BRIDGEWATER, Maine — A local man who for 35 years has owned and operated a small organic farm with his family and who has spent an equal amount of time as an activist working for fellow farmers has been recognized for his efforts by a national magazine.
Jim Gerritsen, who grows organic seed potatoes on his family’s Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater and serves as president of the national Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, has been named by the editors of Utne Reader to the magazine’s 2011 list of 25 “People Who Are Changing the World.”
Gerritsen said during a recent interview that he has been familiar with the Utne Reader since it was founded and called it “quite an honor” to be named to the 2011 list.
Each year, Utne Reader, which describes itself as a publication featuring alternative coverage of politics, culture and new ideas, selects 25 people “who possess an inspiring combination of imagination, determination and energy,” said David Schimke, Utne Reader’s editor-in-chief, in a statement. “These are people who don’t just think out loud, but who walk their talk on a daily basis.”
“I think it is a testament to how significant organic food and farming has become,” said Gerritsen. “You hear from more and more people who go out of their way to make sure that the food they eat is grown locally, and many people are also educating themselves about genetically modified crops.”
Last spring Gerritsen spearheaded a lawsuit on behalf of 270,000 family farmers, gardeners and consumers against corporate agriculture giant Monsanto.
Monsanto is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products, according to its website, and one of its products is genetically modified, or transgenic, seeds. Activist groups across the world have lobbied against genetically modified seeds, calling them unsafe for human consumption and saying that they weaken or destroy other seeds and crops.
Gerritsen said that Monsanto defends those seeds and claims patent infringement by organic farmers whose produce becomes contaminated from modified seed that drifts onto their fields. The lawsuit seeks to challenge the constitutionality of Monsanto’s seed patents and to protect farmers accused of stealing patented seed.
“We don’t want one penny in terms of damages,” he said. “We just want protection for farmers who otherwise would be under the threat of litigation from them. We have a right not to be invaded by something that would be catastrophic to our businesses and our families.”
The lawsuit is in pretrial procedural motions.
Organic crops can be contaminated by wind drift of pollen from transgenic crops such as corn. Maine allows farmers to grow transgenic corn.
“So if a neighbor raised that corn and the wind blew the pollen onto my organic farm, it could contaminate my crops,” said Gerritsen.
Wood Prairie Farm is a certified organic family farm producing various seed and specialty potatoes, including the award-winning Prairie Blush variety discovered by Jim and Megan Gerritsen, plus vegetable and grain seed. The farm has customers in all 50 states.
Gerritsen regularly speaks at the Common Ground Country Fair and national and international conferences.
“I can’t emphasize how important it is to stand up for organic farmers and protect our livelihood,” he said.
In addition to Gerritsen, others on the 2011 list include David Simon, creator of HBO’s “The Wire” and “Treme”; Azzam Alwash, Nature Iraq founder and marshland rehabilitator; Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a congressman working to foster dialogue between Muslim and Christian interests; Gary Paul Nabhan, an author called “the father of the local food movement”; Debbie Sease, national campaign director of the Sierra Club; and Humira Saqeb, founder of a women’s magazine in Afghanistan.