by Nancy Wolff
When I was asked to write an article on Safety my mind started to go in all different directions. Should I write about the safety of using homemade cleaning products versus store bought? Of the importance of keeping the prongs of a garden rake pointed downwards when you garden? Or should I talk about the safety involved when preserving your garden harvest? All of these topics are important; however, after much thought I decided what was most important was thinking about what you are eating and growing in your garden!
Where are your seeds or vegetable plants coming from? Are you growing hybrids or heirloom plants? You may not think it matters, that a tomato is just a tomato. But these things are important and should be considered when planting your vegetable garden.
Heirloom vegetables are not some special species of plants. The term heirloom is used to describe any type of vegetable seed that has been saved and grown for a period of years and is passed down by the gardener that preserved it. To be capable of being saved, all heirloom seeds must be open pollinated. What this means is that the plant is capable of producing seeds that will produce seedlings exactly like the parent plant.
Hybrid vegetables are plants that have been created to have the best features of both parents. Seeds from these plants will not produce seedlings with the identical qualities.
Hybrid plants are not bad and should not be confused with genetically modified plants. GMOs, according to About.com’s Biotech Guide, can be any plant, animal or microorganism, which has been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. Plants like corn that has the pesticide Bt engineered into its genetic makeup to make it resistant to certain pests are GMO crops. Bt is a natural pesticide, but it would never naturally find its way into corn seed.
I want to encourage you to avoid any foods that might contain genetically engineered ingredients. Evidence continues to emerge about the dangers to human and animal health from these foods and feeds. The risks of contamination of non-GMO crops are already widely known. Contrary to industry claims, herbicide application has increased with the introduction of GMO crops, leading to the predicted rise in glyphosate resistant weeds. Read all your food labels carefully. If corn, soy, cottonseed, or canola or any of their byproducts are listed, and the food is not certified organic, simply don’t buy it. Best of all, grow your own food and or get as much of your food from a farmer you know.
As the number of seed varieties diminishes each year in the seed catalogs our only option is to grow heirloom plants so that we can save our own seeds … or to purchase seeds from a local seed saver. Heirloom varieties have exceptional taste and are often more nutritious than newer varieties. When you select and save seeds from the most successful heirloom vegetables from your garden, the more reliable those vegetables will become year after year. Not only do you get a better, locally adapted strain of a variety when you save you own seed, you also save money because you don’t have to purchase new seeds every year, as is the case with hybrids. Heirloom varieties are less uniform than hybrids, which mean they often don’t all ripen at once. This is a great advantage to the home gardener. You will be able to enjoy your harvest over a longer period of time.
As our society has become addicted to produce that is inexpensive and uniform in appearance, fewer and fewer varieties of edible plants are eaten by people today. We are eating only a few kinds of vegetables, fruits, and cereal grains.
So when I think of Safety On the Home Front I think about what is growing in my garden and how that plant will taste and how it will affect my health and the health of my family. I want to have a large variety of plants in my garden. The loss of genetic seed diversity facing us today may lead to a catastrophe far beyond our imagining. I want to insure that I can continue to grow healthy organic vegetables and enjoy a bountiful harvest.