Monday, May 20, 2013

Seed Battles

In addition to all my crazy endeavors, Kevin actually farms.  He grew up farming.  He is actually the fourth generation of [insert my last name here] farmers to be farming in our county.  His great-great grandfather Wolfgang [insert my last name here] came on the boat from Germany and ended up homesteading in Ransom Kansas.  His great-grandfather Florean, Wolfgang's son, came to Lincoln County to homestead and there have been [insert my last name here]s farming here ever since.  Farming (and farming in Lincoln County) is truly in Kevin's blood. 

Something here happened in Lincoln County, in the years between Florean and Kevin.  I'm not quite sure "what" that something exactly was, or "how" it exactly happened.  But I know the same thing happened here and about everywhere in the agriculture-centered counties.  BigAg crept in.  Now, farmers sell their crops to elevators, pretty much elevators only.  Most use chemicals.   Most grow GMOs.  I've already remarked at my amazement at living surrounded by farms, yet not able to find fresh farm stuff.  It's still mind-boggling to me. 

Kevin currently works a 40 hour per week job about 25 minutes away.  He also does some farming for his dad.  He also does our farming.  We currently rent an almost-half-section from Kevin's father and another section from a distant relation of Kevin's.  With those rented acres and the 128 acres you own, you might say, it looks like you farm 1000 acres.  That's close to two square miles, which is bigger than a lot of towns in New Jersey.  Well if you said that, you'd be right.  Except that's not actually very impressive.  Around here, one needs a lot more land to make a living.  We should really be farming an area the size of Manhattan.  Then we could call ourselves "farmers". 

I'm from Jersey, as you know.  All this commodity farming and BigAg is kind of new to me.  Kevin says it's because I have a contrary personality.  I say it's because I have an-outsider-looking-in perspective. But, I don't think we should be farming the typical way that people do around here.  Maybe it's a little of both.  Take chemicals, for example... There used to be a certified farm in the northern part of our county, but they are no longer organic because they had a noxious weed problem.  There was a man I know of outside of Cheyenne Wells (85? miles away) who had stopped using chemicals.  He had gone out in his field, shortly after the sprayer-people sprayed, when he wasn't supposed to yet.  He ended up with some health complications from that, and now he's dead.  (May his soul rest in peace, of course.)  In those last years, he had stopped using chemicals.  But other than those two, I know no one in let's say my county and the three closest ones that do no chemicals, and they don't even do it anymore. (For some perspective, we're talking about an area geographically about the size of the state of New Jersey.)

Suffices to say, we have an unusual goal- being organic farmers. 

You live in a farming community, you might say, farming's farming, right? That's not a big deal.  That's what I thought, too.  (Shakes my head.) Stupid, stupid Laura.  You see, in order to farm, you need seed.  Let me repeat that... I've learned that in order to farm, you need seed.  (Such a revelation, I know.)

Back in the days of Almanzo Wilder, Wolfgang and Florean, you might get your seeds from that neighboring farmer.  But now, there's a "system", a system of Monsanto and BigAg.  A system that is like impossible to get around.

Take corn, for example... Do you know how hard it is to find non-GMO non-treated corn seed?  My neighbor two doors down is a seed dealer.  I wish that I could call him up and buy corn from him and  support my wonderful neighbor, someone in my community.  Unfortunately, Mr.WonderfulNeighbor's seed supplier doesn't have anything that's non-GMO.  He looked for me.  The same goes for the corn seed dealers in the surrounding areas, too.  Believe me, I tried.  I would love to keep my dollars in the community.  So then I look to some of the alternate seed companies.  That one in Minnesota?  That'll be $500 to ship a half pallet of it.  That one about two hours away, in Northern Colorado?  They didn't hold any of last year's crop out of their chemical treating process.  So get on their list for next year? I did, last year.  This year, Mr.SeedSalesman won't actually allow me to pick it up or call me back.  I'll keep you up to date on that.  (And yet, I am forced to reward the man with bad customer service with my business...)  Corn planting time in Colorado is now.  We'll see if we make it.  No wonder why 98% of American corn is GMO.  Farmers have no choice. 
A Swiped Picture From the World Wide Web...
Am I really crazy to not think this is natural, to not want anything to do with GMO corn
coated with red chemicals?
This is the corn that we're supposed to plant on the same land that Kevin's ancestors farmed. 
I think we owe them more respect than that.
Oh, how about barley?  Barley will grow fine around here. It's non-GMO.  What's the problem?  Go ahead and try to get seed.  And then, where are you going to take it? How far is the barley elevator?

What about wheat?  In Fall of 2011, we planted white wheat.  Kevin didn't at first read the fine print.  When he bought the seed, he signed a contract that he had to sell it back to the elevator.  It's illegal to make a pancake with the wheat he grew.  We sold it all to the elevator.  The last thing I need is a legal battle.  Of course to plant the white wheat the next year, we'd have to rebuy the seed.  That sounds, um, yeah, efficient for the farmer.

Part of Page 247, Scanned from The Long Winter.
Almanzo had his wheat stored in a false wall.
To feed his family, Pa Ingalls fills his milk bucket with Almanzo's seed wheat.
That'd be illegal now.
What about milo aka sorghum?  That's not GMO and it's even insurable in Lincoln County.  Oh, go try to find some sorghum seed without chemical coating on it.  Just try. 

And Sunflowers? Yeah, um, go try to find some in the state without chemical coating...

And these are above are Lincoln County's standard crops.  (I know they're not very exciting crops, but we are on the short-grass prairie.) We're not even touching something with a ten foot pole that is remotely innovative or unusual.  I could right a novel about that, too.

The thing that is most puzzling for me is that I live in a farming community.  I'm not farming on a Brooklyn rooftop, or in Zimbabwe.  I'm not trying to grow oranges or mangoes on the prairie.  I'm just trying to farm grains (which are really grasses) in our nation's grasslands.  I want my kids to romp in the fields, if they so choose, without fear of chemicals, the way their ancestors Wolfgang and Florean did. I just don't get why getting seeds should be this hard. (And seeds are only the first step...) 


  1. Have you heard about Welter Seed and Honey co in Onslow,Iowa? Organic seed for all farm crops. We grow their organic buckwheat here. web address is They also pay 1/2 shipping on many items. Also have all regular farm seed.

    1. Thank you!
      No, I hadn't heard of them.
      I checked them out a bit and they seem like they do have some good stuff.
      It is too late for this year, but I'll try them for next year.