I’ve been sleeping with Monsanto for 15 years now. It all started at Iowa State with a good looking graduate student in plant breeding, and somewhere along the line, while I was pregnant with our first child and busy building my organic strawberry farm in Iowa, things changed. One day the paychecks from the mom and pop company that hired my husband out of school stopped, and in their place was a check from Monsanto. This California girl with a degree in horticulture had to do a double take. What just happened here?
To be fair, I didn’t know much about Monsanto at the time. They don’t have a large presence in the far reaches of Northern California, but it was big news in small town Iowa that our local seed company was now owned by Monsanto. The emails started rolling in from concerned family and friends. “How can he work for a company that kills farmers in India?” “Don’t you know they created Agent Orange!?” “How can you stay married to him if he works for them?”
I learned quickly that despite living in the middle of a cornfield in the Midwest, not everyone thought Monsanto was a benevolent company. It was 1999 and genetically engineered crops were still new on the scene. Farmers were testing them out and beginning to see the benefits of the improved traits. Monsanto was hard at work coming up with new products for their customers (the farmers) and didn’t seem to pay much attention to what the general non-farming public had to say about their company. Thus began my education on the history of Monsanto.
Every time a fresh email would show up in my inbox with some new damning evidence of the evils committed by Monsanto, I would dutifully research the reality behind the claim. Over and over I would learn that the doom and gloom published by the likes of Natural News and “Dr. Mercola” was greatly overblown, out of context, or just plain false. Yet I still responded kindly to each person that would urge my better half to “come to Jesus” and quit his job.
Fast forward a few years through a move to the mother ship in St Louis, and we found ourselves and all our belongings on a slow boat to Hawaii. Monsanto had a new site on Oahu that they wanted my husband to help set up. I had no idea the rude awakening I was about to receive. We settled in and I started looking for field trip opportunities for our three children. Now, I consider myself a fairly “crunchy” person. I grind wheat, make kombucha, and generally lean toward healthy living. I figured I could fit in fairly well with this group of moms. I have never been so mistaken in my life.
Our first outing with our new friends was a guided hike up a beautiful canyon. We learned about the farming systems of ancient Hawaiians and the local plants. Everything was great… for the first hour. Then came the inevitable question, “What brought you to the islands?”. I didn’t even give it a second thought but answered as I would have in the midwest. “Monsanto transferred us here to help start a new farm.” All chatter stopped and 30 heads whipped around to look at me. The guide paused the tour and started in with a barrage of questions. “Monsanto? They destroy the aina. They have ruined the papaya industry and don’t you know your husband is killing children on Molokai?” Wait, WHAT?! I stammered around for a bit, unused to this full frontal verbal attack, especially with arguments that were totally new to me. The guide eventually went back to her tour and I motioned for my kids to come close. I whispered, “Run children, run – the crazy people are here!” and we high tailed it for the car, skipping lunch with these rude individuals. We were never invited back, succinctly removed from all future email lists, much to my relief.
We’ve been in Hawaii for 6 years now. We’ve moved to a new island that is arguably even more steeped in Monsanto hate, and we’ve learned a thing or two about having thick skin. For a while, I stopped answering the “What brought you to the islands?” question with such honesty. It was easier to respond with something general, but still true. Yet, the last three years, I’ve started becoming more vocal. The anti-GMO people have gained more friends and donors as they spread their half truths and outright lies. Large organic interests have infused huge amounts of money into the furtherance of the idea that GM crops are less nutritious (they are actually equivalent or more healthy) or bad for the land (they promote no till, water conservation, and decreased pesticide use). The more they talk, the more I respect the company that writes our paycheck. Monsanto doesn’t have a perfect past, but I have not seen any questionable practices in the time we’ve been involved with the company. In fact, it’s great to be part of the Monsanto family. The company treats us fairly, we participate in company sponsored volunteer opportunities regularly, and we get to be part of a group that is leaving the soil better than when they found it.
After 15 years of sleeping with Monsanto, I don’t regret a single night.