Informed & Organic

I have been reading a lot of articles lately on the whole pro-GMO/non-GMO debate. I won’t quote them or link them here, as some came from well-known agricultural publications that in my opinion could stand to take a slightly less-biased stance when writing these pieces. If you are interested in reading them, please feel free to email me and I can tell you where to find them. I myself won’t be giving those pages any more shares/views.

I will however, clear up a few things.

1. As an organic farmer and consumer, I actually do know what GMO/GEO/GM/ bio-technologically modified foods and seeds are. The articles I have come across tend to refer to organic and non-GMO supporters as being uneducated on the subject. The idea that organic consumers and producers are uneducated is insulting. If I consider myself a farmer who cares about my career at all (which I do) and a consumer who cares about her health and environment (which I do) then of course I have done my research (and yes, I realize this may not always be the case but as someone who personally knows plenty of non-gmo and organic advocates, they are anything but uninformed on the subject).

2. The biotech industry’s biggest argument right now is that consumers are uneducated as to what a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) is, and that heritage seeds and selective breeding actually falls under this umbrella term. I find this interesting as more than a few reputable sources actually refer to Genetic Engineering and Genetic Modification as one in the same. The World Health Organization, for example, defines GMOs as:

“Organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, defines them as organisms that do “not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.”   That is, they are created by unnatural DNA recombinant technology.

3. These biased articles are a direct attack at the organic movement. Not that I feel it’s threatened. If they are arguing semantics of terminology and grasping at opportunities to call organic supporters uneducated and uninformed, then they are obviously running out of ideas.

4. Whatever they decide to call it or not call it, I, as an organic producer and consumer, am not doing what I do to fight against some silly term. It’s much bigger than the wording (whatever that ends up being). If I can no longer say that I am “non-gmo” then I will instead say that “I am against the unnatural alteration of genetic material in our food using DNA isolation and recombinant technology. I support selective breeding which is a very different and quite natural process, and is a type of biotechnology that has been used for millennia by farmers and growers that care about what they are producing/eating.”

If you are interested in reading more about GMOs, or want to be clearer on the terminology, here are some great links to get you started – and to share with friends! The misconception is that organic advocates are uninformed. Let’s change that.

The World Health Organization (WHO) – Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – Descriptions and Definitions

Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) – GMO Basics

Organic Consumers Association – Genetic Engineering: What you need to know

Smiles Post-Conference!

Last week, Nolan and I attended the Organic Alberta conference, in Olds, AB. What an exciting event, I am so glad we got to go! The speakers were all very knowledgable and enthusiastic, and the atmosphere was wonderfully positive and inspiring. I left with a pile of notes (that I have to copy out neatly sometime this week, since they are in my nearly-illegible-chicken-scratch handwriting) and even more excited than usual about everything organic!

When we first arrived at the opening, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good number of those attending were around our age. We don’t know a lot of other young farmers so I was excited to meet some people with whom we might have some things in common. I was disappointed to find though, that when we went to the first few talks aimed towards grain farmers, we were some of the youngest people in the room.

Next generation family farming is something that I have thought about a lot since the conference. In one talk, called “Where Are All of the Young Farmers?” presented by Dana Penrice of Organic Alberta, I learned that 74% of Canadian farmers today say that they will sell their farm in the next 10 years. This is sad, but didn’t surprise me. What did come as a shock though, is that 68% of new farmers nowadays actually did not grow up with a farming background. The question arising from these stats is: Why aren’t “farm kids” returning to the family farm?

For me, if anyone had told me at the age of sixteen that I would return to the farm at age twenty-six and LOVE it, I would have laughed in their face (or maybe gave an exaggerated eye-roll –  I had quite an attitude at sixteen).  I did come back though, and it embarrasses me now when I think about how badly I wanted to get away from the farm as a teen. Of course, it was isolated and a lot of hard work, most teens wouldn’t be keen on staying. Now though, I wish I had learned to appreciate farm life sooner, and feel a little like I’m making up for lost time. I always thought that I just had a particularly bad attitude about the farm as a teenager, but learning these statistics really makes me wonder since obviously it is common for individuals to not return to the family farm – what with the trend in so many family farms being sold.

When I try to put myself back in that sixteen-year-old mindset (eye-rolls and all) I remember seeing my parents as overworked, worried, and exhausted. Not very attractive adjectives to someone deciding on a future career. When one thinks about farming as a career in general, I think it is commonly viewed as very difficult, stressful work, without a lot of benefits. How can we as farmers, and non-farmers who support agriculture, spread enthusiasm and respect for a career in farming?

One of the talks at the conference, presented by Becky Lipton, the Executive Director of Organic Alberta, explained a project called Organic 3.0. It was created by IFOAM Organics International and is basically meant to bring more people into organic farming, and help integrate it into society as a more commonplace practice in the future. As part of this presentation, Becky had the audience split into small groups and brainstorm ideas about Organic 3.0, one of the subjects being how we as individuals can contribute to this movement. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of ideas, but I have been pondering this idea over the past few days and came up with a very simple, small thing that I think could have a big impact:

From now on, when someone asks me about my farming career, I’m going to smile. I’m going to grin and talk about the best things about my job. I’m going to make it a goal to establish in myself a kind of contagious enthusiasm for organic agriculture. 

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2015 flax blooming 😀

A few days ago, someone asked me how my first year as a full-time farmer went. Without really thinking, I said “Well, there was a drought, and we lost some flax to elk damage. Next year should be better.”

I am appalled at myself that by default, I just talked about the hardships instead of all the good things in our first year farming. I didn’t mention the excitement I felt as I dug my hands into the soil searching for flax seeds when our first-ever crop started germinating. I didn’t tell them about one of the late nights during harvest when we shut down the combines and just stood staring up at the sky, watching the Northern Lights dance like I’d never seen before. I can’t quite believe that after just one year farming, I’ve been talking like a cranky old farmer!?  I’m frustrated that I’ve been letting this negativity to come out of my mouth when truthfully, I am full of pride and a powerful sense of accomplishment over our first year as farmers, despite the challenges.

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Spring cultivating, I love the smell of freshly worked soil!

It is easy for so many of us (in all different careers and life situations) to focus too much on the negative. I think we need to be especially conscious of what we focus on when it comes to agriculture, since it is such a challenging profession, and one that so desperately needs the interest and involvement of the younger generation.

As long as I’m farming, I’m going to keep smiling, because there’s so much to smile about!

    There has already been a shift in creating a more positive dialogue around agriculture in Canada. The Agriculture More Than Ever cause is one of them, as well as groups like the Young Agrarians and the National New Farmers Coalition. Check them out, and whether you’ve been farming for decades, are just starting out, wish you could, or maybe wouldn’t set foot on a farm in a million years. . . the next time the subject of farming comes up in conversation, smile!!! 🙂
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A beautiful evening baling.