Dirt on The Farm May 2024

Celebrating Ten Years: Elise Higley, Oshala Farm, and Local Farmers Defeat Syngenta and Monsanto

Oshala Farm vs. Syngenta and Monsanto: A Decade of Triumph and Advocacy

This month marks a decade since the historic passing of the GMO crop ban in Jackson County, a victory that resonates deeply with our community and our farm. As we also celebrate nine years since the successful defense of the ban in federal court, we take this moment to reflect on the journey, the triumphs, and the unwavering spirit that brought us here. At the heart of this story is Elise Higley, co-owner of Oshala Farm, whose leadership and dedication were pivotal in this monumental achievement. Last weekend, we gathered with lawyers, farmers, and volunteers to celebrate this milestone, and it was during this celebration that Elise was honored with a lifetime achievement award from Our Family Farms, recognizing her outstanding contributions to this cause.

The Roots of the Movement: Collaboration and Conflict

The seeds of this movement were planted long before the measure was passed. The Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association (SOSGA), of which Oshala Farm was a proud member, played a critical role in the early stages. Formed in response to the threat of GMO contamination from Syngenta’s genetically engineered sugar beets, SOSGA aimed to protect the integrity of traditional and organic beta seeds (beet, chard, etc.) in our region. Initially, SOSGA hoped to work collaboratively with Syngenta to map crops and coordinate efforts to prevent potential cross-contamination among growers. However, Syngenta’s legal team refused to cooperate with neighboring farms, leaving farmers with little choice but to take the issue to the county in the form of a vote. This necessity led to the formation of Our Family Farms, a coalition developed to lead the campaign and mobilize the community.

Elise Higley’s Leadership: A Catalyst for Change

While the campaign was a massive community effort, Elise Higley’s leadership was a turning point that galvanized the movement into a major force. Chosen by her fellow farmers to lead the campaign, Elise initially hesitated to take on the role but ultimately embraced it with determination and passion. As the central public figure of the campaign, Elise worked tirelessly alongside a coalition of local family farmers—predominantly organic but including farmers from all backgrounds. This diverse alliance stood united in their commitment to preserving the purity and sustainability of our agricultural practices.

The passage of the GMO ban was immediately challenged by an industry-backed lawsuit. During the campaign, Elise’s tireless efforts in public debates and outreach were evident. She debated numerous industry “experts” funded by Syngenta, Monsanto, and Bayer. High-priced lawyers from Portland were flown in to challenge our local farmer group, but Elise’s determination and eloquence in defending the ban were instrumental in garnering community support and a 66% vote in favor of the measure.

The Court Battle: Upholding the Ban in Federal Court

When Jackson County opted not to defend the GMO ban in court, the future of the measure seemed uncertain. Elise Higley, representing Our Family Farms and Oshala Farm, stepped in as an interceder on the county’s behalf. This legal battle was crucial in securing the ban against powerful agribusiness giants like Syngenta and Monsanto. The defense argued that the GMO crops posed a significant threat to local organic and traditional farming practices due to potential cross-contamination.

In a landmark decision, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Clarke upheld the ban, rejecting the challenge by two GE alfalfa growers backed by Monsanto and other GE interests. Judge Clarke ruled that Jackson County’s ban was allowed under Oregon’s Right to Farm Act since it was intended to “protect against damage to commercial agriculture products.” He noted that the ban was justified to prevent “irreparable harm” and economic damage to neighboring farms from GMO contamination. This decision was a resounding victory for Our Family Farms Coalition and the Center for Food Safety, affirming the community’s right to protect its agricultural heritage and environmental health.

Oshala Farm’s Commitment: Values in Action

During this critical period, Oshala Farm was primarily growing seeds and vegetables with only a small amount of herb production. Despite being a new farm and facing numerous challenges, we supported Elise, allowing her the time and space to focus on this mission. This commitment was not just to a cause but to the very principles that guide Oshala Farm: sustainability, community, and integrity. Our tagline, “Cultivate Consciousness,” reflects our dedication to these principles and our mission to promote awareness and responsibility in agriculture.

Our involvement in this movement is a testament to our farm’s vision—a vision that sees agriculture as a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, community and independence. This victory is a reflection of our enduring commitment to these values and the values of our customers who believe in a GMO-free future.

Celebrating the Legacy: Elise Higley’s Lifetime Achievement Award

In recognition of her outstanding contributions, Elise Higley recently received a lifetime achievement award from Our Family Farms. This honor highlights her pivotal role in the campaign and her ongoing efforts to protect and promote sustainable farming practices. It is a testament to her leadership and the collective effort of a community dedicated to preserving the integrity of our agricultural heritage.

Oshala Farm’s Pride in Elise’s Accomplishments

All of us at Oshala Farm are incredibly proud of Elise and her tireless efforts in protecting our farming community. Her dedication, resilience, and unwavering commitment have not only safeguarded our agricultural practices but have also set a powerful example of what can be achieved through community collaboration and steadfast determination. Elise’s achievements are a testament to the values we hold dear at Oshala Farm and the values shared by our customers who support sustainable, GMO-free agriculture.

As we celebrate these milestones, we invite you to join us in supporting the future of local, sustainable agriculture. Visit Our Family Farms to learn more about how you can get involved and support this vital cause. And of course, continue to support Oshala Farm by choosing our organic products, visiting our farm, and spreading the word about the importance of GMO-free farming.

Together, we can ensure a healthier, more sustainable future for generations to come.