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Corn

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2012 July/August Newsletter

From The Executive Director

This issue is on the topic of corn. When one takes a look at what has happened to this noble plant, one can get quite depressed and heart sick. We all know that corn was the staple around which many native cultures in this hemisphere based their livelihoods. Most of us are aware that with the advent of GMO corn and wall to wall planting of it in parts of the Midwest, that culture has been gutted with small farmers bought up by those with larger machinery and more capital to build CAFOs for pigs who never see the light of day.

I want to focus in on that culture. I grew up in northwestern Illinois and my cousins, where my dad came from, grew up in northwestern Iowa. One of the major topics in our family discussions each summer was the question of whether Iowa or Illinois would bring in the best yield per acre on field corn. Even in my youth on the farm in the 50's and 60's things were starting to change from an agriculture that had worked more closely with nature. The end of the war brought the advent of serious chemical agriculture. Hybrid varieties that did well with the chemicals rapidly replaced open pollinated varieties. By the time my father's generation reached their 70th birthdays, they dropped from liver cancer. That was the mid 70's to 80's.

If you have not yet seen "King Corn," do so to get a real understanding of what impact federal agricultural policy has had on farming practices with respect to corn. And of course it is here at home in Massachusetts. I was at a party the other day and was chatting with my neighbor Dave from Petersham. He was telling of an incident where his neighbor had brought in one of those monster pieces of equipment from somewhere in the Pioneer Valley to spray Roundup on his field corn. Dave and his staff had to go in the house because their eyes started to burn -- all the while wondering what impact this was having on their organic vegetable farm.

I am hopeful, however, that corn can return to its noble place. The tide of public opinion is moving with us. Jack and I were at a family reunion with those aforementioned Iowa cousins this June. The conversation was centered on beef and feeding corn to beef and the cost of it. Rather than blow off my "organic" mouth amongst this crowd of more conventional types, I sat quietly. All of a sudden the conversation changed and one after another people posited that what consumers really want is grass-fed beef. This came from the heart of the Midwest and those conventional Midwestern values.

Meanwhile I will do what I can - and that is all any of us really can do -- to save corn as we know it from extinction. Three years ago I eschewed hybrid varieties of corn and now plant only open pollinated for us and our CSA. This year in a small attempt to be part of the solution we will save our Golden Bantam sweet corn and Tom Thumb popcorn.

As activists we can organize and proselytize and educate against GMOs. As farmers and gardeners we can grow and save open pollinated varieties. And as consumers we can re-accustom our palates to truly enjoy the corny taste of "real corn" and ask for it where we shop.

Oh, and we must keep our sense of humor. Be sure to catch the Nofettes skit at the summer conference -- Friday, August 10 at 7 pm sharp at the UMass auditorium. Here are the words (plagiarizing of Lida Rose courtesy of Jack Kittredge) --

The GMO Song

GMO guy, what are those, why, they're just the way we'll own all food
Engineer seeds, then spray the weeds, there's no more cultivation, dude!
Ding dong ding, we'll sell seeds to farmers each spring
Ding dong ding, if they try to save seed, sue for the farm deed
GMO, aye, through the nose buy, and send Monsanto stock sky high.
Plan your steps, lie! Bribe the reps, spy! We must control the seed supply!
Once we patent all seed, then we own all food.
And the people all will be screwed.
GMO's yes, GMO's bless, GMO's

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