The USDA unleashes GE alfalfa and sugar beets: What’s ahead for the Organic Community?

February 6, 2011

First alfalfa, now sugar beets. Are the GMO floodgates open?

Enviros were shocked but probably not surprised when, on January 27, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said that farmers could proceed with planting genetically altered alfalfa without restrictions. Little more than a week later, the green light has been given to Monsanto’s GE sugar beets, and some people think that this could be the beginning of the end for organics in America. Quoted in the New York Times, Keith Menchey, manager of science and environmental issues for the National Cotton Council of America called it “a Pandora’s box.”

Not only that, but in a turn of events that should have Monsanto executives smiling over their martinis (don’t forget the GE olives, please), the organic community has shown signs of splintering over Obama Administration’s decision. Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association, writing in Huffington Post, blasted what he called the “Organic Elite” for “surrendering” to Monsanto. That left companies like Stonyfield Farm defending themselves and other observers simply scratching their heads over the attack.

One company that was part of the effort to stop or at least slow down the roll out of GE crops is Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative, with more than 1,600 farmers in 33 states. They have already released a statement condemning the USDA’s decision to allow farmers to plant Roundup Ready® sugar beets. Their press release is echoed by the Center for Food Safety, which calls the decision illegal, as it defies an earlier court order.

Theresa Marquez is Chief Marketing Executive for Organic Valley and has been in the business in one job or another for thirty-five years. She joins me on the program this morning to talk about these two potentially disastrous decisions by the Obama Administration and where organic farming in America goes from here.

Whoo-ee, baby! Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise?

I’m not exactly sure how all of this happened, but a year from now I hope to be accompanying a group of 50 or so on a tour of a few places that are as far removed from 20 inches of snow as you can get: Nassau, St. Thomas, San Juan, Great Stirrup Cay and more. And all of you are invited!

The Mike Nowak Caribbean Garden Cruise launches from Port Canaveral, Florida on February 25, 2012 and returns on March 3 on Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Norwegian Sun.” I’m working with the folks from CruiseWorks, Inc., who actually proposed the idea to me. Don and Marky Fenwick suggested that some of my listeners might want to take a break from the brutal Chicago winter and tour some great tropical gardens in the Caribbean. Who was I to say no?

The gardens that are on the tentative schedule include Ardastra Gardens on Nassau, a more than 70 year-old preserve on five acres of sun and rain that not only features fabulous flora but attracts wild birds of all species. Then there’s St. Peter Great House and Botanical Gardens, nestled high in the volcanic peaks of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, with a Nature Trail, streaming waterfalls, tropical bird aviaries, fish ponds, more than 20 varieties of orchids and 150 species of Caribbean plants and fruits. The San Juan Botanical Garden, also known as the Botanical Garden of the University of Puerto Rico, is a lush 300-acre “urban garden” of native and exotic flora that also serves as a laboratory for the study, conservation and enrichment of plants. While we’re on the island, we just might make a dash to the cool, mountainous, sub tropical rainforest called El Yunque. And if you’re just looking to cool your heals in a Caribbean lagoon, NCL will make a stop at Great Stirrup Cay, where we can stop talking about plants for awhile and perhaps just sip on a pink drink and watch the sun set over the powdery white sands.

If you’re wondering what I know about tropical gardens…well, let’s just say that we’ll all learn together. But on the way, I will give a horticultural talk or two…and who knows? I might just do a little impromptu entertaining. The cost starts at $759.00 per person, double occupancy, plus air add-on from most major cities.

For more information, give CruiseWorks a call at 800/876-6664.Or write to CruiseWorks, Inc., 7033 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 214, Hollywood, CA 90028. And tell ’em Mike sent you.

Good Growing: Sweet Home Organics returns

Back in December, I talked to Kim Marsin of Sweet Home Organics. She and partner Rachel Reklau are part of a new breed of “commuter farmers,” who don’t own the land on which they grow crops. This is their second year of business, and I’ll be following their progress as we move through the growing season.

Their farming home is Primrose Farm Park, a 1930s heritage dairy/livestock farm in St. Charles, Illinois. They are their first “incubating” farmers, meaning that they lease land and equipment, such as tractors and implements, from Primrose. Kim and Rachel, who employ organic practices, grow on two acres and keep two in cover crop, which helps build the soil for future years of growing.

As always, my thanks to the good folks at Angelic Organics Learning Center, my partner in crime for the Good Growing segments on The Mike Nowak Show.

It’s Super Sow Sunday!

Whatever that is.

No, no, no, I’m just kidding! This is the day that you skip the football game and plant seeds Whoo-hoo! (Um…I have a question. Can we do both? You know, plant seeds AND watch football? Just wonderin’…)

Meanwhile today is the second annual Super Sow Sunday on Twitter. The way you get involved is to type #supersowsunday into your search function (assuming you’re on Twitter), which will hook you up to all kinds of people who love to plant seeds and who aren’t particularly found of football.

The event goes from about 6:30 -8:30 p.m. ET–you know, basically during the football game. During that time tweeters will connect with hundreds of gardeners from across the world and share planting tips, how to sow, and what seeds were successfu. You’ll also be able to ask questions of seed representatives from around the country. Apparently, there will also be some big seed giveaways. So, if you hate the Green Bay Packers as much as most Chicagoans do, and don’t give a rip about the crop of new commercials, this is one way to stay entertained.

As I mentioned last week, though, it’s still a little early to be starting seeds in Chicago. After all, we still have 20 inches of snow on the ground.. But you can do something called winter sowing. It’s a method for planting seeds in containers now and putting them outside, so that they begin to sprout when nature gives them the right conditions. Our Little Acre blog site provides a step by step photo essay on one way to accomplish this.

Clean Power Ordinance “people’s hearing” reminder

49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore was on the show last week to talk about how a hearing on the Clean Power Ordinance, which he introduced last year, had been put on the back burner by the Chicago City Council.

I’m here to remind you that Alderman Moore is still planning to convene his own ad hoc hearing on the Ordinance on February 14th in the City Council chambers. The ordinance was co-sponsored by 16 Aldermen and backed by the The Chicago Clean Power Coalition, an alliance of over 50 health, community, environmental and business groups.

If you believe in clean air for Chicago, be there. Aloha.