A stack of new books about the health of our nation’s people always teeters precariously in my office. It grows at a satisfyingly fast rate: authors have really latched on to the message that we must save the planet by first saving ourselves, and then using that personal strength and conviction to ADVOCATE for positive change.
I have two recent favorites, one written by Daron “Farmer D” Joffe, a “citizen farmer” author who’s now living in my home region of San Diego, the other by Kristen Ohlson, a Portland, Oregon, journalist whose previous books include Stalking The Divine, Kabul Beauty School, and inclusion in several prestigious anthologies.
“Citizen Farmers; The Biodynamic Way To Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back To The Earth” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York, 2014), by Daron Joffe, entrances the reader immediately with good graphic design and fine photography. It’s a pleasure to flip through, stopping here and there to dig a little deeper (not unlike a walk through any garden!). Just a few days ago, a few members of the Wellness Warrior team stopped by Joffe’s new home at the Leichtag Foundation’s farm in northern San Diego County, where he is now Director of Agricultural Innovation and Development—a nice title meaning he still loves to grow good food and spread the gospel of organics, the biodynamic way. Here’s the story on their visit with Daron, and tour of the farm.
Each chapter in the book represents Joffe’s “step in the process of growing a healthy garden as well as a principle to live by.” The text is how-to, interwoven with personal stories from Joffe’s experience as a University of Wisconsin, Madison, drop out who only left college because he felt a calling to the soil. Soon he was apprenticing on various organic farms, and eventually “graduated” to his own piece of Wisconsin farmland. Consequently, his advice is built on his own blisters.
Few, if any, how-to-garden books offer Joffe’s nice interludes about the spirit of gardening rather than always forging ahead with the more linear, step-by-step approach we’re used to. For example, when laying out a garden, he advises, “Before I start projecting my ideas for a new farm or garden onto paper and ultimately on the land, I always like to take a walk through the field where I will be planting and gently feel the spirit of the place. You’d be amazed at how this relaxing and nearly effortless practice can open your heart and mind to possibilities you may not have otherwise foreseen.” His spirit guide is often Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of biodynamics—“a holistic understanding of agricultural processes.” Quite a book from a still-young farmer!
With “Farmer D’s” permission, we’ve reprinted his “Parable of the Citizen Farmer” in Wellness Warriors “Voices.” It’s a nice little story that starts with a basil plant on a windowsill.
“The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, And Foodies Are Healing The Soil To Save The Planet” (Rodale Books, Emmaus, Pennsylvania, 2014), by Kristin Ohlson, brings us back to memories of walks on untouched soil, be it forest, meadow, or mountainside.
When I first arrived in a valley in Baja California to help my husband Edmond Szekely start a health camp—which eventually became Rancho La Puerta fitness resort and spa—the land hadn’t changed much in the past millennium or more. Parts of it had been grazed, to be sure, but everywhere the soil was rich and deep, tracing its origins to the alluvium of an entire mountainside.
Ohlson is a storyteller, and she often turns to the “arch Druids” of the soil-health movement: the scientists, farmers, ranchers and even home landscape designers who are transforming America’s notion of how to treat the dirt beneath our feet.
Most exciting, she explains the theory behind the ways in which soil can be an answer to the global climate challenge of too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In a recent magazine interview with Anjula Radan of Experience L!fe. Ohlson painted a hopeful picture:
Soil is really the hidden kingdom — the last frontier. Until fairly recently, it was impossible for people to see the tiny life forms in the soil. And even when scientists began calculating how many of them are there, it took a while for them to figure out why the microorganisms are there and how important they are to life on the planet."
Here’s a good comparison: in the last few years, we’ve all started to hear about the microbiome, which is the community of microorganisms that live inside our bodies and is critically important to our overall function and health. There are about ten very tiny microbial cells to every human cell. That microbial mass weighs several pounds by the time we’re adults and is considered to be much like an organ, in terms of its importance. But we knew nothing of this a few years ago!"
Similarly, we were pretty clueless about the microbial community in the soil until just a few years ago. There is now a growing understanding that the soil beneath our feet is teaming with life. It’s clear that the vigor of that community of microorganisms affects everything from the nutritional quality of our food to the health of our waterways to our ability to withstand both floods and drought to global warming. Around the world, farmers, ranchers, scientists, environmentalists, urban gardeners, and others are now trying to understand how to enhance the natural relationships in Nature to create healthier landscapes.”
Two worthy books for your library!