Tuesday, March 20, 2012

To Make Hope Possible - Transition and Vandana Shiva interview

"To be truly radical is to make hope possible
rather than despair convincing

Raymond Henry Williams, Welsh political scientist

Hello everyone,

I hope that the Williams' comment gives you something positive that stays with you as your day goes along. It sure picked me up the other day when I ran across it.

"...to make hope possible ..." This is an active word, and I'll choose to colour it green today.

Where is hope?

Some of it is with the re-skilling and active, positive attitude of the Transition movement. Get yourself a copy of the new
Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times, by Rob Hopkins. It's stories from worldwide ... things people are doing to make their communities more aware, more active, more capable. It is also a guidebook for how to develop and maintain an enthusiastic organization or network of people.

Another hope, is Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya, seed activist, women's educator. Shiva was in Canada recently. There are two super interviews with her, where she is talking about hope. She was interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos on International Women's Day. She talked more about her family and background than I'd heard before and cites some of the many small projects that keep her hopeful and active.

Vandana Shiva was also interviewed recently on The Current (CBC radio show). This is a long interview, with Shiva citing the real and immediate problems there are with our agricultural system and also emphasizing her attitude of hope that keeps her active and inspired.

Maybe start with her interview with George ... you get pictures, and Shiva is looking great!

Best regards to all of you.


Why's Woman

Transition London Ontario: www.transitionlondon.ning.com
Transition Network: www.transitionculture.org
will link you up with lots of resources, and also Rob Hoskins' blog.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Seed companies - a start

Hello all,

Here's a caution about being too fast with research, and with sending stuff to people over e-mail: fast research can be wrong, and people will post stuff on Facebook without checking with you. Be careful!

I want people to understand broad seed issues, and I believe that it is with accurate information that we make our best choices. So I'll start with this post.

The W. Atlee Burpee Seed company is like most large seed companies: it develops and sells some of its own seeds and also buys seeds from many producers to sell on. Burpee does not buy/sell GMO seeds, from anywhere, according to its owner/CEO George Ball in the article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest on the Burpee site


Burpee buys some of its seeds from Seminis, which has been Monsanto-owned since 2005.

It would be hard to not buy from Seminis (that will be another post ... but refer to the Rodale article Monsanto Buys Seminis in the references below. The numbers are probably even more so nowadays).

Sorting through the text of some articles to be time consuming; I've included part of one article in the resources list to illustrate this.

And there's a lot to say about seed monopolies and control of the food system. I'll be adding a couple more posts.

Everything I've read in the last 10 years since I started reading supports the importance of buying organically produced, non-GMO seeds from independently owned seed producers and suppliers, as locally as possible, from people you know and trust.

The rest of this post is a:

(1) short note about Burpee

(2) seed house genealogy

(3) resource list

BURPEE - a few pertinent bits

The current CEO of Burpee seeds, George Ball, is of a family that has owned seed companies since 1905.

George Ball's father and uncle purchased Petoseeds, a competitor of Burpee seeds, in 1968. Petoseeds and Burpee bought from each other (a common practice).

The Ball family (George Ball) purchased Burpee seeds in 1991.

In 1994, Seminis Seeds bought Petoseed. Burpee was then making some purchases from Seminis

In 2005 Monsanto bought Seminis. Burpee continued to buy some of its seeds from Seminis (now under Monsanto ownership)

As of 2012 (as far as I can tell) Burpee remains an independent seed company. Burpee is not owned by Monsanto. Burpee is buying seeds from Seminis, a Monsanto subsidiary. The seeds Burpee buys from Seminis are hybrid seeds, developed through selective breeding. Burpee does not buy genetically modified seeds, according to George Ball's article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest.

In that same article, George Ball states that "when Monsanto acquired Seminis, neither Burpee as a company nor I, George Ball as its owner, had any financial ownership or interest in either company."

Four Seed Company Histories - oh for a family tree chart to fill in!

W. Atlee Burpee company For its entire history, Burpee market focus has been for home gardeners, not agricultural use seed.

The W. Atlee Burpee Company was founded in 1876 by W. Atlee Burpee (1858 - 1915)
W. Atlee's son David took over the company in 1915 ... It was owned by members of the Burpee family until 1970.
1970 it was purchased by General Mills.
1977 it was purchased by
1991 the company was purchased by George Ball, who is the current owner and

(George Ball writes: "which I had bought, first with my family in the early 90s, and then from my family, in the late 90s." Saying George bought Burpee in 1991 may be a shortening of a long story.)

2012 George Ball is still owner and CAO of W. Atlee Burpee Seed Company

Petoseed Company

Founded in early 1950s by Howard Peto, former employee of Burpee - Petoseed develops and sells seeds for both home gardeners and for agriculture scale

Early 1960s, Petoseed takes on another former Burpee employee, Paul Thomas, as partner

1968 - G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball bought Petoseed in 1968, retaining name

1994 - Seminis buys Peto Seeds

(Maureen Elilzabeth did not find just when the Petoseed name went out of use)

Ball Seed Company now Ball Horticultural (http://www.ballhort.com/ )

Ball Seed Company founded in 1905

G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball bought Peto Seed in 1968 (G. Victor is uncle and G. Carl is father of the current Burpee owner, George Ball)

George Ball buys W. Atlee Burpee seeds in 1991.

Anna Ball, sister of George Ball, is owner of the Ball Horticultural which is the current name of Ball Seed Company

Seminis Company

(started by?) Alfonso Romo Garza and bought by Monsanto 2005

1994 (Mexican businessman) Alfonso Romo Garza's company, Seminis, bought several "free-standing companies" including a small watermelon breeding company in Texas, the large corn breeder, Asgrow, of Kalamazoo MI and Petoseed (owned by G. Victor Ball and G. Carl Ball since 1968)

early 2000s - Seminis "divested" non-Mexican seed holdings to one, then another investment bank

(he'd been buying too much too fast - see Rodale article Monsanto Buys Seminis)

2005 - Garza sells Seminis to Monsanto (and stays on as CEO of Seminis)


The Legacy of W. Atlee Burpee


- an interesting view of how one company's development mirrors the interests of the culture and country it is part of

Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest


Maureen Elilzabeth's note: The pertinent part of this article is here. The article is on the Burpee Seed Company site, written by Burpee's current owner George Ball.

However, the past that some folks are extremely focused upon has to do with my father’s desire to sell Petoseed, with his brother’s (my uncle’s) approval, as well as that of many relatives such as a brother, sister, aunts and cousins, to an entrepreneur from Mexico named Alfonso Romo Garza. Mr. Romo, as he is called, began in baked goods and then branched out into packaging, cigarettes, beer and insurance. He even founded a business school in Monterey in the late 90s modeled on Wharton—all before reaching the age of 40. He was, and remains, an impressive entrepreneur who, at that time, wanted to diversify from cookies, crackers, beer, tobacco, et al, into vegetables, fruits and grain. He was profiled on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal shortly before the mid 1990s transaction (about ’94-’95). His vision was to help the burgeoning population of small and medium sized farmers primarily in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Nevertheless, throughout these changes of ownership, Petoseed was always the same—an extremely well-run company, composed of many ex-Burpee breeders and executives, and headquartered in
Ventura County in Southern California. It remains so to this day.

In 1994 I was asked by my father, the late G. Carl Ball, to assist in part of the transition by serving on the board with him of the new Mexican company—Seminis—composed of Petoseed and several other free-standing companies Mr. Romo bought, from a small watermelon breeding company in Texas to the large corn breeder, Asgrow, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I served about a year and then left to focus my energies on Burpee, which I had bought, first with my family in the early 90s, and then from my family, in the late 90s. Naturally, as the president of Burpee, I continued to produce seed, as I have done my entire career, but also bought from any company that could do better than I, including my old friends—and former colleagues—at Petoseed, now called Seminis. (This is the core of my business philosophy: sell only the best.)

In the early 2000s Mr. Romo decided to divest himself of all his non-Mexican seed holdings for reasons of his own, and sold Seminis to first one investment bank, which then sold it to another investment bank, which then sold it to Monsanto in the mid 2000s, about ’04 or ’05.

This sale took place long after Peto Seed began in the mid 1950s by an ex-Burpee tomato breeder, some of whose tomatoes are still loved by home gardeners nationwide, such as Paul Thomas’ ‘Better Boy’. The list of companies that buy from the garden seed department of Seminis, now a very tiny business activity of Monsanto, is long and includes most of the high quality seed sellers, as well as Burpee. We at Burpee never reject serving our customers the best quality home garden vegetable varieties we can either grow or find, and some of the latter include varieties from Seminis. All are still tested at Fordhook Farm in

Finally, it is extremely important to note that when Monsanto acquired Seminis, neither Burpee as a company nor I, George Ball as its owner, had any financial ownership or interest in either company. It was that way when Monsanto purchased Seminis and remains that way today. Burpee continues as a privately owned company and, as I wish to emphasize, along with other leaders in the home gardening industry, we seek out suitable seeds from Seminis and other companies that adhere to the rigid guidelines we maintain and require of all our suppliers to you our valued home garden and small farmer customers. If we cannot breed and produce the seeds or plants ourselves, we find those that can.

blog post by Mr. Brown Thumb (Ramon Gonzalez) - this is the post referred to in part of George Ball's article Burpee, GMO And Monsanto Rumors Put To Rest http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/chicago-garden/2011/02/can-you-trust-burpee-seeds.html

The Legacy of W. Atlee Burpee


As Geneticists Develop An Appetite for Greens, Mr. Romo Flourishes

Wall Street Journal, By Jonathan Friedland and Scott Kilman, January 28, 1999 http://www.pmac.net/romo.html

The shift from public to private seed systems
A brief history of the development of the seed industry in the United States Rodale Institute website, By Matthew Dillon Posted February 22, 2005


Monsanto buys Seminis
The biggest player in biotech is now the largest seed company in the world following a purchase worth a cool billion. Rodale Institute website By Matthew Dillon (article first appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Organic Broadcaster) http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/2005/0205/seminisbuy/index.shtml

The Politically Correct Tomato Sandwich. George Ball, on Burpee news section, Dec. 2011


"Hybrid Veggies are the Cream of the Crop." this article is slightly different and original version of George Ball's Politically Correct Tomato Sandwich article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer


Seminis main website: http://us.seminis.com

About Seminis page: If You've Eaten a Salad You've Eaten a Seminis Product http://us.seminis.com/about/default.asp

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Composting regulation DID NOT go through :-)

Hello again,

I wanted to let you know that the councillors present* at the Public Safety Committee meeting, and the Mayor, were unanimous in deleting the two sections to do with composting that were suggested as additions to the Clearing of Land Bylaw PW-9. Meaning, the regulations about composting and container size are not going to be added to the bylaw.

There were important and useful comments made by all the Committee members, and important and useful comments made by the head of Bylaw Enforcement. I think everyone there recognizes that there are opportunities for education about composting, and opportunities for many groups and projects to work together on ways to raise awareness about composting ... all in relationship to gardens and urban agriculture.

Thank you! To every one of you for giving thought to this - thought waves work! And extra thanks to those of you who wrote a note or made a phone call about this!

Best regards!

Why's Woman

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Composting restrictions will be hard to retract


There are some scary doings afoot in London!

A Public Participation Meeting for citizens to comment on some proposed changes to what is now called the Clearing of Land By-law PW-9 (2) will be part of the Public Safety Committee (3) meeting on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. (An exact time is not set for the PPM, but we'll hope for the earlier part of the meeting!)

Some of these changes have to do with composting - putting restrictions on the size and type of composting done.

Putting regulations on composting - lumping compost and composting together with refuse and graffiti bylaw changes - seems to me to be a bad precedent.

I do not think these proposals about composting were written with mean intent by the bylaw office. It takes a long time for changes to bylaws to be handled by staff and get through procedures; it might just have seemed an expedient way to handle compost complaints at the same time as garbage issues and graffiti were dealt with.

However, composting exists in a positive context of gardens, the ability of gardeners to innovate and care for the lands in their charge, and food sovereignty.

I hope you can make the time to read through the proposed changes, the full draft of the bylaw changes (4) if you are inclined ... and come on out to the March 6 public participation meeting, or get in touch with a member of the committee (3).

Best regards,

Why's Woman

The pertinent sections from the draft proposed bylaw changes are here in italics:

By implementing by-law regulations that address the containment and location of refuse and compost, various results can be achieved including the reduction of incidences of scattered garbage due to rodent, animal and bird ransacking, and the reduction of drifting garbage odours. The inclusion of regulations to address the removal of graffiti will further improve aesthetics within our community.

3) Compost containment

Currently the by-law defines but does not regulate compost containment. The proposed amendment introduces compost containment and location regulations.

2.11 Compost – containment and location

Every owner of a residential property shall ensure that all compost which accumulates on their property is:

contained within not more than 4 compost containers on their property; and

contained within containers that each:

(i) have a maximum area not greater than 1.0m²;

(ii) have a maximum height of not higher than 1.8m;

(iii) is located in the rear yard;

(iv) is enclosed on all sides by concrete blocks, a lumber structure, a metal frame, or a commercially manufactured compost container;

(v) does not include a fence or a building wall as one or more of the sides of a composter; and

(6) is covered in a manner to prevent the entry of rodents or other animals.

2.12 Leaf Compost – containment and location

If a residential property owner chooses to compost leaves, the property owner shall ensure that all leaf compost which accumulates on their property which is not contained within a compost container as set out in section 2.11 is:

(a) contained within not more than 1 leaf compost area on their property; and

(b) contained within a leaf compost area that:

(i) has a maximum area not greater than 9.29 m²;

(ii) has a maximum height of not higher than 1.2m;

(iii) is located in the rear yard;

(iv) is enclosed on all sides by concrete blocks, a lumber structure, a metal or wire frame, or a commercially manufactured compost container;

(v) does not include a fence or a building wall as one or more of the sides of a compost area; and

(vi) holds nothing more than leaves and soil.

Policy changes to do with alternative garden styles, boulevard gardening and naturalization of areas on property have been talked about for years. A report submitted in July 2009 was received - meaning shelved never to be seen again. (1)

There is a review being done this academic term by several students from Western's Master of Environment and Sustainability program. They are looking at London's bylaws and policies that might affect the future of urban agriculture in London. This will be an important start to much future work.

Possible points to comment on

Things to do with composting in general and your own thoughts as a gardener... that you can come up with on your own, I'm sure!
- compost is to be encouraged as a major soil builder
- composting keeps materials out of the waste stream - the City's Environment Services Department states this often
London has yet to institute a green bin program - why restrict people's composting on site? Composting at home is a more cost-effective way of dealing with kitchen and garden "waste" (really soil building materials)
- many innovative composting methods and plans are in magazines and reference books - the 1.0m square size is too small for a double or triple compost units where turning is done - and those aren't ever enclosed on all sides - if anything they are kept open on the front side for easy access
- enclosed on all sides is .... unnecessary, detrimental to development of compost- a large garden can easily absorb 60 - 100 bags of collected leaves each year ... why should there be a requirement they be stored in an enclosed space? And now, even the paper bags we collect leaves in are compostable at home!
- why is composting going to a Public Safety Committee anyway???!!!

The City supports composting in various ways on the City website

- through the yearly Compost Value Day (http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/Recycling_and_Composting/Compost_Value_Day.htm )

- through its association with Thames Region Ecological Association, which has long advocated composting and initiated composting programs and recycling programs in the City www.trea.ca

Show up at the Public Safety Committee meeting 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, March 6/12
You do not have to be registered to speak at the Public Participation Meeting part of this. There is always a call for people to get up and speak. There's not been a time set for the PPM, but it's likely it will be held early on, especially if quite a few people turn up.

If you e-mail or phone one of the members of the Safety Committee direct you comment to the person you think will listen. Make your comment specific to an interest you know the person has, and be positive or constructive in your comment .

Speak to someone in the City Bylaw office if you have questions.
Heather Chapman
, Coordinator, Municipal Law Enforcement Services 519-661-2500 ext 5292.
hchapman@london.ca - she is a good resource person.

(1) Boulevard Naturalization Update, London website, archived meeting agenda and report for ETC meeting July 20, 2009


(2) Clearing of Land By-law PW-9 Can be brought up, in full as a pdf from the Public Welfare section of the Bylaws index page: http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/By-laws/default.htm

(3 ) Public Safety Committee considers and reports to Council on matters to do with Public Safety including police and fire service, EMS services, Licensing and By-law Enforcement and Property Standards [http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/City_Council/standcom.htm
It meets on 4:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, usually once a month.

Current members are:
Councillor D. Brown (Chair) dbrown@london.ca
Mayor Fontana (ex-officio) jfontana@london.ca
Councillor Armstrong barmstro@london.ca
Councillor Bryant jbryant@london.ca
Councillor Hubert phubert@london.ca
Councillor Polhill bpolhill@london.ca