Category Archives: Ratana Stephens

Academy Awards of Organic Food

Last night, I attended the OTA awards recognizing Leadership in the Organic Foods Industry.  Organic became an industry started by idealists like my father, as a response to farming with toxic chemicals. These committed few believe, as I do, that poisons don’t belong in the food supply.  Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that she doesn’t want to feed even trace amounts of carcinogens and hormone disrupters to her children.   Several joined the caravan and the few became an “industry”.  Fast forward several years and things are looking brighter as the industry has grown from a seed into a sapling.  But we now have to contend with unsustainable GMO agriculture. Instead of decreasing their use, GMOs have exponentially increased pesticide and herbicide use in a misguided mono-crop disaster.

But here is hope for our planet and our health.  Side by side studies with “Conventional” Vs Organic show that Organic yields are equivalent and organic yields are greater in times of Drought.  Organic methods are the gold standard for healthy soil, clean water, and the food Mother Earth intended for us to eat.  For those of you wondering about organic standards, please see my blog post with answers from Dag Falck. https://thedeepersideblog.com/2013/09/15/dag-falck-replies/

DSC_0805

The first award was presented to my parents Arran and Ratana Stephens, of Nature’s Path Foods.  They were honoured with the Growing Organic Industry Award.  When recently asked if Nature’s Path was a non-profit activist group or a consumer foods company, Dad answered “Both”.  I’ve copied his and mom’s inspired acceptance speeches below.

The Second Award was presented to Kyle Mathison of Stemlit Growers for Organic Farmer of the Year Award.  In a rousing speech which made my mouth water, Kyle spoke about his quest to grow the best, most juicy, luscious fruits.  He has helped advance solutions in orchard weed control, organic fertilizer, integrated pest control etc etc.  Kyle, a fourth generation farmer from Washington, made me salivate as I flashed though my most memorable fruit experiences.  That peach I bought in Montreal, those figs from Florence, the sweet muscat grapes from France that tasted like candy, ripe mangoes from India that defy description.  The Apples dad has espalliered.  I wish I had the text of his speech so I could make you salivate too.

kyle mathison

The third and last award of the evening was presented to Karen and Colin Archipley: the Rising Star Award.  Colin is a war veteran who founded the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training program.  Helping veterans, who face employment hurdles after leaving the military, Karen and Colin create a link between jobs for vets and organic agriculture on Archi’s Acres in California, their organic hydroponic farm.  Talk about literally turning swords into ploughshares!  They recently helped plant the White House’s Organic garden.

DSC_0810

During their acceptance speech, Colin made everyone in the crowded room raise their hand and pledge to be Semper Fidelis.  This is a Marine Motto.  Always Loyal.  It was a lovely gesture.  From a former marine leading the pledge (whose opening I solemnly swear reminded me of the marauders map), it was powerful.  If anyone had been unsure about the zealous commitment to Organic farming, this dispelled any doubts.

I saw Bob Quinn the KAMUT grower on my way out.  Bob and I spent many years bumping and into each other at European Trade shows.  No matter where I was or what my mood was, Bob made me smile with his killer smile dressed in his cowboy boots and hat with two sprigs of Kamut in its band.  Kamut (heirloom wheat found in an Egyptian tomb and subsequently planted in the midwest) has higher protein content and superior nutritional content to modern wheat.  It also doesn’t cause bloating.  Only organically grown, Kamut, which is trademarked, is growing literally by leaps and bounds since I last saw Bob.  Bob tells me that over 70,000 acres are dedicated to the organic sowing of Kamut!  That is great news for Kamut growers, happy tummies and the planet.

DSC_0811

Below is the inspiring speech mom and dad gave:

OTA Growing Organic Leadership Award ACCEPTANCE SPEECH, Sept 26, 2013, Baltimore, MD:

RATANA:
Dear friends, family, OTA Board Members and Fellow Travelers,

Thank you for bestowing this honor upon us. We are privileged to be recognized.   This journey has been a labor of love. It is to create a better world for our children, grandchildren, and the children of the universe.

This has not been a solo play. So wonderful to see many familiar faces who have been a vital part of the organic movement for years, and together we have nurtured and grown this into an industry. What is the power of a committed few? According to Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Rather than talking about what has happened over the past 45 years that Arran and I have been together (and believe me, we have seen a lot), I would like to pass along some advice in building a successful legacy enterprise, and what we have learned from our mentors:

Never sacrifice quality for money or for any other consideration

Always do your best, and leave the rest

A success is a failure that never gave up. There’s no substitute for patience and persistence.

Never compromise core values and principles. Business and the market are in constant flux, VALUES never change.

Be humble.

Now, I’m going to turn this over to Arran…

ARRAN:

On behalf of the many, Thanks for the Award!

Because of the visible stand that i and my family have taken against the artificial genetic modification of our food supply, And our fight to have GMO foods properly labeled in California and Washington State so people can make an informed decision about whether or not they wish to feed this stuff to their families, I received a tongue-in-cheek question, “Are you a packaged consumer goods company, or an activist group?” I happily answered, “Both!”

2 1/2 years ago, lying in the ICU ward, my life was dangling from a very slender thread, hovering somewhere in the void between life and death. It seemed then, in some strange way that I had a choice—to go into the Beyond or stay on and complete some unfinished aspects of this existence. I chose, or so it seemed, to live on.

Having been granted a life extension, I re-dedicated whatever time was left to serve the Creation in some small way—on the one hand to nurture and protect the fragile earth, to help fulfill the destiny of our enterprise, Nature’s Path and ensure its smooth succession to the next generation, to be there as a loving father and husband, and on the other hand, to continue to evolve as a human and spiritual being.

In ancient times, it was said, “Honor your heavenly Father and your earthly Mother that your days may be long upon the earth, for from one mother proceeds all that lives; therefore he that kills, kills his brother, and from him will the earthly mother pluck her quickening breast.”

I have always felt a kinship with this spiritual, but non-religious Father-Mother aspect of existence.

Over the past seven decades. I have been much blessed to have been raised by loving parents on the family farm on Vancouver Island; to have lived in India; to have married one of her daughters; to have been blessed by her Saints, to have been constantly involved in the organic movement since 1967, before there was an industry, to have, with my dear wife of 44 years, and our four children–Shanti, Gurdeep, Jyoti and Arjan) built an inter-generational legacy of Nature’s Path, without selling out!  For our friends in the investment community, no part of NP is for sale, just to save your and our time.

We have made many good friends over these decades, many of whom are in this hall tonight. We honor you all, we love you all.  To all who are part of the burgeoning organic industry, starting with our unsung heroes: family farmers, suppliers, the hundreds of Valued Nature’s Path Team Members, wholesalers, retailers and last but not least, our millions of customers, we salute you, for without you, we wouldn’t be here.

The world we all share and love, is in crisis. Nature is under serious attack, and she’s beginning to revolt. It’s up to us to nurture and care for what is left. Our generation has made a terrible mess of polluting the nest; let us hope and pray the next generation is wiser. My dad told me, his ten year old son, as we hand planted a field of corn together to “Always leave the soil better than you found it.”

With modern methods of chemical agriculture, using fossil fuel based fertilizers and attacking pests with massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides, we are short-sightedly destroying the long-term fertility of our soil bank, depleting it at the expense of future generations. In less than 20 years, since the first GMO crops were introduced, more than 90% of soy, cotton, sugar beets, canola, and Hawaiian papayas now contain alien gene traits. There have been no long-term safety GMO trials, which makes us part of an unprecedented feeding study, but we are not lab rats! Nor are GMOs even labeled, yet they are in 80% of supermarket foods. GMO crops are failing their maker’s promise to provide greater yields, toxic herbicide use has gone up 15 fold, allergies have increased three fold in the short two decades since GMOs were introduced into the North American agricultural system. Predicted super weeds have developed resistance to herbicides, contaminating more than seventy million acres in North America, now requiring even more deadly chemicals to eradicate them. Thousands of unique species of plants and creatures are lost every year.  Instead of cooperating with nature as we should, as guardians or trustees of our land bank, modern science and short-sighted consumerism is waging war against Nature. And this has many of us disturbed.

Biotech companies are interfering with evolutionary processes that have taken thousands—even millions of years to perfect. Genetic modification is not a continuation of selective breeding, but the significant alteration of life forms. And the outcomes are haphazard and unpredictable.

Organic agriculture and soil conservation is the only bulwark against this tsunami of ecological mismanagement.

Because we are concerned that good organic farmland is being lost due to ageing farmers retiring with no heirs to take their place, we have begun to buy good farmland, with a cooperative crop-sharing model. It is working, but with the rate of demand exceeding supply, we desperately need more young organic farmers. We are grateful to be a part of the organic solution. You are, or can also be a part of the solution. A new, caring economy is needed. A fresh paradigm of conscious capitalism, if I may borrow the term, a new generation of idealist-entrepreneurs is much needed. There is hope, and I am an optimist.  I will fight for the good of the earth so long as I live, and until the I that is my body becomes the earth, while the I that is my soul soars free from its temporal fetters to merge the lesser light with its Source in the greater Light.

Let me share one of my farmer/songwriter/father’s songs:

Across the plain, my yellow grain
Lies restless as the sea,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?

To fill my need I sowed the seed,
And now repaid I’ll be,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?

The seasons change with splendor,
My ceiling is the sky,
The earth, my master, happy man am I

Two arms that gladly share my toil
Or hold me tenderly,
How could this all be given to a guy like me?

Reno Galore

‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’

– John Keates

In his book Vanishing Vancouver, Michael Kluckner explained how certain he was that the J.W.Leek House in Point Grey would be a casualty of Vancouver’s rapid growth.  Michael Kluckner is an artist and author of several beautiful books chronicling Vancouver’s history.

Vanishing Vancouver

He was familiar with the house, which was designed and built for a time where Vancouverites grew most of their own food and lived in more modestly-sized homes. Michael went with his paintbrush and with a certain wistfulness, made a watercolour of the house which was surely destined for demolition. It features in his book published in 2012.

20130811-100256.jpg


Michael didn’t know that my parents wanted to purchase the house.  Mom and Dad had gone by the house often and wanted to restore it to its former glory.  I shared their vision. Together with my parents, we undertook a daunting renovation of the Leek House after purchase in 2010. So much was going on at the time. My father was at end-stage liver failure and I was gearing up to be the organ donor. We had more than enough things going on both personally and professionally.

S10032 101207 014

Some interior photos before the renovation, showing holes in the walls and ceilings and roof.

S10032 101207 023

Stains like these were all over the house. They were either water or animal urine….

S10032 101207 034

In the living room, this hole was above the sofa. Which had ferns growing out of it. Green house?

When dad explained that our mandate was to renovate (not demolish), the contractors we asked to bid on the job looked at us bug-eyed as if we were bat s— crazy. The roof had holes so extensive that ferns were growing out of the living room sofa. The place stank sickly sweet of rot exacerbated by the various wildlife living in the house, including a family of raccoons. Sean Pearson, our architect at RUF project got reactions every time he went in to take measurements, being allergic to mould. Dad, who was in dangerously frail condition medically, had to be hospitalized after he visited the home and didn’t wear a mask. It was cleaned out by a crew in bio hazard suits.

back from master bed

Back Garden post reno. Dad’s original design was to replace the fallen, rotten, dead and dying fruit trees with a gently sloping landscaping and dozens healthy fruit trees and dozens of healthy cedars.  Every tree that had a hope for health, including the walnut that stands at an angle, was preserved and nursed to optimal health.  The area where the lawn is divided into squares,was before the reno, a mossy rectangle.

The original “backyard” was a something out of Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted forest.  Enchanted as in dark magic and evil: briars and brambles 15 feet high made it impossible to traverse the backyard.  We tried.  We might have been successful with a machete.  A derelict and diseased orchard had gone to seed and created a hazardous situation for neighbours and visitors alike: several fallen trees, many of which had crashed onto the neighbour’s yard. The City was even called upon to remove trees that fell onto and blocked the back lane. These trees, mostly fruit varieties planted when the house was first built, were in such dangerous condition that the city had written to the then-owner to remove them. She never did. The city forgot. They did have copies of the letter, however…. My dad cleaned up the dying trees all of which were already dead, already fallen down, and or certified dying by an arborist. These trees were so obviously dead, that it didn’t take an arborist to attest to their shape.    Several were little more than standing rotten logs covered with ivy.

Fellows who went in to help with the dangerous trees called them ‘widow-makers’, a common lexicon of woodmen which refer to a trees certain to fall.

entrance

Entry way post reno.  Note the original staircase which we protected during the reno and then restored. The lighting fixture is original to the house. We were advised to scrap the front door. We refurnished it instead and it’s gleaming.

vaulted ceiling shot

Post reno Room. Architect and Design firm RUF Project used beams both as structure and sculpture. This room was short-listed for best room for the BC Builder’s Association Awards. Other rooms included Best Kitchen reno, Best Bathroom reno, and Best Overall.

_MG_7693

Living Room post reno: Note the original lighting fixture and windows. We remade the 1930’s coved ceilings in the original style. Not throughout the house but in the living room to give a nod to times past.  We managed to keep the original tiling in the bay windows.  G Wilson Construction found a way of preserving much of the original flooring in this room.  We also kept the original radiator covers and decor.  Too beautiful to throw away.

_MG_7940

The façade though some of the many trees on the property. Several of the trees in the back yard were dangerous and deemed Dangerous by the City back when several fruit trees toppled onto the back lane and the neighbour’s property.

The house had good bones, a solid foundation and good-luck coming. Fast forward to 2013, skipping over trials, tribulations, tears, hard work, the ingeniousness of an amazing team, and sweat too…  The builder was G Wilson Construction and the architect and designer RUF Project.  Both told us it would be cheaper to rebuild.  But they agreed to work with us to preserve a piece of Vancouver.  The revitalized house has won several awards for renovation including a Georgie, BC Builder’s Association Award and most recently the City of Vancouver Heritage award.  

20130808-225139.jpg

I attended the City of Vancouver Heritage awards and was so proud of dad when he said, “in everything we do, leave the earth better than we found it.”  This is the legacy we must all leave.

20130809-082312.jpg

City of Vancouver Heritage Award. One of three major awards the renovation won.

We had an open house as part of the Parade of Renovated Homes sponsored by the BC Builder’s Association.  Both RUF Project architectural firm and G Wilson Construction were awarded several honours for this project.  And we were all overwhelmed by the positive outcry of the public, neighbours, builders, architects and designers.  The entire team had made something historical, beautiful, delightful.  All it takes is vision.  Of which my mom and dad have in spades.  Envisioning and making charge, I am delighted to be a part of the movement to preserve where ever possible.

20130811-223817.jpg

The Georgie Award.  Rather like an Oscar….

As we shape our future history, we must cherish the architecture of the past.  Which ties us back to our present.  Amen.

(Amen, I wrote, but I received great comments from a Facebook friend I wanted to add.  Please see comments.)

Q&A With Arran Stephens re: GMOs

“I’m not the CEO, I’m just the gardener”

– Arran Stephens, Founder, CEO and Chief Gardenkeeper at Nature’s Path

Arran and Ratana Stephens, my parents, have recently been honored for their passion and commitment to the organic food movement.  I wasn’t surprised by the award but I was surprised by the fact that this story was picked up by the Wall Street Journal.  Organics is growing movement, a movement for food democracy, health, and planetary well-being.  More and more people are waking up the dangers of toxic pesticides and herbicides that our foods are typically drenched in.

Although my family has supported GMO labeling since the beginning, my battle became personal this Spring when I started to understand how little my peers know about them.  Everyone agrees that whether you think GMOs are healthy or harmful, we should have the right to know if we are eating them.  My dad was asked to answer the following questions about GMOs.

1.        What potential effects do GMO’s present?

Up to this point, neither government nor industry has provided any long-term safety studies on human or animal health from consuming Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) foods in our daily diet, making us all guinea pigs in the biggest feeding experiment in human history. GMOs have not been proven safe, and nearly 64 countries—including Russia and China—have significant restrictions or outright bans because of this.  We are now starting to see a growing body of research, and the results are pointing to potential negative health effects like pre-cancerous cell growth and tumors, damaged immune systems, infertility and more.   Couple this with the negative effect on our environment and the potential impacts are too great to ignore.

2.      What do consumer’s need to know about GMO’s and their consumption?

Consumers need to know that GMOs have not been proven safe, and they do not have to be a part of this huge science experiment – they have the right to know what’s in the food they are eating and feeding their families.  In 2013, 95 bills related to the labeling of GMO foods were introduced in 28 states, including I-522 in Washington.   Now is the time to learn more, spread the word and vote for your right to know, so you can make an informed decision about the food you buy and feed to your families. The best way to avoid GMOs is to choose food that is USDA certified organic, which prohibits the use of GMOs, and Non-GMO Project Verified, which  means it went through rigorous third party testing to bear the seal.  At Nature’s Path, all of our products are both organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, so consumers can feel comfortable knowing our products avoid GMOs.

3.       What does organic mean, and why is this movement important?

Organic means that food has been grown without toxic, chemical pesticides and herbicides, GMOs, antibiotics and artificial growth hormones.  Organic is the gold standard, and your best way to avoid GMOs.  Non-GMO Project Verified products have been tested for GMOs – which is incredibly important – but it doesn’t mean they are organic, so they most likely have been grown with toxic and carcinogenic agri-chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, and fertilized with fossil-based fertilizers which harm the environment. The only way to have both Non-GMO and the numerous, additional benefits of organic food, is to choose products that bear the USDA Certified Organic Seal. It’s not hard to imagine why this would be better for people and the planet and there is a growing body of research that is beginning to show the health and environmental benefits of organic food.

4.      What is the argument for GMO’s?

The biotech industry claims that GMOs increase crop yields and are the answer to world hunger.  In some cases, yields have been shown to improve while in others, they have not, and recently, those claims have been challenged by a United Nation’s special report: which found that

‘agroecological methods [without the use of GMOs] can outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live,” and that “conventional farming relies on expensive inputs, fuels climate change and is not resilient to climactic shocks.  It simply is not the best choice anymore today.”  We’ve seen people in Haiti, who desperately needed food, burn GMO seeds that were given to them, considering them a kind of Trojan Horse – we need to help feed the world with food that has been proven safe and nourishing, not genetically engineered and filled with chemicals.

Another claim from the biotech industry is that GMO crops use less pesticides, since the Bt toxin pesticide is already spliced into the GMO seed. But, since the introduction of GMO crops, toxic, carcinogenic herbicide use has gone up over 1,000%, as these GMO seeds are bred to resist the application of herbicides which kill everything else on the fields, not just weeds.

Giving with love

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”

– Mother Theresa

My parents began their life together in debt.  Wed in India in 1969, the young, penniless (rupee-less), multi-cultural couple borrowed enough money for a plane ticket back to Vancouver.  From then on it’s been a historic rise for my parents.

photo (2)

My mom Ratana Stephens, in her early twenties.

Talking to a very successful lawyer recently, he said, “We in the world of finance see money as a flowing river to tap into and divert.  Your parents have done the extra-ordinary.  They have built their success in actually creating value.” On so many levels.  I had never thought of it like that but he was right.  Nurturing people and the planet is part their triple-bottom line philosophy.  Socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable.

In encouraging change, we need examples.  What can be achieved? What is possible?  Whose shoulders should we stand tall upon and grow to new heights?  I look to my parents as a template for success.  Not just financially.  Not just in giving back but in making the world safer, providing wholesome organic food as the original and viable alternative to the toxins and chemicals that poison the Earth.  Through their vision, Nature’s Path is standing up for the planet again and again.

Here is a plaque recently put up in Vancouver General Hospital which honours the recent and huge monetary contribution to the Vancouver General and UBC Hospitals.  Dad and I were interviewed on CBC radio earlier this year about the donation.  I gave dad 2/3 of my liver.  Dad gave me life.  I gave him life.  And we give in return.

We give with love and accept with gratitude.

20130618-112416.jpg

Mom’s advice from the Social Venture Institute

I see people holding to their ideals.

My mother Ratana and sister Jyoti gave a talk yesterday at the Social Venture Institute.  Jyoti has been championing sustainability at Nature’s Path even before she got her Green MBA.  My mom, co-founder of Nature’s Path, steers the company forward with vision, style and a sense of greater purpose.  With their beautiful voices and complementary speaking styles, they got a well-deserved standing ovation after their talk.

Here they are today – unintentionally color-coordinated

Mom (Ratana Stephens) and Lil' Sista (Jyoti Stephens)

Mom (Ratana Stephens) and Sista (Jyoti Stephens)

My mom is uncannily wise.  Here is the advice she gave yesterday for making a difference in business.  I want to share it with you.  I daresay that this advice can be applied to most endeavours:

Mom’s advice number one: Choose the right life mate

Mom’s advice number two: Understand the finances of your company

Mom’s advice number 3: Create a business you belive in and are passionate about

Mom’s advice number 4: Surround yourself with people whom you respect

Mom’s advice number 5: Don’t wallow in mistakes, learn from them and accept and move on

Mom’s advice number 6: Welcome advice from those you trust

Mom’s advice number 7: Don’t compromise your beliefs

Earth Day Message

On this Earth Day 2013, I see a world where it is becoming ever hipper and cooler to garden and farm organically.

Image

Me and my dad, Arran

I was hanging out in Richmond the other day, dad was busy, furiously typing when I walked into his office

‘Whatcha doing?” I asked.

He kind of hummed and hawed and mumbled for a bit.  My phone rang so I left.  About half an hour later or so, I bumped into him again.  “Hey Deepie, want to hear what I’ve been writing?” he asked.  My friend Nathalie Chambers was there, talking about conservation of farmland (more on that in the future).  Dad read the following out loud to us.  Nathalie was crying by the time he finished.  Me too.

“Dad,” I said, “I have to share that on my new blog”.

He smiled his beautiful smile. “Go ahead.”

Dad and mom are my heroes, more so every day.  Dad founded Vancouver’s first vegetarian restaurant called the Golden Lotus and established Vancouver’s first super-market size Health Food store called Lifestream in the late 1960s.  An idealist driven to business in order to advocate for the Earth, Health, Organic Farming and Ethical business practises, my parents are inspirations to thousands.  Dad has been called a ‘folk hero”, “hippie capitalist” among other names.  To me he is a loving, kind, and firm father with a fierce sense of justice. When he feels that something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘just’ or ‘injust’, he will stop at nothing to stand up and say so.  My Mom is a determined mother bear and lioness.  She also has that uncanny common sense with the wisdom of Solomon.  They are a fierce team.

In case you are wondering, the goal of “The Deeper Side Blog” is not to promote my parent’s or their company but to use them and many many others as beacons of light, as shining models; templates of success for those searching to creating meaning in life.  I was thrilled to hear from Tricia Millhouse Walter feeling moved by despair about the conditions of children in her neighbourhood and transforming that energy into positive action by working for the non-profit ‘Corazon’.  She posted on my first ‘blogger’ post and I’m not sure that came through.  She is another example of people moved to ‘be the change’.   Although I’ve started this blog talking about the right of the seed, I am brewing and steeping with overflowing words in my bottomless teapot of ideas.  I’m just wondering which one to write next – and trying to find the time!  I could write this blog 15 hours a-day, not eat or sleep (Yeah, I’m a little obsessive).

Here is the Earth Day message.

EARTH DAY OPEN LETTER FROM ARRAN & RATANA, Nature’s Path co-
founders

On this Earth Day, we give thanks to the Earth, our Mother, and to the Creative
Spirit, our Father. We give thanks to you, our beloved Customers for believing in
and supporting Nature’s Path and what we stand for: good wholesome healing
food, food which is good for the planet, good for people, for animals, for farmers
and all living things. We give thanks for Light and Love, Peace and Beauty. May
it heal, spread and overcome the dark, the forlorn, the hungry, the pain and the
forgotten. We give thanks to the hundreds of valued team members at Nature’s
Path.

On this Earth Day, we would also like to say a few words in support of the
powerful, relevant, beautiful and poetic new film about food which is being
released across North America and the world: GMO OMG by filmmaker Jeremy
Seifert.

There is a parable about the Earth, which we’d like to share:

Once, the Earth was asked how She could support the weight of the mountains,
the land, the oceans, the peoples, the animals, the birds and fishes. How could
she possibly withstand the occasional famine, war, bloodshed and poverty. How
could she bear such a burden?

And the Earth replied, “I can stand any burden, except an ungrateful heart.”

Love to you all,

Arran & Ratana Stephens

An Isha moment at the Dr Vandana Shiva lecture at UVIC Part 1

The Growing of Food should be an act of love 

-Dr Vandana Shiva March 27, 2013

I dream of a world where we breathe healthy air and dig in healthy soil.  Where streams run clear and pure.  Where organic farmers cultivate with pride and dignity and freedom to plant the seeds they themselves sow and save for the future.

My daughter Diya holding a wild wee baby bunny.  The bunny didn’t hop out of her hands.

I will set up the first of this two-part post with an impressionistic portrait of Isha. She is my six year-old with a flair for the dramatic, like her older sister Diya.  You will remember Isha if you have ever had the – ahem – pleasure to have met her.  She is intense, loving, naughty, rambunctious (why is that so hard to spell?) and takes up a lot of energy.   She also has a iron sense of justice.  Did I mention that she is outspoken?  Even for a 6 year old.  On the ferry the other day, I met a fellow school parent who had hosted Isha at his daughter’s 7th birthday party.  “Oh, so you’re Isha’s mom?!”  he said with surprise – not quite masking his slightly apprehensive tone.  We hadn’t met.  He looked a little scared.

“HmmmUmm,” I smiled,  and murmured, brightly bracing myself and showing all teeth.

“Yeah, wow.  Hmmpf.  I know Isha, We know Isha” he said wyrly, “your daughter is a real character.”

Yyy-yep. ah.

I’m just putting that out there for you to digest while I set this up.  It’s called blunt foreshadowing.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how Dr. Vandana Shiva shifted something inside me.  I come from a pioneering organic family.  My grandad Rupert turned to organic methods loving the lowly-earthworm when his peers on Vancouver Island were turning to synthetic pesticides and herbicides.  Rupert also was a song-writer. He loved to write songs about the beauty of the Earth and farming.

Rupert Stephens, my song-writing, organic-berry farming, pacifist grandfather.

Having grown up in and around gardens, health food stores and vegetarian restaurants, I thought I was pretty informed about agriculture.  I’ve heard about GMOs for a long time in many capacities before they crept up everywhere in food.  When I moved to London in the 1990’s, I was invited to a special session in the British Houses of Parliament to hear the various sides debate GMOs.  I got dressed well (because there is a dress code, didn’t you know? I found that out the hard way alas – and will post about that another time).  In my fancy pumps and matching grey suit, I traipsed to the room where they were having the debate.  I sat, watched, listened to the speakers, made notes, saw the data.  I came with a relatively open mind.  And I actually wanted to see the data.  I have an honors BA and an MA in Biology and started a doctorate in Spain.  I have used pipettes, sequenced genes and even co-authored a scientific article once upon a time.  The original idea of GMOs wasn’t entirely devoid of merit, if you kept in mind the following :

1) a for-profit company owning patents to life (hmm)
2) organic is better = no pesticides and herbicides yay!
3) lack of biodiversity due to the flawed mono-crop theology (boo)
4) ethical concerns about the companies themselves promoting GMOs
5) (organics is still better)

The GMO-proponents at this British debate were arguing that they significantly reduced pesticide use through this technology.  Again I was thinking, how can you compete with organic?  In organic farming the soil is enhanced, not depleted.  Pesticides and herbicides not only kill biodiversity but kill farmers.  Big-agri food business sees that side as an unfortunate but necessary by-product of food production.  Again, I reminded myself that I was there with an open mind.  If they could radically reduce pesticides and herbicides use, I might be impressed.  But I wanted to see the data.  Better, if they went organic, of course, but I again I was going with a relatively open mind. Riiight? If they were invited to give their best arguments, dressed to their corporate best (like moi, of course) at the august Houses of Parliament, they had to be bringing some  pretty gosh-darn amazing data.

I held my breath waiting for the evidence to show up on the screen.

It came.

I frowned in consternation…

Did the well-heeled Brits and Americans see what I saw?   I zoomed in on the chart proudly titled something like ‘Reduction in Pesticides and Herbicides in GMO Crop Sample study’ .  I was looking for the significant difference.  Did they make a mistake?  Was this the ‘before’?  Nope.  I checked the title again and looked at the dots and lines.  This had to be their ‘great scientific evidence’?  But was this the very best they could do?  The reduction in pesticides from ‘conventional’ to GMOs production was *minimal*.  With the variance, it seemed hardly a difference to my eyes.  The GMO proponents kept using the words “statistically  significant” and pointing to the chart.  I squinted, turned my head this way and that way. Okaaaay, like significantly lower by a bit.  But not enough to my eyes.

Nor to British eyes.

Like me, they were not persuaded.

Fast forward to recent.

Confronted with all these screaming red warmings about GMOs, I had been getting more perplexed and wrestling with my disquiet.  I still didn’t want to write a blog about this.  I thought we were doing enough.  Others were doing enough.  I thought I was doing enough to support organic and local producers with each and every meal.  My family has been supporting organic farmers in several ways for years.  My father Arran was the first to found and certify an organic breakfast food company. First my grand-parents Rupert and Gwen, then dad Arran, mom Ratana, sister Jyoti, little brother Arjan, my sister Shanti and brother-in-law Markus all produce, market and manufacture organic foods.  It have never simply been a job to provide people with delicious nutritious foods.  My family ethos is steeped to further the agenda of our planet.  Socially responsible, Environmentally Sustainable, Financially Viable.  We have been leaving the soil better than when we found it for decades.

But I still wasn’t ready to write about this on a blog.

Fast-forward to about 2 weeks ago.  Drum roll please!!

Now, if you really and truly want to know what has given me a kick in the pants to write this blog, you need to hear this amazing lecture.  Right now.

Click on it below.

Dr Vandana Shiva distinguished lecture at the Univeristy of Victoria

Click on it above if you didn’t click on it above.

Listen to the lecture.  Share it with your friends, discuss it with your children, enlighten your parents.

You will really understand what GMOs are all about from the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize.  Dr Vandana Shiva gave this lecture at the University of Victoria on March 27, 2013 where she was awarded an honorary doctorate.

This lecture changed me.  Whereas I was quietly doing my part, after this lecture, I wanted to turbo plant seeds of understanding, knowledge and stand up and wave my arms.  Her lecture has changed my life.

Me, Mom Ratana, Diya, Dr Vandana Shiva, Dad Arran, sister Jyoti

Part 2 coming next.  In which Isha surprises even me at Dr Vandana Shiva’s lecture