Uncle Sam vs. Front Yard Gardeners?

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(Sheepshead Bay front yard garden with budding herbs and soon-to-be vegetables; Photo by Ray Johnson)

There is a proposed bill on the legislative table that will affect our food chain, and organic farmers would like for us all to keep an eye on it. The bill is H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009.

By some accounts, the proposed law could have far-reaching effects into every neighborhood, even right here into Sheepshead Bay’s local hobby gardeners’ backyards, as well as front yards.

With words such as “genocide” and “criminalization” being used to describe what could happen as an effect of the law and since the proposed bill is causing so much controversy, with the outrage coming from various reliable sources, this is a story that needs to be told.

We were first told that this piece of legislation could potentially outlaw organic and backyard farming as we know it, while the introduction statement on the actual legislation says that its purpose is:

…to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes.

The bill presents itself as ‘good for us’, so it’s quite curious as to why the internet is abuzz with outrage over the bill. Organic activists say it’s because of the bill’s language that appears to impose limits that would essentially stop soil tillers of all types dead in their tracks. One of the issues that appeared to be of major concern is that the bill appears to ban the use of seeds that have not been genetically modified to resist disease.

Linn Cohen-Cole, on the Ron Paul News: News for the Revolution blog, calls the bill “monstrous on level after level” and suggests that the sponsors of the bill are looking to control the farming world right down to the level of the individual homeowner’s backyard garden.

The campaign to get citizens to write to their politicians asking them to kill the bill before it gains steam, (you can follow it here) is a viral one, with organic farmers and sustainability activists getting actively involved.

But as there is with any legislation that’s put up for approval, there is the other side that says that those who are against it are misguided and spreading rumors. The Daily Green lists the myths and facts of the H.R. 875, and by their accounts the bill does not in any way regulate or hinder independent farmers from plying their trade. Oddly though, they use the words “the language” without ever quoting the actual language.

While language in the proposed bill seems to target food grown for interstate commerce, the rest is written in broad language. Many critics have accused the government of trying to rule with Socialist, Stalin-like control — prompting others to defend the rationale behind the legislation.

Which side of the issue is the right one is still unclear, but one thing is for sure: gardeners in Sheepshead Bay won’t like anyone telling them that they can’t grow their bitter melon, zucchini, scallions, and cilantro on their front “lawn”.

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