In Flanders Fields

This is one of 1122 articles in my book Now and Then Again, The Way We Were and the Way We Are, second edition. The book is available from Amazon for $20.95 print and $9.95 Kindle and  also as an ebook from Apple, Kobo, and Scribd for $9.95. It’s fixed format so it’s better with a tablet, laptop, or computer. There are more articles from the book on another blog here. And there is a book preview website .

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. — In Flanders Fields

This haunting poem was written by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McRae in 1915 after the funeral of a friend who died in battle and became the elegy for that terrible war.

Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia, on leave during the war to work for the YWCA was inspired by McRae’s poem. After the war, when teaching a class of disabled servicemen, she came up with the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds for veterans. Due to her efforts, the red poppy is now the iconic symbol for Veterans Day.

But the Flanders poppy at the time was considered a weed.

“’In Flanders fields the poppies blow’— but they are not to be allowed to do so on or near the dump heaps of Kearny, N.J.” according to an article titled Fighting Flanders Poppies in the Literary Digest, Jan. 14, 1922.

“The federal horticultural board has adjudged them a nuisance and a pest to agriculture and ordered them plowed under, until they haven’t the heart to rise again. The poppies were brought over in earth ballast, shipped in France by troop transports. They threaten to overrun surrounding gardens and truck farms,” from an article in the California Garden, February, 1922.

“’The reason the poppy blooms in France and Belgium is because the farmers can’t get rid of it,’ said Harry H. Shaw, pathologist of the federal horticultural board”, quoted in an article in The Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review, Dec 10, 1921.

Don’t confuse the Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas with the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, source of opium, morphine, heroin, and the poppy seeds on your bagel.

Poppy seeds are about 3 bucks a pound and come from various countries with Turkey the number one producer.

They used to be grown in California. World War II cut off imports of poppy seeds and the price soared from 7 to 50 cents a pound and California farmers set out to meet this very profitable demand. This attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics resulting in the Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 banning the growing of opium poppies.

The California growers were allowed to harvest the crop planted before the law when it matured in 1943. But California continued to issue permits to grow the poppies. The Division of Narcotics Enforcement of California cited a letter from the state Attorney General to the State Director of Agriculture saying that the variety of poppy grown for edible seed “is actually not suitable for producing opium.” This is not true, however, virtually all poppy production was for seeds, save for a hapless farm laborer in Holtsville (“The Carrot Capital of the World”) who grew opium poppies to boil the seed pods with his coffee as was the custom in his native village in India.

Thus began the California “Poppy Rebellion”. Of course federal law trumps state law and after lawsuits contesting the law, a special three judge court upheld it in August, 1944 and the remaining poppy crops were destroyed.

Today you can plant seeds and grow opium poppy flowers in your garden and the narcs won’t bother you. Probably.

By the way, don’t eat that poppy seed bagel before you get drug-tested for your new job. The tests are so sensitive that the minuscule amounts of opiates in the seeds will trigger a false positive and you’ll be arrested as a dope fiend. A Pennsylvania woman had her newborn daughter taken away in 2010 for 5 days because she tested positive after eating a poppy seed bagel before entering the hospital. She sued and was awarded $143,500 damages in 2013.

Copyright © 2020 Joseph Mirsky

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