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Family Farmers, Small Seed Companies, asking for Support in Court

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Carol Koury
Co-Founder of Sow True Seed
Member Plaintiff in OSGATA case

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

A quiet, peaceful show of support for family farmers and organic seed growers is gathering — both in cyberspace — and in the streets of Manhattan outside a federal district court.  A judge has decided to hear oral arguments later this month in the case that the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al filed versus Monsanto. The Public Patent Foundation will present OSGATA’s position that the case should move forward, both challenging the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic or genetically modified crops and seeking protection for growers against seed contamination.

By definition, farmers producing USDA certified organic food cannot use GM crops.  Yet many fear more patent infringement lawsuits like the ones Monsanto has filed against numerous farmers already.  They also fear that citizens eventually won’t be able to grow food in its natural state without lab-engineered genetics polluting the food supply. “We need the judge to understand the danger to us of being held accountable for having our seeds contaminated by neighboring crops,” explains Carol Koury.  She co-founded a small, open-pollinated seed company in North Carolina that strives to produce at least 20-percent of its own seed through cooperation with local growers, with as many as possible being certified organic.  The company, called Sow True Seed, is even asking the state to help protect some land in Western North Carolina from GM crops.  Unlike the modern agribusiness practice of patenting a seed, then prohibiting growers from saving them from year to year, Sow True Seed actually encourages seed saving of its heirloom, organic and traditional varieties of seeds for gardens and farms.

Monsanto is the world’s largest seed company, commanding the market for food grown with traits developed inside the laboratory, as well as a world leader in chemical herbicide.  Monsanto spokesperson Tom Helscher says this about the OSGATA lawsuit. “Monsanto moved to dismiss the case because there is no real controversy between the parties.  As we have stated clearly, Monsanto does not and will not pursue legal action against a farmer where patented seed or traits are found in that farmer’s field as a result of inadvertent means.”  The company has long promoted its own studies and promises of bigger yields with patented GM seeds.

“We are family farmers,” says Jim Gerritson, who grows potatoes on Maine’s Wood Prairie Farm and is president of OSGATA, “and we are headed to court in New York City on January 31 to let the judge know that our survival as farmers depends on this lawsuit. We’re not asking Monsanto for one penny. We just want justice for our farmers and we want court protection from Monsanto.”  Not only will Gerritson, Koury and many of the 83 plaintiffs be present in the courtroom during oral arguments, but several of the more than 300,000 individuals the group represents plan to assemble peaceably outside the courtroom.  OSGATA has extensive details for an outdoor Citizen’s Assembly that is respectful of the legal process and presents a positive message.

Koury stresses that this lawsuit is not frivolous, because it’s really about everyone’s free access to good food. She grew up eating heirloom vegetables from her grandmother’s garden. She believes that whether you choose to grow your own food or pay for prepared food, you should know what’s in it. “All my life I’ve known where my food has come from. I have three children and two grandchildren. And I really worry for them, and especially my grandchildren, that they don’t really understand where their food comes from, nor what the perils are to the food supply.”  OSGATA is asking anyone who eats and appreciates family farmers to sign its petition, showing support for those braving the trip to New York. The farm group is also raising a fund for those plaintiff farmers who can’t afford the travel expenses.

(*Disclosure:  In a separate project encouraging families to grow their own garden, Sow True Seed has provided seeds for our family to try growing our own garden from seed this year.)

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