On March 29, a distant echo of the American Revolution's idealism and independence reverberated through the rolling, wooded hills of Montville.
Warmed by a woodstove and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbors in the town's 200-year-old meetinghouse, members of the community came together to exercise their fundamental right in a pure democracy. By casting their vote with a show of hands, they enacted an ordinance that places a 10-year moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified crops (GMOs) in town.
Among Montville's earliest settlers were farmers, woodsmen and craftsmen who united against the most powerful government on earth during the American Revolution to assert their belief in self-determination. Their courage, conscience and creativity carved this community out of the wilderness. The essence of their convictions resonates with people who live here today.
The people whose voices were heard at the meeting expressed deep concern about the safety of their food and the security of their food system. In solidarity with others across the world, they expressed a desire to protect a common natural heritage that is represented by the diversity and purity of seed, the source of life-giving food.
As the moderator read the warrant article at the town's annual meeting, a farmer moved that the ordinance be accepted as written. But the discussion that followed was immediately led by consumers.
A retired schoolteacher, whose long-standing tenure in the community has earned her respect as a nurturing caregiver, spoke of her concerns about the affects of GMOs on human health, the local farming economy and the environment. A retired military serviceman and computer executive spoke about his findings while researching genetic engineering, and the resulting apprehension he feels about the crops after reading about devastating effects on corn in Spain. A nurse and an avid gardener voiced unease about the potential for cross-contamination with traditional crops and cited situations in Canada and Mexico where cross-contamination has occurred.
A young father, a registered Maine Guide who has lived in Montville his entire life, was particularly passionate in his expression of support for the ordinance, saying consumers need to stand up for their right to choose what they eat.
The vote to enact the GMO ordinance in Montville was an emphatic statement of consumer preference. What our town said is this: Genetically modified organisms provide no benefit to our families; genetically modified organisms provide no benefit to our community; genetically modified organisms compromise the integrity of our food system and our environment.
Corporations that have placed genetically modified foods on the supermarket shelves and, in turn, in our household cupboards without our consent will not silence the people of Montville. We believe we have the right to choose what we eat. We stand against this assault on our democracy. We state, quite simply, "This is not the right thing to do."
Indeed citizens everywhere have a right to know what they eat. With less than 2 percent of the U.S. population actively engaged in the production of food and the other 98 percent totally dependent upon others for their food supply, the integrity of our food system is of primary importance. While it is difficult for the modern consumer to follow the complexities of our food system, the public has a rightful role in choice.
For more than 50 years, four generations of our family have farmed in Montville, producing livestock, vegetables and horticultural crops. For over 26 years we raised sheep and observed first-hand their behavior. If a shepherd tries to drive sheep, they scatter but if led, sheep complacently follow. This bit of country wisdom can be applied to the revolutionary change taking place in our food system that has introduced genetically modified organisms without the consuming public's consent.
We are not sheep. We are a free people whose scattered voices are being heard throughout the world, and whose cries for a different sort of revolutionary change are speaking out for a future world that preserves, propagates and protects open access to pure seed.
The firebrands of Montville have set the spark. Let others kindle a flame that spreads across this nation. Let that flame find fuel within our democracy to protect the genetic integrity of our food system.
In Montville, we have voted our conscience and we encourage others to do the same.
Sandy George and Diana George Chapin own and operate The Heirloom Garden of Maine in Montville and are members of a national network of farmers and gardeners who save seed to preserve, propagate and perpetuate heirloom varieties for future generations.
© 2008 The Bangor Daily News