Creating a Fair Food Vision

Ressa Charter, fourth generation rancher, Shepherd, wants to get the message out about sustainable farming and ranching, speaking at the Northern Plains Resource Council annual conference on Saturday, Nov. 16. “We don’t need to feed the world,” he said to a surprised audience. Follow the money, he might say. “See who benefits from this belief,” he advised. He said large corporations are striving to feed the world by using techniques that quietly and simultaneously work to plow under the American small farmer and rancher. These are the small businesses of Montana. He explained that mega-corporations use such slogans as marketing tools to justify their use of the land and exploitive programs “at any cost.” “It goes along with a whole dominant narrative,” he said referring to assumptions about modern farming: Bigger farms are better; food that is cheap is better; faster growing plants and livestock are better than those that take time… “Who says so?” he queried the audience. “It makes you really mad; pieces are true. That’s what’s confusing. It should not be at the expense of the family farmer. We should choose our own vision.” Regarding food from Montana small farms and ranches he said, “I think it’s better.” If the food costs more it could be for another reason than it’s not as good. “The Montana farmer works hard to put the best product out for the best price.” Charter challenged the “whole mantra of modern food production, ‘We need to feed the world.’” “No, we don’t.” Such slogans he said, push corporate products like GMO non-reproducing seeds on the world. “Starving countries purchase these seeds and can grow more crops in a single season. But these hungry communities and farmers worldwide are prohibited from using seeds from their crop after one season by the companies.” Africa has started rejecting the seeds. Even organic farmers whose seeds were mutated due to their plants being invaded by GMO windborne contaminants, are now considered subject to the patent. Megacorporations are suing small organic farmers for using what started out as their own plant but produced this mutated seed they then planted. To plant a second crop, farmers are now tied to the “manufacturer” of GMO seeds to buy more. Once patented, these seeds are no longer considered free to use. Some are fighting the patents saying it is the end of free seeds and controlling your food supply; others say, feed the world. Hybrid breeding has gone on for thousands of years. However, by introducing gene high technology, creating new plants has reached another level. Plants can be made disease resistant and pest resistant. In fact, such plants can include pesticide genes that require regulation by EPA. There are no long-term test results of the effects of genetically modified plants on the human system. According to Bret Adee of Big Sky Honey in Fairview, mass plantings of genetically modified corn crops do not support bees-they don’t like them. Farmers and aviaries complain there is less and less acreage for other diverse crops and bees. Diversity is how species survive-if some event-whether disease, climate or damage causes the failure of one kind of plant another species will survive. Lose diversity and food crops are less flexible. If conditions change populations could starve. “Feeding the world” could mean sacrifices that affect Americans, said Charter, creating critical risks of which they are unaware. He believes Americans want small farmers and ranchers to have a fair chance to compete and have their diverse crops on the market-even if some prices may be higher. “If people understood the costs,” he reasoned, “people would make sacrifices and not require ‘must have’ fruits/vegetables from around the world making food costs higher and carbon prints heavier.” Be aware of the messages planted, he implored. “They set our values for us instead of our setting them for ourselves.” Seed banks save heritage seeds for the world’s future. Outside these world banks, the integrity of plants unchanged for thousands of years are being totally modified by GMO. Grain.com discusses the many worldwide GMO invasions of non-GMO plants and says “co-existence…is not possible.” The corporate push is spreading. “At least12 African countries are carrying out research on GM crops, including Egypt, Uganda, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Cameroon, and a long list of GM crops are in the pipeline for introduction in various African countries. There's also concern that GM crops are coming in by way of food imports and seed smuggling, even for countries that have taken measures to prevent imports of GM food, such as Zambia, Angola, Sudan, and Benin.” If the world’s heritage crops become contaminated, only seed banks will have time tested hearty seeds. Heritage seeds, like diverse crops, are important because they survived droughts, floods, diseases and climate changes. They are our best guarantee of food survival, so long as they are pure. These new but prevailing seeds are untested. Some plants will not generate seed. Charter sees the corporate view as shortsighted: it prevents the farmers from feeding themselves after one season; it makes them dependent and ruins the small farms and ranches that can’t compete from the unicrops of megafarms at lowest prices. It destroys the next pure seeds of heritage crops it contaminates. Charter wants to protect a community’s ability to feed itself right here in the United States. He worries these messages implant corporate values not community values. “Let’s create a conscious dominant narrative, an alternative,” suggested Charter. “Let’s purposely create what our food should be and what we consider our values. Let’s create our own fair food vision.”