanks for sharing
Now I know why I find myself saving more and more seeds from my own garden. I'm still growing beans decended from ones that a late friend smuggled from Mexico in her hadbag over 70 years ago.
I discovered the "name game" with nurserys a couple of years ago and always try to check who they are a subsidiary of before I order. I figured a lot of my seeds were coming from China. Everything else does.
Excellent post Loon, and so well written! Thanks for all the great info.
Well written post and chock full of information. It explains a lot. I'm a life long seed saver. Just started trading, but I'm going to look into planting more Heritage seeds now.
Walk In Beauty!
Checking my link
I wish my husband's mother was still alive. She's been gone for decades. When I was first married I wasn't into gardening and couldn't appreciate how much wisdom Mary had to share. She was an old fashioned gardener and farmer's wife. They lived on 100 acres on top of a mountain. Mary put in a huge.........and I mean huge garden every year. She always saved her own seed. If I remember correctly, she had them in envelopes in the freezer compartment of her refrigerator. She worked very hard on her garden and her flowers. She would put up three or four hundred jars of food to get them through the winter. She also had two freezers full of fresh killed beef, pork, chicken and vegetables. She even ran her own little business selling cuttings in the mail. Her ad ran in some farm magazine. She didn't make much but she was proud of her little venture.
Her vegetables were so good tasting. My favorites were the canned jars of vegetable soup she'd heat up and serve with hot cornbread. It was to die for. I couldn't count how many different vegetables there were in that soup. She grew things I hadn't ever heard of. Even now when I'm digging in the dirt I think of Mary. I want to learn how to grow my own food and save my own seed. I want to have lots of fruit trees and berries planted like she had. She even had a great big old pecan tree. I know I can't have that but I did plant four hazlenut or filbert trees last year. I hope they make it through the winter.
I don't much care for the idea that big companies are gaining a monopoly on the seed industry and worry that those who control the food supply, control the world.
It is an interesting subject to keep our eyes and ears on and share what we learn.
This will be Lou and I first year doing veg gardening to make some to put up.
I think we will can tomatoes, roma mostly and stewing for beef stews
green beans, long and wide
broccolli i think these are better frozen
corn, extra sweet for canning
corn red tiny ears strawberry as decor for garlic braids
pickles for canning
pickles for tiny gherkins for tunafish
pickles for relish
cabbage for sauerkraut frozen or canned?
Is there anything else we should try to grow?
I am planning on covering everything with straw to get rid of the weeds.
What are the best homemade tomato supports? Nothing works for us : (
Sheri, we like to make 6' tall cylinders out of wire fencing for tomatos. Last summer, we curved the wire, but left about 2' open for easier access, and we secured 2' stakes across the opening at top, middle and bottom to stabilize it. We further stabilized the structure with some heavy stakes vertically placed and tied to it.
Very important and wonderfully written article, Loon - I'm going to cross-post this thread in the Sustainable Living forum, and some others when I get time.
ps - Sheri, there are some less fossil-fuel-dependent ways of putting up food than canning and freezing - root cellar, dehydration (need to find a solar-operated design), choosing vegies that don't need these techniques. For example, who is that gardener/writer who married Barbara Damrosch? His book about 4-season gardening gives plans for a movable *greenhouse* further north than I am that would make vegies left in the ground over winter accessible for a longer period like parsnips - greens in the cabbage family? something to look into. Apologies for the way my memory is workingNOT these days
Here on DG we have an heirloom vegetable forum with much discussion on seed saving and open pollinated varieties. The tomato forum has some really zealous OP seed savers. Saving seeds is very simple and rewarding. Plus, the old varieties had real taste. The new hybrids are bred for ease of mechanical harvesting, shipping/shelf life and appearance.
Heirloomseeds.com and Victoryseeds.com are excellent small family owned sources for the real deals and at reasonable prices.
I have to deal with endless pestilence and disease but have gardened most of the past 30 years. I was absolutely convinced that I needed the latest hybrids. It's a lot of hype. I grew some great heirlooms last year and now when I see a hybrid that looks good, I look around for similar oldie so I can save the seeds.
Saving our plant heritage is our responsibility because our industrial ag system is not interested. Over 80% of our corn, soybeans and cotton are GMOs. When we send seed corn to those poor 3rd world countries, it's GMOs and endangers the purity of their native varieties. Europe has banned a lot of our GMOs.
It can't be a good thing to lose control of our food so please consider open pollinated varieties when you make your choices. Your taste buds will be glad you did.
Posting this link here: http://www.organicconsumers.org/organic/organic_corporate_overtake.cfm
WigglyPaw, I use deep straw mulch in my garden to control weeds and conserve water. Several times now, I have gotten all the bales of straw from a local halloween hayride. They aren't much good for anything else after a week of hayrides. By spring the pile has already started to rot. You use much less straw and control weeds better if you put a few layers of newspaper under it. You will get some wheat sprouting through the straw, but you can easily pull it out. I usually leave a lot of it to use in decorations. By spring you can till everything under or just add more straw and pull back where you want to plant.
The only squash you can safely can is summer squash. Winter squash is very dense and not recomended for canning. I bake my winter squash, mash it up and put it up in seal a meal bags. All I have to do is cut a hole in the bag for steam to escape and pop it in the microwave when I want to serve it.
I can my sauer kraut. How is it frozen?
Thank you so much for sharing that article with us. I knew of Spring Hill and Michigan Bulb and Gurneys, however some of the otheres were news to me. You know I am a big seed saver, and I will continue to do so. Most of my flowers are old heirloom type, and produce seed that will grow when you plant it. I have heard of GMO the year I tried to grow some butterfly weed.
Studies of the Week:
Multiple 2008 Studies Confirm Genetically Modified Crops Damage Human
Health and the Environment
Although genetically modified (GM) corn is banned in most of the
world, it has been approved as "safe" for human consumption in the
U.S. for 12 years and is now likely unknowingly consumed, in one form
or another, by more than 90% of Americans on a regular basis. But a
recent series of peer-reviewed studies were published in 2008
confirming previous studies indicating potentially severe health and
environmental problems associated with the biotech crops. Recent
alarming scientific research includes:
1) A new long term study by the Austrian government confirms previous
findings that consumption of GM corn, for as little as 20 weeks, can
damage the reproductive system, lower fertility rates and increase
illness and death rates in offspring.
2) Researchers in Mexico reported in December that some popular
varieties of GM corn negatively affect the learning response of bees.
Scientists say this may be an indicator of the cause of Colony
Collapse Disorder, a recent catastrophic and mysterious die-off of as
much as 30% of the world's honey bee population in the past couple of years.
3) In Italy, scientists published a study that put the biotech
industry in a public relations tailspin. In the study, laboratory
tests showed a direct connection between consumption of GM corn and a
damaged immune system.
WOW, wonderfully written article. I've know of the connection between the mail order seed companies for many years and the hold Monsanto has on major crops such as corn, wheat & beans. I hope that everyone will share this information with their friends and garden clubs. The more people that are made aware the better. In my own little greenhouse business I've been trying to by heirloom and organic seed as much as possible. It's getting harder every year. This year I've saved more of my own seed than ever. Let's all try to support our local growers and businesses more this year!
I am witnessing bee problems first hand. There have been very few the past couple years and several of the ones I have watched act disoriented and uncoordinated. Definitely abnormal.
Another thing of very great concern is autism and the many different syndromes associated with it. A couple decades ago, it was uncommon. Now, one in 150 American born boys have it and slightly less girls. There has been no scientific explanation to date but it is clearly caused by something in the environment or food. Research is badly needed to determine if there is an effect from all the GMO food we all ingest.
Thanks so much Loon for that wonderful information. Now I have a question for you. I want to plant some Blackberries hardy to zone 4. Where would you suggest I buy the plants from. I haven't a clue.
I bought some blackberry bushes in those little boxes at Walmart year before last. It was early spring. I think they were black raspberries. I don't know what the differences is between black raspberries and blackberries. I didn't even look at the box to see where they were grown or where they came from. I do know they were super healthy and grew fast like a son of a gun and I had to get rid of them. I made the mistake of planting them inside the fence where I grow my vegetables and they spread by underground runners and they were taking over the place. We pretty much chopped them up with the rototiller last fall. I'm sure we'll get some spring up this year though and I plan to dig them up while they're little and put them someplace where they can run all they want to............maybe on the edge of the woods.
I'm pretty sure the Arenac Conservation Department spring tree sale includes berry bushes. They send me a letter early each year so I can pick out what I want and order it. Everything I've ever bought from them has been super healthy and I've never lost one tree or plant. They sell native species to here and the prices are good. You may want to check your local conservation department to see if they have a similar program in your area.
Other than that you can google "organic blackberry plants" and see what nursery pops up.
Sorry I can't be more help.
Cindy a friend of mine grew her raspberries/blackberry's in one of those hard plastic kiddie pools for that same reason that Brenda pulled hers out...they did beautiful and didn't bother and invade her regular garden.
Just a thought ;o)
How deep was that kiddie pool? That's a great idea. I had thought of planting them in a row with supports on both sides to make it easier to harvest the fruit and just using the big riding mower to mow alongside the row on both sides to take care of the runners.
Did she bury the pool or leave it all above ground?
Hi Brenda she left it above ground but I imagine you can bury it.
and I'm not sure of the depth I know it wasn't a really deep one but they grew great and without the spreading issue...
Within the Garden Watchdog, we've always maintained a list of who's-linked-to-whom: http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/whoownswhat.php
That's the summary of every affiliation within the Garden Watchdog, but even when you're viewing a specific company's entry (to get their address or send 'em an email, get the 'scoop" on them, or--hint, hint--leaving YOUR feedback to help others!), you can see if they're connected to anyone else.
Here's the entry for Gardens Alive! as an example: http://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/c/146/
Thanks for the tips everyone. Blackberries are a larger berry than a raspberry. I want them for our second lot up at the cottage near West Branch. They would be planted way far away from everything. We call that part of the lot the ditch, because that is where we put all of the leaves when we collect them in the fall. I think they will do well in that spot.
I believe that black raspberries are a hybrid of the blackberry and the red raspberry. There are red raspberries hardy to zone 4. Both are wild all over northern Michigan. I picked many, many pounds with my grandparents when I was a kid in the 60's and 70's. Most won't bother but they taste much better than the domestic ones although they are smaller and seedier. They have used native raspberries and ones from Sweden to breed some very cold hardy varieties. Check with nurseries in Minnesota and Canada, they have to provide plants hardy to zone 4 and some to zone 3.
90,000 More Seeds Arrive At Doomsday Vault
More seeds for 'doomsday vault'
The remote, frozen landscape provides an ideal backdrop for the vault
Almost 90,000 food crop seed samples have arrived at the "doomsday vault" in the Arctic Circle, as part of its first anniversary celebrations.
The four-tonne shipment takes the number of seeds stored in the frozen repository to more than 20 million.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built 130m (426ft) inside a mountain, aims to protect the world's food crop species against natural and human disasters.
The £5m ($7m) facility took 12 months to build and opened in February 2008.
"The vault was opened last year to ensure that, one day, all of humanity's existing food crop varieties would be safely protected," explained Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT).
"It's amazing how far we have come towards accomplishing that goal."
The arrival of the latest consignment of seed samples means that the vault, deep inside a mountain on Norway's Svalbard archipelago, is now storing a third of the planet's most important food crop varieties.
Among the anniversary arrivals are 32 varieties of potatoes from Ireland's national gene banks.
It is thought the lack of diversity in Ireland's potato crops played a major part in the spread of blight through the nation's harvests in the mid-1800s, contributing to the Great Famine.
The vault, operated by a partnership between the GCDT and the Norwegian government, stores duplicates of seeds held in national collections.
It acts as a fail-safe backup if the original collections are lost or damaged.
The permafrost helps maintain the vault's sub-zero temperatures
"We are especially proud to see such a large number of countries working quickly to provide samples from their collections for safekeeping in the vault," said Norway's Agriculture Minister Lars Peder Brekk.
"It shows that there are situations in the world today capable of transcending politics and inspiring a strong unity of purpose among a diverse community of nations."
As well as the consignment of seeds, experts on climate change and food production have gathered in Longyearbyen for a three-day anniversary conference.
They will examine how climate change threatens global food production, and how crop diversity will improve food security for people in regions that are going to be worst affected.
Frank Loy, an environment adviser to President Obama, said: "When we see research indicating that global warming could diminish maize production by 30% in southern Africa in only 20 years' time, it shows that crop diversity is needed to adapt agriculture to climate change right now."
Good to know that some one is thinking a head time in this world
thank you Loon
What a read, thank you Brenda, thank you all others educating me here.
I am just discovering this whole new green way of life, and I am running with it!
I had melanoma and cervical cancer, all in one year. It was time to change the way we live here, for my sake, my son's sake, for everybody's sake!
Thank you all for helping me setting these changes in good consience and well educated!