What Makes Homemade Wild Blackberry Jam Real Food — and Worth the Thorns

Read how providing your own food is the ultimate way to replace genetically modified, commodity crops with artisan, good-for-your-soul foods.

| August 22, 2011

  • Wild Blackberry Jam
    Making homemade wild blackberry jam is one way to get back to the unique, local flavors that are an integral part to artisan food and self-reliant householding.
  • Householders Guide To the Universe
     While so many people wonder what their purpose is in life, Harriet Fasenfest has discovered that the ultimate purpose may lie in our country’s agricultural roots. In "A Householder’s Guide to the Universe" she passes through a seasonal year dedicated not only to helping you grow and preserve your own food, but also to better understanding why the honest work of laboring to directly provide for yourself and your family is so fulfilling. 

  • Wild Blackberry Jam
  • Householders Guide To the Universe

The following is an adaptation from A Householder’s Guide to the Universe: A Calendar of Basics for the Home and Beyond by Harriest Fasenfest (Tin House Books, 2010). In her book, Fasenfest leads readers through a year in her garden, kitchen and home on her continuing journey to self-reliant householding. The basis of her homemaking decisions lies in her dissatisfaction with industrial agriculture, commodification of our crops and food system, and the replacement of handmade, artisan foods with genetically modified food-like substances. This excerpt comes from the chapter “June.”   

The Real Food Fight

While some genetically modified seeds or plants can never reproduce naturally, others do. And that is where the real fight comes in. When, for example, a farmer takes the bait and grows genetically modified seeds, he is unwittingly participating in a sad chain of events. By planting those seeds, he is introducing some of the traits of those seeds into the wild. The pollen from genetically modified seeds can, unfortunately, cross with a native variety and infect it. Its pollen can fly over to the plants of a neighboring farmer (one who may have been raising a particular heirloom variety for generations) and alter the plants’ gene pool. That, for a traditional farmer, is a tragedy.

But worse than the destruction of an established hybrid or heirloom seed stock is the ensuing legal nightmare. It is a nightmare from which we can only wake up once generations of good farming practices and lifestyle have been destroyed. Strange as it may seem, if the errant pollen of the genetically modified seed makes its way to the farm next door, the traditional farmer must pay. Once his seeds or his plants carry a single trait of the genetically modified seed (whether he wanted them to or not), he must pay royalties to the manufacturers of the GM seeds. Unlike those who use the natural process of selection (hybridization, or cross-pollination in the wild), those who genetically modify seeds do so for profit — big, big, monopolized profit. The companies that modify seeds genetically (or the corporations that support their research) patent the seeds they develop. They sell them to farmers (or even supply them free, at first) by suggesting the seeds will produce disease-resistant crops and an increased yield. They convince farmers that the return will be great. Sometimes, over the first year or two, it is true. These plants yield big, disease-resistant crops. But over time the return is not as great as the farmers have been led to assume it will be. When there is a bumper crop, the commodity price (what big companies pay for crops) may go down. Big yields lead to surpluses and poor returns. At that point, not only must the farmer keep paying for the next crop of patented seed (now at a higher cost), but he also begins to question this logic. He begins to wonder, from both

an economic and an environmental perspective, what he has signed up for. It is not true that all large-scale farmers do not care. They have been seduced by a system that has captured us all. Many large-scale farmers understand that they are caught and do not like it. In the game of big agribusiness, only a few farmers will make it to the top. This game, as they will discover, is a brutal game. Unfortunately, in the case of genetically modified crops, when farmers sign up, they are stuck. Once the pollen has made its way into the air, there is no going back — for the farmers or their unsuspecting neighbors. Patented-seed distributors are watching to see if their plants are crossing with older seed stocks in the neighborhood, and then they move in for the kill.

I doubt there are many people who have not heard about the fight of seed activists trying to hold on to their right to use their indigenous foods, seeds, and plants. Who has not heard of the small farmers in India who committed suicide when the promise of greater crop yield landed them in debt? Who has not read of the small farmers who, in a brutal showdown with corporations, have lost their ancient traditions of farming, seed saving, and harvesting to the invading ideology of private ownership? It is not at all dramatic to suggest that the roots of civilization are being privatized. In the world of agribusiness and resource commodification, controlling all the water (a whole other story) and the seeds is nothing short of brilliant. It may take a fiendish mind to design such a system, but if profits are what you’re after, what greater assurance could you have than by controlling seeds and water? This is why my stomach turns every time I think about where this is all going. What child has not played Monopoly? When folks are hungry and thirsty, what will they not pay? What is the outcome of high demand and limited access? Who cannot see what will come of this? We do not think about all of this for a reason. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to, but more often it’s because they (whoever “they” are) are adept at convincing the public that all is well. They will tell you they are only working to feed the poor, and that the movement toward genetic modification and seed privatization is one of stewardship. They will say it is for the good of mankind, that the growing food scarcity and threat of world hunger demands it, that they will distribute these limited and precious resources equitably and with care. But is that how you think profit-driven enterprises are run?

Think it through. This system does not bode well for the masses, which is why I think seed activists are some of the most brilliant and radical folks out there. It is also why I think that learning how to sow, grow, and stow your food and seeds is essentially a political act. But so is knowing what you are buying in the marketplace. It is important to figure out what is what, and why it is grown, but this can be a slippery slope. For example, when I start seeing oceans of organic ‘Seascape’ strawberries in the marketplace, but nary a ‘Hood’, ‘Shuckson’, or ‘Benton’ (let alone the more elusive ‘Marshall’), I begin to wonder what is going on, why a new mono crop is making the scene. I wonder how different it is from any other industrial practice. If the ‘Hood’ strawberry, for example, is being discarded for other, more durable varieties of strawberry, where will it all lead? I should emphasize again that I am not a small farmer trying to make a living. I don’t have to go to my berry fields and see my tender strawberries decimated by heavy rains. If I did, and if I’d lost a big part of my income as a result, then I too would most likely shift my crop to an ever-bearing variety that better withstands the conditions of the region. But when organic and local farmers start shifting toward the practices of agribusiness (selecting varieties of produce that offer higher yields rather than the best flavor), they are aligning themselves more with industry than with the fleeting brilliance of the moment. Can I blame them? No. Do I see a common thread here? Yes, I do. 

9/8/2011 3:11:52 PM

I loved this article! It truly is political to be self-sufficient. Ron Paul cured my apathy back in 2007. After waking up to the two-party paradigm, I struggled to understand how I could change things being one single person in this country of 300 million. I came to the conclusion that if I could take care of myself entirely, I wouldn't need these corrupt politicians to take care of me. I'm 25 years old and I would never rely on those slimy crooks to provide me with retirement, through the means of social security, or food security, through the means of food stamps. The only person I can rely on in this life is myself and I don't care how much hard work that is. Taking care of myself and the environment is worth more to me than Goldman Sachs' CEO salary. Becoming and staying self-sufficient is the new revolution....

Randy Van Nostrand_1
8/31/2011 12:59:55 PM

All this commentary and no recommended recepies? I grow hybrid blackberries not native to Alabama where I live. They are the big ones native to Washington and Oregon. They do extremely well here and I always have bumper crops. I failed making jam this year. Now I have sweetened canned berries, almost as good but I want to be successful. The pectin I bought made the jam I attempted as expensive as store-bought jam would be. I am cheap and want a method that does not take an arm and a leg investment to get properly jelled jam. Can you help?

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