These tomatoes in 2012 were awfully spindly. The ones I have now look better.
I have lots of tomatoes growing in the greenhouse–not enough to sell plants, as most of the seeds I tried to start in the float bed never sprouted. I think they were too waterlogged. I’ll try again sometime with actual float trays instead of egg cartons. Looking at the varieties that were growing–Atkinson, Peron Sprayless, Moneymaker, Chalk’s Early Jewel, White Tomesol, Indigo Rose, Garden Peach–I regretted that I didn’t have any cherry tomatoes or paste tomatoes this year. I expressed this to my wife, and she surprise me the next day by coming home from work with some cherry tomatoes and Romas from the grocery store.
Of course, when you start seeds saved from fruits and vegetables, there’s always the chance that you’ll get something unexpected, either because the seeds are the result of cross-pollination with another variety, or because the parent plant was a hybrid, and its parents’ genes come through. Given that they came from a grocery store, though, we presumed they were grown in a huge monoculture, so cross-pollination was unlikely. And given these particular varieties, I knew it was likely I would get some kind of cherry tomato and some kind of paste tomato. That was good enough for me.
I had another thought, though. “What if these are genetically modified tomatoes?”
If they were genetically modified, even if I didn’t sell them, simply growing them would create a risk of cross-pollination with all my other tomatoes, meaning I could end up with transgenic material infecting the whole crop. Even if I didn’t save the seeds, or if I covered all my other plants to protect them against cross-pollinating with the transgenic tomatoes, there’s the risk that the transgenic tomatoes could cross with a neighbors’ tomatoes, and they might save their seeds. If they did, and they planted those seeds next year, then my tomatoes would be at risk again, only I wouldn’t know it. So even if I took care that year to not only shun GM seeds, but to shell out the extra money to get certified organic seeds, I could still end up producing tomatoes with frankenfood seeds in them.
This is the problem with tampering with genomes. It creates what is essentially a genetic disease (albeit a purposeful one) that nature has not had the chance to cull through natural selection. And short of labeling or having a genetics lab, it’s difficult-to-impossible for the grower to selectively breed out these manufactured genes. Given that we’re still largely ignorant about the long-term health effects of food from GMOs, they could prove to be a time bomb. Growing them not only multiplies the threat, it also displaces non-GMO options. Bad genes that can’t be selected out until it’s too late are like a virus, eventually corrupting the whole species. For all we know, the tinkered tomato genes could even jump to related plants like eggplants and potatoes.
With these concerns in mind, I decided to confirm that the seeds were not genetically modified before I planted them. I looked at the sticker on the package of cherry tomatoes, and there was a web address for the produce distributor: marketfreshproduce.com. I sent a message asking them whether their cherry tomatoes were genetically modified.
Good Morning Wayne,
Thank you for the inquiry on our website. Our cherry tomatoes are not organic. Have a wonderful day.
I wrote back to say that I understood they were probably grown using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides, or they would carry the organic label, but that I specifically wanted to know whether they were transgenic. I said I was interested in growing the seeds, but didn’t want to do so if they were genetically modified. They sent a reply saying they’d look into it, and asking where I bought them.
In other words, there’s a definite possibility that they are GMOs. The first reply I got from the company was telling: “Our cherry tomatoes are not organic.” That is, if they don’t have to meet all the standards for organic certification, they’re not going to bother trying to meet any of them.
The lesson here is that any time you see produce in a grocery store–stuff produced on a large scale and shipped through a distributor–and it doesn’t specifically say it’s organic, you might as well assume it’s genetically modified. I believe that’s why there’s such heavy resistance to GMO labeling laws in Congress. GMOs are so prevalent that they’re dominating the industry, and now that they’ve let that genie out of the bottle, there’s no getting it back in. Those genes are wild now. Honestly, even certified organic growers can’t reliably ensure their crops aren’t being cross-pollinated by neighbors’ GM crops. If they save their seeds instead of buying them new each year from a supplier who can certify that they’re organic, they run the risk of unwittingly growing GM plants. The problem, then, of requiring labeling is that most growers probably don’t even know whether their produce contains transgenic material.
Regardless of what I hear back from Market Fresh Produce, I’ve already decided I’m not growing these seeds. I don’t really even care for the taste of their tomatoes.
Update: Sure enough, here was their reply:
“Because we use multiple suppliers/growers across the nation, it is difficult for us to say with certainty whether or not these tomatoes were genetically modified.”
Frijolito Farm is not certified organic, and probably never will be, because I don’t want to deal with the fees and record keeping when my customers can come here and see the plants being grown. I only use pesticides or fungicides when there’s actually a problem (sometimes not even then), and only organic-approved ones at that. I prefer to rely on natural methods like spreading wood ashes around a plant to deter slugs, and letting birds and predatory insects eat the harmful insects. If the aphids get out of control, I’ll spray them with either soap or a mixture of vegetable oil and hot peppers. That’s why the veggies you buy here won’t be as picture-perfect as the plastic-looking things you see in the grocery store. The little bug nibbles you see here and there on your greens or squash is how you know they’re not loaded with poisons.
Taking this gentle approach to pest control means we create a friendly environment for the critters that can help. I posted recently about our garter snakes. Over the weekend, my wife spotted a beetle neither of us recognized. She looked it up on the internet and discovered it was a click beetle. They eat the larvae of tree-boring insects. That’s good news, as we have a problem with emerald ash borers. I’m hoping the click beetles will reduce their numbers.