Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Customer is Always Right.....?

"I’ve had the first one of the year…..more to come.  A customer wants to know which ….uhhh…let me copy and paste this because I can’t do it justice.

Please advise."

I take a deep breath. Our family grows a lot of plants for the woman sending us this email.  We ship vegetable starter plants, finished hanging baskets and flowering pots, and...starting this year....herbs and cucumber plants, stevia and edamame (yep, edible soybeans) and a host of other flowering annuals.  In our greenhouses, we grow not just hybrid tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, but also heirloom tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, destined for the patios and gardens of Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, with some making their way as far north as the Dakotas.  Last year we fielded questions about our entire production system for growing the vegetables that would eventually bloom and produce something edible: were they organic; did they contain GMOs? (insinuating that being GMO is a contagion one can catch.)   But the letter she was preparing to copy and paste..copied and pasted here ....was clearly one for the record books.  Read it and weep.

"I need to know which plants that you sell are genetically modified - what I mean by genetically modified are plants that undergo unnatural genetic engineering including shooting genes into chromosomes.  I am fine with plants that have been selectively bred.  Selective breeding is a natural process of natural selection.  I would prefer native but will accepts selective breeding options.  If any of these flowering plants are native and not altered in any way, I need to know that for sure.  I would like to place a sizable order but your plants are not marketed to indicate which ones may be unnaturally genetically modified.  I do not want to kill bees and other pollinators by planting unsafe plants for them.  I am also selective about considering plants that produce vegetables for our consumption.  I only plant non genetically modified (no lab created seeds) food plants for my family's consumption and only use organic soil.  I do not use miracle grow or other harmful products in my food gardens.  If your food plants are not modified, you need to indicate it for sure.  I need to know, for sure, that the flowering ornamental plants I consider from your company will not be harmful in any way to our ecosystem."

Sigh.  Really, where does one start.  With the confused, incomprehensible, and value laden  differentiation between 'natural' and whatever it's antithesis is considered to be?  (Unsafe? Harmful? Unselective, perhaps?  Foreign, heaven forfend.....)  How can we possibly cut a Gordian knot that defines "selective"breeding as a "natural" process of "natural" selection!!?  Selection involves a someone or something.  In this case, the someone is a human being.  In the broadest sense, yes, a human being is certainly something "natural", but using that interpretation makes all genetic alteration natural and I don't think that's what the writer intended to imply at all.  Choosing a desirable characteristic is certainly "selection", but there is nothing "natural", aka accidental or arbitrary, about it.

Let's continue. No, I'm afraid none of the flowering plants we are growing for this account are 'native'.  They are annuals and unmistakably altered (bred) for color, hardiness, disease resistance, long blooming, and probably, drought tolerance, seeing as many of the flowers purchased by our customers have to endure conditions that are quite "unnatural".... roots constrained to a very small volume of soil and watered once a week or less....  But no problem: if one desires a "natural" planting there are other options.  Just let these highly improved annuals reseed for year or two and the offspring will revert to the pallid ancestors of sporadic bloom and sprawling habit. Or grow your own natives from seed or purchased perennials.  There ARE indeed grand and garden worthy native plants; I'm a huge fan.  But growing indigenous species will not make you a better person or provide more habitat for pollinators or butterflies than a pot of lantana or a planting of pentas.  Grow 'em both; that's my advice!

And let's get one thing perfectly straight; there isn't going to be a genetically modified seed or plant in any of our greenhouses this year.  I wish there were!  I wish there was a way to prevent fungus from spotting zinnias, botrytis from browning geraniums, and put a stop to the downy mildew plague that has devastated impatiens the last few years!  If one buys a tomato from us, it may be a brand new hybrid with lots of letters after its name signifying its resistance to various nasty fungi...or one can choose something tried and true like Rutgers or Big Boy....but we will be just as happy to sell you a heritage tomato variety like Cherokee or German Johnson.  Choice is good, and one need only leaf through a catalog like Totally Tomatoes to realize the past, present, and future of home garden production offers a cornucopia of decisions.  

While I'm on my garden soapbox, allow me to point out that it would be a really tough job to find a totally inorganic soil.  Even an abused garden plot will contain a fair amount of organic matter in the form of stems, leaves, roots, mulch and other leftovers in various stages of decomposition.  I guess my grandkids' sandbox might be considered an inorganic garden spot...but not after they've pounded a half dozen gourds into pulp and planted the seeds.....

Ecosystem is such a sterile technical term.  A garden can be many things...organized or unkempt, monotone or multi-hued, edible or ornamental, frivolous or practical. Forgive me if I believe planting flowers and vegetables, whether for consumption or pleasure, is a net gain for the earth and all the creatures thereof.  We grow plants for a living...and for love.  That's the kind of rule I can live with....

1 comment: