Young farmers: Sprouting the future of organic farming

By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: March 28, 2013

Category: Non-GMO Farmer Profiles

Monsanto patents and label gmos

Lisa Mumm working on her family farm

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Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds, located near Shellbrook, Saskatchewan, has grown and sold organic, non-GMO seeds for fresh sprouts and microgreens for over 30 years. But it’s cultivating more than seeds—the family business, owned and operated by Jim and Maggie Mumm and their daughter Lisa, is a hands-on training ground for a bright, enthusiastic young grower who represents the upcoming generation of organic farmers.

Lisa, 28, returned home in 2009 after a brief stint at McGill Law School, ready to pursue her passion for organic agriculture and healthy nutrition. She grew up on the farm, along with assorted animals, bees, 200 sheep, and freshly grown organic foods. After earning a BA in International Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, she was attending law school when she realized her heart was elsewhere.

“My classmates and I started talking about organic farming, and they noticed how I lit up—I realized then it was time to return to the farm,” said Lisa.

Turning a hobby into something more

Jim and Maggie began growing alfalfa seed in their organic garden back in the 1970s. “It was barely an industry, more like a hobby, pursued by the counterculture in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Jim said.

In 1982, they began a small business, growing and selling organic alfalfa and radish seeds for sprouting. In the mid-1990s, they hired their first helpers and acquired a warehouse in Parkside to complement the 500-acre farm in Shellbrook.

Mumm’s sells 40 to 60 types of seed; about 40 nearby organic farmers supply 85% of that seed. Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds can be found in organic and natural food stores across North America.

Sprouts, rich in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, add “living nutrition” to the diet. Mumm’s biggest seller is alfalfa. Another popular product is broccoli sprouts—their high levels of sulforaphane, a cellular detoxifier, which may play a role in cancer prevention, draws health-conscious consumers.

“The levels of sulforaphane are generally 20 to 50 times higher in the broccoli sprout than in the plant,” Lisa said.

Stopping GM alfalfa

To avoid GMOs, Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds relies on the integrity of the organic system.

“GMOs are a very great concern for us, especially with the deregulation of genetically modified alfalfa,” Lisa said. “Two aspects have us concerned: 1) Contamination of our main product from GM alfalfa; and 2) The impact on the organic farming community—we need to continue supplying non-GMO seedstock.”

GM alfalfa, deregulated in the US in 2011, was approved in Canada for many years but was stalled after it met a backlash from farmers. Now, Forage Genetics has applied for variety registration and hopes to begin planting GM alfalfa in Ontario this spring.

The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) is holding a Day of Action on April 9 to Stop GM Alfalfa.

“The biotech industry speaks of ‘co-existence’ but that is a strange place to begin a conversation, since it doesn’t work,” Lisa said.

GM canola, much of which is grown in Canada, is also a problem.
“Many organic farmers, including us, don’t even grow canola because the risk of contamination is too great,” Lisa said. GM wheat is also a potential future threat.

Lisa recently participated in a rally and attended the hearing for the case Organic Seeds Growers and Trade Assocation (OSGATA) v. Monsanto, in New York City. OSGATA is seeking preemptive court protection against contamination from Monsanto’s genetically modified seed; currently organic or conventional farmers can be sued by Monsanto for patent infringement if their crops are contaminated by GM seed.

“Originally the judge dismissed our case, saying our farmers were not at risk,” said Lisa. “We appealed, and this January the case returned to the Court of Appeals—we’re still awaiting the verdict.

“Our first concern is GMOs. The biggest challenge faced by the organic farming community is that we’re currently operating in a climate of fear: we test our crops and create buffer zones for fear our neighbor’s patented crops will contaminate our own, we stop growing certain crops altogether for fear of contamination and litigation. This will change and it is changing. The organic community is comprised of some of the bravest individuals I know. We are refusing to farm in fear.”

Future of Organics

Lisa was a panelist recently at the Guelph Organic Conference and Expo, speaking as one of the young farmers on the greening of agriculture and the future of organic farming.

“It’s an exciting time for growth in the organic movement,” Lisa said. “I’ve never seen this level of support before in my lifetime, all over the world. From Canada to Peru to India, farmers are telling their stories, and that gives us a lot of positive energy to move forward.”


© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, April 2013