- Author: Lowell Cooper
There was a fascinating article in the New York Times on June 9th on corporate control of seeds for mass agribusiness production. The bottom line for the writer, Dan Barber, is the importance of developing more emphasis on seed diversity than uniformity, organic farming versus corporate production. The argument is familiar. Actually, it has similarities to the IPM movement, which looks to train growers to think about how to approach pest management – with thought and health of person and ecology in mind. Personalize. Think little.
The challenge is coming to terms with the scale of the seed challenge. I myself am not a farmer and I buy food at the local grocery store because it is relatively cheap and whenever there is an ‘organic' label I can expect to pay more for the product. When I grow veggies in my home garden, the scale is quite small. I am not solving the world's hunger and what is available at the local farmers' market is a useful addition to what I can grow. Unfortunately, I don't have a very rich taste range, so the argument that corporate seeds spoil the taste just doesn't grab me. I definitely think that diversity is a good idea in that it supports individual aesthetics and uniqueness and often the literal beauty of the veggie is noticeable. Also, it is a good lifestyle and there is something wonderful about being close to the earth that way.
My roses get bugs and fungi of one sort or another. The argument for IPM is easy to construct from an environmental vantage point, and even with IPM there is the acceptance that at times the bugs require a heavy hammer. So be it.
I think that the drift of the Barber point of view is that seeds manufacture is a very big business that won't go away easily, if at all. And from the point of view of feeding millions of hungry people, it isn't all bad. There needs to be a place for small growers who love the idea of personalizing our food. And what can be wrong with that? It is probably desertion of my usual liberal politics, but I have to say there must be room for all kinds of farming. And the darker implication of Barber's observations is that corporate seed production – and the entire legal apparatus and commercial apparatus surrounding and supporting it – pushes out the individualized – read ‘organic'- grower. That seems very too bad and unnecessary. Maybe it is inevitable. I would say that rather than taking on big agribusiness frontally, why not focus on the kind of growth that fits the scale we as individuals live in.