Letters

10 corporations own 94 percent of global seed market

The Illinois General Assembly has the opportunity to stand up for the seeds this spring. SB3130, sponsored by Sen. Sam McCann and co-sponsored by Sen. Dave Koehler, would exempt noncommercial interpersonal seed sharing activities from requirements of the Illinois Seed Law, including testing, permitting, and state-specified labeling and recordkeeping. While seed savers might be surprised that this is a policy matter at all, crackdowns elsewhere gave local foods advocates reason to examine the Illinois law.

In 2014, regulators in Pennsylvania and Minnesota began requiring seed libraries to comply with their states’ commercial seed requirements, threatening seed libraries’ existence and thwarting their ability to offer locally-grown seeds. The Minnesota legislature responded, passing legislation exempting seed sharing activities from such requirements. Nebraska also proactively passed similar legislation and just this March, Pennsylvania regulators reversed their position. Illinois seed libraries are still operating in a legal gray area, and some have hesitated to open, or to continue operating, without legal certainty.

Seed libraries are usually housed in public libraries or other community facilities. They typically receive donations of commercial seed packets and heirloom, open-pollinated seed saved by local gardeners. People “check out” seed and for open-pollinated varieties can “return” newly saved seed at season’s end. Seed libraries encourage people to learn new skills, develop locally-adapted plant genetics and help preserve biodiversity.

Between 1903 and 1983, we lost an estimated 93 percent of biodiversity in our food seeds, and today, 94 percent of the global seed market is controlled by just 10 companies. This is an alarming situation and we should be pursuing every policy initiative we can to address this very sad and potentially very dangerous trend.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance, a statewide organization focused on local foods and sustainable farming issues, is working to try to pass this bill. As amended, the bill would explicitly prohibit sharing patented or treated seeds, or noxious or exotic weed seeds.  Nonetheless, the bill continues to have powerful institutional opposition, some presenting alarmist assertions such as that this will open the door for bioterrorism and poisonous seed distribution—an extreme and theoretical fear, while we are facing the real threat of lost biodiversity. Supporters of the bill include a wide range of gardening, conservation, and community groups; some farming organizations; individuals; and even commercial seed companies, such as Seed Savers Exchange and High Mowing Organic Seeds.

To stand up for the seeds yourself, send a message to your state senator here: http://bit.ly/Seed-Libraries.

Rebecca Osland, Policy Associate, Illinois Stewardship Alliance

Army Ranger becomes disillusioned with war

Rory Fanning came to Peoria on March 30 and 31 to speak about his experiences as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, a conscientious objector, a friend of Pat Tillman and his walk across America.

He spoke at Lakeview Library on Wednesday (3/30) evening as part of “Peoria Reads” and then at ICC on Thursday (3/31) to students in Paul Resnick’s English classes. Fanning’s book, “Worth Fighting For,” is his account of a foot journey to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation and to resolve and put into perspective his decision to leave the Rangers and the war in Afghanistan. Like the “Peoria Reads” selection, “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien, Fanning’s book is self-reflective and thoughtful, although from a different generation and a different war.

Rory Fanning, a Notre Dame graduate, joined the Army soon after 9/11 and went through Ranger training. He was shipped to Afghanistan where he became exposed to the realities of war and U.S. policy in the Third World. It was not what he expected. The Taliban had actually given up, but the U.S. wanted to engage them and sent soldiers out to do just that. Through cash payments in that poor country, they were able to nab some “bad guys” even though there was little if any evidence against them. Fanning became increasingly disillusioned with the war and the Army.

Eventually he decided to become a non-combatant. This was a very unusual choice for a Ranger, and it violated the culture of that elite branch. He was immediately ostracized and given menial tasks while the Army decided what to do with him. Around that time, Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire, and the Pentagon was scrambling to keep the truth suppressed because it wanted to keep the “hero” narrative alive. Fanning was given a discharge so as to minimize attention on that unit. Pat and Kevin Tillman had been the only Rangers who had accepted Fanning during the time he was waiting for a decision.

Back in civilian life, Fanning took a normal job in a bank, but felt there was something he needed to do to resolve his feelings of incompleteness. He decided on a walk across America to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. His book is an account of that trip and his personal evolution to complete the process he started by leaving the Army.

He is now working at Haymarket Books in Chicago and speaking at venues where he can assume the role of “counter-recruiter.”  He wants to speak to as many high schools and junior colleges as he can, which is a challenge because most do not want to hear the alternative to the military. Chicago Public Schools have the highest enrollment in JROTC in the country. Fanning wants to give a realistic picture of the military, his experience, and U.S. policy so that young people can make informed, rational decisions about their future. Fifty years ago, during the Viet Nam war and draft, there were draft counselors who would advise young men about what options they had to conscription. Fanning is filling that role even though there is no longer a draft.

Fanning has undergone a personal transformation as significant as a 3,000-mile hike. He has gone from an unquestioning conservative Catholic to a reflective, socialist, atheist. He is a mild, unassuming presence one on one or speaking to a group. His quiet manner has you listening carefully and his humility is disarming to those who may feel like challenging him.

I saw him tell his story to two of Resnick’s 111 level English classes. The students were 18 and 19 year olds. They listened respectfully to Fanning even though some had relatives in the military or were actually in themselves. There was no phone checking or messaging. It is a credit to ICC’s quality of students and teachers.

The students asked a range of questions from personal to political. Some opened up about how a brother or a boyfriend had been traumatized by the war. A few approached him about these issues. Fanning is a vocal war resister, yet he can empathize with traumatized vets and their loved ones without putting them off. One can see that the effects of this seemingly endless war will go on for a long, long time.

Rory Fanning says that his mission of speaking to young people is a form of resolution to his feelings of being constricted or not complete. He talked about veterans being allowed to have space to tell their story honestly. Space is the operative word for him. Calling veterans “heroes” or mindlessly thanking them for their service puts them in a box where they cannot dispute or clarify their perception and experience. He has found space through his talks to young people. He has embarked on a journey that may be at least as challenging as walking 3,000 miles. Peoria was fortunate to have been a stop on that journey.

Burt Raabe, Peoria Heights

 



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