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Are family farmers truly united against M?

By Michael Shapiro

The "No on M" campaign has distributed signs across Sonoma County saying family farmers are united against Measure M. But the small family farmers we interviewed are adamantly in favor of the measure.

Shelley Arrowsmith
Arrowsmith Farm, Sonoma

As a beekeeper and farmer, we depend on pollinators like honey bees for our food, but they are delicate creatures. They depend for their health and survival on the quality and familiarity of the pollen and nectar they find in the fields. The pollen from genetically modified plants would provide an unconventional--and unwelcome--change in diet, and many hives are unlikely to survive because of it.

We know the transfer takes place. Research in Germany on honeybees visiting plants grown from GE rape seed (our mustard equivalent) showed that pollen taken back to the hive was contaminated. Einstein said that if we lost the bees in the world, we would have four years of food; we would starve. Not a healthy prospect!

Sally Carstensen
Carstensen Farms, Petaluma

Our foreign trading partners are telling us they refuse to purchase GEs and will avoid our products. Isn't that a loss of actual market share? Monsanto holds the patent on Roundup Ready corn seed and controls the sale, propagation and distribution. They also hold the patent for Roundup. When nature adapts (survival of the fittest) and weeds build resistance to Roundup, who do you think will have the next chemical and/or seed?

GE corn seed has already been planted unintentionally due to packaging mix-ups. What happens when, years down the road, our open pollinated seed (seed that can be saved and reproduced) has disappeared? Are we comfortable letting one company control our seed stock and food production capability?

Pascal Destandau
Pugs Leap Farm, Healdsburg

Three years ago my partner and I quit our jobs, sold our house in San Francisco and moved to Healdsburg to farm land that had originally belonged to his grandparents. We wanted our business to be sustainable and fair, and to make good products. We make farmstead cheeses, which means that we only use the milk produced on the property. I forgot who said "Your freedom stops where it starts to impinge on others' freedom," but this is what Proposition M is about: freedom to farm what we want as long as it doesn't interfere with another farmer's right to farm what they want. In our case, it's our freedom to maintain our goats' pasture free of GE crops.

Ted Lemon
Littorai Wines, Sebastopol

There are three essential aspects of this issue. Are we willing to undertake an unprecedented global experiment changing the very fabric of life, the genetic code of all the earth's living creatures? Surely, if there is one thing we have learned at the dawn of the 21st century, it is that scientific technique is outrunning our ability to fully understand, much less control, its consequences.

The moratorium as proposed is a "timeout," a 10-year ban giving us time to further evaluate scientific knowledge. Should some Biblical plague fall upon us, a unanimous vote of the county supervisors can overturn the ban. In other words, there is an escape clause.

We will never be able to compete with the factory farms of the Central Valley, be they dairies or wineries. Our costs are simply too high. Sonoma County farmers must realize that they face a paradigm shift. Land, labor and material costs are now so exorbitant that our only hope of preserving Sonoma County agriculture lies in our ability to promote it as a pure, healthy, vibrant and sustainable alternative to industrialized agriculture. The difference between survival and extinction lies not in the relative cost of feed or nursery materials, but in our ability to market Sonoma County agriculture as something special and, thereby, to get a higher price in the marketplace for our products."

Warren Linney
Monan's Rill Community Farm

I live on 400 acres in eastern Sonoma County and own land in Petaluma and Annapolis. I raise vegetables, fruits, grapes and redwood trees. Measure M will bring us incredible economic prosperity because this county is one of the few left in the U.S. that is GE-free. We will out-compete other counties for organic produce. The Farm Bureau is advocating the radical approach of infecting the county when we know there are horrendous allergies to GE pollen and other ill effects. We advocate keeping the status quo, until the ill effects of GE crops are corrected--if they can be.

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From the November 2-8, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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