Thomas Jefferson loved gardening. I got a copy of his Garden Book 20 years ago, which details the work at the 2 acre garden plantings and 8 acre orchard at Monticello. Know that democracy could only survive in a nation of small farms and small businesses. Last week I finally visited Monticello.
Hugh Lovel, an agricultural consultant from Australia, accompanied me, so the ride was full of farm talk. I gave a daylong gardening workshop, did a bit of consulting and lecturing the next day. Then we climbed the little mountain and admired the beautiful grounds of Jefferson Home.
I am often asked to recommend books for learning about organic agriculture. I appreciate the many good books put out by Rodale Press, Acres, USA and others over the last few decades, they are not my favorites. Farming is not about double-digging, plastic hoop houses and amendments to buy, it’s about soil. The best books on agriculture that I have found are grade school textbooks written a hundred years ago.
A definition of intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to a new situation. This type of intelligence resides in a humus-rich soil which is permeated with beneficial micro organisms. The new situation would be a new crop, and a response is the colonization of the new roots with the specific microbes that create maximum production and crop health.
In the fall of 1999, my friend Dan asked me why I didn’t use the community supported agriculture model to distribute our produce, I explained that we tried in the late 1980’s, but the folks didn’t want to drive out to the farm. His immediate response was “I’ll drive it to them,” and our present CSA was born.
I charged $25.00 per week for a share. Our shares were too many vegetables for many people, so eventually we sold half shares for $15.00 per week. We have grown together for 10 years now and have not raised our prices. As our costs rise, we just got more members and grew more acres.
Snowed in and snuggled up, I’m studying several summertime snapshots, searching and selecting sufficient seed for sowing this soon-to-come spring. I must be on every seeds company’s list of who to send a catalog to. so, while winter weather wrecks her havoc, I’m safe and sound by a warm fire, envisioning rows and rows of picture perfect vegetables.
Blue Lake, Roma and Cherokee Wax beans are our green, Italian and Yellow beans respectively. Will try Forkhook and Henderson’s Lima beans this year. A hundred years ago, butter beans, as Lima’s are affectionately called, were second only to potatoes as the most common vegetable people grew. In my effort to grow old timey crops, I ordered five pounds of White Half Runners, too.
Detroit Dark Red is our standard beet, and we also grow an Italian heirloom called Chioggia and another old one called Cosby’s Egyptian. I’m going to try a yellow beet called Touchstone Gold. For carrots we stick with good old Danvers Half Long and Scarlet Nantes.
The policies of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have had a tremendous affect on farming in our country. Their funding go to further the research at land grant colleges (like UT), and the advice is disseminated through the county extension programs. The way most farms are run is a direct result of this information.
Agriculture before the 20th century depended upon healthy soil. Farmers knew how to keep their soils light and fluffy, rich in humus and capable of long-term production. All farms had animals for power and food, and the waste products were composted to keep the land fertile.
I’m on a No. Ca. diet. That’s short for Northern California, which is where I visited my family last week. Brother Mark took me on a trip up to Medicino County, complete with giant redwood trees, ocean cliffs, hot springs, vineyards, and biodynamic farms. I spent several days with my cousin, Sue, and enjoyed a meal with my niece, Bianca, Sue’s son Aubrey and his new family.
The first stop was Frey Vineyard, the first organic winery in California, where a biodynamic conference was held. We learned about a method of scientific research based on observation, mental representation, silent contemplation, and data recording. The subtle processes in nature reveal themselves through forms. Clearly picturing in our minds what we observe, and then being silent, opens up pathways for new insights.
The layers in a leaf cell and the membranes of animal organs can be compared to a battery. These are made up of alternating layers of materials, creating electrical potential, which is used for energy. We learned that microcosmic forms mirror macrocosmic one, such as the way atoms move like galaxies in the same vortexes we also notice in water and plant growth.
It’s time for me, once again, to sing the praises of kale. My favorite way to cook it is lightly sautéed with garlic. I get some olive oil warm in a skillet and add sliced garlic. Freshly washed kale gets chopped horizontally and fills up the pan. A few flips with the spatula, a pinch of salt and a dollop of butter, and in a few minutes it is perfect.
One of my grade school textbooks on farming from a hundred years ago shows two pictures; the expensive way to store machinery and the cheap way. The row of equipment left out in the weather leaked uncomfortably like mine, and the shed was just what I wanted to build. Cheap is not, not building a shed, in the long run. It was high time to quit the expensive storage method.
A recent Letter to the Editor suggested a gardening class at the local school, and maybe me as the teacher. As I entertain this idea, a variety of thoughts pass through my consciousness. Although it’s inevitable that in the future, growing food will be taught again, I am not predicting a personal career change anytime soon.
Glen Leven farm is located just south of Woodmont Avenue on Franklin Road. A 65 acre farm there seems out of place, with cars whizzing by in the front and I-65 bordering the back of the property. It was a revolutionary war period land grant that remained in the family, and is grandfathered in as a farm because they kept cattle.