Editor’s note: An incomplete version of this story was mistakenly posted earlier on Feb. 18, 2020.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds will host Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a keynote speaker for its 2020 Spring Planting Festival, according to the company.
The Mansfield festival offers “thousands of varieties of plants” and the opportunity to learn how to grow them, and has drawn 150 vendors and 10,000 gardeners in past years, according to Baker Creek.
Kennedy is the son of Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy. He is an environmental attorney and author and is also known for his anti-vaccination activism.
Kennedy founded anti-vaccination organization Children’s Health Defense, which has led campaigns and petitions arguing that children should not be vaccinated, USA TODAY reported in August.
Relying on science, public-health authorities have noted that the anti-vaccination community, by opting not to vaccinate young children against diseases like measles and mumps, has opened the door for these diseases to once again threaten the general public.
“The reason measles is coming back is that a critical number of parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children,’’ Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told USA TODAY last year. “If you get to a few thousand cases, you’ll start to see children die of measles again.’’
Kennedy championed a 2019 lawsuit challenging a New York State ban on “religious exemptions” to policies requiring that students be vaccinated before they may attend school, the USA TODAY Network reported in August.
But a Baker Creek official said “seed security” and food derived from non-genetically modified plants, not anti-vaccination, is the subject of Kennedy’s talk.
Kennedy spoke last year at Baker Creek’s National Heirloom Expo in California, said Kathy McFarland, Baker Creek’s spokesperson. He collaborated with Vandana Shiva, an expert from India, on the topic. The two will speak together at the Spring Planting Festival.
“Those topics are priority subjects for us when scheduling presentations for both events,” McFarland said in an email.
McFarland added, “I believe that (Kennedy’s) anti-vaccine campaign has nothing to do with his being invited to speak at our festivals. He did not touch on the subject at all when he spoke at our Santa Rosa expo.”
Baker Creek invites speakers who promote “pure food, seed diversity, seed sovereignty, gardening topics, homesteading, etc.”
McFarland noted that Kennedy is not a “financial backer” of Baker Creek, and she said the company does not contribute to Kennedy’s “political causes.”
Kennedy is not the first potentially controversial speaker to be announced by Baker Creek.
Last year, Baker Creek said it would host Cliven Bundy — known for an armed standoff with law enforcement in 2014 over unpaid fees for cattle-grazing rights to publicly owned land — to speak about his experience growing ancient crookneck watermelons in desert climate conditions.
But citing “security concerns” amid pushback from heirloom seed-collectors and others, Baker Creek and Bundy decided to cancel the appearance a few days later.
Baker Creek said on its website that this year’s festival takes place 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 3 and 4 at Baker Creek Seed Company at 2278 Baker Creek Road in Mansfield. Admission is $5 for adults, and free for those 16 and younger.
Gregory Holman is the investigative reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and consider supporting vital local journalism by subscribing. Learn more by visiting News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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