Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Stella The Grumpy Granny Needs You

This is Stella, Ireland's self styled "grumpy granny" from the website Here she is yesterday wheeling her young grandson off to sell him at the farmer's market because he wouldn't behave himself.

OK yes, I'm joking. 

Stella isn't that grumpy at all - except when it comes to the matter of GM foods. Right now she's in the process of making an official complaint against the Pat Kenny radio show for a recent item on plans to introduce GM foods to Ireland. Stella grumps that the programme has misinformed the public on a number of key issues relating to how it explained the GM food process -  and regarding its treatment of news of new plans for Ireland which seemed to have popped up out of the blue.
Stella Coffey is a very grumpy Irish granny
I'm no goose stepping greenshirt by any stretch but I find the recent news genuinely frightening - that Teagasc (the Irish semi state agri research body) is now planning to facilitate GM potato trials in Carlow and that the deadline for public objections to the EPA is only a couple of weeks away. 

And I'm not the first one to be taken aback at just how such a vital issue for Ireland's future has managed to lurk below the media radar until almost the very last moment.

But thanks to grannies like Stella Coffey - who miss absolutely nothing (you know the kind!)  -  the word is now being spread rapidly and the troops are being rallied to resist the GM monster's latest threats. But we have to act fast. On Stella's own website she has a petition against this new initiative which I'd urge you to sign post haste. It calls for a five year moratorium on GM plans for Ireland. Stella already has collected 1,600 signatories. You'll see my signature on there, right after that of Darina Allen.

Also make sure you check out her presentation on the current Teagasc GM issue on Youtube: 

See youtube - and join the grandmother of all GM wars...
This is what Stella has to say: 

"Last Tuesday Teagasc announced that it has an application with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for a licence to grow GM potatoes at Oakpark, one of its research stations that is located in rural Carlow. You have until March 27 before 5pm to lodge a "representative" aka an objection. Remember, if Teagasc gets its way on this, the genie will be out of the bottle because there's no way of recalling these spuds when problems become evident down the line. It took 20 years for the subtle effects of DDT to become obvious - that's just one way Natures bites back."

"My grandchildren have made me realise, all over again, that we need to be wiser about how we use and abuse our world. GM food and crops scare the grandmother in me." And grumpy Irish grans do always have a way of scaring the rest of us into action so Stella might just get somewhere with her one gran campaign.
So why is it that the older generation are the only ones that seem to give a fig about our environment these days - while that once ultra politically active segment - the young adults do nowt but wander about pressing "OMG!" repeatedly into their smartphones? 
The last time we had a proper GM ruck over here was in the 1990's when gnarly campaigners turned up in Carlow to stomp GM sugar beet - leading the charge was the great self sufficiency guru himself, the late great John Seymour (who inspired the 1970's hit series "The Good Life"). Seymour, then a Wexford based smallholder, managed to get himself lifted by the rozzers for beet stomping - at almost 90 years of age! Another multi national tried again in 2007 and ended up securing approval from the EPA for GM tests, but the conditions were so stringent that they didn't bother in the end.
The late great "grump" John Seymour - pinched thanks to his bobby on the beet
Now Ireland's "GM Virginity" is in jeopardy once again. But why the fuss? What the hi de hay does it matter if we inject hippopotamus DNA into sweetcorn - if the end result is great big giant cobs of corn that thrive in wet conditions but don't attack fishermen?
Well if we can actually genetically modify and tweak our food plants in a completely safe manner to increase food quality and quantity then GM food would indeed be a truly great thing. But the big GM question is this: Can we really trust profit-driven multinationals (they're driving GM development) to tinker around with the genetics of food plants on a huge scale - when thus far we can only be certain that: (a) we don't yet understand the ultimate consequences and (b) we know that GM plants can freely interbreed with non GM plants? 

Such is the worry about GM foods that they are banned from many parts of the world. 

Genetic modification is the introduction of alien genes not naturally found in a species (animal genes can be introduced to plants or vice versa) with the intention of producing a desirable quality in that species. And though GM foods are not with us long enough (the first tomato became available in 1994) to truly evaluate whether they are dangerous, the fact that they can and do cross freely with other non GM crops suggests that if they do turn out to be harmful, we have, as Stella suggests, already let the genie out of the bottle.

OMG!! KEWL!! The kids don't care
There have already been allegations that early problems are starting to show. It is alleged that soy allergies have soared by 50% in Britain since GM soy products entered that market. There have been reports that shepherds in India have lost a quarter of sheep that grazed on GM cotton plants when none died after eating non-GM versions.

So let's ask ourselves some other questions: What has GM achieved thus far?  Have the GM food crops - so widespread now in third world countries - ended starvation in those countries as so many GM proponents have promised? Nope. Have they greatly increased corporate profits? Certainly they have. Have they increased the risk of a world ecological disaster on an unprecedented scale? That's the $64,000 question that we still don't know the answer to. 

In Ireland's case we're being told that a GM blight resistant potato would be our reward. But they're not telling us that we already have blight resistant potatoes - grown all over the world and here in Ireland which are not GM crops. The common spud variety "Sarpo" is just one of them. What they're not telling us is that these more organic blight resistant spuds aren't uniform enough in shape and size to fit into the processing machine that big corporations prefer to use to sort, wash and pack their spuds. So it's GM for the corporations not the farmer or the consumer.
Frogrange anybody?
Finally, and still on the commercial front, one thing Ireland does have left in these dark economic times is its green agri credentials. We are still the "green isle," our food grows in the best of soils and, generally speaking, by world standards, it grows in a healthy environment. That's why foreign buyers still place a premium on our produce.

In the long run we might be risking our children's and grandchildren's futures but in the short tem we'll also be throwing away our long valued quality agri reputation away with the loosing of the GM monster. There are enough anti GM people out there throughout our trading partner nations to seriously effect that reputation and damage our food exports.

If you live in Ireland, don't just place a formal objection to the EPA, phone your local politican. Email your objections to the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan at If you live outside of Ireland and wish to contribute to the global fight against GM food, write to your Irish embassy to voice your objections.

Finally, I was also joking about Stella's selling the young fella - though Teagasc just might be selling all Ireland's children down the swanny if we let them get away with loosing GM here. I'm with the grumpy grans on this one.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spring Has Sprung!!

The sun bursts of early March have kick-started the new year's growth and winter's worst is behind us. In the garden the new shoots of growth are sprouting and the earth is coming alive! Everywhere you look, you can see nature waking up. Strong virgin shoots are piercing the soil and the ground is warming. Last year's survivors are still coming good - check out my shot (below) of last year's chopped and butchered broccoli producing delicate new buds - ideal for a light steaming on my dinner plate. 
Spring sprung sprouts on last year's broccoli survivors poking up after winter's worst 
The fruit trees will need some attention. I esplanaded some young shop bought and sown trees last year and their new buds are showing me that at least the shock of transplanting and then of winter, hasn't killed them. Pear, apple and damson are now wired unnaturally in straight horizontal lines along my back fence. I'm told they'll shoot upwards from those tied arms and that soon they'll fill my fridge with fruit. But at least one will have to be cut out of a web of winter web of ivy and surging clematis before it can go anywhere. Below you can see the apple tree buds from my Coronet, a miniature apple tree only four feet high which produces about forty fruit each year. This tree can also be container grown.
Apple buds appearing on the Coronet miniature
The old year's chopped down fennel is already starting to produce fresh sprouts which recently ended up sprinkled across some grilled hake. Mmmm! This container planted fennel grows to four foot each year and has probably been with me for seven or eight years. It never ceases to amaze me how I can cut it back each winter only to have it surge forth again in spring. As a fisherman who regularly comes home with fresh trout, fresh fennel is a must.

Fennel sprouting anew - this particular shoot ended up chopped fine and spread over grilled hake
The salad bed left alone over winter also has a few surprises. The roots of the long ago gone to seed lettuces appear to have sprouted some young fresh heads. There's iceberg and salad basket and lollo rosa (pictured below) which already has me breaking off limbs to feed into fresh bread for lunch time sandwiches.
Lollo Rosa waking up for Spring
Although I rarely deal with non edibles, I do have a few scattered about and one of my favourite wake up calls for the new year is the deep blue bells of the grape hyacinth - it was one of my grandfather's favourite border flowers and it fell out of favour way back in the eighties. I'm still a sucker for it.

Grape Expectations - the Border Hyacinth at its colourful best
Now that my one year old son Sean has started walking, he wants to be outside for every waking moment. Here he is pressed against the glass sliding doors. One of his first words ever was "Garden!" by which I think he means "everything outside the house!"" In a northern European country we've been cooped up inside since November. It's fantastic to watch him teetering about free range between the beds.
Garden!! Let me Out!
Some plants haven't waited for the first sunshine to get into their business, not least the garlic. I grow a type of wild garlic which produces tiny but explosive bulbs. You can see below that they've been busy these few dark months and have a head start on the rest of the garden.
What's that smell?!!
Another star player in the garden that has been keeping up appearances is the Rosemary. We have two robust plants potted in terracotta containers to keep them dry and raised - Rosemary's preferred conditions. We've been breaking bits off these plants all through the winter to throw sprigs across roast lamb and to chop them up to release those pungent oils into stews. It never ceases to amaze me how these plants from southern europe make it through the frosts of an Irish winter.
Pastel flowers on our Rosemary
There's a few more over winter-ers including the Salsify. Last year I dug up the roots and tried to shave them down and boil them without realising that they're supposed to be left alone for two years to produce the big tap roots necessary to make food. I have to say that thus far I'm unconvinced. Last year's small roots that I harvested weren't edible. After a long while boiling they ended up hard and stalky. We'll give them some space to get through to Summer, but I'm still not convinced.
Salsify shoots are on a wing and a prayer this year
Which all means that it's time to get up to my mountain side allotment and get stuck in. I'm looking forward to it and tomorrow I'm going into town to stock up on heritage varieties of seeds and tubers to get it going again. This year however I'm planning a "no dig" approach having been convinced by literature I've read about how digging destroys the minute animals in the soil which are necessary for plant health. We'll see how that one works out. In the meantime as we say in Ireland: "There'a a grand stretch to the evenings!!" About time too...

There's that lovely stretch to the evenings!