Feeding Ourselves

Eliot Coleman

Organic farming showcases the inherent generosity of the earth.

The creation of organic farming as a new agricultural science, starting over 100 years ago, was a gift to the world from the combined efforts of many inspired farmers, researchers, and advocates for good food. Those organic pioneers accomplished a small miracle. It goes far beyond showing how to avoid chemicals and pesticides – important as that achievement was. It offers universal access to food for everyone.

Up until the mid 1930s, when organic farming began demonstrating a new reality, the chemically based, pesticide laden, purchased input dependent, expensive, and complicated industrial exploitive model of food production, that was taught by every university and endorsed by the USDA, was the only option available. The organic revolution changed all that forever.

The early organic farmers brought the growing of food back down to earth and into the hands of the people. They introduced a biologically based agriculture that created and maintained soil fertility by relying on age-old peasant knowledge about compost making, crop rotation, leguminous green manures, cover crops, and the importance of maintaining soil organic matter. They re-emphasized the obvious link between fertile soil, healthy plants and healthy people that had been understood for centuries. Their revolution demonstrated how food production, when based on biology rather than chemistry, can be done successfully by anyone with no more resources than a shovel, a hoe, and a small plot of ground. There are three legs to this organic miracle:

First is compost. The world’s best soil improver is made for free in your backyard from decomposed plant and animal wastes. There is nothing to buy. Compost happens. Adding compost to the soil nourishes the billions of living micro-biological soil creatures who, along with sunshine and rainfall, power all plant growth in nature and have been shown to induce resistance to pests.

Second, when you combine composted soil with a well-tested weed prevention and plant disease avoidance practice like crop rotation, you have the beginnings of a stable, highly productive, self-perpetuating system.

And third, if you sow open-pollinated heirloom seeds, that cannot be controlled or denied to you because they are easily reproducible members of the public domain, you are set to provide exceptional food to your family and your community forever.

The independence that comes from knowing how to feed yourself by growing food in harmony with the earth’s natural systems is the one sure-fire answer to food security.