Amy Goldman, Kent Whealy’s Nemesis, Joins ‘Fine Gardening’

Last week I received a press release announcing several people joining Fine Gardening, the magazine published by Taunton Press, as contributing editors. Among the list was Amy Goldman and I realized it was the same Amy Goldman who I'd been reading about on forums and blogs for a couple of years. Who is Amy Goldman? She’s a garden author, philanthropist and board member of Seed Savers Exchange and The New York Botanical Garden. In November of 2008 Kent Whealy, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, sent out a letter to the listed members of the Seed Savers Exchange. In the letter he warned about plans by SSE, at the direction of Amy Goldman and fellow board member and Cary Fowler, to deposit seeds in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. What’s so bad about this? Well, according to Kent the depositing of SSE seeds into the “doomsday vault” may

…have exposed for patenting the 485 varieties that SSE deposited at Svalbard’s official opening last February. All depositors are required to sign the Svalbard Depositors Agreement (actually an international treaty with Norway) which links those deposits to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N.), Article 7 of which states, “The Depositor agrees to make available from their own stocks samples of accessions of the deposited plant genetic resources and associated available non-confidential information to other natural or legal persons in accordance with the following terms and conditions:….” The agreement goes on to dictate that “original samples” (the other seeds of those 485 varieties being stored at Heritage Farm) are also covered by the terms of the FAO Treaty, which allows patenting on “derivatives” of those samples.

By signing the treaty, Seed Savers apparently cannot refuse any requests for seeds of those 485 varieties in storage in the seed vaults at Heritage Farm. That would mean Monsanto and others now can, as a right, request those 485 varieties of SSE’s heirlooms, splice in GMOs, patent the product and sell the seed. The actual movement of each sample covered by the FAO Treaty (including the “originals” of all samples deposited in Svalbard) will require the use and signing of FAO’s Standard Material Transfer Agreement (also part of the FAO treaty) that includes language describing a 1.1% tax on patents (the main way that the FAO Treaty will generate funding for itself)…

Back when this letter was published discussion of Kent Whealy, his removal from SSE and the contents of his letter were not allowed to be discussed on the SSE forums. People chose sides and either became Team Kent or Team Amy and a rift was created that has not healed. Judging by the speech that Kent gave at the Land Institute back in September that rift will never heal. In the speech Kent alleges that Amy Goldman used her money to buy influence with members of the board by financing their personal projects and stocking the SSE board with people who were “financially beholden to her.”

All of this in an apparent attempt to wrestle control of the board and ultimately oust Kent, which subsequently happened when he was fired from SSE for building a storage shed without the approval of SSE board, which describes a “fabricated charge.” You can read the full text of Kent’s speech here where he again warns about the possibility that the seeds provided by farmers and gardeners to SSE that have been deposited in the “doomsday vault” are at risk of being controlled by corporate breeders. The most shocking thing to me is his offer to pay the legal fees of SSE members who donated seeds to the Seed Saver Member’s Seed Collection and who want them back. 

Over on the SSE forum it looks like they’re lifting their ban on discussion of Kent and his speeches and letters. They’ve posted a response to his recent speech and even have a webpage on the SSE site where they are posting various responses and rebuttals.

Meanwhile, Patrick at Bifurcated Carrots is calling for a boycott (of sorts) of Seed Savers Exchange. He recommends potential members not join and current members demand the recovery of SSE member seed from Svalbard and the resignation of Amy Goldman, Cary Fowler and Neil Hamilton  from the SSE Board.

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