My journey, my odyssey and vision, began when at the age of two I experienced my Aunt's and Uncle's dairy farm in Pennsylvania with its vegetable garden and grape arbor. It was love at first sight: the aromas, sounds and vibrations of life on the farm were magic to me! My vision was enhanced when at the age of seven I experienced a drought in San Angelo, Texas. Then in the 1950s, when I was nine, my family moved to Phoenix, Arizona where our home was in a former grapefruit orchard. We all loved grapefruit and I discovered that the grapefruit orchard with the chicken and duck pen around it was extremely productive and much healthier than the other orchards.
In the early 1960s I decided I wanted to farm, and found a beautiful mountain area in east central Arizona that I loved. After visiting the region frequently, I realized that if I tried to become a farmer, I would have to quit after three months—because I did not know how to farm! To top off my inexperience, I later realized that my “dream farm” was in a Zone 1 climate area, with only a three-month growing season. This would be a particularly challenging area to grow in—much less to learn in!
After college, farming still interested me, and I wanted to learn how to grow all my food, clothing, income and other agricultural products in the smallest area possible, in an environmentally sound and equitable way. It seemed to me that if everyone in the world used the method I was seeking, or a similarly effective one, everyone could live well. Pursuing my vision, I visited the San Joaquin Valley in central California and asked my question, "What is the smallest area..." of farmers and agronomists. No one knew the answer. One person said, "If you grow 1,000 acres of wheat, and it is a good year, you will be able to pay the bills.”
This taught me two things.
1. Farming was not working well, if it took a good year to break even financially. Subsequently, 100,000 farms went bankrupt a year for ten years for a total of 1,000,000 farms! Currently, less than 1,000,000 farms remain and "farmer" is no longer a job category on the U.S. Census forms. Here’s why: in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average farm of about 500 acres, with a capitalization of about $500,000 netted only $6,700 from farming. Just to scrape by the average farmer had to earn an additional $33,300 from a non-farm, off-farm job. While it’s true that some farmers are making a good living, most are not.
2. The other thing that became clear to me during this time was, if I wanted to know the answer to my question, it was "Tag, I’m it!" I would need to figure out the answer myself.
An Open Door...
Fortunately, I got to know Alan Chadwick (an English horticultural genius), and his four-acre project at the University of California at Santa Cruz. This opened the door for me to learn about biologically intensive farming experiences over millennia—experiences of Ethiopians, Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Mayans in Latin America, Europeans and Russians. It was not a question of whether these practices worked, but rather, how to rediscover the practices and the basic scientific principles that serve as their foundation.
In 1972 I joined an organization called Ecology Action in Palo Alto, California. Ecology Action had just completed a glass and metals recycling program, which was so successful that it was taken over by the City of Palo Alto. For our next projects, Ecology Action decided to begin 1) an organic gardening store and environmental education center called Common Ground; 2) a bicycle workshop to encourage the use of that vehicle; and 3) an organic garden to research the effectiveness of biologically intensive food raising for food and income, and to provide community gardening space. Craig Cook and I were co-coordinators of the Common Ground—an organic garden located on 3 3/4 acres on Syntex Corporation land in the Stanford University Industrial Park. I later became Director of the organization. It was during this time that the process of rediscovering biologically intensive farming practices really began for me! One of the wonderful things about these methods is that their yield- and resource-efficiency miniaturizes the area needed to grow sustainable soil fertility, diet and income. What an interesting coincidence that the rediscovery of them should begin in Santa Clara County, California, where the miniaturization of electronics began!
In 1980 the land at the Common Ground Garden site, which had been graciously donated by Syntex, had to be returned as it was needed for a building expansion program. However, by 1982 we found new land in the mountains of northern California near a town called Willits. This is where Ecology Action’s work has continued for 27 growing seasons so far.
When I began the Common Ground Garden, I had a feeling that biologically intensive food growing would be very important in the future. Each year it becomes more clear—how important.
The Future is Now
So here I am, still pursuing this vision, and wanting to share what I’ve learned about these important ideas. For over a year, I have been wrestling with the question of how I can get an easily assimilated, positive, active message of hope out in a world where Peak Oil, Peak Edible Food, Peak Farmable Soil and Peak Water are threatening to overcome our way of life. A book would take too long to write and polish—there isn’t much time to spare before each of us needs to begin creating a new way of relating to ourselves and the Earth. Workshops are good and interactive, but the number of topics that can be covered are somewhat limited, and the number of people who can be present are too few.
Finally, I had an inspiration. During a one-day vacation, I began reading 60 Seconds, a book of life changes that were catalyzed by short experiences. In keeping with the theme of the book, each chapter was short. It seemed like an effective way to get the point of the book across, and it occurred to me that this sort of style could be the format for my message. But how to reach people all around the world? For we all are part of the solution, and we all are resources!
After much reflection, I decided to write episodes about topics that explore, and hopefully help resolve the challenges that face us in the quest for a sustainable way of life in a changing world. To make the episodes readily available to everyone, I decided to place them here on my personal website. I asked several friends and associates about the idea, and they thought it was a good one.
It is my hope that the ideas presented in “A World of Hope” will be helpful to you as we each meet exciting challenges in the future! As you explore these episodes, please bear in mind that they are meant to be read one at a time - one per day - rather than all at once. This method of moving through the series provides a day in between episodes for the ideas, opportunities and challenges presented with each topic to be absorbed.
As you read the series, I encourage you to talk and reflect with family and friends about the topics, locate people with special gardening, mini-farming and farming expertise in your area, and make the decision to begin exciting initiatives that will lead you on your own journey of discovery! It is my hope that through this series you will experience more fun each day as you become more involved in your relationship with Nature and all its ecosystems. When I learned about biologically intensive food growing, I could not wait to experience it. I think you will feel the same!
A World of Hope!
Here it is—over 36 years of experience distilled for your enjoyment into a series of short topics that I hope will serve as a catalyst for your discoveries!
- In each episode you will find BIG Ideas to muse about and use—Biologically Intensive Gardening ideas.
- Make each episode an opportunity to learn more about what you want to learn! And reflect on these things between each episode with family and friends.
- Most episodes consist of a challenge, a way to transform that challenge into a better life, and associated resources to explore. No doubt you will know of many additional resources to assist you as you customize your own path! The changes you make may be big or small. You might begin by planting your first garden, or by planting a bigger and more diverse one. You might plant a tree; or begin a neighborhood seed exchange, or do one of thousands of things that are individualized just for you and your family.
This is my question for you: What kind of life to you want to create for yourself? The choice is really there. It is really yours, and you are empowered to make it exciting as well as useful! Can you imagine it? You are part of history in the making!
Tag! We are all it!