Our Fall 2017 Newsletter is here!

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Our Fall Newsletter is here! -- with some minor corrections. If you're not on our mailing list yet, you can sign up here to start receiving our quarterly newsletter.

Date: 10/18/2017
Subject: News from Cultivate Oregon

Hello! It’s been awhile since you last heard from us, but Cultivate Oregon’s volunteer Steering Committee has been at work furthering our mission of championing regenerative agriculture and protecting traditional seeds from genetically engineered (GE) contamination. Below you’ll hear about what we’ve been up to and what we have planned. As we continue to grow we invite you to join us —we’re currently looking for additional volunteers and supporters. Feel free to be in touch or let us know that you want to volunteer at [email protected].

Legislative Update

Along with our coalition partners, Cultivate Oregon participated in the 2017 legislative session in Salem. The coalition put forth two pieces of legislation aimed to address GE issues—H.B. 2739, which also had a Senate version, S.B. 1037, and H.B. 2739. Thank you to those who responded to the action alerts that we sent out—especially those that sent in personal testimony and traveled to Salem with the coalition. We were recently reminded by a legislator that while form letters can be useful, personal constituent testimony is truly what makes a difference.

As some background, in 2014, voters in both Josephine and Jackson counties, by significant majorities, passed ballot measures to ban the cultivation of GE seeds. However, during the 2013 special summer session, Oregon legislators included the GE seed issue in legislation (S.B. 683) that was used as leverage to pass the “Grand Bargain” related to PERS (retirement) issues. As part of this political compromise, which was otherwise unrelated to agriculture, S.B. 683 put into place a statewide prohibition that prevents any county or local jurisdiction from regulating GE seeds. (If Multnomah County voted to ban the cultivation of GE seeds, it could not go into effect.)

The Jackson County vote was fortunately exempted from S.B. 683 because the ballot initiative was filed by January 13, 2013—a political carve out made during the bargaining process. But Josephine County wasn’t included, and as a result, the county’s 58% affirmative vote was barred from going into effect simply because their citizen’s initiative was filed at a later date.

The coalition decided to pursue a legislative fix.

H.B. 2739 and S.B. 1037, the “Local Control” bills, sought to overturn this preemption to correct the disenfranchisement of Josephine County voters, and restore the right of Oregon counties to make choices about their agricultural needs. While the bills were assigned to committees, Rules and Environment & Natural Resources respectively, they did not pass. Opponents declined to restore local control, nor honor the vote in Josephine County, because of concerns about a “patchwork” of regulations throughout the state. However, the same opponents have failed to support any meaningful advances to statewide regulation.

In light of this discrepancy—no local control and no statewide legislation—the coalition also sought to create independent protection from GE contamination for Oregon farmers.

The aim of H.B. 2739, the “Liability” bill, was to implement a mechanism to aid farmers whose crops become contaminated by GE technology. The first-of-its-kind bill sought to put the liability for GE contamination on the patent holder of the contaminating seed, not the farmer who planted it. Since Oregon has no statewide regulation of GE crops, and has disenfranchised all counties (except Jackson) from making decisions about GE farming, conventional and organic farmers whose crops are contaminated have no simple recourse. If an organic farmer’s crop is contaminated, it can no longer be sold, and most farmers cannot afford to pursue legal remedies for such harm. Further, since one-way GE contamination often cannot be eradicated, the harm to an organic farm can be permanent. H.B. 2739 also was assigned to committee, Rules, and received a hearing, but was never voted on and died at the end of the busy session.

The opposition purports that GE contamination is not an issue in Oregon, and therefore, until there is a problem, there is no need for liability. However, there have been instances of GE contamination in Oregon; wheat in 2013, as well as ongoing GE bentgrass contamination that is the result of an escape from a GE field trial. The bottom line is that GE farmers should not be able to contaminate other farms with impunity and we will continue to advocate for protections from GE contamination.

Events Update

  • In addition to our legislative efforts, Cultivate Oregon hosted two events. In December we produced a Winter Solstice Square Dance in Hood River. The event built awareness around responsible food and farming and the importance of seed biodiversity. The event was sponsored by local farms and organic food companies. Diverse community members gathered to celebrate the winter solstice at the local Grange through community building and old timey rituals like dancing, breaking bread, and having fun! We hope to hold more events like this in the future.
  • In July we offered a Winter Garden Seed Swap where we provided a fantastic selection of Oregon open-pollinated organic seeds, as well as homegrown seeds, geared towards winter gardens. We also had soil and plantable containers on hand so participants were able to get a jump-start on their cold weather sustenance. It was a lovely, sunny afternoon and we enjoyed hanging out with old friends and meeting new ones too.
  • On September 13, Cultivate Oregon attended the Oregon Organic Coalition Awards for Excellence Luncheon where our friend and coalition member, Dr. Ray Seidler, was honored as Scientist of the Year! During the 1980s, Dr. Seidler was the Chief EPA scientist involved in monitoring the first ever microorganism GMO releases into the open environment. Since retiring, Dr. Seidler has presented numerous talks on health and environmental risk assessment issues pertaining to GE crops, impacts of pesticides on beneficial life forms and on endocrine disruptors. He has also testified many times before the Oregon legislature on bills impacting these subjects, and has also served as a scientific expert in legal matters involving GE issues. Cultivate Oregon is thankful that Dr. Seidler is committed to protecting organic farmers in Oregon.
  • Cultivate Oregon attended the Earth Island Institute (EII) Project Directors Summit September 15-17 in the Marin Headlands, which was organized by our fiscal sponsor, EII. It was inspiring to be amidst over 70 non-profit projects, largely focused on environmental, social justice, and equity issues. We are continually grateful for the support and guidance that we receive from the EII community.

Upcoming Events

  • Cultivate Oregon will be tabling at the Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir shows in Portland on October 6 and 7 at 7:30pm at The Old Church. Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir is a New York City-based radical performance community. They are anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists who have worked with communities all over the world defending community, life, and imagination. 
  • Details will be forthcoming for a fall screening of SEED! – The Untold Story, in Portland, along with organic popcorn, hot cider, and more seed swapping
  • Cultivate Oregon is also excited to be partnering with Jerry Hunter, Urban Agriculturalist of Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability, to present on-farm events next season.
  • Lastly, stay tuned for an updated website later this fall or early winter.

Thank you for reading and we look forward to connecting with you soon. Lastly, as part of our long-term planning, we are looking for grant and foundation money, and part of this process includes upgrading our website. Please consider make a small donation to help up with this project, as well as our legislative and event outreach. Donate here.

– The Cultivate Oregon Steering Committee