Rock stars of organic farming chew the fat about our food

Garden, Alaska, organic, Kodiak Island

View of raised vegetable beds in our home in Kodiak, Alaska.

carrots, garden, harvest, organic

Don’t worry, eat carrots! These were grown in our seaside garden. All organic, using kelp (seaweed), leaves, compost, volcanic ash, cow manure and lots more.

In Kodiak, Alaska, I’m an organic gardening geek. I teach the stuff through the University of Alaska and write about weeds, seeds and the beauty of kelp in my weekly newspaper column.

My husband and I grow a lot on our ‘postage stamp’ property. In the summer, it’s mostly greens, herbs and edible flowers which are transformed into 400-500 salads for our dinner cruise guests. So when I saw this article, The Elders of Organic Farming in the New York Times (Jan 24, 2014), I pushed the pause button on today’s schedule to read Carol Pogash’s piece. I hope you do, too.

The Esalen Institute in Big Sur California recently hosted a week-long conference where two dozen organic farmers–rock stars in the industry–from the U.S. and Canada shared decades’ worth of stories, secrets and anxieties.

Let me share a few highlights:

Michael Ableman and Eliot Coleman, a Maine farmer, organized the intimate conference. Mr. Ableman, the author of “Fields of Plenty,” (excellent read, by the way) is writing a book about the gathering. Deborah Garcia, the widow of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and a filmmaker whose previous films include “The Future of Food” and “The Symphony of the Soil,” is making a documentary.

Michael Ableman, Fields of Plenty

Each chapter provides you with an enormous helping of hope and inspiration. Thank you, Michael.

We should all be happy, right?

Sales of organic food in the United States reached $31.5 billion in 2012, compared with $1 billion in 1990, according to the Organic Trade Association… So the grandfathers and grandmothers of organic farming should be joyous, but they are not. Their principles of local, seasonal fruits and vegetables have been replaced in many cases by year-round clamshelled tomatoes for Walmart, Target and other stores.

The Winter Harvest Handbook, Eliot Coleman

Thanks to Eliot’s book, we pledged to grow more of our own food. We encircled the house with raised beds, installed a hoophouse and greenhouse and share how-to’s with friends, neighbors and visitors to Kodiak island.

The big picture, from the garden “trenches”:

The sustainable agriculture these farmers practice goes beyond farming without synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. They adhere to a broader political and ecological ethos that includes attention to wildlife, soil, education and community. For most of them, the bottom line has never been their bottom line.

About their anti-establishment beginnings:

“Every one of us broke the law,” said Frank Morton, 57, an Oregon seed farmer, with perverse pride.

But don’t be satisfied reading things tidbits. Pour a beer or a cup of tea and read the whole article here.

Oh, one more thing: Promise yourself you’ll grow at least one salad’s worth of greens this year. It will change your life.

Hakurei turnips

I learned about Hakurei turnips through Eliot Coleman. They are sweet and mild. I even shred and bake them in muffins.

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3 Responses to Rock stars of organic farming chew the fat about our food

  1. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    Thanks for sharing your recommendations. I love the look of your carrots! Do you keep your beds covered or use certain deterrents to keep four legged pests away?

    • marionowen says:

      Greetings from Kodiak! Where we live, rabbits and deer aren’t a problem, but not too far away, they tend to help themselves to fresh veggies. We don’t have moose on the island, a blessing. We deal with temperate rain forest weather however, which acts like an on/off switch for extremes. Believe it or not, the carrots in the photos are medium sized. Many growers turn in sand (from rivers or beaches), kelp and volcanic ash (deposited in 1912). Every place has its blessings and challenges, eh?

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