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Seeds of Victory: Inside the Fight to Pass the GMO Ban in Jackson County, OR

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our Oregon News page.

How did a coalition of local small farmers convince two out of three Jackson County voters to ban genetically modified crops while battling a six-figure campaign funded by several of the biggest agro-chemical companies in the world?

"It was community-driven," said Elise Higley, campaign manager for Our Family Farms Coalition and co-owner with her husband of Oshala Farm in the Applegate Valley. "The initiative was already there. It gave us the chance to get out and talk to people about the risks of engineered food."

Backers of the measure to ban GMOs spent money on television, radio and newspaper ads, but their main thrust was low-cost, highly accessible social media, door-to-door leafletting, personal contacts and speaking at meetings, said backers.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and supporters," said Chris Hardy, an Ashland farmer and chief petitioner for measure 15-119.

Hardy helped bring the issue into the public eye in February 2012, when he discovered Syngenta was growing GMO sugar beets near his chard fields.

"We got 180 family farms signed on in the region," Hardy noted. "Virtually every person I spoke with got it. They understood the Rogue Valley is narrow and that farms here are at great risk to be impacted."

"People showed up constantly and asked what they could do and how to contribute."

When the first election returns were announced at 8:20 p.m. Tuesday, Hardy said, "I didn't know we'd have such a big win. The energy was really high. The people of Jackson County triumphed against some of the largest chemical companies in the world - over Goliath."

The campaign reached out to the Latino community, which has always been heavily invested in agriculture.

"It was such a great campaign," says Alfredo Flores, editor of Caminos magazine in Talent. "We let them put free posts on our Facebook, and when they did, shares and likes went way up. Their Facebook had almost 6,000 people."

Higley and others addressed many groups, including the Ashland and Talent chambers of commerce. They weren't invited to the Medford-Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, which voted to oppose the measure, she said.

Another blow, she noted, came when County Administrator Danny Jordan issued a report in March claiming that a GMO ban might cost up to $219,000 to enforce.

"That's when I realized politics was going to pull this campaign," said Higley. "They didn't look at the costs for other counties that had banned GMOs, and the positive economic benefits of it. ... The strategy of the other side was big money and fear tactics, with lots of misleading accusations."   
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