Money Makes Seeds Go ’Round

“Nowadays, everything has to do with money,” says Kalama Resquer-Yorkman. “We work hard for what we have in our life.”

Resquer-Yorkman, 20, was born and raised in Waimea. For the past six months, he’s pollinated, transplanted and taken samples of plants for Syngenta. And he says he gets paid well for it.

“Pesticides are normal for agriculture,” he continues. “You have to take care of the plants. It’s not like we do it to harm anybody.”

It’s June 26 and we are standing on the lawn of the Historic Kaua’i County Building, with about 1,000 other people who are here for the introduction of Bill 2491. It’s packed upstairs, where councilmembers are listening to public testimony. In the lobby, there’s a pool of people listening to the hearing on an old TV. The rest of the crowd spills out the door, down the stairs and along the sidewalk.

With a friendly smile, I walk past a man with a hard stare into a cluster of Bill 2491 opponents, and call out, “I’m doing a story for MidWeek Kaua’i. Anyone want to talk to me?’

“I’ll talk to you if you pay me!” one man calls back.

We don’t do that, but money seems to sum it up. The pro-GMO camp is afraid of losing their good-paying jobs. The anti-GMO camp is afraid of losing land, air and water resources, as well as their health.

It’s a divisive line that creates aggression on both sides.

“This bill is important because it’s a right-to-know bill,” explains Jeri DiPietro, volunteer for GMO-Free Kaua’i and Hawaii SEED. “It will give us disclosure about what chemicals are being sprayed by industrial agriculture, which includes DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, DOW AgroSciences, BASF and Kaua’i Coffee. This is based on the amount of restricted-use chemicals that they use.”

Bill 2491 asks for the transparency. How much pesticide are you using? Since the public doesn’t know, the bill asks for boundaries around schools, hospitals and waterways until an environmental impact statement can be completed. If these companies are correct and no damage is being done, then we all can calm down and get back to our lives.

“It’s not about golf courses, and no one is going to lose their jobs,” DiPietro continues. “This kind of spraying happens every seven out of 10 days without any knowledge or consent. Nobody asked Kaua’i if this is what they wanted. We need to determine for ourselves and ask for truth and knowledge, so people can protect themselves and their children.”

Pua Baptista sits on a chair that’s placed on the corner of a large purple quilt. A Hawaiian flag is attached to a pole that she holds firmly in her hand. As I approach, she asks me to sit on the soft blanket.

“I think we’ve gone past the part where we are on this side or that side,” Baptista says and points to people wearing blue Pioneer shirts or bright-green Syngenta shirts. “We are them too. We are not ‘us and them,’ we are all of us. We are going to make it together.”

Baptista’s family has been on Kaua’i for 11 generations.

“Our focus is to get the land back where it’s healthy and producing things that are supportive of us as humans. I know that if you spray the poison, you get paid more,” Baptista continues. “I’m against that. Why should people feel forced to do something we all know is dangerous and jeopardize their life and their family’s life?

“Maybe some people say, ‘Oh, neva bodda me. I still can work.’ But they don’t even know what the consequences of spraying poison are.”

Pua’s husband Lopaka takes the flag from her as she slides onto the quilt with me. Several of her friends join her, including aunty Aggie Marti-Kini of Anahola.

“They’re fooling everyone,” says Marti-Kini of the agricultural biotechnology companies. “They’re telling them that nothing’s going to happen to them, and it’s hard to say no to the money. But, at some point, you have to think beyond next month and take some initiative to better your community and the world.”

I think Aunty Pua is right. All of us are in this together.

No one wants up to 1,000 hardworking residents to lose their jobs, and 65,000 residents don’t want to get sick or see their beautiful home destroyed.

“I don’t have anything against anyone; I just have a problem with me not having a job,” says Resquer-Yorkman. “I have a lot of aloha for everybody, but if we lose our jobs, that’s going to affect all of us.”

On July 31, there will be a second hearing before the subcommittee and another opportunity for the public to voice their opinion. To submit video or written testimonials, email counciltestimony@kauai.gov. To read Bill 2491, go to http://kauai.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=27&meta_id=46503.

On July 13, lawyers who represent the Waimea plaintiffs who have filed suit against Pioneer Hi-Bred and landowner Gay and Robinson for alleged inaction to control erosion and pesticide-contaminated dust from its GMO test fields will present their findings about Westside chemical use and dangers.

“I think the right to know what’s in your food and how it’s grown is the most important battle you can fight,” says food writer Michael Pollan in the 2010 documentary Food, Inc.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. Visit TastingKauai.com.

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