Fresh Facts Week 25: Growing Against the Grain

By February 15, 2015Newsletter

Volume 8, Week 25,  February 8-14,  2015

“If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.”

 ~H. H. Farmer. 

(Thanks to the Montana connection for sharing that quote in my reading this week.)

Understanding how things were created to work together is the greatest challenge as well as the greatest satisfaction of organic farming. Possessing this ability to observe and understand while simultaneously encouraging the symbiotic effects we need and discouraging the ones we don’t might well be the very definition of an organic farmer.

Seeing the inter-relation of soil microbes to disease resistance, sugar levels and pest predators to soil nutrition might be a course that could be taught, but more likely a life lesson caught at the oddest moments.

People ask how I can hear what a peach tree is asking for and the answer’s pretty simple and similar to asking a mom how she knows her baby’s crying because she’s hungry instead of tired, wet, cold, or neglected. Moms know because they’re intimately connected to their child, organic farmers know because we have that same connection to our crops and flocks, and this is why organic farming is so much more management intensive; we have to stay proactively in front of the upcoming challenges.

Because our main tool is encouragement of a biological system, we don’t have the luxury of waiting for a problem to arise. We have to anticipate it, and the only way you’re going to be able to do that is to be physically, mentally, and emotionally involved with your organic crop or flock.

The difficulty an organic farmer has in the arena of working with his conventional peers and neighbors is a philosophical divide quite similar, I’m sure, to what doctors experience. Universities run on grant money, so our physicians—and this is a generalization—learn to run down a triage that selects the right pill to address a problem and indeed, this is what we expect. If she said, “You need to lose 50 pounds, eat right, and get some exercise,” many would just find somebody that would give ’em a pill for their sore knees. The pharmaceutical companies are also the ag chemical companies. All of our agronomists and PCA’s (pest control advisors) get the same type of university training; i.e. What is the chemical solution?

Problem is, with organic farming, there just isn’t one. What there is, is a biological prevention, and that’s where you might as well be speaking Swedish.

As we move into the new food safety regulations, it’s going to be quite challenging to teach Swedish to English speakers. In other words, how do we maintain a biological solution in the face of a mandated zero tolerance policy. Indeed, most folks just say, “My knees are sore, give me the pill.”

I think it’s going to be fun! There’s a lot of education that has to happen, the stakes are quite high both ways, but unless we want to spend all our time picking out splinters, we need to learn how to work with, and not against the grain.


Author Uncle Vern

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