Motorists driving West on Mountain View Road this past summer might have noticed there was a stand of corn growing off to the left, in the distance, beyond the cow pasture. They might have noticed the corn, which was over ten feet tall by the time the ears started ripening in the middle of August, but they probably didn’t see that there were several acres of soybeans planted directly behind it. Only pilots of airplanes landing at the Boonville Airport would have seen the blue-green hue of the soybeans.
With all the immense, pornographic pot gardens standing naked to the eye scattered throughout Boonville and the rest of the Emerald Triangle, it might have been easy to overlook the corn. Cornfields are typically not hidden behind privacy fences or grown in greenhouses, and corn is almost never cultivated using hydroponics and grow lights. But Helena Bach, a long-time valley resident who has been walking her dachshund up and down Lambert Lane every morning and evening for decades, noticed something was different about this crop.
“It was taller than any sweet corn,” said Helena. “Sweet corn stalks are more spindly. And there was such a big field there. I was curious.”
At the time, Helena did not suspect that the farmer, a man named“John Voelker” of “Boont Organics” was cultivating genetically engineered corn and soybeans, in direct defiance of Measure H and California Certified Organic Farmers Association rules. She hollered at Voelker, asking him what kind of corn he was growing.
“The farmer asked me if I had a warrant,” said Helena. “When I inquired about what his secret was, how he was growing such healthy corn, he asked if I had a warrant!”
“Say what?” said Helena, that August morning.
“It’s none of your damn business,” said Voelker, “what kind of corn we’re growing.”
“Even then I wasn’t the least bit suspicious,” says Helena now. “It never dawned on me why [Voelker] was so reluctant to spit it out. I just assumed he was a grumpy farmer. I’d heard that he had a bad attitude from other people who’d dealt with him in person.”
But her dog got loose. Evidently, Voelker had a blue heeler bitch that was in heat, and Helena’s un-neutered dachshund bounded away, ripping the leash out of her right hand. It found a hole in the fence and squeezed through, tearing off through the cornfield. Corn tassels were dancing like hillbillies at a shivery as the dachshund bellowed, dragging the leash caty-corner across the rows. Nothing will keep a macho dachshund away from a lady dog in heat. Not even several inches of flood irrigation water loaded with synthetic fertilizers and herbicide residue. Evidently the dachshund swam across the shallow water, where its feet wouldn’t reach the muck.
“By the time I caught up with the dogs, we were in the soybean field they’d planted, the other side of the corn,” says Helena. “I thought they were green beans.”
She knelt down, looking at each plant, and concluded they were beans, judging by the ripening pods. They were bush beans of some kind, she thought. “I thought they were green beans, at first, but after closer inspection, deduced that they must be those green soybeans that are popular in Japanese cooking. What do you call those?
“Anyway, it wasn’t until later that I put two and two together. There wasn’t a weed in either field. They must have been conventional, at the very least. The stands were so uniform. I mean the cornfield looked like 100,000 soldiers who’d watched the same television commercials, the same sitcoms, and who had studied algebra and history from the same textbooks. They’d eaten the same Kentucky Fried Chicken, the same breakfast cereal. They wore the same name brands. They were all saluting me.
“There were no live weeds in either field. Those soybeans looked too perfect, and you could see the withered remains of weeds in the shade of the corn.
“It was his defensive attitude that did it though. I knew something was up. So I called the sheriff’s office, to report a suspected planting of GMO corn and soybeans.”
The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department had never received a call reporting suspected growing of genetically engineered crops. They had not worked out a procedure for staff to follow in the case of said report. The receptionist and the on-duty desk cops were flabbergasted, wondering aloud what to do. The whole office was in a tizz. They called Sheriff Tom Allman on his cell about the situation. It wasn’t something that had come up in the campaign. He had a plan for medical marijuana, he had a plan for the meth epidemic, but he had no plan for eradicating genetically engineered crops. RoundUp certainly wouldn’t do the trick. They would have to send COMMET in.
“Nobody knew how to respond,” says Helena. “They asked me why I thought it was genetically-engineered. I told them how the fields were clean of weeds, but that barely registered. So then I told them how the farmer had responded when we’d inquired. How he’d asked us if we had warrants.”
“I bet they’re growing pot out there,” said the telephone operator at the sheriff’s office. “I bet they got one of those big medical plantations with a couple hundred cards.”
So the COMMET team descended on the fields, men climbing down ropes from helicopters. They searched the corn and soybeans and found neither weeds nor weed. All that was growing was cornstalks, by this point with the leaves drying, the ears starting to come unstuck at the base, like so many thousands of male erections losing their steam. Many ears were pointing to the ground. In corn country, once the ears start to hang, that means they’re ripe. From there on out, the farmers measure moisture content and watch the weather forecasts to judge when to harvest.
Having found no marijuana plants, the sheriff’s boys went ahead and cut a few stalks of corn, rather than go home empty handed. They sent them to a lab at UC Davis. There, the corn ears underwent a week’s worth of testing and came up positively identified as having been genetically engineered and immune to applications of RoundUp, meaning that there was RoundUp Ready corn. Those farmers were in violation of Measure H, and maybe a penalty would ensue. Maybe a loss of 25 yards and two downs. The referees were weighing out the decision, even while the Sheriff’s department was deployed to use their pot choppers and shredding equipment to grind up the unauthorized crops.
“The corn had already been harvested, but we got the soybeans,” said a spokesperson for the Sheriff. Evidently fearing a raid, Voelker had gone in and picked the corn while it was undergoing testing at UC Davis. Even though the corn ears were already gone, the COMMET team went ahead and destroyed all five acres of crops, rendering it back to ash and soil, saving only enough evidence to use in court.
How this case will play out in the legal realm is anyone’s guess. It will set a precedent that may go down in the history books right along with Roe vs. Wade, Brown vs. the Board of Education, or Kramer vs. Kramer, for future generations to follow.
“We’re still investigating the disappeared corn,” said the Sheriff’s spokesperson.
Any residents who might have noticed truck(s) filled with yellow ears of corn traveling the County’s backroads in late August or early September are encouraged to come forward. Voelker drives an old one ton GMC fire truck that was converted into a flatbed. It is assumed he used it to make his getaway with the illicit corn.
Why was this certified organic farmer growing the genetically engineered corn?
“Chickenfeed, plain and simple,” he said from his new (and anonymous) residence in Sonoma County, where GMO corn is still legal. He has moved his entire poultry operation south, to Petaluma’s historic chicken farming district. “The price of chickenfeed has doubled in recent years. And the price of corn is skyrocketing with all this insanity about ethanol.”
“But why did you plant GMO corn?” I asked. “You could have grown organic.”
“Organic! Haw. You can’t pay people to chop weeds. RoundUp Ready is easy. It’s a no-brainer, the only way to go in this crazy economy. And down here (in Sonoma), it’s perfectly legal.”
An employee of the Sheriff’s department who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons suspects that Voelker is not using the corn for chickenfeed as he claims. “I think he’s got a still up in the mountains. I think he’s fermenting the corn. Whether he plans to use the ethanol for gasoline or for moonshine is anyone’s guess, but I would bet that he’s selling liquor. Three dollars a gallon for ethanol just doesn’t make sense when you put it on the scale with a fifth of Jack [Daniels].”
Most over-the counter whiskey tests out at 80 proof, meaning 40% ethanol, while moonshine registers roughly 190 proof, or 95% liquor. A source informs me that a little more than two acres of corn, conventionally grown, would produce 500 gallons of firewater when boiled down. “You’re talking $50k worth of whiskey there. Black market moonshine could bring upwards of $30 or $40 dollars a quart, especially if it were niche marketed as ‘local’ or ‘organic.’ Beats the heck out of chickenfeed if you ask me.”
So if you run across a Ball-brand canning jar filled with the clear stuff, be aware. While the seller might claim “local & organic,” that liquor could be distilled from GMO corn.