December 2014

Planting the Seeds of a Moral Dilemma

. . . Dec 09, 2014 | posted by Josephine
Randy washing Fairy Tale Eggplant

Today I am scouring the seed catalogs, looking for a replacement for our Fairy Tale Eggplant.  Fairy Tale has been a fantastic variety for us.  The cute little compact plants produce loads of small, beautifully striped fruit.  The eating quality is fantastic.  They have thin skins with pure white flesh that is creamy and bitter-free.  We love them.  But we don’t love Monsanto, and Monsanto owns Fairy Tale.

Here is what happened.  A couple of days ago Randy and I were working on the seed order.  We were searching for seeds for a tomato that we grew for the first time last year and absolutely loved called Celebrity.  We loved Celebrity so much that we planned on giving it half the space allocated to all our slicing tomatoes in 2015.  When we searched for it on the Fedco Seeds website we were redirected to  the Heather Tomato, Fedco’s replacement for Celebrity.  Celebrity is offered by a seed company called Seminis, and Monsanto bought Seminis is 2005.  After that, Fedco took a big leap and swore off Monsanto-owned seeds.   I vaguely knew about the merger, but I had never bothered to check and see if any of our varieties were Seminis varieties.  Well, my “ignorance is bliss” approach was brought to an abrupt end.  The question immerged – should we still grow Celebrity?      

As small-scale beginning farmers, our profit margins are meager at best.  At the beginning, we thought we would only grow open-pollinated varieties but we have worked some high-quality hybrids into the plan because we need their productivity.  By dropping productive, popular and profitable varieties, are we simply shooting ourselves in the foot?  The small amount of money we spend on Celebrity and Fairy Tale seeds clearly makes no difference to Monsanto.  What does it matter?       

It might not matter to Monsanto, but it matters to us.  Our values guide our farming decisions.  We do not use synthetic chemicals.  We give our animals the best life we can.  We try to minimize waste.  These are all values-driven choices.  And we don’t do it because it is what our customers want.  We do it because we want to feel good about our farm.   

I already have a love-hate relationship with the tomatoes.  I love the way they look.  I love eating them.  I love sharing them with the CSA and selling them at market.  I love the way the plants smell.  I love the way they represent summer more than the sound of cicadas or brilliant hazy sunsets.  I hate how much freaking work they are to grow.  I hate spending 8 hours a week picking them in July with red and itchy arms from the leaves.  I want to tip the scales towards love, and I know that part of me will hate every Celebrity tomato I pick.  I will feel guilty for growing them.  Their full, acidic flavor will leave a bad taste in my mouth.  And I don’t want to farm with that.

Randy and I didn’t have this discussion.  We just looked at each other, sighed, and begrudgingly agreed we would drop Fairy Tale and Celebrity.

The upside is that we get to try new varieties to search for a replacement.  We already have a strong roster of eggplant so we are trying some open-pollinated varieties to see if we kind find something tasty and productive enough to earn a permanent spot.  The candidates are the magenta Rosita, white Casper, two long green eggplants, the striped Indian eggplant Udmalbet and a dead ringer for Fairy Tale called Antigua.  The tomatoes are a bit trickier because we are losing our cornerstone variety.  We are trying some tried and true types that you may have heard of – Jet Star, Marglobe and Rutgers.  Hopefully we will find something that can hold a candle to Celebrity.           

Fedco Seeds has a long, well written article about their decision not to carry Seminis seeds that is well worth the read.