At a New Leaf Farm we are proud to be a part of a growing food movement that focuses on sustainability. What exactly does that mean? The techniques we use ensure we are not over taxing our environment and land resources. We do not use pesticides, herbicides or Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops and our animals are pasture raised without growth hormones, steroids, or non-therapeutic antibiotics. Sustainable farming is more work; weeds must be pulled by hand, plants pollenated by our bees, and crops rotated to ensure the soil is safeguarded. But in the end, we produce crops, eggs and meat of quality and variety few people have ever seen in their local grocery store.
Why is this a “movement” and not standard practice, you might ask. Well for thousands of years, sustainable farming was the only method. Farmers and consumers of their product were hostage to weather conditions, blights and disease. But in 1944 there was a change.
The Cooperative Wheat Research Production Program was founded to help boost Mexico’s production of grain, the vast majority of which they had to purchase from the USA (at detriment to their own economy). The team was comprised of a soil scientist, maize breeder, potato breeder, and possibly the most incredible humanitarian that ever lived, Norman Borlaug – the man who fed a billion people, that’s billion with a “b”. Together this team toiled to create a high yield, disease resistant dwarf wheat crop. This was before the advent of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), so the wheat had to be bred through meticulous hybridization. The super seeds combined with nitrogen rich fertilizer, and proper irrigation made the project a success, so much so the project was expanded to South Asia, in what we now know as the Green Revolution.
Norman Borlaug’s work increased crop yields by a fantastic amount, and as a result fed billions, increased national food securities for many countries, and (in theory) helped decrease deforestation by making smaller plots of land work harder. However, Borlaug’s work drew some criticism, issues that still affect us today. The most impactful concern was the large scale spread of monoculture, meaning farmers had become dependent on one “super” plant, rather than planting multiple varieties to insure against disease and drought. There were also concerns about the use of inorganic fertilizers and herbicides; all problems that have been made worse by the introduction of GMO crops.
Now, I am not a geneticist. I cannot comprehend the effort and science involved in creating a GMO, whether it is a plant, animal, or bacteria. I am, however, a big fan of science and appreciate the incredible potential such technology can offer humanity. That being said, the introduction of GMOs to the public has been, to say the least, a flop. There is a lot of misinformation circulating that has the public alarmed, and the scientific community baffled. For example, most anti-GMO proponents bring up the infamous “fish-mato”, a variety of tomato enhanced with the genes of a flounder to make them cold resistance. This tomato enjoyed a brief three month existence in laboratories before it was declared a failure. It seems the flounder genes did little to improve the plants cold tolerance, as such the fish-mato never made it to consumers.
I don’t want to get into the thick of all the concerns associated with GMO crops, but I will highlight the very legitimate reasons why A New Leaf Farm does NOT use GMO crops.
Monoculture: Because GMO crops are typically very commercially successful, farmers will only plant one variety. This robs consumers and the environment of diversity, which can be very dangerous. If a disease or insect becomes attracted to one particular plant they can wipe out the entire crop.
Super Weeds: That’s right: super weeds (ex. Palmer amaranth). A number of GMOs have been manipulated to be resistant to most herbicides (in particular glyphosate or Roundup) in an effort to make weed control more manageable. As such, farmers became dependent on a single herbicide and method of control, resulting in super weeds poised to crowd out an intended crop.
Suicide Seeds: This particular GMO trait is a sin against nature. A variety of GMO seeds have been developed to only produce one generation of fruit, their seeds are sterile. With heirloom, and most varieties of non-GMO hybrids, seeds can be collected and replanted for generations leading to more flavorful, successful fruits. Single generation seeds mean farmers are dependent on the companies supplying them every season to get new stock. The cost to farmers and the environment is detrimental.
Potential for Cross Contamination: Though it is not known for sure if this occurs (there have been mixed reports), there is a potential for the transgenes used in GMOs to spread to other crops.
Taste: GMO seeds have been developed to produce high yields of fruits and grain; they are not concerned with flavor.
As we learn more and more about the impacts of GMOs and certain farming techniques, sustainable farming becomes more important for our health and environment. Help A New Leaf Farm and others like us grow a more sustainable future for everyone.
Want to learn more about GMOs? Here are some helpful resources:
Union of Concerned Scientists