Like all certified organic farmers, Chris Hardy of Village Farm is naturally protective of his crops.
On a recent Friday near an open-air barn, the Ashland grower passionately explained to visitors the imminent danger of pollen from genetically modified organism plants. When not toiling in the field, he is working with other farmers and food activists to persuade the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to ban GMOs.
Hardy's organic farm is situated in the foothills of Butler Creek, down the road from a field full of sugar beets grown from engineered seeds from Syngenta, a multinational chemical company.
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"Right now the wind's blowing and I'm thinking, 'There's GMO pollen blowing,' " says Hardy. "If you've ever spent time growing seeds or learning about what it takes to produce pure seeds for organic systems, that process is thousands of years old. You don't play with that."
This threat is a constant reminder to Hardy that he must do more than become a certified organic farm and gain a permanent farm location to fulfill his longer-term vision.
"If you're buying your seeds through certain companies, it's custom to just assume — since it's got a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) stamp on it — that it's going to be free of GMO," he says. "But two years ago our sugar beets were less than 50 percent GMO. Now we're entering a world where it's about 95 percent."
That's why it is so important for farms to be conscious about saving seed, Hardy says, commending Don Tipping and his Seven Seeds Farm of Williams as one of the groups committed to preserving local seed.
Village Farm has also established a partnership with Phoenix-based Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, which uses Village Farm seeds as starts.
Hardy encourages locals to "stay up on the issues" concerning Syngenta and biotechnology. "Understand the bigger story," he says. "We need smarter agriculture, not more biotech. Those are not smart systems in my opinion because they're highly unsustainable."
Find it: Village Farm has a booth at the Tuesday Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market at the Ashland National Guard Armory. There, supporters can also buy Farm Bucks that are redeemable at Village Farm and Happy Dirt Veggie Patch stands.
Village Farm produce can sometimes be found at Grilla Bites and Standing Stone Brewing Co., both in Ashland. For more information, visit http://thevillagefarm.org or email Chris Hardy at email@example.com.