Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
A run-in with Roundup herbicide was a transformative episode in farmer Eric Herm’s shift toward sustainable agriculture. A fourth-generation farmer, Herm tells the tale in the book Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth: A Path to Agriculture’s Higher Consciousness (Dream River Press):
In May of 2009, my neighbor had his Roundup Ready cotton sprayed by Helena Chemical Company less than 40 yards from my home garden. The Roundup herbicide drifted and wiped out over 800 garlic bulbs, and all of my tomato, pepper, potato, bean, and corn plants. Within 48 hours every single plant in my garden curled up into a fetal position. Leaves curled upward, cupped around the edges, and plants showed visible signs of suffering. For three or four days I couldn’t figure out what had happened until I discovered my neighbor had sprayed Roundup a few days previous. I flew into a rage yet maintained my cool talking to Helena company officials. They were very courteous yet proceeded to blame a plane spraying half a mile away to the southwest.
Herm had tissue from his dead crops tested, and the results came back positive for glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Roundup. Still, the local Helena Chemical Company store manager insisted that his product wasn’t to blame.
That’s how these chemical companies work. Did I receive the $4,000 in damages? Take a wild guess. They put their lawyer against yours, and these chemical companies have a lot more money to spend on attorney fees than an individual farmer. Thanks to my neighbor and Helena Chemical Company, I lost an entire season of garlic, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, and corn as months of hard work spiraled down the drain.
Tomato, people, onion, garlic, and potato plants are extremely sensitive to Roundup. One whiff and their leaves curl upward and they are unable to produce healthy, normal-sized fruit. Very frustrating when you begin an entire garden from seed. Money cannot replace healthy food. … As long as we continue to think Roundup Ready crops are the only answer, agriculture is doomed.
Herm’s writing has a folksy, ticked-off tone, kind of a Jim Hightower with a stronger streak of rural individualism, a distrust of big government, and a dash of new age spirituality. But his overall message is positive and forward thinking: Our industrial, chemical-intensive farming practices are destroying the land and harming our health and security, and we must change them:
“It is up to you and me—us. We the people,” he writes. “If not us, if not now … well, then we are all really in trouble.”