USDA Certifies Corn as 'Officially Sacred' Say Activists

Despite the NPR story's claim, the agency has no more certified Ponca corn as sacred than it has Roundup Ready corn



I woke up to a puzzling local NPR story about the Atlantic Coast Pipeline earlier this week. The pipeline is supposed transport natural gas from the fracking fields of Appalachia. Lots of folks in central Virginia, especially in Nelson County are very much opposed to its construction. Some claim that it will be dangerous and will contribute climate change while others object to using eminent domain to acquire the land for the pipeline's right-of-way. I have my own views about the controversy, but that's not what has provoked this post. As part of the protest against the pipeline local activists have invited members of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance from Nebraska to offer them guidance and participate in public protests. The Alliance is part of the Bold Nebraska activist movement against the Keystone Pipeline. All to the good—just folks exercising their First and Fifth Amendment rights. What caught my attention was the following claim in the NPR segment

…the Cowboy and Indian Alliance formed in Nebraska, their strategy of resistance to fossil fuels is to plant sacred seeds in the path of proposed pipelines.

"And I'm going to pray to the 4 winds, the 4 directions, asking the creator to help us with this fight that we're taking on now; to give us strength to give us guidance."

Mekasi Horinek, got those seeds certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as officially sacred.  The hope and prayer is that reverence for that distinction stops transmission lines like the Mountain Valley Pipeline proposed for this narrow hollow here in Elliston, Virginia.

"I'm going to call the spirits of and ask the ancestors that were here before. I'm going to ask them to be with us today to help us and guide us." …

When this sacred corn grows in a few weeks, it won't be mistaken for just any breed. Its stalks will not look like the uniform rows of the modern varieties. Some will be tall, some short and their bright blue ears just as randomly placed. The Ponca Indians believe the creator gave this corn to them not only as food, but also as medicine.

Their last crop was already planted when they were removed from their land and sent west in 1876. But the saved seeds were found, planted tested and certified in 2014 as part of a plan to sow them before the all the proposed fossil fuel pipelines in the country.

Got those seeds certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "officially sacred"? Talk about seed purity standards!


Startled by the claim that federal government functionaries are now in the business of discerning and certifying the spiritual qualities of crops, I did a little digging around on the internet. It appears that the claim that the Ponca corn has been certified as sacred by the USDA stems from the fact that Nebraska farmer Art Tanderup first planted the seeds on his land. As part of the U.S. government's crop insurance scheme farmers must fill out and send in a FSA Form 578. This report of acreage form merely tells the Farm Service Agency on how much land a farmer has planted what type of crop.

An article about the Ponca corn over at the Bold Nebraska activist website notes that Tanderup "certified the corn with the USDA to ensure that there is a formal record." And sure enough, the article displays a copy of the filled-out FSA Form 578 as evidence (see above). On the form Tanderup has noted the field and tract numbers and characterized the planted crops as "Sacred Blue Corn." In other words, despite the claims in the NPR segment, the USDA has no more certified Ponca corn as sacred than it has Roundup Ready corn varieties. The only official notice of the "sacred corn" that the USDA may take is if Tanderup files an insurance claim due to its destruction by an Act of God.

Still, the activists did plant Ponca corn on the right-of-way of the Keystone pipeline and where is it now?

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  1. I know quite a few people on both sides of this pipeline argument. It suffices to say that the opposition is completely out of their minds about it and it has nothing to do with eminent domain. Dominion is compensating people quite nicely.

    Nelson County is a hotbed of show horse owners and country manor retreats. The NIMBY is strong with that crowd.

    1. The problem with eminent domain isn’t how much people get paid for their property, it’s about the government taking property away from people without their consent. Especially if that property is then handed over to a private developer.

      1. Oh I agree. Let’s just say that of the people I know whose property is affected, they aren’t complaining.

      2. The problem with eminent domain isn’t how much people get paid for their property, it’s about the government taking property away from people without their consent.

        I’m not sure that’s sufficient either.

        The fact is that the “taking property away” part happens very rarely, because the threat thereof ensures that the owners will negotiate.

        It is true that in the vast majority of cases owners will sell and be compensated at very reasonable rates – sometimes even excessive values. But there is no way to know how many would never have sold at all were it not for the threat of confiscation if negotiation failed.

        there is also the problem it presents of silencing potential critics; people often find themselves in a situation where they’d like to complain and generate public opposition, but doing so means they will be suddenly told they’ve forfeited any right to negotiate.

        and so on.

    2. Its their land and they can be as NIMBY as they want with it.

      Dominion must not be compensating enough if they have to use eminent domain. Or maybe they just don’t want to sell.

      1. There are a few property owners who have a legitimate beef with Dominion as it is their property that is in the path. Most of the complaining is coming from other parties who aren’t affected.

      2. Dominion is still in the route selection process, no eminent domain has been used yet. So, as of now, there are people bitching about how other people may let a company use the property belonging to others at some point in the future.

        They have that right to bitch, but until Dominion actually uses eminent domain I’ll hold off on condemning them for it.

  2. Funny that we should let people who pretend to live in the stone age dictate how to run the modern world.

    1. I’d be much more sympathetic to their protests if they would just walk everywhere, or ride horse, or some other non fossil fuel consuming means of transport.

      1. And live in a buffalo hide teepee, burn wood for fuel, live on fish they catch, deer they hunt and berries they pick in the forest, and get their medical care from a shaman.

        1. I dont have a dog in this fight but I eat deer I killed, heat with wood, and also eat picked berries.

  3. ‘Separation of church and state’? What even is that?

  4. The only sacred corn is Jersey Silver Queen.

  5. They’re planting corn now. *checks calendar*

    lolsnortgiggle. Haaaaa. Aha. Aha. Ahhhaaaa.

    1. Yeeeah. Must be counting on a reeeeally long Indian summer. Or global warming.

      1. Hey: they’re Indians. They didn’t get pushed onto reservations being geniuses.

  6. is it cultural appropriation if I eat corn. Will protest break out at the supermaket?

    1. If you try to cook it in the aisle I suspect there may be a protest

  7. Sacred corn. Right.

    As preposterous as I think this is, I bet my SJW brother is going to start beating this drum any second now.

    1. The latest is that there is a difference between natural and synthetic CO2.

      Yep. Not being a licensed and accredited scientist, I admit I don’t understand that particular claim.

      1. Cars bad…volcanoes good

      2. Does burning fossil fuels create “synthetic” CO2? By what definition of “synthetic”?

        1. Maybe it has a slightly different C13:C12 isotope ratio or something. But that would hardly make it “synthetic CO2”.

  8. They also brought in environmental groups to go looking for “endangered” species.

    Surprise, surprise, they found the Cow Knob Salamander.

    1. Is that what you’re calling it these days? 🙂

  9. “And I’m going to pray to the 4 winds, the 4 directions, asking the creator to help us with this fight that we’re taking on now; to give us strength to give us guidance.”

    Heh, contemplate this on the tree of woe.

    1. Talking about the 4 directions is exclusionary toward the other 4 + 8 directions.

  10. If it’s so sacred, why would you want to plant on a pipeline route?

  11. As a cis-hetero white man can I declare my money sacred and prevent the government from taking it?

  12. Seems like a pretty good 1st amendment violation for the USDA to be declaring anything to be sacred.

  13. I love how at Reason when it’s eminent domain for energy companies, suddenly everyone is muted. “I have an opinion, but hey, I think I will keep it to myself.” But if it’s ED from elsewhere? Man, the screaming starts.

    So Ronald, you support that pipeline taking private property away from land owners?

    1. Will it do any good to point out that the property isn’t being “taken away?” The pipeline company wants to dig a ditch, put a pipeline in the bottom of it, and put the dirt back. The only difference after two or three years is that there’ll be a yellow target sign in the fencerow. For this the property owner will get an upfront payment and an annual royalty, and the only thing he won’t be permitted to do is dig up the pipeline. If it weren’t for eminent domain, there would be no roads, railroads, telephone lines, power distribution networks, etc. It’s the price we pay for civilization.

      1. Not quite. It’s a portion of their land now used for purposes not of their desire. And it’s part of their land that they can’t use as THEY wish. In addition, it now is land that is privy to constant maintenance, and all that entails…trucks, equipment, employees moving across it.

        By the way, they don’t think they are getting a fair price, because they are fighting it. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate someone else telling you what the fair price should be for losi g part of your property.

        And you should understand the difference between a road and a pipeline. A road is open to the public to be used. That pipeline isn’t. It’s for the private owners of that pipeline. Let’s see how hard they laugh when you ask to use it to send a barrel of oil you own through it.

        But typical…ED is evil, unless it’s a private oil company using it. I predicted it.

      2. “I want people to know how threatened and violated Dominion makes me feel,” says Nancy Holstein, one of the sued property owners. “I have withstood months of pressure from them to allow survey, including this suit, because I want it to be very clear that their pipeline on my property is against my will.”

        Your comment won’t in fact do any good with me. Maybe with property owner Holstein it will. But I doubt it.

      3. By the way, that link I posted…it’s a group of landowners in Nelson County who are fighting the ED being used. Note they say this about economic impacts from the pipeline:

        ? Total one time loss to county: $19-$41.2m
        ? Additional Annual costs to county: $39.6-$43m /year
        ? Total loss in property values $14.7-$25.3m
        ? Annual loss in property tax revenue $83,666-$144,363 /year
        ? Annual loss in recreation tourism expenditures $18.5m /year

        Just some. Fair value coming back to them? Not according to the people who own the property.

      4. So if the gas line leaks under their house that isn’t an issue?

        I’d rather have my land. All of it. Than some pittance royalty. I don’t drill and install shit under their property so I expect the same respect of rights reciprocated.

  14. Just stick some Muslims in the way.

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