According to Wikipedia, Wendell Erdman Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.
What I find more profound than all these accomplishments is the breadth and scope of Berry’s understanding of people, society, and farming, and how they can work together to form the ground and foundation upon which our civilization literally and figuratively stands. In his deeply moving collection of essays What I Stand On (The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry in Two Volumes, 1969-2017; Jack Shoemaker, Editor, published by the Library of America, 2019) Berry takes what he has lived and observed, and uses it to give sense to the heart of what we need to internalize and act upon, as we confront a world in which climate change and agricultural challenges are growing at an ever-increasing rate.
The back cover of Volume 1 summarizes this feeling: “Wendell Berry is our essential voice on the cultural and ecological crisis brought on by industrialization, technology, and the market economy, urging us to live differently, better, more sustainably. This Library of America volume…presents the complete text of his landmark 1970 book, The Unsettling of America—a far-ranging meditation on the intrinsic connections between culture and agriculture—along with thirty-two essays from eight other books published from 1960 to 1990. It reveals the younger Berry as an already masterful stylist, whether challenging corporate greed and innovation for its own sake or treating topics as varied as family, farming, the dignity of hard work, and racism. Anticipating such contemporary concerns as organic farming, buying local, renewable energy, even the do-it-yourself and slow food movements, Berry’s incomparable essays peak with gathering urgency today.”
The back cover of Volume 2 notes, “Iconoclastic, inspiring, powerfully moral, democratic in tone and attuned to the rhythms of nature, Wendell Berry’s essays are quintessentially American. … [This volume] finds him turning to issues of political and social debate—big government, science and religion, technology, and the meaning of citizenship following the tragedy of 9/11—and burnishing his reputation as one of the master prose stylists of the last century. Here is the complete text of his 2000 book Life is a Miracle in which E.O. Wilson becomes an unlikely adversary—and forty-two essays and speeches from nine other books published from 1993 to 2017, among them his 2012 Jefferson Lecture to the National Endowment for the Humanities, It All Turns on Affection, an eloquent plea for practiced love of the land.”
I have worked for almost 50 years developing GROW BIOINTENSIVE, seeking to heal the depletion of agriculture, and to help farmers live and work in harmony with the everyday miracle of the seasonal and biological cycles that nourish and sustain our civilization. I am drawn to Berry’s writing because he expresses so well the thoughts and emotions that keep me inspired to continue this work. Two other individuals come to mind, whose writings have given us (me) such a rich sense of humanity and inspiration for the difference we can make in the world as individuals, particularly in the area of farming and tending the Earth.
Gandhi said, “To forget how to dig the earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”
Lincoln said, “Ere long the most valuable of all arts will be the art of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest area of soil. No community where every member possesses the art can ever be the victim of oppression in any of its forms.”
And Berry says “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
There has never been a better time to read and draw inspiration from Berry’s writing than right now, as we work to save a world where mechanized, chemical, herbicidal farming is wreaking havoc on our ecosystems, and as little as 21 years of farmable soil remains to feed future generations.
(Did you know that nitrate fertilizer used to grow crops exist as a result of surplus TNT explosives left over from World War II? It’s true. Also true is the fact that nitrate fertilizer use depletes soil organic matter and the ability of soil to hold on to organic nitrogen, in a vicious cycle: the more nitrate fertilizer a farmer uses, the faster the soil loses its organic matter (and its ability to produce food). In one loosely figurative sense, when we use synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, we are dynamiting our soils in order to grow food as we focus on products rather than dynamic, living biological processes! Without a good, closed system, fully sustainable farming paradigm, we are “at war” with nature, and it is not possible for individuals, families, communities, ecosystems and the world to live well, or live at all. In contrast, it can be seen though the data in a University of California-Berkeley Masters Thesis, that living closed-loop sustainable food- and soil-growing biologically intensive practices, have the potential of building up to 20 pounds of fertile, carbon-rich, biological nitrogen-friendly, farmable soil per pound of food eaten.)
As I noted in The Soul of Soil, a heaping tablespoon of fertile living soil can contain approximately the same number of life forms as there are people on the Earth. May this living force be with us! It certainly is with Wendell Berry, a Master of Soul and Soil; we can all learn from his writings how to better live in and proactively transform our living, thriving mini ecosystems as we create a wonderfully livable Earth no longer besieged by climate change.
As you stand in your part of the Earth, your garden, and as you work in the living soil to grow a better and more sustainable and just tomorrow, read and be nourished by the wonderful opportunities Wendell Berry’s words speak to the deepest good in each of us. It is the cultivation of healthy souls, the conscious and unconscious parts of our inside selves that determines what we create.
In fact, the way we cultivate the soil is how we cultivate our souls.
A healthy, productive agriculture relies on LIVING SOIL – truly the most important resource in the world. We live in a time of when healthy, living, farmable soil—as well as farming nutrients in organic and synthetic fertilizer form, fresh water, and energy—are all diminishing in quality and quantity.
Historically, farmers have had to adapt to the conditions that prevailed where and when they lived – they learned to farm in ways that fit their terrain, soil, and climate. In the face of the growing agricultural crisis (no pun intended, well, maybe just a little bit), as we work to bring our soil and our agriculture back into a harmonious cycle, knowing more about how
agriculture developed and was performed traditionally can provide key insights on how farming can be more effective, sustainable and adaptive in our modern world, on a local-global level.
Prehistoric Agriculture edited by Stuart Struever and published by The Natural History Press in 1971, is a collection of thirty-three articles discussing the worldwide study of agricultural evolution in Europe, the Near East, and North and South America, including pre-irrigation and irrigation forms of farming, covering research done on these subjects from the 1950s-1970.
Key topics that covered include:
All these lessons – as well as their opposites – can guide us to create thriving, productive, local ecosystems with fertile soils. There is much work to be done to effectively develop the detailed contexts and practices needed to make this possible. This isn’t a “one-stop book” for all the solutions: are some gaps, not unexpectedly –Africa, India, the Far East, and Oceania and such food plants as rice, millet, taro, and soybean are not covered adequately in this book – but these topics are not difficult to find in other books, such as those mentioned in my posts here, here, here, and here. Other publications I’ll be covering in future posts will review how North Africa, Rome’s granary, became a desert and how the Sahara Desert used to be a forest, which I mentioned here.
Other useful books include:
Don’t hesitate to delve into the rich soil that our collective agricultural traditions provide – this is how GROW BIOINTENSIVE originated! The history of the “already beaten paths” can enable us to create a flourishing future!
5th Soil Not Oil International Conference
San Francisco, California
September 9th Morning Sessions
John Jeavons will provide a presentation: Small-Scale Biointensive Farming and Carbon Sequestration: Growing Food and Soil for the Future, NOW
at the Masonic Hall 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM .
According to Wikipedia, human agriculture arose independently in at least eleven regions of the old and new world dating back to at least 20,000 BCE. Use of irrigation, crop rotation, and fertilizers began in the Neolithic age, but were greatly refined and expanded over the last 200 years. The last 60 years is witness to the hugely accelerated mechanization of human agriculture, and the use of fossil-fuel derived synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, as well as selective breeding, and genetic engineering across species.
Our gardens and our planet are coping with the hangover from chemicals used so liberally during the fevered enthusiasm of the Green Revolution – and in ever-increasing amounts today: the soil microbiome is depleted, waterways are polluted by runoff, beneficial insects and animals are struggling to survive the onslaught of toxins covering millions of acres of farmland, predators and weeds are developing resistance to the poisons, and humans are coping with a food-chain laden with endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Clearly, we need a better way to grow food and keep our crops safe from predation and disease, while balancing the needs of the ecosystems our farms and gardens coexist with. But is that even possible? How can we garden without poisons?
Beatrice Trum Hunter, in response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, wrote “Gardening without Poisons” in 1964 to answer exactly that question: “An aroused nation [after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring] is looking for new ways to protect plants from pests and diseases — methods based on an understanding of the forces of life at work in field and Garden. In this book, Beatrice Trum Hunter describes their methods, which you can apply in your garden today, and reveals the new knowledge which can lead to Gardening without Poisons.” – from the back cover of the book.
You might think that it would be outdated by now, but trust me, this classic is amazing in its breadth, depth and scope, and the techniques are exactly as useful now as they were 50 years ago! An enjoyable read as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s great-granddaughter Edith W. Gregg said: “A most interesting book, timely and valuable, I hope all garden clubs will order their members to read it.”
Love your garden, love the Earth, and learn to grow your food without poisoning them! The fun and success begin now!
I know that Summer just got here, but part of being a farmer is planning for the seasons ahead…
With the sun at its apex for the year, the apples are hanging thick and green on the boughs and the bees are buzzing among the blackberry blossoms, and I’m thinking a
bout…planting trees! There’s no better inspiration than sitting, on a hot summer afternoon, in the cool shade of a fruit tree to start planning the bare root fruits you want to plant in your garden as the weather cools, so you can enjoy them in the next season – and for decades to come!
And while we’re dreaming, why not try something out of the ordinary? While the pippin and the plum will always have a place in our hearts, there’s something to be said for exploring the more exotic varieties available to us now. Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden—Expand Your Palette with Pawpaws, Shipovas, Jujubes, Maypops, and More! by Lee Rich is another excellent book from Timber Press (electronic version available on Amazon) to assist in this exploration! The great content and author’s eloquent style is enhanced by line art and wonderful color photos. This edition emphasizes the practicalities of plant selection with a good source list, plus cultivation, propagation and maintenance instructions.
And you may find that unusual fruits provide more than just a delicious new flavor – they may actually work better in your micro-ecosystem than some of the more “popular” varieties: “Reich proves that plants slightly off the beaten path are flavorful solutions in tough landscape problems.” – Easy-Care Landscaping.
The crops covered in this book include (with my observations about the ones I’ve enjoyed so far):
Alpine and Musk Strawberries (Alpine varieties are tiny and very sweet, have an especially intense strawberry flavor that you will want more of.)
Pawpaw: Banana of the North
Raisin Tree: Candied Fruit for the Picking
Mulberry: A Very Tasty Fruit of Many Colors (We really enjoyed eating these in Willits. In addition, friends who sold them at the Farmers Market had people “fight” to get them before others could have an opportunity to purchase them.)
Kaki and American Persimmons
Elaeagnus: Gumi, Autumn Olive, and Russian Olive
I always look forward to eating these.
Maypop: A Passionflower for the North
Che: Chew Dolops of Maroon Sweetnes
Black Currant (These are good-tasting and have healing properties. I am currently–no pun intended–eating them to reduce the impact of glaucoma in my right eye.)
Nanking Cherry: Cherries on a Bush (These taste treats are easy to harvest!)
Cornelian Cherry: From the Shores of Ancient Greece
Currants, Red and White
Asian Pear (Crunchy and tasty both. Enjoyed best by many when they are cold.)
Lowbush Blueberry (An easy to harvest taste specialty.)
Jujube: The Chinese Date (I very much enjoyed eating these directly from the tree in a neighbor’s orchard! Nice and chewy.)
Medlar: Lost in the Middle Ages
Over the past 50 years or so, humans have come to depend on very few crops and varieties for much of our food supply, with the result that many of the cultivars that historically grew well in different climates or soils or were favored by different cultures have become increasingly rare – with some disappearing altogether. This reduction in variety has resulted in our reliance on an agricultural base with very low genetic diversity, increasingly vulnerable to disease and climate change impacts.
Planting heirloom, open-pollinated, regional, cultural and “unusual” varieties helps keep our agriculture strong, diverse, and resilient. I hope you’ll be inspired to try a delicious “uncommon” fruit or vegetable the next time you plant something in your garden – the Earth and your taste buds will thank you!
As a farmer and a researcher, I am constantly reminded that agriculturalists from earlier times are often the best teachers. Experiments with Plants (6th ed.) written in 1911 by Harvard Associate Professor of Botany Dr. W.J. V Osterhout, is a good example of this phenomenon. An extraordinary book, it provides fresh learning experiences from the past, as interesting and relevant as if it had just been written. It is an enjoyable read and is easy to comprehend. Learning can truly be fun and in this book is enhanced by 252 illustrations!
The Chapters are:
A few of the many topics to intrigue students and teachers include:
Out of print, it’s still available on Amazon, or you can borrow a copy through your Inter-Library Loan service. However you get it, you’ll be starting a treasured learning experience. You cannot help but enjoy this publication!
Or: How to feed an extra person and still save over 5,000 gallons per year.
It may be a little late in the season for this post (at least in this hemisphere), but we just had a series of storms that would feel right at home in February, and this information isn’t going to become less useful, so I’m going to go ahead and post it anyway.
You may not think that starting seedlings in flats vs. sowing them directly in the growing beds makes much difference in terms of how much water your garden uses over the course of the year. You may think that the extra step isn’t worth the work, even when water is expensive or scarce. Think again! Study the two attached information sheets carefully:
Do you see the amazing possibilities for growing food and soil sustainably with biologically intensive practices on an increasingly water-scarce Earth? By starting your seedlings in flats and transplanting them into the beds when they are sufficiently matured, you can save enough water to grow calories and compost materials to support up to one additional person annually without increasing your overall water use AND you can save up to 14.8 gallons of water per day all year long to use for other purposes.
This savings is in addition to the 67% less water used per pound of food produced with biologically intensive practices compared with standard gardening and farming methods!
The solutions are available to us. Let’s change scarcity to abundance now, so there can be more than enough for all as we go forward into the future!
It is wonderful how the Earth gives us an abundance of delicious, beneficial, healing plants that we can grow and use to make our lives better. I have so many favorite books, and Healing Spices – How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Disease (by Bharat B. Agarwal, PhD with Debora Yost) is one of my favorites on this topic! It educates and it provides a way to put more spice in your life and maintain your health at the same time. As the book’s information notes:
“Break through scientific research is finding that spices—even more than herbs, fruits and vegetables—are loaded with health-enhancing compounds.” From A to Z — Ajowan the Nature’s Pharmacy to Aniseed the Ultimate Digestif to Bay Leaf Infusion of Antioxidants to Cardamom the Stomach Sentinel to Black Cumin Seed The “Amazing” Cure-All to Sun-Dried Tomatoes Guardian of Men’s Health to Wasabi Hot Ally Against Cancer to so many more — 50 total!”
There are also three special sections: “Special Spice Combos” “Spices as Natural Medicines” and “Resources”.
Reading this book, you’ll find useful information like the fact that rosemary is one of the most powerful antioxidants, black pepper protects brain cells, chilis can relieve symptoms of arthritis, and turmeric has major anti-cancer properties.
Personally, I especially like and use turmeric with coconut milk as a drink to minimize joint pain. According to Healing Spices, “Turmeric the Leading Crusader Against Disease” may help prevent and/or treat: acne, allergies, alzheimer’s disease, osteo- and rheumatoid-arthritis, asthma, blemishes, cancer, chloresterol problems, colitis, cystic fibrosis, depression, dermatitis, diabetes (Type 2), eczema, eye infection, flatulence, gallbladder disease, gout, gum disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, macular degeneration (age-related), overweight, pain, Parkinson’s disease, pollution side-effects, psoriasis, rash, reducing wrinkles, scleroderma, stroke and wounds. Healing Spices includes useful “information boxes” with topics such as “Turmeric Pairs Well with These Spices…”; “Turmeric Compliments Recipes Featuring…”; “Recipes Containing Turmeric (including a delicious recipe for Potato Cauliflower Curry)…” and “Make Your Own Turmeric Extract…”.
This book covers the properties and uses of all 50 spices in this same delicious detail. It would be fun to take a year off just to become proficient in all this wisdom and knowledge!
Living in a rural area, it’s not always possible to get to the vet in an emergency, and we must do what we can with what we have. Example: a friend had to google “dog Heimlich maneuver” when her dog started choking – and successfully learned how to save her furry friend. While I’m not advocating going it alone if you don’t absolutely have to, I can say from experience that I’ve found The Doctors Book of Home Remedies for Dogs and Cats by the Editors of Prevention Magazine Health Books to be an extremely useful collection of tips, and is the next best thing to having a 24-hour-a-day on-call veterinarian!
Use as a practical reference to more than 100 common illnesses, emergencies and behavior problems. Benefit from the advice and wisdom of more than 200 veterinarians and other animal experts, with recommendations for when a professional will be needed — and what you can do to address the problem until you can get to the vet. Since the health needs of dogs and cats are often entirely different, there are also specific tips for both cats and dogs, along with more than 75 easy-to-follow illustrations. Find out how to come up with the purr-fect solution to:
A source of knowledge for your and relief for those fuzzy family members you care so much about!
So, here’s another post about roots. This time, I want to talk about how deep soil preparation (double-digging) works to increase the health and yields of plants by giving them room to spread out.
Did you know that the average carrot puts down an 8-foot-deep root? It’s true – check out the picture on page 19 of the 9th edition of How to Grow More Vegetables! The more root a plant has, the more nutrients it can take up. More nutrients means healthier plants, higher yields, and more nutritious food for you and your family.
Typically, farm soil is only prepared 6-inches deep. However, the Royal Horticultural Society in England performed tests showing that soil prepared 24-inches deep – the same depth that results from the “double-digging” method that Biologically-intensive gardening uses – produced healthier plants and higher yields. When you prepare the soil four times as deep as “normal” (24 inches) you produce four times the root system and four times the nutrient-cycling occurs! See what happens in the soil when it is prepared 10-inches deep (upper image) and 20-inches deep (lower image) in the photographs to the left. These images are from the section “Living Quarters for Plant Roots—A Picture Story of How Soil Conditions Determine Root Development” by Henry C. De Roo. This is from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden out-of-print Handbook on Soils, 1956, which has been reprinted by Ecology Action with its kind permission (also available on Amazon). Which rooting system would you rather have growing your food- and compost-crops?
Now, I know that people can be a little doubtful about double-digging, because it seems like “work”. But Biologically-intensive gardening and farming is not really labor intensive…it is actually skill intensive! You do not need to work harder, you just need to think smarter! See p. 30 in HTGMV. Think of double-digging as an investment, that once made, will continue to repay you and your garden to as long as you maintain it correctly. You do not have to continually double-dig. Once good, deep soil preparation has been established for a sufficient time, you only need to surface cultivate 2- to 4-inches deep with a hula hoe. See pp. 14=32 in HTGMV for the overall process.
Good soil preparation increases the quality and quantity of your gardening and farming result!
Give double digging a try – even if it’s only one bed to start with. You won’t be disappointed, and your plants will love the extra space to sink their roots.