Prop 37: Heirloom Corns and Other Reasons to Support California’s Right to Know

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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In addition to being an avid gardener and heirloom seed grower I consider myself a person seriously concerned about the state of our food system. But the last few weeks I have been distracted with finishing my book on gardening in the Southeast. Well I’ve sent the book off to the editor and I’m back to reading my emails and paying attention to what’s happening in the world. Although I live in Virginia, yesterday and this morning my inbox was flooded with links to Michael Pollan’s NY Times article: Is the Food Movement for Real? The article asks Americans to realize our food movement, by stepping up and helping the voters of California approve Proposition 37, the ballot initiative to label GMOs. Check out the California Right to Know website.

At Southern Exposure Seed Exchange we are very concerned about the threat of GMOs to our supply of pure organic seeds. We, along with 74 other seed businesses, family farmers, and agricultural organizations, are still in court with the ongoing lawsuit OSGATA et al v Monsanto. We are asking for legalprotection from Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed.

One of the most precious things at stake in this lawsuit is heirloom and organic corn varieties. As a wind pollinated species corn needs a mile or more of isolation distance to guarantee pure seed. With more than 90% of the feed corn being planted using GMO seed and no protection for organic farmers who are accidentally contaminated, it is getting more and more difficult to find locations where pure corn can be grown. What a sad day it will be if varieties rich in flavor and history like Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher corn or Cherokee Long Ear Small popcorn are lost due to contamination with GMO corn. 

Corn isn’t the only common garden crop that is under immediate threat of contamination by GMOs. In the Willamette Valley, one organic seed growers may be put out of business by GMO canola, which crosses readily with many garden brassica crops, like broccoli raab, some kale, and others, Organic growers could lose an important seed source for many brassica varieties.

We invite you to join us in supporting our friends and allies in what is perhaps the “food fight” of our generation. If you live in California, vote yes on prop 37. Everyone else, please donate to help balance the $34 million dollars spent by corporate agribusiness against the $4 million spent by those who think we have the right to know. As Michael Pollan said, “Is this the year that the food movement finally enters politics? … What is at stake this time around is not just the fate of genetically modified crops but the public’s confidence in the industrial food chain.”

People looking to create a more local and sustainable food system are discovering how easy it is to grow fall crops like broccoli, cabbage and kale, as well as storage crops like beets and grain corn. For those new to growing fall and winter vegetables, see my article Gardening for an Abundant Cool Season Harvest or come to my workshop on fall and winter gardening at the 27th Annual CFSA Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, SC, October 26–28 for more four season harvest tips.

Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.


Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open-pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other eventsthroughout the Southeast. Her first book, “The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast” will be available in 2013.