This letter is to answer David Korten's question in the Fall 1999 issue's Readers' Forum: “If costs are higher and yields lower, what compels farmers to choose [genetically engineered seeds]?”
The answer is hope.
I have been involved all my life with farming, and every year I see farmers fail and others take up the business. Many of them get involved in losing propositions because the hope-peddlers take advantage of them.
In the case of the biotech fiasco, the hope was peddled by seed salesmen, chemical salesmen, agribusiness magazine writers, and university agents. They said that the super seeds would enable farmers to get big yields with less effort. To kill weeds, they said, farmers could just drive a truck loaded with Roundup and spray the field.
Understand that farmers work hard. When they hear there's a way to make their lives easier, they jump at the chance.
In my county, the University of Missouri Extension conducts educational meetings for farmers, and at the January 1998 meeting on grains, the Extension agents just listened as a seed salesman told the biotech story. The farmers had good questions, but the questions were all answered by the seed salesman, not by the Extension agents.
You have to understand, Mr. Korten, that Extension meetings are trusted for the information they provide, but the system was given over to salesmen when the biotech story began. So even the local university let farmers down.
When the seeds didn't pay off the first year, the salesmen said that was to be expected from the first generation. Then they said they'd solved all the problems. But now it's obvious that's not true.
In my county, after two years of biotech, there are no traditional soybean seeds to replant. Organic farmers are finding biotech genes in their organic soybeans from cross-pollination. Even the bees that forage in the soybean fields are making biotech honey.
Nobody knows what will happen if farmers try to go back to traditional fields. Roundup leaves salt on the fields, changing the entire chemistry. There are new fungi to deal with and super weeds.
It will not be easy to go back to traditional farming techniques, but the good news is that there's always someone who's hopeful, and as long as nobody takes advantage of that hope, we might have another chance.
Margot Ford Mcmillen
Power in diversity
The Fall 1999 issue of YES! (The Power of One) is the most powerful I have seen over my years of subscribing.
More power to you if you can match it in future issues. You'll have to reach out, in, down, and around to other slants, subjects, people, cultures, etc. in order to reiterate and enrich the messages without mere repetition. (However, there is something to be said for repetition, as most of us require a lot of it before we really see the light.)
Creating new paths
I have subscribed to YES! for two years now, and when I receive each new issue, it's not long before I've read it cover to cover. Your last edition, The Power of One, was no exception. What was different, however, was that it literally brought me to tears while reading – on one occasion, in a crowded subway. I was so moved by “Telling the Children's Story,” by Tracy Rysavy, that I've been telling friends about it.
The theme section was very inspiring to me, because it comes at a time when I am anxiously trying to create a new path for myself – one in line with my calling.
In addition, I am sending a copy of the Cities of Exuberance issue (YES! Summer 1999) to the mayor of my city, as I thought it would be more effective than writing and explaining the concepts of a healthy city myself. Thank you for sharing your vision of a more positive future.
Thoughts on Kosovo
After reading “Kosovo in Perspective” in the Summer 1999 issue of YES!, I thought I'd drop you a note to let you know that your attitude regarding Kosovo is somewhat lacking. I won't argue that NATO hasn't been as imaginative as it might have been: we are late coming to the party, somewhat incompetent, and not altogether courageous … but at least we are on the right side.
The fact that we in the west have set a precedent of adhering to hypocrisy and cowardice in our international politics (e.g. the Kurds in Turkey, the Tibetans in China, the East Timorese, and a whole lot more) doesn't mean we should continue to do so. Nonviolence to me means that when people are too weak to defend themselves, they probably shouldn't try if all it would mean would be their immediate slaughter. It is the responsibility of those who are strong to stand between the oppressors and the oppressed. Nonviolence doesn't mean that those who can act should sit on the sidelines and say, “Oh, please be nice.”
I am disappointed in my fellow Americans for not acting sooner, for not having more courage or compassion for those who don't have the means to defend or acquire their freedom. I don't think you should criticize others for having a lack of imagination when YES! is offering those who were raped, tortured, executed, robbed, burned, and disenfranchised little or no comfort.
Language for life
Thank you so much for the wonderful exchange with Paul Hawken and David Korten in the Summer 1999 Cities of Exuberance issue, and for publishing the responses (“The Long Boom,” Fall 1999). We are all looking for language that works – language that reaches deep into our consciousness so that our actions continue to set good, convincing examples for the ecological revolution at hand.
To that end, your final piece in the Fall 1999 issue on “The Love of Life” just about gets it all. I have placed on my desk a reminder from that article to “choose language that is inclusive, free of blame and self-righteousness; that points to the possible rather than failings; and that is respectful of all life.”
You should make and distribute posters that capture the spirit, if not the letter, of your conference.
Gates Mills, Ohio
I am an admirer of both David Korten and Paul Hawken, whose dialogue appeared in the Summer 1999 issue. However, I'd like to know how we get a market economy that is what Korten calls a “mindful market?” Even at the local level, sustainable, caring businesses will always lose out to those willing to exploit people and the environment to reduce prices. I see only two solutions: the old bugaboo – government regulation – and an enlightened consumer public willing to sacrifice dollars for principle. Good luck on the latter.
Oil finish alternatives
I read with interest Doug and Annie's suggestions for the fellow who wanted a nontoxic oil finish for toys (“YES! … But How?,” Fall 1999). Some years ago, I experimented with oils from the kitchen and found they created a gummy mess. It may be possible to rub the oil in and then wipe off the residue. (I've read that apprentices in the Middle Ages spent months or even years handrubbing natural oils into the wood of cathedral doors!)
However, it's also possible to use the oils in the wood itself. If you carefully plane a piece of wood, you will note that a smooth, shiny finish is left by the blade. This clear finish can even be improved by scraping the wood clear with a furniture scraper (not the same tool that is used to remove paint).
Of course, this type of work is much easier to do on simple shapes.
I read the Cities of Exuberance issue from cover to cover. YES! Maybe we can turn the orgy of consumerism, waste, and desolation into a celebration of ingenuity, restoration, and conservation. We were born from the Earth; how can we be so myopic and continue to destroy it? In The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the bags of gold didn't quench the thirst of the “heroes.”
Regarding the “Readers' Forum” letter asking how to contact Gaviotas, I'm currently translating Alan Weisman's book into Spanish; therefore, I have some communication with the people involved with that incredible and hopeful patch of land in an otherwise chaotic country.
If anyone needs help contacting Gaviotas in Spanish, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.