I've just returned from the ACORN conference in Halilfax, Nova Scotia. ACORN is the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network and it represents and embodies organic agriculture in the Maritime Provinces.
First of all I have to thank ACORN for the fine job they did to bring such a diverse group of people together to represent the organic community in our region. I spent three days totally absorbed in seminars collecting valuable information, not only about how I'll work my farm, but to see that more small farmers are putting local agricultural products and farming careers within reach of more families, individuals, partners and local communities.
And I do have to comment on the diversity of participants. We're all aware of Occupiers and Tea Partiers and the social and political differences rabidly promoted by our spectator media. But this gathering included those who defied those definitions and divisions. I met an evangelical Christian, a home schooling mom, a Libertarian, a small business owner, a wealth manager looking for a change in life, a dogged small farmer in pursuit of agricultural profits, a young person interested in shaping their own alternatives, an artist who was engineering his own technology solutions, a "hippie" looking for independence from corporations. These people of diverse ideology were not in opposition to one another, nor were they actively protesting anything. They were embracing the means to take peaceful action with their own hands. It was civil. It was orderly and it was radical. We weren't there to protest the status quo. We're already changing it literally from the ground up.
And speaking of ground. The seminars on soil biology, plant health and permaculture left my eyes wide open. I had previously read Gary F. Zimmer's book, "The Biological Farmer". And this summer I was browsing in Michael Phillips book, The Apple Grower, both of which provide detailed information relating the science of soil biology to plant health. But Av Singh's presentations at ACORN really bridged the gap for me between science and field experience. His description of a holistic approach based on science plus farmer observation and experience made my day. He gave me the scientific keys to unlock what I see in my own fields.
Now. There's more than one way to do just about everything. And I was very interested in the seminars on organic standards and allowable inputs. But the magic happened when a theory I hadn't really understood was explained. Everything your plants need to be healthy can be found in a biologically healthy soil system.
The key - is making everything available to your crop - at the right time. This is master level stuff.
But think of it like this. If you drink too much on Saturday night and your system is out of balance, you won't be at your best on Sunday morning. Which, by the way, is why airline pilots aren't allowed to fly with a hangover. Now, you can treat the symptom by taking a few Tylenol, or you can work on putting your whole system back into balance and decide not to put too much alcohol into your system again. You can imagine what's going on in our soil body when we don't keep it in balance. We're trying to grow plants in soil that has a hangover.
Going for optimal soil biology is probably the hardest way to go about optimal plant health. It's so much easier to dump in some organically allowed inputs imported from who knows where and call it good. But then we're just practicing the same bad medicine that got us in trouble in the first place.
So yes, I learned some things about why our crop yields aren't what they could be. And yes, I 've learned how to apply organic corrections to my soil. But I'm motivated to face this new challenge of growing healthy soil from start to finish because I know that the only "sustainable" agriculture comes from the micro-biological level up.
Tip O'Neil is famously quoted as saying, "All politics is local". I guess the same can be said for soil.
Our land has been farmed for 200 years and I'm now 52 years old. Our short term goal is to take a living from our farm. But our long term goal is to leave good soil for the next farmer.