© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Farmer joins conference against genetically modified organisms

Mark Brown
Provided by Mr. Brown

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Mark Brown, who owns Gateway Garlic Urban Farm in St. Louis and grows grains near Booneville, didn’t start out being against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “I wasn’t anti-Monsanto,” he says. “I barely knew who they were.” 

He didn’t know he had bought anything from Monsanto until a letter came from the company after he bought GMO sweet corn from a third-party seed supplier that didn’t reveal its source.

The letter, Brown said, proclaimed that by opening it, he could neither sell nor give away the sweet corn he had just planted on five and a half acres. It happened to be an experimental variety produced by Monsanto. He had not signed a contract with the company.

“They want to know where the seed is being sold because people can buy the seed and plant it,” he said. “I would never sign a contract with anyone.”

Brown said he talked to farmers, and to the company, and a farm advocate told him: “You’re not going to win against those guys.”

“So, I had all this corn, I can’t do anything with it,” he said. Brown eventually let the corn rot in the field, since he could not use that much of it.

“I was forever burned afterward. That’s when I became aware of the danger of patented seeds and copyrighted life forms.”

So, Brown, who also grows food that he donates to food pantries in Belleville and East St. Louis, decided there must be a way to give farmers an alternative.

“If GMOs are the gateway for farmers to get involved in this economic nightmare,” he said, “maybe growing organic seed is the gateway out.”

He started growing organic varieties of corn, soybeans and wheat. To combat the problem of pollen drift, in which pollen from GMOs fertilizes plants on adjacent farms, Brown talks to neighboring farmers and plants what neighboring farmers are not planting. For example, he said, this year and next year his neighbors are planting soybeans, so he is planting corn.

Brown has figured out another way to give farmers an alternative. He’s offering free organic seeds to other farmers, in exchange for the same amount of organic seed following the growing season.

“We are one of the largest sources of bulk organic grain in the area,” he said. “We wish there were more people like us.”

So far, Brown has agreed upon a seed exchange with one farm only. This is due to the lack of organic seed. He says he’s had to turn down eight other farms that want the free seed because there wasn’t enough seed.

Brown grows uncertified organic grain. “We don’t use any pesticides, we don’t use any artificial fertilizers.” Uncertified organic grain products are cheaper to produce than certified organic products, and so the savings are passed on to the consumer.

GMO Free Midwest

Brown is one of 25 speakers who will give testimony at the “Peoples Hearing on Monsanto: Crimes and Reparations,” Friday Nov. 8 and Saturday Nov. 9 from 9:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at a meeting room in the University City Public Library. The event is organized and sponsored by GMO Free Midwest.

Note: The sessions are part of ongoing organized protests about genetic modification and Monsanto's role in it.

Barbara Chicherio, one of the event organizers, said the conference will cover issues surrounding seed sovereignty and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. It also will include discussion of the labeling of GMO food products and local pollution from PCBs.

Several states have introduced laws requiring that foods containing GMO organisms be labeled. Most recently, a pro-GMO labeling ballot initiative was defeated in Washington State. California voters also defeated such a measure. Labeling laws have been passed in Maine, Connecticut and Vermont, but with special riders that an adjacent state must also pass the law for it to be enacted.

When contacted regarding this event, Monsanto released a statement:

"The 5,000 people at Monsanto who live and work in St. Louis are proud to be part of the community. We also are proud of Monsanto’s efforts to help improve farm productivity and food quality. While we respect that people can have different points of view, we hope that St. Louisans know the people at Monsanto for their role in the community and know Monsanto Company for its commitment to St. Louis."

Read more

Beacon articles:

Genetically modified crop debate heats up around the nation and in St. Louis

Supreme Court rules unanimously for Monsanto in Roundup case

Plant science leaders see recruitment, funding as future challenges

Washington Post:

Everything you need to know about Washington's fight over labeling GMOs