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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Chicago food activists stand with Haitian farmers in rejecting Monsanto seeds

Cassandra West

Since the catastrophic Jan. 12 earthquake, many Haitians came to see agriculture as the most practical and long-term solution to healing the land and the economy. Then in stepped big agribusiness, as always, with its own solution, designed more to help its bottom line than the Haitian population. 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden

Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agri-chemical company, announced recently that it would donate 60,000 sacks, or 475 tons, of hybrid corn and vegetable (cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, tomato, spinach and watermelon) seeds, some of them treated with highly toxic pesticides, according to reports.

Haitian farmers called the donation “a new earthquake” with the potential to rock their island nation as much as the one that destroyed so many lives and structures earlier this year.

Bev Bell of Daily Kos reported: In an e-mailed letter sent May 14, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, executive director of the Peasant Movement of Papay and the spokesperson for the National Peasant Movement of the Congress of Papay, called the entry of Monsanto seeds into Haiti "a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds, and on what is left our environment in Haiti." Haitian activists have vigorously opposed agribusiness imports of seeds and food, which undermines local production with local seed stocks, and expressed special concern about the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture rejected Monsanto’s offer of Roundup (its popular and bestselling herbicide) Ready GMO seeds. A Monsanto representative, in an e-mail, assured the MoA that the donated seeds are not GMO.

The Director of Seeds at the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture says the seeds are treated with the fungicide Maxim XO, and the calypso tomato seeds are treated with thiram, which belongs to a highly toxic class of chemicals called ethylene bisdithiocarbamates. The EPA has determined that EBDC-treated plants are so dangerous to agricultural workers that they must wear special protective clothing when handling them.

Haitian farmers, who are trying to hold on to the one hope they have for rebuilding their damaged eco-system and economy, will stage a protest and burn seeds from Monsanto in Haiti on June 4, World Environment Day. In solidarity with the Haitian farmers, Chicago food justice activists are holding an evening of action Friday, June 4, 6:30 – 8 p.m., called “From Haiti to Chicago: Speak OUT against Monsanto!” at the 65th and Woodlawn Community Garden (corner of 65th and Woodlawn).

The gathering will feature: *Speak outs, testimonies about the right to quality food and food sovereignty *Performance by hot Chi-city poets and spoken word artists *Haiti Updates *Planting of heirloom seeds, reclaiming the tradition of seed saving, and rejecting the monopolization of genetically modified foods. For more information, contact Rising in Solidarity with Ayiti (R.I.S.A.) at: risinginsolidarity@gmail.com or call: (773) 979-3272