We grow a small patch of Longfellow Flint Corn every year. This beautiful
drying corn, with ears almost one foot long, has eight rows of
nicely-rounded, golden-orange kernels which we grind to make cornbread and
Each year we save seed from 30 choice ears for replanting. We've been
doing this for about four years, since we got the original kernels from
ethno-botanist Mel Bristol. He has been growing Longfellow Flint Corn on
Bloomingfields Farm in Gaylordsville, Connecticut, for nearly two decades.
Over that time, he has saved seeds from ears with tightly wrapped leaves at
the tips in order to minimize crow damage. There is variability within the
overall genetic stability of this corn which allows a careful grower to
gradually select for traits that are important locally. To be successful,
this process requires knowledge and skill, as well as at least 200 plants
which can be isolated from other wind-blown corn pollen.
Mel tells me that Longfellow Flint is the same corn that the Native
Americans were growing widely over this part of the continent before the
Europeans invaded. Apparently, many of the river bottom lands that grow
corn today were cleared and cultivated six hundred years ago.
Growers have been selectively saving seeds from the biggest, tastiest and
most reliable ears of corn for about 5,000 years, beginning in Mexico with
something like "teocinte" whose cob is about the size of the eraser on a
pencil. Year after year, generation after generation, century after
century, growers selected among this corn's natural variations in specific
ecosystems. Unlike maple trees and tomato plants, corn will not self seed.
It must be harvested, saved and planted again by humans. Apparently, the
Native Americans used great care in this process.
Growing Longfellow Flint Corn connects us not only to last year's crop and
to our friend Mel and his work, but also to countless generations of other
careful growers. Their skill and devotion, born of respect and the will to
survive, are responsible for turning that small cob into beautiful ears,
and for passing this gift on to future generations.
Hybrid corn, which has to be newly created from two different parents each
year, has already broken this age-old connection for many large growers.
Now they are connected to the seed company instead. For other important
crops, however, and especially for the world's poorer growers, saving the
best seeds for replanting makes both agronomic and economic sense.
This explains why millions of growers around the world are very concerned
about the prospect of the so-called "Terminator Technology." This is the
name given to a genetic engineering technique which, in effect, turns off
the germination switch in future generations of seeds. A special treatment
allows the first generation to grow, but seeds it produces will not
germinate. A grower must buy next year's supply from the seed company.
This technology was first developed with our tax dollars by the USDA
working with a cotton seed company. That company was recently purchased by
Monsanto, one of the planet's most aggressive promoters of agricultural
biotechnology. Monsanto currently engineers cotton, soy and canola seeds
to be sales tools for its herbicide, and puts a biological pesticide inside
corn, potatoes and cotton, among other things. Its success in getting
these novel varieties (dubbed "Frankenfoods" by critics) planted on a large
portion of this country's farms and its aggressive legal tactics against
farmers, make its acquisition and promotion of "Terminator Technology"
There are many unanswered questions about genetically-engineered crops and
food. What are their long-term effects on human and ecosystem health? How
fast will resistance to herbicides and internal pesticides develop in weeds
and insects? How much will these novel traits cross with wild or
cultivated relatives and what dangers are involved if and when they do?
Recent reports from England and Canada suggest some serious problems in
Inserting a suicide gene in seeds for the narrow interest of corporate
profit is disrespectful to the people and processes which have allowed
humans to live here for the last 10,000 years. It is simply not a good
idea for our long-term survival.
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
If you do not want to recieve these essays, please reply with that
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $10 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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