Save our seeds

Fight genetically modified agriculture with organic and heirloom seeds

This photo illustration shows Clifford Shirk of Sod-Buster Farms, where his crops are organic and free of genetically modified organisms.

This photo illustration shows Clifford Shirk of Sod-Buster Farms, where his crops are organic and free of genetically modified organisms.

Photo By Nick Higman

Great Basin Food Co-op’s summer season seedling sale is May 24, from 8 a.m. to noon at 241 Wonder St. Call 324-6133 for more info.To learn more about heirlooms and seed saving, visit The Seed Savers Exchange at, or call (563) 382-5990.For a list of companies and farms that offer GMO-free seeds, visit

You probably already know that eating organic food is good for you and the planet. The same holds true for the seeds you plant.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “Six companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Mitsui, Avenis and Dow—now control 98 percent of the world’s seeds sales.”

These companies use genetically modified organisms (GMO) to make seeds. Genes from one species are spliced with genes from another to produce a plant that will withstand certain conditions—like steady doses of herbicide. The herbicide, such as Roundup Ready, tends to kill everything but the plant. Regular weeds start building resistance to the chemicals, becoming “superweeds.”

“So then you have to go into something that’s more potent,” says Clifford Shirk of Sod-Buster Farms in Palomino Valley. “One of the reasons I’m organic is, why should I have to get into a special suit and put all the safety gear on to take care of my crops? And why would I want to eat it?”

Through pollination, genetic drift occurs, creating new genetically modified (GM) plants on the land of farmers who never even bought them. The clincher is these companies can—and do—sue for “patent infringement” if, say, Monsanto or Dupont find a drifter GMO seed in an unaware farmer’s crops. According to the Center for Food Safety, Monsanto has 75 employees and an annual budget of $10 million earmarked for that very situation.

While the practical tradition of seed-saving accounts for the history of our food supply, these companies not only prosecute farmers for it, they also created “terminator genes” designed to commit suicide after a round of production. This ensures the farmer will buy the seeds again, not save them for next year’s crop.

“It’s an experiment on the whole planet that nobody knows the repercussions of,” says Marcia Litsinger of Churchill Butte Organics.

So here are your alternative options:

1) Buy organic seeds. GM foods don’t need to be labeled, but GM-free is a condition of organic certification. So the only way to know your seeds—and food—don’t contain GMOs is to buy organic. A great place to start is The Seed Saving Exchange, a nonprofit group whose members pay $35 a year to access their catalogue of more than 11,000 varieties of certified organic, heirloom seeds, from Purple Peruvian potatoes to the ghost-white Casper eggplant. Botanical Interests seeds are also GMO-free and are easily found in local natural food stores and nurseries. For a list of farms and companies offering GMO-free seeds, see

2) Buy heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are just what they sound like: seeds from an ancestor plant—some trace back hundreds of years—and passed down. You may find heirlooms at upscale supermarkets during the summer and by asking around at farmers markets. Or order them through the seed companies listed above. Find heirloom seeds from Nevada growers and others through Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste program at

3) With your GM-free harvest, become a seed-saver yourself. To get started, Shirk recommends Marc Rogers’ book Saving Seeds: A Gardener’s Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Flower Seeds.

4) Go to the seedling sale and fundraiser at Great Basin Food Co-op on May 24 from 8 a.m. to noon to buy organic seedlings grown by local farmers.