Matador, the world’s largest independent travel magazine, just published my piece about my German ancestral roots in the seed trading business and how it relates to California’s narrowly defeated Proposition 37 which would have required food products made from plants or animals with genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labelled as such. My uncle, Wolfgang Ziegler, the last in his trade, features prominently.


Wolfgang Ziegler at the Seed Museum in Gönningen, Germany.

So here’s the intro. If it floats your boat, take a trip to Matador…

How the US is behind the rest of the world in GMO policy

On the state of the anti-GMO movement in America.

I come from a long line of seed traders in the small village of Gönningen in the Swabian region of Germany. As far back as the 17th century, my ancestors were traveling all over Europe, selling tulip, hyacinth, and narcissus bulbs and heirloom tubers, from the Netherlands to the Black Sea. In the 18th century, these intrepid villagers took their high-value seeds all the way down the Mississippi River Valley, traveling by foot, ship, and train via Liverpool and New York all the way to Memphis, Tennessee.

Books have been written and films have been made in Germany to document this important piece of history, not just for the entertainment value of this pre-television version of The Amazing Race, but because the very idea of small-town merchants disseminating saved seeds has all but become a thing of the past, thanks to giant agribusiness conglomerates like BASF, DuPont, and Monsanto. When my uncle, Wolfgang Ziegler, closed his small seed store a few years ago, he was the last member on my mother’s side of the family to have called himself a seed trader.

Fast forward to November 6th, 2012, an ocean, continent, and centuries away from the Gönningen of yore: In the State of California, USA, residents are being asked to vote on Proposition 37, a referendum whose passing would require food products made from plants or animals with genetically modified organisms (GMO) to be labelled as such.

Read more