The New York Times just published an article about how farmers are combatting new strains of weeds resistant to the Monsanto herbicide, Roundup.
Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward.”
I’ll admit… I’ve used the stuff. I have a half-used bottle in the garage now, though it has been untouched for quite some time. On a small scale, I tend to think it’s harmless for spot-treating tough-to-dig weeds. I have used it to deal with bermuda grass popping up in cracks between bricks in walkways I’ve created which would otherwise be a mostly-lost battle.
But using it makes me feel dirty… like I’m going against my personal code of gardening ethics or something. I want to keep the stuff hidden… I don’t want to be seen using it. After all, an organic gardener should have all the tools in his or her toolbox necessary to deal with a weed or two without resorting to chemicals, right?
But this article reminds me to think beyond the bottle of glyphosate in my garage, about the implications of voting with my Home Depot dollars for a form of agriculture that is abjectly beyond what I want to embrace. The Monsanto ecosystem of modified crops and a dove-tailed herbicide is broken, out of balance. Sure, it may have increased food crop yields for 20 years – and even allowed some farmers to embrace no-till methods that conserved topsoil. But the pendulum swings, and certain foods appear set to become more expensive as farmers re-learn methods used in the pre-Roundup days grown from seed that hasn’t been genetically jury-rigged. The cost will include more toxicity in herbicides, further degradation of land and water, and perhaps even less access to fruits and vegetables in the average American diet.
I’m glad I’m starting to produce my own vegetables now, even if my start is modest and feels late. Next year hopefully my yield and variety will double. And in doing so, I won’t be voting as heavily for stuff that ultimately destroys more than it produces. Perhaps the antidote to Monsanto is millions of backyard gardens, all producing enough vegetables to feed the house in front and perhaps a little more. It’s community-supported garden plots and farms, and even stricter requirements for organic food production and labeling.
Of course, none of that is such a radical idea, nor should it be confined to hip cities like Austin. After all it was the way of this country for many generations in such un-hip places like, say, the towns of New Bremen and Copley, Ohio, where both my sets of grandparents were small farmers or gardeners. My parents are not only incredible organic gardeners in their own right in Kingwood, Texas, but educators in gardening sustainability, too, through their production of local newsletters and work with school gardening programs.
Hopefully, it’s more than a trend. Hopefully it’s more like a permanent realization that bigger is not always better… even in the heart of Texas.