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Food for people, not for corporate profit

From 1985 to 1995 I volunteered and worked for an organic farmer and gardener movement publication and interviewed many farmers and gardeners across the region about the politics of the Organic movement. I was also an organic gardener and farmer. Here is some history of the West Coast organic movement and a few thoughts on how to keep the Organic and biodynamic farm movement alive.

I grew up on a farm in the Willamette Valley. We had an apple orchard and raised beans and strawberries. Much of it we canned into the 500 canning jars my mother kept on the shelves in our pantry. In the fall we sold apple cider and dried and fresh apples. We used this money to buy school clothes for the many children in my family. My family did not use chemicals on our farm. In the 50's when the local university started pushing the "new" chemically laden farm technology, my father said it was disgraceful. He believed that a person who works the land, should be close to the land, paying attention to the wildlife and striving to be a good steward. The chemical companies and their agents did not know a thing about the throngs of honeybees that visited our orchards each spring. They could not explain how the chemicals they pushed would not kill those bees while also killing other insects and organisms. My father would have nothing to do with the new agriculture. So I learned from a master. And, I leaned to farm with love of the land and all the species that lived there.

I started out as an organic gardener trying to learn more about my craft. In the 1970's the organic grower's movement on the West Coast took off. Local communities held monthly potlucks to bring would be organic gardeners and farmers together. They teach each other how to grow food without chemicals and with sustainable farming practices. Each major area of Washington and Oregon held these monthly potlucks to try to get growers together. It was fun and interesting to meet other growers. And there was a plan to make sure that what produce or farm products farmers and gardeners had after feeding their own families, would go to a local market.

At first the prices for organic food were very reasonable. No one was "certified" organic. People just showed up at the local markets and told customers they did not use chemicals on their food. Soon there was a competitive edge added to the markets and some growers said they were "more" organic than other growers were. There was also accusations that some growers were using all sorts of chemicals on their crops. Prices for "pure" foods went up.

A committee formed to decide what "organic" meant and they devised "guidelines" for how to be an organic gardener or farmer. The committee went on to form alliances with the department of agriculture and state Ag offices to devise a program for certifying farms and gardens. The process was to be intensive.

Teams of certifiers were sent to farms that wanted to declare that their food was "organically" grown. This process cost money. At first the farmers were charged around $100 a year for this declaration. Within a few years the cost for certification grew. Many small farmers dropped out of the program. These small farmers continued to sell their produce at local farmers markets and roadside stands, but they were not "allowed" to say they were organic. They could be fined if they made this declaration of "organic". Many farmers lost major markets for selling their produce.


At first the produce went to local markets...this would be in the 1970's and 80's. It was easy and inexpensive to sell produce at the large markets. I sold at the Portland Saturday Market for a couple of years until the vendor fees skyrocketed and it was very difficult to get a space. A farmer could not rely on getting a space for the day, and that meant that the produce would be wasted.

Then farmers were told that they could make a better deal selling to organic distributors who would get the produce to cities and towns all over the west coast. The thinking was that it took a lot of effort to get the food to the local market and at the same time farm the land, so let someone else do the distribution. Also, there was a problem that some produce was wasted at the end of each market day. The distributors would drive up to the farm and buy everything the farmer had ripe and ready to go. Some farmers chose to drive to town to the distributor and sell everything on the truck at one stop. No waste, no loss of profit. It was not uncommon for organic berry growers in Washington and Oregon to ship their organic berries to exclusive restaurants in San Francisco or Los Angles or New York City (via UPS overnight). I knew an organic soybean grower who would only sell his crop to a distributor in Japan because he could get a better price there.

Up and down the West Coast natural foods distributors sprung up. The food cooperative movement needed natural foods. There was even all-women's trucking company from Seattle that sprung up. It was great to see the trucks flying down the West Coast freeway, colorfully painted with veggies and fruit and grain. The words on the side of the truck shouted out: Buy Organic! It was a good thing to a point. The point being that the organic food was getting too expensive for the working class to buy and more and more local produce was sent somewhere else. Many people had a head full of facts about the dangers of pesticides and the dangers of meat eating, and not eating natural foods. What a shock it was to find that they could no longer afford natural foods.


It was an arrogant lot that stood in food coops and natural foods stores and told the members and customers that the cost of food was prohibitive... but people should just eat less. Tell that to a family trying to feed their children and themselves on $100 a month. I am well aware that growing organic food is more labor intensive than growing chemical laden foods. But what happened during this time was that we spent a lot more money moving the produce around the country than it would have cost to go to a local farmers market and sell it for less.


On the land between the North Cascades and the Eastern Washington high desert sits the fertile Skagit valley. Here the organic movement took another highly organized route. The local farmers formed a cooperative called Cascadia farms. These farmers were far removed from Seattle's thriving natural foods movement. It took a lot of petrol to get over the North Cascades. The passes were closed in the wintertime. So the farmers organized to form ways to use all the produce, with very little waste. They built canneries and frozen food factories to process the produce. They produced jams and frozen berries. All organic. What they did not tell you was that by freezing and canning the produce, much nutrition is lost. However, a huge profit was made by this company.

The Cascadia farms brand was well known all over the West Coast. Then in the 1990's the juice and jam part of the business was sold to Welch's... and recently it has been sold to Small World Food Company which is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Corporation! The rest of the business is now owned by General Mills.

So it went. Many, many organic and natural foods companies have been sold out to major corporations who are also gleefully destroying the earth. Here is a list of a just a few other natural foods/organic farms that sold out.

**Seeds of Change, once a progressive organic heirloom seed seller and then food marketer is now owned by the Mars Family. Billionaires-totally corporate.

***Horizon Organics - In California, five giant farms control half of the state's $400 million organic produce market. Horizon Organic, a publicly traded Colorado-based company, controls more than 70 percent of the nation's organic milk market. More than 30 percent of its milk is produced at two industrial-size dairies, one of which milks close to 5,000 cows.

*** Boca Burgers - is owned by Kraft Foods

***Heinz, reported the Wall Street Journal this June, is seeking to develop an organic ketchup to sell at Whole Foods and Wild Oats (a.k.a. Natures), the nation's biggest natural foods supermarkets.

***Wild Oats (a.k.a. Natures) - Natural and organic food retailer Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colo., acquired 13 stores from competitors, making it the nation's largest natural food supermarket company in terms of store numbers. The deal gives Wild Oats 105 stores beating out top dog Whole Foods Market, Inc., Austin, Texas, which owns 101 stores. Wild Oats is acquiring the 13 stores in two separate transactions totaling $34 million in cash and stock. One of its purchases, Sun Harvest Farms, Inc., is made up of nine stores in Texas. The rest are from Wild Harvest in the Boston area. Overall, Wild Oats has added 37 stores to the company this year. In the fall of 2003, according to Bloomberg News, it was rumored that Wild Oats was about to purchased by supermarket chain Kroger co. This company owns Fred Meyers and Smith Grocery Chains in Utah.


***Support the local farmers markets! Put a list of local markets on the Portland Indymedia website - for a list of local farmers markets: http://www.oregonfarmersmarkets.org/index.htm

***Support local farms. Here is a link to local Oregon farms where you can buy produce. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa/csastate.htm

***Start growing your own food. Even if you live in an apartment you can sprout your own food, raise food in containers or join a community garden project. List community garden options on the Portland Indymedia website.

You can get a great assortment of seeds for sprouting and books on how to do it at:

- Peoples Food Coop, located at 3029 SE 21st - http://www.peoples.coop/
- Alberta Cooperative Grocery - 1500 NE Alberta Street, Portland Oregon 97211- Phone: (503) 287-4333
- Food Front Cooperative Grocery, 2375 NW Thurman Street, Portland Oregon 97210- Phone: (503) 222-5658 - http://www.foodfrontco-op.com


In planning your garden or container use seeds that are not genetically engineered. Talk to local food coops about carrying these seeds. A great place to get catalogs is PEACE SEEDS out of Corvallis, or Nicols Nursery out of Albany, Oregon. Address and contact info:

Peace Seeds * (a personal favorite)
Alan Kapuler
2385 S.E. Thompson St.
Corvallis, OR 97333

(Catalog $4?extensive selection of heirloom varieties. and high nutrition vegetables, etc. Alan Kapuler is a genius when it comes to seeds. He has many publications and articles published. Here is a list of just a few: http://www.certifiedorganicfoods.com/science/pk2-kindom.html

Nichols Garden Nursery
1190 N. Pacific Hwy
Albany OR 97321
Open-pollinated, untreated seeds. Unusual veggies.
http://www.nicholsgardennursery.com/ For more non-genetically modified seeds go to: http://csf.colorado.edu/perma/stse/seed_src.htm

Create a local merchant resource list. Make sure these merchants have sustainable goods and local produce. Put this list on the Portland Indymedia website.

Overcome consumerism in your own life. Destine your possessions that are no longer actively being utilized to those who can actually use them. Here is a great website to read more. http://www.verdant.net/anticons.htm

Other Resources:

A good read on the Corporate Organics movement with lots of links to local Portland farms and resources

kind of long, sorry-- but interesting 26.Jan.2004 04:47


z mentions alan kapuler and peace seeds in corvallis. i'm confused because in the following thread he is mentioned as one of the owners of seeds of change. and seeds of change apparently was at one time called peace seeds? weird.

Re: M&M Mars buys Seeds of Change
by Allan Balliett
09 December 1999 01:07 UTC


This is very old news posted by  Goodfood4@AOL.COM. and of very suspect
intent. I hate to go off here, but the recent events in Seattle have
probably served to make many of us more sensitive to how the
multi-nationals use disinformation against the environmental movement and
the local food movement. It's really disturbing to see it being used
against a mainstay of the organic biodiversity movement in a forum such as

Seeds of Change has been working with Mars for a very long time. Their long
time president, Stephen Bishop, is a member of the Mars family. Last year,
to ensure that they would be able to honor seed contracts with organic
growers, SoC founding members Howard Shapiro and Alan Kapuler made a deal
with M&M. That deal leads to better distribution of SoC's line of prepared
organic foods (which leads to a larger market for organic produce growers).
Mars has, I believe, the largest food distribution network in the world.
SoC is now 'under their umbrella,' but I personally have not seen any way
that this has affected SoC negatively.

This unfortunately shallow article from the usually commendable "Food and
Water" starts with the assumption that all corporations are bad. This, of
course, is a believeable assumption. However, after doing a little research
myself, I have to accept that, currently, Mars is as benign as one could
ever hope a corporation could be in this materialistic world. (The fact
that they are family owned rather than publicly owned has allowed them more
control over the lust for 'profit growth' that public companies are
subjected to.)

Howard Shapiro spoke at the Mid-Atlantic Biodynamic Farming and Gardening
Conference in Charles Town this past October. He still has belly length
whiskers and wears Leviis; he still talks a very idealistic talk, too. He
may have crossed some lines in some people's minds, but he did it in such a
way that little (if any) of the SoC culture or paradigm has been changed by
having access to the M&M finances. What's been gained is that Seeds of
Change has been able to move their quest for sustainable biodiversity onto
a World stage now.

Kenny Ausubel, Howard Shapiro, Alan Kapuler and Gabriel Howearth have
changed the way that many people think in this country. To a large extent,
their educational efforts are responsible for the fact that more of us are
concerned about how non-nutritional and unreliable our food supply is on so
many levels. Unlike many of us, these four visionaries not only identified
problems, they have brought to the table many strategies for remediating
these problems.

What gives? Why would anyone be anxious to smear this idealistic company
and the men who founded it with the 'sell out' brush? I think it really

If anyone has different information that what I'm operating from, please
share it here. If anyone has any questions about SoC and their values,
please feel free to ask me on or off- line.

I'm not affiliated with SoC in any fashion, other than I owe these men and
this company an awful lot (hey, they've given free seeds to EVERY community
food garden that I have started!) for the insight they have brought to my
own life.

Howard Shapiro has a new book coming out right after Christmas. It's called
"Gardening for the Future." It postulates a system of gardening that takes
the best from each of the few restorative gardening schools and combines
them in a way that the 'holes' that each has alone are no longer there.
It's a much needed publication. It'll be on the remainder tables in no
time. Hardly the machinations of a man who cares about only money!

I will say this. This summer there will be a struggle for display space in
conventional hardware and discount stores for organic seed racks. Ferry
Morris (?) will, if you can believe it, have their own line of Organic Seed
packets in most hardware stores in the US. Burpee has been scrambling to
secure a supply of Organic seedstock that will allow them to compete in
this 'new' market. So, I guess it may be important to someone somewhere to
alienated the idealists from the company that started business as "Flat
Busted Hippie Seeds," then became 'Peace Seeds' before it went on to be the
well-known Seeds of Change.

-Allan Balliett
Claymont Farm CSA

>M&M-Mars buys Seeds of Change
>Nowhere is the trend toward the industralization of organics more
>than in the flurry of recent corporate mergers between traditional food
>and smaller organic corporations. Take, for example, the recent M&M-Mars,
>acquisition of the once idealistic Seeds of Change.
>Seeds of Change, founded by the eco-entrepreneur Kenny Ausubel, began in
>late 1980s with a noble goal: to "restore biodiversity and revolutionize
>way we think about food." According to Ausubel's introduction to the book
>of Change, the new company was "value-driven" and "intent on preserving and
>spreading a diversity of organic seeds through the gritty, caring hands of
>backyard gardeners in living gardens."
>But when push came to shove and its primary crop increasingly became money,
>Ausubel and his clan at Seeds of Change traded in the "gritty" hands of the
>gardeners for the well-heeled hands of the folks at M&M-Mars in an
>unprecedented sellout of its original "values."
>"The M&M-Mars acquisition of Seeds of Change gives us the needed resources
>operate over time," explained Seeds of Change vice-president Steve French
>interview with Food & Water. To add insult to injury, French went on to
>our suspicions that the company's ideals (and common sense) had indeed
>way to profits and corporate double-speak.
>Consider this bit of reasoning from French: "Quite honestly, I don't think
>there are any real differences between Seeds of Change and Mars. I think
>are actually quite a bit of commonalities . . . and regardless of whether
>a Mars product or it's a Seeds of Change product, the product benefits are
>very, very similar if we're talking about nutrition here."
>So much for the food revolution


BD NOW!, the International Biodynamic Agriculture Discussion Forum,
dedicated to restoring the earth while producing healthy, high-value, food
that promotes human wellness and development.

Great Article! 26.Jan.2004 10:21


Wow! Thanks for this information. Our connection to the earth and to our food supply is unimaginably important in our struggle for a better and more sustainable world.

Is it heresy to show that organic food is beyond the working poor? 26.Jan.2004 14:26


I have no problem with Alan Kapuler. I know him personally and know that he is a man of integrity. His wife and daughters are incredibly hard-working dedicated earth protectors too. What I have a problem with is that pure food is getting harder and harder to come by. And, the systems we devised to make sure food was being raised organically is creating a nightmare for those who want to stay local, small and dedicated.

In fact, some think now that the organics movement has become so successful that large corporations are buying everything organic they can get thier hands on...and then do we really know what they will do with it?

The orginally movement was about raising food locally and selling in our communities at affordable prices. now the movement is for yuppies. If Alan chooses to be part of the yuppie food movement...then that is his choice. I don't know what his intentions are now. His seeds are wonderful and buy them (from him) every year.

I will not buy from corporate businesses. I buy locally and hope that what money I have will stay in the community and keep local people in good housing, with pure food, and with local sustainable jobs.

What I learned from Seattle was that no matter what the original intention of the people who started corporations (i.e. Hewlett and Packard, Ben and Jerry..etc.) when corporations take over a product the corp fast sucks the lifeblood out of a community, treats people and the earth badly, buys up all it's competitors and puts them out of business, send the jobs overseas to slave labor and environmental nightmares ("it's not personal, it's business!") and destroys peoples lives.

It's a new world. The 60's are over. The corporate coop movement is over! We need a new plan for sustainable communities. Checkout SE uplifts sustainable communities program for more ideas. Here is link to the city repair project which is working to relink local sustainable agriculture to the people who live near the farms and gardens:  http://www.cityrepair.org/~ventana/vbc/

We are now in time where we need to be wiser about our use of petrol. How can we get food to the people while using the least amount of oil products? Is it wise for people to let corporations manage and grow their food. How can we bring gardening and urban farming back to the people of Portland? What would the city look like if every apartment dweller had containers of food on roofs, balconies, and in windows? What if people had produce left over that they could bring to a neighborhood farmers/gardeners market to sell or trade.