[permaculture] A Visit to the Heartland (fwd)

Larry London london at metalab.unc.edu
Sat Mar 20 21:50:38 EST 1999

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 1999 09:08:15 -0500
From: BILL DUESING <71042.2023 at compuserve.com>
Subject: A Visit to the Heartland

Living on the Earth, March 19, 1999: A Visit to the Heartland 

About sixty years ago, writer Louis Bromfield, fleeing the oncoming World
War in Europe, returned to his native, dustbowl-ravaged Ohio, where he
bought three eroded, worn-out farms.  Greedy, desperate farmers had allowed
their topsoil to be washed down to the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the
fertility and water-holding capacity of ecosystems, as well as lives and
communities.  Bromfield believed that with proper care, using nature's
soil-building methods, this land could be restored to prosperity.  He used
cover crops, pastures with grazing animals, careful crop rotations and
trees to stop erosion and create fertile soil.  The land was again able to
build its soil and water resources as well as its biological diversity. 
Springs that hadn't run for years began flowing as his farmland held onto
more rainwater.

Bromfield described his work eloquently in Pleasant Valley and other books.
 His passionate writings are credited with inspiring the soil conservation
movement in the 1940s and 50s.  

Thirty years ago, when I first lived in the country on an abandoned,
200-year-old Connecticut farm, I read Bromfield's Pleasant Valley.  It
inspired me and changed my life.  I managed to buy a small piece of land
and began to care for it- to study and learn from nature.  

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit our country's heartland and as
a result, to realize just how important and timeless Bromfield's message
is.  The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) invited me to
address its 20th Annual Conference.  OEFFA is one of the many groups of
farmers, gardeners and consumers  around the country with similar missions.
 "To work to create and promote a healthful, ecological, accountable and
sustainable system of agriculture," is OEFFA's goal.  This conference
offered a great opportunity to share information, successes, dreams and
struggles with others involved in the work of creating a local, ecological
food system on a human scale. 

Food is our most important connection to the Earth.  Most of it comes
directly or indirectly from the soil.  The well-attended, all-day "Organic
Soil Fertility Management and Improvement" workshop on the Friday before
the official conference demonstrated this topic's importance.  The message
from seasoned farmers and a pioneering researcher stressed cover crops, the
use of animals and plants in rotations, compost and trees.  These methods
are very similar to Bromfield's message, enhanced by modern research
results.  Later in the conference, a veteran farmer suggested that Pleasant
Valley is still a valuable book for a beginning farmer to read.  Other
research shows that these organic soil building methods not only heal
damaged ecosystems, they also help plants to resist pests and can eliminate
the need for pesticides.

Of course, whenever 600 thoughtful farmers and gardeners come together,
there's bound to be talk of worrisome trends in this country's food and
agriculture system.  The rampant consolidation and vertical integration of
the food system into the hands of a few dominant players results in lower
farm prices and closed markets. Corporate giants' demands for low cost
commodities to buy, sell, process or feed drive an increasingly
disconnected, destructive, industrial-scale agriculture.  Its voracious
energy and pesticide use, large-scale animal confinement facilities,
routine antibiotic feeding and the increasing lack of diversity and use of
genetically-engineered seeds and animals worry many of those who actually
tend the land.  

The threatening "Terminator Technology" which may allow corporations to
sterilize future generations of seeds in order to achieve greater profits
encouraged lots of talk of open-pollinated corn-- a creative defense
against corporate biocide.

Many of the people I met are using gardens, small farms, local processing
and marketing to rebuild ravaged communities and soils in Appalachian hills
and urban wastelands as well as on typical Ohio farms, and even on
Bromfield's Malabar Farm, now a State Park.  The deep pleasure of working
with nature to build health, fertility and community, which makes
Bromfield's book so inspiring, is shared by many OEFFA members.

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox and the beginning of another growing season.
 Peas, lettuces and other greens can be planted soon.  This spring get your
hands into the soil and begin to discover the great joys of working with
nature to feed ourselves.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C) 1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491

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