by Gretchen Mead
Like perhaps a thousand people in the Dubuque, Iowa, area in the 80s, my dad worked for the Dubuque Meat Packing Company. His job afforded us a comfortable, lower-middle class lifestyle and a stay-at-home mom who kept the home fires burning. It was a union job, paid vacation, living wage, health care. We didn’t eat out much and we weren’t so fancy, but we had what we needed.
During my early adolescence, times were changing. For the first time, since the rise of workers’ rights in the food industry, companies began to find subversive ways to take away basic rights. Companies were bought and sold to other companies, removing all contracts and responsibilities to workers, unions were being busted, and wages and benefits rock-bottomed. I recall my father, a three-time veteran and senior chief petty officer in the Navy Seabee Reserves expressing his fear that he would be fired for taking off two weeks for his annual active duty military training. We never went on a family vacation again. I recall strikes and fights and drinking. After several years of busting unions and diminishing the pride and security of a thousand or more primary breadwinners, the entire company moved to Mexico, leaving a black hole in the economy of Dubuque. The days of government-issued cheese chunks became the norm for many families.
Several years later, I saw a video about a Canadian farmer who had grown his family’s canola seed for generations, in spite of incredible pressure to grow GMO canola like all the surrounding farmers. One year, he received a lawsuit threat from Monsanto, because they had, without a warrant, come onto his property, tested his canola, and found it to contain GMO qualities like the licensed GMO farmers surrounding him. His family’s seed stock had been destroyed by cross-contamination. You would think that Monsanto might be held responsible for this, but instead, given that he was not licensed to grow Monsanto GMOs, he was found to be acting against the law. In short, Monsanto used high-powered, paid attorneys to take everything from him.
This stirred a feeling in me that I will never forget. It is a feeling that makes my fingers shake as I write this newsletter. Like years before, I felt the burning pangs of injustice. This was a pinnacle moment, calling me to action for more than a decade.
I tell this story to you today because it is apropos of the upcoming gardening season. It’s time to order seeds. This year, let’s use our gardening efforts and hard-earned cash to move toward a more just and sovereign food system by buying the right seeds.
I asked our new Farm and Education Manager, Dan Graves, if he would help us know for sure which seeds to buy. He sent me the excellent advice below.
“Ahhhh…this is the time of year when gardeners and farmers get anxious: a bit too early to sow the seeds, but too late to not be thinking verdant greens, juicy fruits and springtime air. It is at this time of year that we indulge our eyes and let our minds wander into the succulent pages and pictures of our favorite seed catalogs. Here at VGI, we have certain criteria that we use for choosing the seed companies we support. First, do the companies support organic, small-scale, sustainable agriculture? Secondly, are the companies opposed to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) as a means of producing more food? Lastly, do they support us? That might seem like a funny last question, but we rely on the seed donations of these smaller companies to sow our own Concordia Gardens for educational and food-production purposes.
“Below, you will find a list of some of the seed companies that fit the above criteria and that we look to when planning out our gardens:
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
- High Mowing Organic Seeds
- Fedco Seeds
- Sandhill Preservation Center
- Seed Savers Exchange
“Seed sowing tips:
- Make sure to maintain records of the date you plant, the variety and number (if possible) of seed sown
- Do not overwater your seedlings. Try using a double tray to allow soil to wick moisture from below instead of risking displacing seeds with water falling from above.
- Allow for air-flow around your seedlings to reduce the risk of damping off (fungal disease) of seedlings
- Use an organic, liquid fertilizer, such as compost tea, liquid fish fertilizer, etc.
- Keep your seedlings warm! These little guys don’t like to be cold.
- Harden off your seedlings before planting outside. Nothing is worse than ruining all of the hard work you put in getting them started when they get burned outside!
“This should get you going in the right direction this season.”
Seeds are the beginning of the story, of course. The season offers many other ways to make change from seed to soil to plant to plate. Here are some ways that Victory Garden Initiative can help you fulfill your call to action:
- Bring your neighbors together around a new Fruity Nutty 5 orchard!
- Help support the planting of five community orchards at the Fruity Nutty Affair!
- Turn your passion into action at Community Organizing 101!
- Plant those seeds of inspiration in a Victory Garden Blitz garden!
I will leave you with these final words of inspiration from Rabbi Hillel, a first-century Jewish sage: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”
We hope to see you soon and often.