New Jersey News
by Michelle Caffrey
The Wilcoxes from Sitka, Alaska, won’t be the only family of four trekking to the shore this weekend, but they’ll probably be the only one that travelled more than 3,000 miles across the country, two of them on foot, to get there.
Brett Wilcox and his teenage son David set off from Huntington Beach, California, in January to make the journey, all in an effort to raise awareness about GMO foods and the push for GMO labelling laws.
Joined along the way by Wilcox’s wife Kris and daughter Olivia driving with them along the way, the pair are the first father-son team to run across the country. David, 15, will also be the second youngest runner to ever complete the task, which will wrap up in Ocean City on July 19.
Speaking from the road in Newton Square, Pennsylvania, Wilcox said they’ll stop at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia this morning, where they’ll be welcomed by supporters, and then make their way over to Collingswood, the homebase of nonprofit advocacy group GMO Free NJ.
They’ve been stopping along their travels, meeting with people, handing out seed packets and asking what they know about the issue, anything to spark a conversation about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.
There’s been a swell of debate around the subject in recent years, as advocacy groups such as GMO Free NJ push for laws that would require companies to label products containing GMO ingredients, most often corn and soy that are modified to resist pesticides.
Advocates from the organization recent rallied at Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s (D-4 of Washington Township) local office, urging him as chairman of the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee to support a GMO labelling law.
Previous attempts to get a labelling bill before the New Jersey legislature have failed, but a handful of other states have passed labelling laws that would go into effect if a percentage of other states passed them as well. Only one, Vermont, has passed a no-strings attached labelling law, and has allocated more than $1 million to fight legal challenges from food manufacturers.
“I think we’re making progress, and I think if we can truly get GMOs labelled with a serious label, people will wake up,” said Wilcox, the author of “We’re Monsanto: Feeding the World, Lie After Lie.”
“We vote with our dollars,” said his wife, Kris Wilcox. “If we just make one change, if you start with baby steps and start with one change, giving up buying GMO corn … that way you are giving yourself a healthier body and healthier life. It’s really kind of a no-brainer.”
While the recent ramping up of GMO awareness campaigns and backlash against Monsanto — a massive agricultural biotechnology and agrochemical company —have made headlines, a number of organizations and individuals have expressed caution, saying enough serious research hasn’t been done to prove GMOs negatively impact human health, especially when they can allow farmers to raise crops more efficiently.
Wilcox met a few of those GMO supporters along the way, and did his best to lay out his case.
“We met a farmer who said there’s all sorts of benefits to farmers,” like being able to spray an entire field and have everything die except corn and soy, genetically modified to withstand Roundup pesticides, Wilcox said. “But consumers don’t see those benefits. They don’t find any benefit to eating food that’s been saturated with Roundup.”
That’s the message they’ve been spreading since they started on the long run, first thought up by David after he heard of then 17-year-old Jasmine “Jazzy” Jordan’s run across America.
“‘He said, ‘I want to do that,’” Wilcox said, adding David pressed and pressed to make it happen.
They sat David, already a cross-country champion, down and told him everything it would entail — long, grueling days, both of his parents quitting their jobs to be on the road with him, putting himself in the public eye — but it didn’t phase him.
“‘He said ‘OK, I want to do it,’” Wilcox said. “So it was all systems go.”
The journey began in California in January, and continued through the warm Southwestern states through the winter. They hit the Midwest in spring, and despite physical issues that left Wilcox battling blisters and David unable to run until a recent fix by a chiropractor, the pair averaged about 20 miles each day.
Each morning, Kris Wilcox and Olivia drive the family’s trailer to whatever that particular day’s ending point is, while Wilcox and David spend the day running there, pushing a stroller full of supplies.
Wilcox said it’s been a challenge to make sure their journey stays afloat on their meager budget — there’s an ongoing campaign to raise funds for the trip — but a joy to spend every day with his family in a world where “families rarely speak to each other, and just pass each other in the hallways.
“I’ve gotten to really get to know David, to get to know Olivia and spend good time with Kris,” said Wilcox. “That’s all been the number one [best part of the trip.]“
David said it hasn’t been easy but he’s loved the scenery he’s passed, from the sprawling mountains to flat farmland, and finally to the hilly countryside of Pennsylvania.
“Seeing all of that was really cool,” said David, adding he also appreciated the chance to meet new people at every stop.
But once he finally gets to Ocean City — his first time seeing the Atlantic, a real treat for a teen who grew up along the Pacific Ocean and hasn’t seen the sea in six months — he knows exactly what he’ll be looking forward to the most.
“I’m excited to just sort of wake up and then lay in bed and just be lazy,” he said.
Contact staff writer Michelle Caffrey at 856-686-3686 or firstname.lastname@example.org