USDA taking comments on agricultural coexistance

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking comments on “agricultural coexistence” between GMO and non-GMO crops.  Below is the comment I submitted. You can submit a comment at!submitComment;D=APHIS-2013-0047-0061  or an anonymous comment here (for example if you’ve experienced contamination and don’t want Monsanto to know who you are).  You can also read the list of questions (pdf) the USDA is asking and see what the Organic Seed Alliance has to say about this opportunity.  Comments are due March 4th.

Thank you for listening to what we have to say about GMO contamination. This is an enormously important issue for many non-GMO farmers and especially non-GMO seed growers and seed companies.

We at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange grow, buy, and sell untreated seeds. Most of what we sell is organic. We know that the vast majority of our customers want non-GMO seeds, and that many would pay extra for seed that they know has not been contaminated by GMO genes. As a company, we would even be willing to give up some profit – and probably a lot of profit – if it meant we could reliably keep our seeds from being contaminated.

But really, if a patented product invades our seed stock, we shouldn’t be the ones paying the price.  Patent holders should have to.

We treasure the heirloom varieties that we carry. So do many of our customers. But if we find out that our seed stock is contaminated with GMOs, we will not use that seed stock, even if it means we have to discard entire seed crops – and even if it means we have to stop carrying that variety.

With corn, this is a very significant risk, and the isolation distances necessary to prevent contamination are very large. Many corn varieties are rare.  Healthy, non-contaminated seed stocks could become hard to find.

If farmers are encouraged to communicate more in order prevent contamination, that will be a small step forward. If GMO farmers were required to disclose to neighbors what they are growing, when, and where, that would be a larger step forward. If patent holders were required to compensate non-GMO farmers when contamination results in an economic loss, we might call that a solution of sorts.

Painted Mountain Corn


Fight Downy Mildew in your Vegetable Garden: Pick the Right Varieties

Left: Edisto 47 muskmelon, Right: Suyo Long Cucumber. Both varieties produced abundant, excellent quality fruits, even with severe downy mildew pressure.

The first defense against plant diseases is to choose resistant varieties: rather than waging war with biological or chemical controls, we can avoid problems before they begin!

downy mildew devastated cucurbits, with healthy plants growing alongside

We are so thankful to Edmund Frost, seed grower at Twin Oaks Seeds, for sharing with us the results of his downy mildew cucumber trial and downy mildew melon trial from last summer. And we are pleased to announce that two SESE varieties were among the top performers for excellent flavor and yield in his trials: Suyo Long cucumber and Edisto 47 muskmelon.

Summer 2013 was a terrible season for downy mildew throughout the Southeast, but that also made it ideal for studying downy mildew resistance. We have updated our 2014 Southern Exposure Catalog with the results of the Twin Oaks trials, indicating resistant varieties as well as varieties that were not as resistant as expected.

Over time, a seed line can lose resistance to a disease: we need more knowledgeable seed growers who can both evaluate varieties for disease resistance and do the selection work to keep a variety resistant.

Both Suyo Long cucumber and Edisto 47 muskmelon are excellent performers in high heat and humidity. Suyo Long is an Asian-type, burpless cucumber, lacking the bitterness of other cucumbers. Edisto 47 is one of our sweetest melons.

The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) and Southern Exposure partially funded the Twin Oaks Seeds melon trial and Sow True Seeds and OSA partially funded the cucumber trial. We are determined to continue supporting high quality variety trials and selection work.

We’re hosting a Garden Planning Workshop

Join us at the new Southern Exposure office on our farm in Louisa County, Virginia, for this in depth workshop in garden planning. We’ll cover planting schedules, succession planting, soil fertility, and season extension. Browse our “picking room” following the workshop to choose your seeds!

Prepare for planting with Southern Exposure’s Ira Wallace and seed grower Debbie Piesen of Living Energy Farm. We will cover planting schedules, succession planting, soil fertility, and season extension. Browse our “picking room” following the workshop to pick up seeds!

This workshop is appropriate for both beginning and intermediate gardeners.

Location: our new Seed Office in Mineral, Virginia
Saturday, March 8th, 2 to 4pm.

RSVP and questions to:
20 participants maximum.

Cost: $25 payable by check or cash on workshop day, no one turned away for lack funds.