DOWN on the FARM
with Tom Willey
First Friday of the month at 5p.m.
KFCF, 88.1 FM Fresno
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Organic Farm | Madera, California
DOWN on the FARM
with Tom Willey
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…]
“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…]
Back in November, we laid another mentor from my early farming career to rest. Neophyte farmers often rivet sole attention on growing crops, only worrying about where and to whom they’ll sell produce when a harvest mountain overwhelms them. Distinguishing ourselves as marketers much sooner than we did as producers, Denesse and I cut our direct sales teeth at Arnett-Smith’s twice-weekly open air market behind Fresno’s old Chamber of Commerce building, over which Florence Smith reigned supreme. Her Arkansas Arnett clan had lit out for California at century’s turn, [Read more…]
Although I hardly know one end of a cow from another, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (WODPA) invited me to deliver the keynote at their recent 10th Annual Conference and Trade Show in Corvallis, Oregon. Amongst a parade of tradesmen visiting the podium to hawk wares “indispensable” to any successful dairy farmer, came one waving a large square of what appeared to be AstroTurf. I sat dumbstruck as FodderWorks’ vendor rep claimed smart California dairy operators circumvent our mega-drought by growing pasture grass indoors. My first thought — “What sort of rubes does this guy take dairy farmers for?” — was followed by a recollection that Mario Daccarett, who milks sheep in Chowchilla, had invited me out to see some wacky pasture growing machine he was experimenting with over a year ago. Sure enough, visiting the FodderWorks booth, I learned Mario’s Golden Valley Farm is one of their star adopters. Familiarity with sprouted wheat grass found in every neighborhood health food store [Read more…]
Sibella Kraus’ sights are set on protecting the last seven-thousand-acre remnant of the ‘Valley of Heart’s Delight’ for open space and urban-edge agriculture. Known as the Santa Clara or Silicone Valley today, its 450 square miles of mild climate, well-drained fertile soils and artesian water once hosted the world’s largest tree fruit production region, delighting hearts with apricots and cherries. Some 98% of the Valley’s expanse now lies beneath San Jose’s pavement or sprouts Apples, the computer kind, on sprawling high-technology electronics research and manufacturing campuses. Lest you think Kraus’ notion of restoring its last few thousand unpaved acres to agrarian glory completely fanciful, first consider this remarkable woman’s track record of accomplishment in her San Francisco Bay Area’s local, organic and specialty crop food movements over three decades plus. Sibella and I [Read more…]