A giant in the environmental field — Vandana Shiva — came to the East End last month to speak about her battle against the drive by the chemical industry, led by Monsanto, to radically limit what has been a diversity in seeds, to mix the genes of different species to create genetically modified organisms and to otherwise “industrialize agriculture” at a huge cost to life and the earth.

2015_1024_suffolk_closeup_grossman“I couldn’t believe Vandana agreed to come,” said Kathleen Marder, in introducing Dr. Shiva on October 18, terming her “the world renowned environmental leader.”

The 200 people who filled the Silas Marder Gallery at Marders Nursery in Bridgehampton to listen to Dr. Shiva were highly enthusiastic about her presentation.

“She has a wonderful way of describing the overwhelming role of chemicals—but with a lot of joy and love and hope for the future and it being possible for humans to come together and turn things in a positive direction,” said Eve Kaplan-Walbrecht who with her husband Chris runs a booming organic farm, “Garden of Eve,” in Riverhead.

Scott Chaskey, longtime director of the also organic and also highly successful Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, a project begun by the Peconic Land Trust in 1990, said: “I’ve been reading her books since her first one came out. Her message gets stronger and stronger and her ability to organize people and to provide answers to the difficult situation we are in—just extraordinary!”

Mr. Chaskey has not only been a student of Dr. Shiva’s work but has pursued it himself as a farmer, a leader of organic farmers in the United States, and in his own books including Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds, published last year.

Dr. Shiva, who has a doctorate in physics, is from Dehli, India. Staying Alive was the title of her first book, published in 1988. A year earlier in India she founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology. This led to the creation in 1991 of Navdanya, an Indian movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. Soon, she had become an international leader in these areas. In 2004 she started, in collaboration with Britain’s Schumacher College, Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college committed to education in sustainable living.

And books by Dr. Shiva have kept pouring out. Recent ones include Earth Democracy, Justice Sustainability and Peace and also Soil Not Oil, Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Change.

She said she was delighted to be on the East End of Long Island. “Your region still has farms that look like farms,” she commented. And this in contrast to “industrial farms” that are “creating deserts” and doing “violence against the earth.”

She spoke of the “amazing web of life” and how “diversity” and “resilience” is an integral part of that. But there’s been a massive move since World War II led by chemical companies, particularly those that “make pesticides” derived from the “nerve gasses” they developed during the war, to bring “uniformity” to agriculture, dominate it and produce colossal profits for themselves. They have worked to control what is grown and “displace diversity in what we eat” while also striving to “marry chemicals and seeds.”

She provided a list of a dramatically reduced variety of seed types now in use—beets from 288 to 17, cucumbers 295 to 16, tomatoes from 488 to 25.
With “genetic engineering”—the mixing of the genes of one species with another, even if one is a plant and the other an animal or insect—they have created genetically modified organisms, GMOs. The U.S. has become an enormous victim of this “dark path.”

Nations around the world — including most countries of Europe — have banned the growing of genetically modified crops, but here in the U.S. now large percentages of crops, particularly soybeans and corn, are GMOs. Monsanto has become the corporate king of GMO seed and has successfully gotten the U.S. government to let it expand wildly in GMO-based agriculture. It’s been busy patenting its genetically-modified seed, hooking farmers on its use, coupling that with use of its pesticides.

“Is life an invention? Is it patentable?” asked Dr. Shiva.

And Monsanto and the rest of the chemical industry has been manipulating the federal and other governments here to overturn local bans on GMO agriculture and suppress disclosure on food products that they are genetically modified. At the same time, she said, the chemical industry has been endeavoring to suppress U.S. media reporting on any of this.

Charlie Marder, after the talk, said he and Kathleen were “thrilled” to have Dr. Shiva speak at Marders as part of “an effort to interrelate the bigger issues.”

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