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November 26, 2009

Organic Bytes #201: Thanksgiving and the Organic Revolution

Health, Justice and Sustainability News
from the Organic Consumers Association

Edited by: Alexis Baden-Mayer and Ronnie Cummins

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Today, November 26, the Organic Consumers Association gives special thanks to the indigenous farmers and wildcrafters of the Western Hemisphere for cultivating and preserving our food, fiber, medicinal herbs, and biodiversity for thousands of years. We also bow our heads to our contemporary farmers, gardeners, ranchers, farm workers, food workers, cooks, and holistic healers who are following the ancient Via Organica, the organic way. As we give thanks to our organic ancestors and contemporaries, let us renew our essential pledge as organic consumers and activists to protect and safeguard the global commons. Let us pledge to build a healthy organic future of peace, justice, sustainability, and participatory democracy. Let us promise one another today that we will rescue and re-stabilize our climate, clean up our air and water, rebuild our soils, and protect our precious biodiversity from the ravages of "profit-at-any-cost" corporations and indentured politicians and scientists.

  • 75%  of the World's Food
  • A Cultivated Eden Described as a Wilderness
  • A Wealth of Biodiversity Still Preserved Today
    • 4,200 Years of Farming on the Colorado Plateau
    • The Wayana's Cultivated Eden
    • The Milpa System and 20,000 Varieties of Corn
    • Andean Terraced Potato Patches, With Thousands of Varieties

75% of the World's Food

Seventy-five percent of the food and fiber we grow today was discovered and cultivated by the native farmers and hunter-gatherers of North, Central and South America.

These indigenous varieties include corn, beans, peanuts, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, avocados, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, squashes, black walnuts, pecans, chocolate, tobacco, rubber, sunflowers, and medicinal herbs and plants. Today, every one of these varieties are threatened by Monsanto, Big Pharma, and industrial agriculture, among others, who are privatizing and patenting seeds and the gene pool, eroding biodiversity, degrading the soil and water, contaminating the food chain, and destabilizing the climate.

 

A CULTIVATED EDEN DESCRIBED AS A WILDERNESS

What European colonists mistakenly described as wilderness was actually a human-created and nurtured landscape, providing food, medicinal herbs, bountiful wildlife, healthy, living soil, and clean water.

Native Americans "managed" the environment "organically," producing and/or maintaining for themselves and the future generations native animals, birds, fish, berries, nuts, greens, fruits, bulbs, corn, mushrooms, roots, basketry and cordage materials, firewood, hunting and building materials, herbal medicines, and plants for ceremonial use.

Many "wild" or commercial plants or varieties that exist today are in fact derived from ancient Native American seed saving and cross-breeding that produced better-tasting, climate adapted, and nutritional varieties.

The popular belief that pre-Columbian America was a "pristine wilderness" is false. This destructive myth is based upon essentially racist stereotypes that reduce the highly successful plant and animal husbandry of Native American rural societies to the instinctual behavior of wildlife or "noble savages."

Native American elders remember better times. "The white man ruined this country," said Southern Sierra Miwok elder Jim Rust. "It's turned back to wilderness. In the old days there used to be lots more game: deer, quail, gray squirrels and rabbits."

There are no "spontaneous Edens" on planet Earth. The New World Gardens of Eden spread across the Americas and the Caribbean, mindlessly exploited by the European conquerors, were the product of the wisdom, hard work, and perseverance of millions of Native Americans, caring for what they believed was a "sacred Earth" and an interconnected web of life that included all living things. In a similar manner, we must understand today that there will be no spontaneous organic or green revival, nor magical climate re-stabilization. An organic and healthy life for the present and future generations will require the dedicated work and perseverance of millions. In the near future we will either stop the deadly assaults on our biodiversity, our food chain, our health, and our climate, or else the biological carrying capacity of the Earth will collapse, along with "modern civilization" as we know it.

 

A WEALTH OF BIODIVERSITY, STILL PRESERVED TODAY

Millions of indigenous people continue to farm and raise animals the ancient way, the organic way.

4,200 Years of Farming on the Colorado Plateau

On the Colorado Plateau farming has been an unbroken cultural tradition for at least 4200 years. The Navajo, Zuni, Apache, Hopi, Paiute and Tewa have cultivated the most diverse annual crop assemblage in the New World north of the Tropic of Cancer.

The Wayana's Cultivated Eden

The farming system of the Wayana society of French Guyana is based on diverse and flexible cultivation, with characteristically high biodiversity. Organic agriculture and permaculture form a rich, biologically complex system of food production, complimented by wildcrafting, fishing, and hunting. In Wayana, there is no artificial separation between cultivated and wild areas, which is the basis for what we call permaculture.

The Milpa System and 20,000 Varieties of Corn

Few regions in the world have an organic farming system as sustainable and productive as the traditional milpa or "three sisters" organic corn fields of Mexico and Central America. The Mayan milpa tradition is the planting of heirloom varieties of corn in mounds or raised beds, intercropped with biologically complimentary species such as beans and squash, fertilized through natural processes, weeded, harvested and hulled by hand and tended individually. The ancient milpa tradition, in fact, has produced traditional varieties that are healthier and more pest-resistant than modern chemical and water-intensive hybrid and GMO varieties. There are over 20,000 varieties of corn in Mexico and Central America. In southern and central Mexico approximately 5,000 varieties have been identified. In one village in Oaxaca, researchers have identified 17 different micro-environments where 26 varieties of corn are growing. Each variety has been cultivated to adapt to elevation levels, soil acidity, sun exposure, soil type, and rainfall. Unfortunately Monsanto's genetically engineered corn - forced on Mexico by the Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations - has begun to contaminate traditional Mexican corn varieties, while industry and consumer-induced global warming has spawned drought, pestilence, flooding, and killer hurricanes.

Andean Terraced Potatoes, With Thousands of Varieties

In the Andean region of South America, generations of farmers have domesticated thousands of potato varieties. Today, farmers cultivate up to 50 varieties on their farms. In the biodiversity reserve of the Chiloé archipelago in Chile, local people cultivate about 200 varieties of native potato. They use farming practices transmitted orally by generations of mainly women farmers. A long list of cultural and agriculture treasures from the Inca civilization has been carefully preserved and improved over centuries to guarantee living conditions over 4000 meters above sea level. Although grassroots opposition has stopped Monsanto's attempted invasion on the Andes and other regions of the Americas with its genetically engineered potatoes, constant vigilance and struggle will be required.

One of the most important and sustainable features of Andean agriculture is the terracing system used to capture water and prevent soil erosion. Terraces allow cultivation on steep slopes and in different altitudes. From a range of 2800 to 4500 meters, three main agricultural systems can be found: maize is cultivated in the lower areas, potato mainly at medium altitudes. Above 4,000 meters the areas are mostly used as rangeland, but can still be cultivated with high altitude varieties as well. In the high plateau, around Lake Titicaca, farmers dig trenches (called "sukakollos") around their fields. These trenches are filled with water, which is warmed by sunlight. When temperatures drop at night, the water gives off warm steam that serves as frost protection for several varieties of potato and other native crops, such as quinoa.

Learn more about indigenous peoples in the Americas and their contribution to sustainable agriculture here!

 

OCA Thanks You on this Thanksgiving Day 2009

Thank you for everything you do as a member of the 900,000-strong OCA network. Growing, selling, buying, or cooking healthy organic food... Growing or purchasing organic clothing, body care products or other green and Fair Trade items and services. Planting peace and justice and working in your local community for food security... Teaching about organics, holistic health, climate change, and sustainability... Joining us in our public education and mobilization campaigns... And last, but certainly not least, supporting the OCA financially. OCA and our national, now international, network of organic consumers cannot possibly carry out our collective mission without your support. So please send us a tax-deductible donation today. Thank you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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