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Eliot Coleman and Fred Kirschenmann are deservedly regarded as the two living “philosopher kings” of our modern organic movement. Eliot borrowed heavily from the wisdom and practice of early nineteenth-century advocates of agricultural “improvement”, distant ancestors of our modern organic farming movement, and Europe’s intensive market gardeners who once fed cities like Paris, to create the exemplary farm he’s operated since 1968 on Maine’s rocky shores. It’s ironic that Coleman holds out and instructs from that now remote agricultural outpost, where forest has erased much of post-colonial agricultural history, from 1700s ‘stump farming’ days to domination of American potato production until the 1950s. Maine lost out when agricultural “improvers”, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, lost vociferous debates on the floors of Congress over corralling American populations east of the Appalachians, where they would necessarily develop proper soil husbandry skills to survive, versus unleashing them upon unexploited virgin soils “out West”. We are familiar with the outcome of that story. Soil scientist David Montgomery, author of Dirt and Growing a Revolution, argues that “humans have been mining soils to feed ourselves for 12,000 years.”
Prior to the industrial revolution and Justus von Liebig’s unlocking chemical secrets of plant nutrition, all that soil mining, or “de-generating” as Eliot puts it, took place utilizing organic farming methods. Environmental historian Angus Wright, in Nature’s Matrix argues [Read more…]
“When people have a relationship to a farm, when they have a farm in their mind and in their heart, they’re engaged more as citizens of this planet,” Peterson said. “I can lament the declining sales and the struggles for farmers, but I really feel that the bigger issue is that the more people are cut off from the source of their food, the less able they are to deal with the issues of the world.” -‘Farmer John’ Peterson [Read more…]
The soil now gets a rumpling soft and damp,
And small regard to the future of any weed.
The final flat of the hoe’s approval stamp
Is reserved for the bed of a few selected seed.
There is seldom more than a man to a harrowed piece.
Men work alone, their lots plowed far apart,
One stringing a chain of seed in an open crease,
And another stumbling after a halting cart.
To the fresh and black of the squares of early mould
The leafless bloom of a plum is fresh and white;
Though there’s more than a doubt
if the weather is not too cold
For the bees to come and serve its beauty aright.
Wind goes from farm to farm in wave on wave,
But carries no cry of what is hoped to be.
There may be little or much beyond the grave,
But the strong are saying nothing until they see.
-Robert Frost, 1936
“Big Hugh” adopted theatrical antics of legend before congress while dramatizing America’s soil erosion crisis throughout Roosevelt’s era. Soil Conservation Service founder Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett spread a thick bath towel across one committee table over which he dumped a half-pitcher of water in demonstrating how well-covered, well-managed land could absorb heavy, washing rains. The chief then sloshed the remainder over a smooth tabletop, representing bare eroded land, [Read more…]
My friend, Cecilia Sheeter, once described a moment of evening light when one feels as if its “thick golden sheen could be scooped out of the air.” To me, the spring air has that same feel, it is dense with all the promise of a new year. Bud break in grapes is my favorite week of this, my favorite season. A field of nascent green is suspended over the earth on a squat army of gnarled trunks. Years of past mistakes, misgivings, and missed opportunities are the wood of the vine, nourishing the tender young shoots. Their vigor holds so much enthusiasm; even our human losses seem diminished. This is Mr. Willey’s most stressful time of year. To him, all that spring potential is fraught with tension, danger and toil. With literally hundreds of tasks, for dozens of crops, to be completed in an ever-narrowing window of time and temperature, deciding each day’s priorities seems perilous. “Silty, sandy, muddy Earth, we savor God’s ardent endowment in you. Make us worthy stewards of your robust gifts, in wonderment and fright we witness life renew.” -denesse