Mr. Potato Head goes organic

Feature story - 21 May, 2009
Giant potatoes have been spotted riding bikes in the Dutch countryside and through the middle of busy cities in the Netherlands! This phenomenon has coincided with a nation-wide cycling celebration of organic farming.

They say "potato" - we say "not the genetically modified ones" Oh let's call the whole thing off!

The PieperPad (Dutch for "Potato Trail") is a 1000 kilometer long cycling tour designed to raise awareness about the importance of ecological farming in the Netherlands by encouraging members of the public to get out into the countryside and enjoy potatoes, a well loved Dutch staple, in a totally new way.

A member of Parliament, called Mr. Pieper (yes, he's actually called "Mr. Potato"!) was a special guest at the premiere of the first track along with Gert van der Zwan, principal of the Carolus Clusius College (Carolus Clusius is the botanist who brought the potato to Holland around 1600). Copies of the cycling guide were given to these two sensibly dressed fellows who then donned potato costumes, hopped on their bike and rode to the first potato exhibition field sporting 15 kinds of potatoes. Assisted by students of the Carolus Clusius College, the two special guests planted the last potatoes here.

The Pieperpad is an initiative by Greenpeace Netherlands together with Biologica.Both organisations defend biodiversity and campaign on environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture.

On yer bike!

In several Dutch cities the Pieperpad was promoted by volunteers handing out potatoes, flyers and riding around on bikes dressed as potatoes - through the centre of Utrecht and organic markets in Amsterdam and Amerongen.

Dutch folks have been very enthusiastic about the project and requests are flooding in from individuals and businesses who want to hop on the Pieperpad. Greenpeace Netherlands has also started a competition asking supporters to create a name for the newest organic potato that will be ready at the end of 2009.

Organic revolution

We asked several organic farmers here in the Netherlands how they felt about going organic. J. Bakker, grows potatoes on his 80 hectare farm, in Munnekezijl. Mr. Bakker was a conventional farmer for 25 years, but in 2001 he decided to switch to organic farming. He says "Genetic engineering is the biggest threat to agriculture, because there is so much uncertainty."

Joute Miedema, in Oudebildtzijl, went completely organic in 2009. From 1967 till 2000 he worked as a conventional farmer. But when he realised that organic farming was economical feasible he decided to make the gradual switch to organic farming. He enjoys being an organic farmer a lot more. "It demands more creativity and alertness", says Miedema. "Marketwise it's more pioneering and I like it more and more." Because he uses organic fertilisers in stead of artificial ones, his soil gets more body and life returns to his acres. "Birds of prey have returned, just like hares, deer, quails, while they have been away for years."

Erik Ploer runs a farm with his family in the same region. When they first started working there he wanted to work in a way that was friendly to both humans, animals and the environment, that's why he decided to work organically. "Organic is the kind of farming I feel most at home with. In agriculture everything has to do with everything. You feed the soil, work together with the animals and for humans. Organic farmers make the right moves: No poison, rejecting genetically modified crops and no artificial fertilisers. Physical and mental health go first!"

The GM resistance

European countries continue to resist growing genetically modified (GM) crops. Germany has just announced that it will become the sixth EUcountry to ban the cultivation of Monsanto's GM maize MON810 - the only GM crop that can be commercially grown inthe region. But Monsanto is still pushing for this maize to be grown in more EU countries, with some worrying success. The EU Commission needs to take a stand against GM crops to ensure the protection of consumers, farmers and the environment.

In another bid to control our food, Bayer, the German chemical giantis hoping to get EU approval for the import of their GM rice varietyLL62. This rice has geneticallymanipulated rice to withstand higher doses of a toxic pesticide calledglufosinate,which is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environmentthat it will soon be banned from Europe. If this rice gets approval - farmers in the US and elsewhere may soon startplanting the manipulated crop. 

We hope that governments around the world will follow the examples of countries like Germany and France by announcing a ban all GM crops.

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Ask all governments around the world to protect consumers and farmers, their crops and fields by rejecting Bayer’s GE rice, and stopping GE rice field trials.

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