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We Own a Hobby Farm: Genetically Modified Crops and A Small U.S. Farm

This week the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its decision to deregulate alfalfa that is genetically modified to resist (or not be damaged by) Monsanto's pesticide Round-Up. Guest Blogger Dee Keith, IBCLC, RLC, is a mother of 10, wife to Larry, home schooling, gardening, earth loving private practice lactation consultant and aspiring flexitarian.

We own a hobby farm. On the five acres surrounding our home we raise small live stock birds, turkeys, chickens (primarily for eggs), ducks. What do we feed them? We buy feed at the local feed store and we avoid the food that contains antibiotics and chemical additives. In warm weather our animals free range and eat the plants and bugs they find on our land.

We also own and lease our other approximately 120 acres of farm land to a tenant farmer. This year we planted non-genetically modified soy beans. These beans bring a higher price per bushel and can be sold to foreign markets because they are NGMO (non-genetically modified organism) crops. What does the rest of the world know that seems to be escaping the USDA? The rest of the world does not want genetically modified food crops in their food stuffs. Science has mixed reviews on what these modified crops do to our health over time, not to mention that the modifications that science labs create would probably never occur in nature. How would soy, for instance, be crossed with cauliflower. Guess what? Soy is crossed with cauliflower so it can be sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup. If you eat commercially grown soy and you have a food allergy to cauliflower how will that impact your health? How does this impact the nutritional quality of the food?

So for my way of thinking these foods (often referred to as Frankenstein foods) are unproven for long term safety in our bodies. Currently there is no required consumer labeling of these items. When you buy foods you don't know if the corn in that taco your eating is GMO or not, but it probably is. How does this impact the organic food industry? Organics are a thriving and rapidly growing business in the US. This is one sector of the economy that appears to be doing well.

Alfalfa is often used as a cover crop for wintering fields to prevent erosion. It is also food stuff for animals. What happens when genetically modified alfalfa enters the food chain? How long will it take before non-modified alfalfa is wiped out? When GMO crops are planted they cross pollinate with non-GMO crops and change them to GMO crops. Once introduced there is no way to control the spread of the GMO crop on surrounding fields, plants and animals. Migrating birds eat these crops and can transport these seeds far and wide. Alfalfa is eaten by cattle so the milk they produce will have been touched by the GMO alfalfa. The droppings they leave will be altered. These dropping will be used as fertilizer on fields that are planted.
Our children will eat the cheese and the milk, and the meats from these animals. They will consume the vegetables from the fields; the same fields that have been covered by the alfalfa over the winter. Later the manure from the animals feed the GMO alfalfa will be tilled into that soil.

Family Farmers in this country are being wiped out by large corporations like Monsanto. The growing organic food and farming industry and the public's desire for clean non-GMO foods are at risk if this GMO Alfalfa is allowed to be put into the food chain.

On our family farm, we grow free range birds for eggs and meat; we grow what we like to think of as an organic garden on the land surrounding our home. We try to buy local and organic when we can. We only have a small family farm, like the rest we could not begin to make enough to support ourselves so we lease out our larger plot of land and let it be farmed by another. We were delighted when we heard that our tenant farmer had planted non-GMO soy beans. There is little to no profit in farming these days and it is more a commitment to the land than a conscious choice. The little good we can do can be quickly wiped out by rain, or lack of it or a big company or even maybe the USDA. Already many countries will not accept our grain shipments because they are GMO grains. The European Union refuses GMO imports. Our soy beans were sold to Japan who wants non-GMO beans. And they can bring on average of a dollar more per bushel. The impact is global.

For more information on the impact of, and fight against, genetically modified crops, see:

Sustainable Agriculture: Produce Food Without Destruction

Greenpeace USA: GMO-Free

Manifest Haiti: Monsanto's Destiny

WHO Study on Modern Food Biotechnology, Human Health and Development

You’ve Heard of Blood Diamonds. How About Conflict Minerals?

Many in the U.S. hadn't heard of "blood diamonds" until the popular film with Leonardo DiCaprio. The mining and sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone, the Congo and other African countries have long financed and fueled war, slavery and unspeakable violence in parts of Africa.

While there is a regulatory system in place that arguably reduces the presence of blood or conflict diamonds in legal commerce streams, what of the other natural resources in the same region? Did you know your cell phone, computer and other electronic devices are all likely made from minerals acquired with the same brutality as conflict diamonds?

Here is a video that can help. Humorous and informative, the actors and activists in it explain what conflict minerals are, how they hurt people, and how a simple pledge to purchase products once they are available without conflict minerals can help draw attention to this problem.

Raise Hope for Congo, the organization that made this video, also has educational materials for individuals and schools that can help in learning about conflict minerals and the situation in the Congo. It also has activist resources for such projects as taking a campus conflict mineral free.

While the content is not appropriate for all ages (at what age do you explain the concept of rape to your kids?), learning about Congo's present and past can help our children make a safer world for all children – including those in conflict regions.

How do you teach your children how their spending affects people in other parts of the world?

Hands Across the Sand in North Wildwood, New Jersey

Hands Across the Sand is a movement with a simple message: NO to offshore oil drilling, YES to clean energy. In the literal wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there seems no better time to join hands at the waters' edge in solidarity with others who wish to protect the world's oceans.

I am spending a few weeks with my family at the New Jersey shore. Knowing a Hands Across the Sand event was planned for yesterday, my eldest son and protest buddy came with me in search of a gathering. We had to do a bit of searching – knowing only cross streets and that we would be looking for some unknown number gathering at 11 a.m. and holding hands beginning at noon (local time) the world over. We has just about given up when we saw this:

It looked like perhaps six or seven people off in the distance but we ran toward them and as we got closer, they looked like this:

And when we reached them, they looked like this:

My son and I joined the line and as it grew closer to noon, the line grew longer.

The mission for this event was to join hands across the sand silently for fifteen minutes, 12 p.m. to 12:15 "draw[ing] a line in the sand and embrac[ing] a clean energy future." We held hands and even though none of us had signs or chanted anything, people asked, "Is this about the oil spill?" Strangers saw a line of strangers holding hands looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and knew: yes, this is about the spill and drilling and protecting the oceans. And more people joined the line. And then it looked like this:

And at 12:15, we all walked into the ocean together still holding hands.

No fliers, no banners, no bull horns, no singing. By 12:15, we were fifty or so strangers, most of whom didn't know this had been planned, who, as "Hand Across the Sand" founder Dave Rauschkolb says, "draw metaphorical and actual lines in the sand; human lines in the sand against the threat oil drilling poses to America’s coastal economies and marine environment."

What is Hands Across the Sand?


Hands Across the Sand is a movement made of people of all walks of life and crosses political affiliations. This movement is not about politics; it is about protection of our coastal economies, oceans, marine wildlife, and fishing industry. Let us share our knowledge, energies and passion for protecting all of the above from the devastating effects of oil drilling.


While Hands Across the Sand began in Florida just this past February (and before this most recent horrible oil spill), yesterday's event was international and co-sponsored by a long list of environmental and other activist group including MoveOn.org, Greenpeace and Clean Water Action.

And I was there wearing this T-shirt from We Add Up you can get by clicking through the sidebar. Ten dollars of your purchase of this limited edition BP Oil Spill T-shirt goes to the Gulf Restoration Network.

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