Welcome to our Holden's Hide a way farm

Holden's Hide-A-Way Farm is a diversified farm that produces a wide variety of meat product, in much of the same manner as a farmer would have 100 years ago. Our ideas on how to raise livestock come directly from mother nature. We raise grass fed beef and lamb because that is what mother nature intended. Our pigs are free to root and roam through out the warm seasons. Winters are spent in a barn with ample space and lots of hay to eat and root around in. Poultry is raised on pasture where they get lots of fresh air and can do the things poultry likes to do.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Heritage Crops and their Importance


In today’s agricultural world diversity is becoming a thing of the past. Much of the genetic pool is becoming dangerously shallow. Modern industrialized farms largely utilize mono crop production methods. These methods favor uniformity and limit diversity on the farm.

So what is an heirloom breed? Well an heirloom is basically a pure breed. An heirloom variety by definition would be a seed from a plant breed that is at least 60 years old. The plant breeds pure and pollination takes place the old fashioned way, with birds and bees being the main tool used. Remember that conversation your parents were supposed to have with you. This is where the term originated. The technical term is open pollination. The resulting seeds will produce exact genetic replicas of the parents. The development of these plants has been done for centuries by picking the vegetables that were the best, and keeping the seeds. Not by breeding different plants together. Heritage vegetables tend to be more flavorful, colorful and disease resistant. This process has been going on both intentionally and not intentionally since the beginning of agriculture about 7000-10000 years ago. An example of purposely improving a breed would be by keeping the seeds out of the best tasting tomatoes. A non purposeful improvement would be when disaster strikes, such as a disease outbreak. Seeds from the fruit and vegetables that survive are obviously more resistant to the disease. Heritage breeds tend to be more flavorful. Each breed is well adapted to its area of origin.

F1 Hybrid plants are bred by hand. Many times the seed company actually patents the seed produced. Two plants are cross pollinated to create a new variety of vegetable. The new variety is usually more uniform and many times is sterile. The sterility factor is great for seed producers because unlike heritage vegetables, hybrid seeds cannot be kept for planting the next crop. If the seeds are able to produce a plant, the plant would not usually breed true. Instead, most of the time, it will revert back to one of the original parent plants. Therefore the farmers are left purchasing new seed every year. By forcing farmers to buy new seeds every year, the seed factories in effect control food prices. New breeds can be created by cross breeding. However it takes 6-8 generations to establish a reliable crop. Then it will take even more time to improve the crop using traditional breeding methods.

The new creatures on the block are the genetically modified organisms or GMOs. These are plants that have had their genes altered by man. An example would be isolating the antifreeze gene out of a cold water fish and forcing it into a tomato plant hoping that the resulting plant would be more frost tolerant. The real danger here is that humans do not fully understand how the genetic material works, or how it will affect the end user. The process is usually over simplified by the scientists. For instance, just because you install the antifreeze gene into the tomato plant does not mean that it will “turn on”. Our DNA contains thousands of genes, but not all of them are expressed. After the gene has been added, scientists must add a promoter gene at the beginning of the DNA sequence, which forces the gene on, and a terminator gene at the end, which forces the gene off. Scientist also add a marker gene. The marker gene is usually a gene for antibiotic resistance. This allows the scientist to then dose the cells with antibiotic which will kill all non modified cells. Then the GM cells are multiplied before being added to a plant. The most popular method is to use a bacterium which infects the plant. The bacterium used is a genetically modified version. The original bacterium (Agrobacterium tumefaciens) is a tumor causing variety that injects its DNA into a plant, which causes a tumor. The genetically modified version injects the modified DNA instead. This is still a very simplified version of what happens, but you get the idea.

The problem with GMO food is that they hit the market with very little testing. In the USA, where much of our food comes from, the FDA has no GMO safety testing requirements. All research that supports GMO foods is voluntarily provided by the companies that produce them. However independent studies are beginning to prove otherwise. In fact Jeffrey m. Smith’s book Genetic Roulette discusses new evidence of the risks associated with GMOs. Some of the problems are directly related to the gene insertion process. Including unwanted gene expression, gene relocations and promoter genes turning on unwanted genes. An example would be GM soybeans (90% of the soybeans planted in the USA are GMO). It has been found that these soybeans produce less cancer-fighting isoflavones. GM proteins in soybeans, corn and papaya are similar to know allergens and may cause allergies. One of the scariest facts I have read is that the transgenes survive digestion and can transfer to gut bacteria or move into the blood and organs, including passing through the placenta into the fetus and through the blood brain barrier. GM soybeans have been found to transfer genetic material into human gut bacteria. Once in the human gut bacteria, the transferred portion of the transgene produced herbicide-resistant protein. If the antibiotic-resistant genes that have been inserted into most GM foods on the market are able to do the same, then antibiotic resistant diseases could develop.

Another expert in the field Dr. Pusztai released his findings on experiments using lab rats. The results were not in favor of GMO foods. In fact the result ended up getting him fired, and his team was released. However the after a huge uprising in the UK he was allowed to tell his story in parliament. The results of his study showed that rats fed genetically modified potatoes that were created to produce a “safe” insecticide called GNA lectin showed potentially pre-cancerous growths, smaller brains and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged immune systems. Most of the changes happened within ten days. Another group of rats were fed normal potatoes spiked with GNA lectin, some at 700 times more than what was in being produced by the GM potatoes. These rats showed no ill effects. Dr. Pusztai concluded that the problem is the actual genetic manipulation that is causing the problems.

So why does it matter that our agricultural products are less genetically diverse? Our crops have been bred for centuries. Each breed was bred for unique traits that were or are important to the farmers in the area of origin. The breeding may have developed a variety that is resistant to disease in that particular area, or possibly adapted to the climate and local pests. Less genetic diversity is leaving our crops more susceptible to disease outbreak. GM foods have hit the market with full force. It is estimated that over 90% of corn and soybeans grown in the USA are GM. On top of that over 80% of the products at your local grocery store have one or the other as an ingredient. From an economic standpoint, buying heritage vegetables prevents the big corporations from patenting and controlling our sources of nutrition. We must remember that corporations are responsible to their stock holders, not their customers.

Robert Holden