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The First Ever National Heirloom Exposition, Santa Rosa, California

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by guest blogger Annie Spiegelman (a.k.a. the Dirt Diva)

It's estimated that 75 percent of the processed foods in U.S. supermarkets contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. This manipulation occurs by taking a specific gene of one species, let's say a flounder, and inserting it into another, such as a tomato, or inserting a bacterium into a corn plant to make it resistant to certain pests. Genetically engineered food differs from traditional plant breeding because it breeds using different species, a process that, last time I checked, does not occur in nature.... Once you're aware of this meshuga (crazy) food on your plate, you may wonder why no one bothered to tell you that there are flounder parts (or RoundUp) in your Chopped Salad? And, why there are presently no U.S. laws requiring GE labeling, even though 30 other countries, including Japan and most of Europe, have restrictions or outright bans on them. Oh, how I yearn for the good ol' days, when 93 percent of U.S. corn and 86 percent of soybeans weren't genetically modified...

Twelve thousand years ago humans discovered agriculture by doing something as simple as saving seed. A vast variety of seeds were passed down from generation to generation, farmer to farmer, garden-geek to garden-geek. Yet, in the last century, 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct. Today, there are seeds created in biotech labs and patented by arrogant and reckless multinational corporations that believe they have the right to own agriculture. For the last 20 years, some have even been suing family farmers if the company's biotech seeds are accidentally blown by wind onto a non-GE-planting farmer's land.

To that I say, "Really?

Well then, bring me the HEIRLOOMS! We've got planting to do, people. Shovels Up!"

I invite you all to join me at The National Heirloom Exposition, taking place in Santa Rosa, California, on September 13-15th, 2011. What exactly is an heirloom? Heirloom plants, both ornamental and edible, are open-pollinated varieties that preserve the past, offer greater disease and insect resistance, come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and tastes, and have much, much hipper names than today's hybrids and disputed genetically modified seeds. Check out these heirloom tomato names: 'Chocolate Stripes,' 'Aunt Ruby's German Green,' 'Pearly Pink,' and 'Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter'. "Heirlooms are a celebration of the diversity of life. Every single variety has a certain intrinsic purpose and value, grows in different conditions, has a specific flavor, and season--just like humans," says Helge Hellberg, creator and host of An Organic Conversation on Green 960 Radio. "The incredible vastness of heirloom varieties for me is a mirror of our society, where every expression and character is necessary and makes up the flavor, fabric, and beauty of life." Hellberg will be one of the panelists speaking on Tuesday, September 13th, at the expo.

More than 50 renowned speakers will be featured at the Heirloom Expo, including chef and author Alice Waters, physician and nutrition expert Dr. John A McDougall MD, cofounder of Seed Saver's Exchange Diane Ott Whealy, author Wendy Johnson, horticulturist Gwen Kilchherr, Pesticide Watch community organizer Dana Perls, and the editors of Organic Gardening, Sunset, Grit, and Herb Companion magazines. (Visit theheirloomexpo.com for the full lineup and speaker schedule.) There will also be live music, garden art, food demos, giant produce contests, poultry and livestock shows, a plethora of fantastic "foodie" movie screenings, seed, plant, and natural-food vendors, workshops, and various kinds of educational fun for kids.

On Tuesday evening, keynote speaker Jeffrey Smith, best-selling author of Seeds of Deception and founder of Institute of Responsible Technology, will discuss the risks to human health and the environment inherent in GMOs. Smith notes that when the number of non-GMO eaters rises to about 5 percent of consumers, about 15 million, there will be a tipping point, where the major food companies will rapidly kick out genetically modified organisms from their brands--as they did in Europe when the tipping point was achieved there. Smith, who was recently a guest on the Dr. Oz Show, will inform and educate attendees on how they can organize effective local action to accelerate the upcoming tipping point. "There is a non-GMO revolution taking hold in the U.S.," says Smith. "Millions of people are now actively seeking food made without genetically modified organisms. And no wonder: The American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges everyone to do so, citing animal studies showing infertility, accelerated aging, immune system dysfunction, digestive ailments, and organ damage. Northern California is taking the lead in this movement, which will ultimately reclaim a healthier non-GMO food supply for the nation," he says.

The heroic and distinguished physicist Dr.Vandana Shiva will be the keynote speaker on Thursday, July 15th. In the mid-1980s, Shiva launched Navdanya, a seed-saving organization that has helped rescue thousands of plant varieties from extinction. She was also instrumental in holding off the introduction of Monsanto's GM seeds in India until 2002. "Since then, we've seen an escalating rate of farmer suicides, which began when Monsanto started to control the cotton seed, " says Shiva. "Today, Monsanto has 90 percent control over the seed supply of cotton in a land where we used to have 1,500 varieties, including open-pollinated varieties. Heirloom seeds are traditional varieties that have evolved by farmers over millennia. They embody biological and cultural diversity and are the seeds on which our food security rests." Shiva speaks of "freeing the seeds" as the way to liberate farmers. "GMOs actually increase the toxification of our food system, even while claiming to be an alternative to chemicals. Instead there are now superweeds, which has increased the usage of herbicides, and superpests, which has increased the use of pesticide sprays."

Have you no mercy, Mother Nature? Stop toying with mankind! You're making us look like IDIOTS...

This "World's Fair" of the heirloom industry is in part sponsored by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The company opened its "Seed Bank" doors in 2008 in nearby Petaluma, California. Founder Jere Gettle, known to many as "the Indiana Jones of seeds," planted his first garden at age 3. Today, the company catalogue ships to 250,000 gardeners nationally, and offers the largest selection of heirloom varieties in the U.S.A. "This event has grown faster and larger than I ever imagined. It is exciting and encouraging to see so much interest in preserving our heritage breeds of animals, pure food sources, and traditional arts," says Gettle.

Wondering which heirloom seeds to plant in September? Paul Wallace, manager of the Petaluma Seed Bank, recommends growing leafy greens and members of the cruciferous vegetable family. Some on his Heirloom Top Ten List in this category are 'Early Jersey Wakefield' cabbage, still growing strong since 1840, 'Long Island Improved' Brussels sprouts, and 'Waltham 29' or 'Early Purple Sprouting' broccoli. And last, 'Purple of Sicily' cauliflower, a beautiful brilliant-purple color with a fine, sweet flavor that's insect resistant, rich in minerals, and easier to grow than white varieties.

My recommendation? Why don't we all collectively grow 'Little (Middle) Finger'; it's a sassy, 3-inch, French baby carrot superb for canning and pickling, and patriotically salute it at the Monsanto Company...and holler, "BITE ME!"

And, yes, I mean that just the way you're thinking.

The National Heirloom Expo

Sonoma County Fairgrounds

1350 Bennett Valley Road

Santa Rosa, CA 95404

September 13-15, 2011

11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Adults: $10 dollars; kids under 17: free

Visit TheHeirloomExpo.com to buy tickets online and see speaker schedule.

Visit Annie at DirtDiva.com

For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.

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