We need to face what Corporate agribusiness is doing to our food supply and the decrease in insects that used to benefit us
Depending on where you look in the history of agriculture, the term bumper crop dates back to the 18th or 19th century. Most of us know its definition: a larger than normal harvest of a given crop. It is now spring and most home gardeners have been salivating over seed catalogs since January, plotting what plants will go where in the garden, either on graph paper or some fancy software or online tool. The more industrious of us, the ones with enough space, have had some of their plants growing for a couple of weeks under grow lights.
We gardeners are thinking of possible bumper crops. This is normally a positive thing, except for when two zucchini plants in your home garden produce so much fruit that you cannot keep up with using them and then end up with gigantor, baby alligator-sized zucchini that are both unwieldy and not very tasty. Been there. Done that.
Big agriculture has seen the need in the last years to assure (note that I did not say increase) the production of alfalfa, as more and more of the public seeks out grass fed meat. This is seen as a healthier alternative than the more traditional amendments of grain to the diets of cows and other livestock. In fact, alfalfa is a main crop in California now. Alfalfa requires lots and lots of water, a commodity sadly lacking in California these days, with some predicting that the state will run out of water within the next year.
But today’s discussion is not about that environmental catastrophe. Today we discuss the Monsantos and the Dow Agrosciences of the world, large chemical companies who will do just about anything to make money, even if it means contaminating the land and poisoning the butterflies and the bees. This has been sparking major die-offs of these beneficial insects that have for centuries helped the world to achieve bumper crops.
Corporate agri-business buys up Roundup Ready seed from Monsanto and then buys the Roundup, or glyphosate, from Monsanto. It’s then sprayed in unbelievable volumes to keep the weeds away, they know that their crops are protected from the Roundup herbicide because of the pre-treated seeds.
What they don’t do is spray it and then worry about the consequences of what other foliage is being drenched from their actions. Milkweed is the primary host plant during the springtime migration for Monarch butterflies, providing food to the larvae and nectar to the adult butterflies. The indiscriminate use of Roundup has reduced the milkweed population dramatically. These plants typically reside alongside farm fields and are being killed, as a sort of agricultural collateral damage. Nearly 100 million acres of milkweed have disappeared since the widespread use of Roundup Ready seeds by factory farming.
Bees are critical to one-third of the crops of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds that we eat. Yet the EPA is considering approving another pesticide that is just as likely to harm them as others that have caused Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), or the ongoing kill-off of honeybee colonies.
But unlike the Monarch Butterfly, honeybees are an integral part of farming. There are many fruits and vegetables that rely on these and other pollinators in order to achieve any crop, let alone a bumper one. But companies like Syngenta, Bayer CropSciences and Dow Agrosciences manufacture neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides that is believed to have a direct causal link to CCD.
The FDA says that all of their tests have determined that these herbicides and pesticides are nothing for us to worry about. They have said that in some cases you simply could not eat enough food in your lifetime that has been treated with glyphosate for it to have any negative affect on your health.
We all need to start using our brains. Think about spraying field upon field upon field of crops with Round-up. Think about what it does to the weeds in your yard. Think about the decimation of the Monarch Butterfly habitat. Now think about who benefits from the use of glyphosate and glyphosate-resistant seeds. It’s not those people working to feed the hungry, because the use of Round-up on crops actually decreases yields, in every case.
It’s not even, in the end, factory farming. Well, it is, but unlike in years gone by, these “farmers” cannot reap the benefit of harvesting the seeds for planting the following year because all of the modified seeds from Monsanto are sterile. Farms have to buy new seeds every year. The old-fashioned way of harvesting seeds at the end of the season will soon be obsolete if Monsanto has any say in it. And as you might have guessed, the use of Roundup on crops in the United States was five times higher in 2007 than it was in 1997.
The list of foods that are reliant on pollinators, honeybees in particular, includes, but is by no means even remotely limited to; onions, celery, beets, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, watermelon, tangerines, lemons and limes, fennel, strawberries, and apples. Blueberries, and a few other crops, are 90% dependent on pollination from bees.
And don’t forget last year’s report from the Pesticide Research Institute and Friends of the Earth, which found that more than half of the plants tested at Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart had high levels of neonicotinoids, the chemical that is so highly toxic to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. That means that you could be contributing to the die-off of beneficial insects for your garden by shopping at these venues. How do you do better? Go to your local, trusted garden center, the kind with with greenhouses, where they are growing the plants themselves.
What can we all do? Believe it or not, we can all do a lot. We can grow our own vegetables, for one thing. They taste better when you grow them yourself. But we don’t have to stop there, we can also plant annuals and perennials whose disappearances are contributing to mass die-offs of pollinators due to heavy usage of herbicides and pesticides.
Go organic with your gardening. Don’t use Roundup or chemical herbicide or pesticide. Find a homemade, eco-friendly mixture to attack your weeds, or use what I use: my 55-year-old knees on a garden kneeler and my thus-far-arthritis-free fingers and pull as much as you can stand by hand. In the southwest, practice xeriscaping. It cuts down on your water use, a big-deal here in Santa Fe, and really cuts down on the amount of weeding.
Don’t be afraid to mix in flowers with your vegetables and your herbs. It makes for a prettier garden,
and certain flowers keep the bad bugs away. Intersperse some marigolds, you won’t be sorry. Make sure there are other flowers that will draw butterflies and bees.
Have thyme and rosemary beside your vegetables; they not only act as an aid to the growth of your crops (check out companion planting here), but there is nothing like cooking with fresh herbs! Not to mention lemon thyme, rosemary and marigolds are some of the plants that keep the dreaded mosquito somewhere else, like in your neighbor’s yard, not yours.
Remember, growing organic in your home garden does not mean stocking up on loads of organic products. My garden is organic by virtue of the fact that I don’t use anything other than a high-quality fertilizer when planting in the spring, and maybe one other treatment halfway through the growing season. How do I keep the bad bugs away? I have things that flutter in the wind, flags, long pieces of ribbon. Mulch. Check your state garden extension for more information on the right kind of mulch for your garden bed, raised bed or pot planting.
In fact, take the Master Gardener class in your area. You don’t have to commit to the volunteer program. I took the class in both New York and New Mexico. I volunteered for a while in both states, but even though I could not commit to the level required of a Master Gardener volunteer, the knowledge I gained from the classes has stood me well in my own attempts at growing a mixed flower, herb and vegetable garden.
There are many, many organic farms out there. Buy from them, at farmers markets or farm co-ops or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). And don’t be shy: ask the question. Do you use any genetically modified seeds? Are any of your crops treated with Roundup or other herbicides or any pesticides? We have to take back our food supplies from those who would taint it for their own profit.
Don’t forget, too, that a “bumper crop” does not only have to relate to farming and gardening. Learning more about what might harm us and the environment amounts to a bumper crop of knowledge. Is there any better bumper crop to have?
Well, maybe tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. Mmmm.