Backyard GMO Gardening

I live for the instances when you can make a link between a social/economic issue and what’s available right there in the household.  There are so many significant issues in the world that will impact our kids and when the bulk of their time is spent wrapped inside of an electronic cocoon, it’s easy for them to not see that there’s a true link between the local and the global.  Such is the case with the backyard garden and the issue of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) plants, which is presently an international controversy, principally for fear of the economic power that’s being given to multinational corporations such as Monsanto.  But how can I make an explicable link for the kids with a seemingly remote global issue?

First of all, what is a Genetically Modified Organism?  It is as the name implies, a seed that’s been genetically altered so that inherent traits are suppressed or enhanced; such modifications can make it impervious to certain types of insects or blights, increase yield per acre, or take on characteristics and traits of other plants.  As typically occurs in American culture, someone figures out a way to maximize profit and that way is to also create seeds that are modified to be sterile so that the seeds of the resulting plant are incapable of reproducing and an increasing percentage of the seeds sold are accordingly sterile.  If you want more seeds, then you have to go back to the supplier and purchase more of the same sterile seeds with a resulting lucrative revenue stream.

The link occurred to me as I was working in the backyard and glanced over at the two tiered garden plots built into the slope of the backyard landscaping.  With mulching and other work still unfinished, I hadn’t yet begun to turn over the dirt for the summer’s batch of tomato and pepper plants and I realized that amidst the weeds were tomato seedlings sprouting up, leftovers from the remnants of a few of last season’s tomatoes that had rotted on the ground and gone to earth.  I wondered what kind of yield these plants would put out and it then occurred to me that I’d purchased the plants at a local box store; given the source, it wouldn’t surprise me if the seeds had been genetically modified so that the customers would be forced to return to the same store for next year’s plants.  It resulted in a plan to let two of the most developed seedlings survive in the plot to see what resulted and the rest of the dirt was turned and prepped for the new crop.  Honestly, I don’t know if a seed that’s been genetically modified for sterility will result in a plant that doesn’t produce yield or if it will permit a plant to even begin to grow but the quiet experiment will determine one way or another.  When Youngest was outside later on, I pulled him aside and showed him the plants, explaining the concept of GMO – which an intelligent elementary schooler can grasp – and the summer experiment to see what resulted; I will do the same later this week to Middle and Eldest, who is now a college student with a biology minor.

The plan is to let these plants grow along with the others that are being planted and see what develops, following up with the kids later.  What matters though, is that there is some effort to not only expose them to an issue that appears in the news, but also that it can be found right there.  If the battle cry is to think globally and act locally, then they have to have a clue that these issues aren’t just intellectual exercises as sterile as the seeds.  They need to be able to see the link between the global issue and the plant growing in their backyard garden.

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