“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” -Xenophon (430-354 BC); historian, soldier, philosopher.
“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” -Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945); president.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” -Wendell Berry (1934- ); writer, activist, academic and farmer.
“If I wanted to have a happy garden, I must ally myself with my soil; study and help it to the utmost, untiringly. Always, the soil must come first.” -Marion Cran (1879-1942); first female gardening radio broadcaster, author.
“The thin layer of soil covering the earth’s surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life.” -John W. Doran (1945- ); University of Nebraska agronomy professor, author.
“Soil is the last necessary thing. With air and water, a person can live 30 days; add but a comely pile of dirt and life expectancy expands a thousand times.” -Justin Isherwood (1946- ); fifth-generation Wisconsin farmer, author.
“You can’t chemical your way out of soil infertility” – Joel Salatin (1957- ); holistic organic farmer, author, lecturer.
“If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?” -Joel Salatin.
“Each soil has had its own history. Like a river, a mountain, a forest, or any natural thing, its present condition is due to the influences of many things and events of the past.” – Charles Kellogg (1868-1949); Vaudeville performer, naturalist.
“We abuse [soil] because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see [soil] as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” -Aldo Leopold (1887-1948); author, scientist, ecologist, forester, environmentalist, University of Wisconsin agricultural economics professor.
When I think of farmers of the 19th and early-20th centuries, I think of simple, honest, noble and humble people. When I think of farmers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, one of the first thing that pops into many people's heads are chemical-spewing, soil-destroying, government-lobbying, labor-abusing corporate farming businessmen.
Now don't get me wrong, I know there are still family farmers working the land the correct way-- right here in west Michigan-- but for the most part, we have corporations playing the role of "farmer" in America today. Tens of thousands of acres, producing crops that we don't really need, with genetically-modified seeds, using chemicals that are bad for the environment, and killing pests and diseases that only exist because they've destroyed the natural order of things. And then there's Monsanto-- a seed company that actually forbids farmers from collecting and saving their seeds for the next year. A company that sues farmers when "their" seeds blow from one farm to another.
This is just the epitome of arrogant human behavior. And these practices are destroying our farms and our soil. Soil, mind you, that took up to 1,000 years to develop. Soil, that once it's wiped out, is gone for good. This "money first" approach to farming is the total opposite of the image of the humble farmer-- being a steward of the land, working his or her soil with care and compassion.
And you know what? Humility and farming should go hand-in-hand. The word humility actually derives from the word humus-- which is soil. The Latin noun humilis means "grounded" or "from the earth."
So that's how we need to approach farming and gardening-- with humility. That means before we enjoy the flowers, or bite into those strawberries, or share our abundance of zucchini with the neighbors, we need to do right by our soil. We need to humbly approach our gardens, and realize that good crops don't come from a bottle or a chemical lab. Good crops come from good soil.
That means no synthetic chemical fertilizers. They kill the microorganisms that our plants need to survive and thrive. Humble farmers for thousands of years provided nutrients to their crops by way of compost. We should too.
That means no synthetic chemical pesticides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with pesky and destructive pests without chemicals. We should too. There are always organic ways.
That means no synthetic chemical herbicides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with weeds by picking them and by having healthy soil. We should too.
That means using compost, peat, Biochar, Worm Compost, clean soil, ground up egg shells, coconut coir to condition the soil and provide water retention and aeration.
If you're going to be a gardener, if you're going to be an urban or suburban farmer, focus on the soil, be grounded, be mindful of the earth in which you're sowing your seeds. Humility-- it's really understanding that humans don't always do things better than the rest of creation.
If you were to ask us to sum up in one sentence our vision for Good Sweet Earth, it would be the headline of this post– Healing the planet, one yard at a time.
We got started in the vermicompost business many years ago because we wanted to offer safer alternatives to chemical fertilizers and soil amendments. We expanded into lawn fertilization and garden services because we didn’t think there were enough organic alternatives available for people to care for their turf and home-grown fruits and veggies.
Chemicals are killing our soil. Corporate farming practices are killing our soil. Without healthy soil, our planet is doomed. So in order to save our soil, it’s our mission to encourage people to do three things: 1) Use less chemicals on their lawns and gardens, 2) Grow more of their own fruits and vegetables, instead of buying them from supermarkets, and 3) Support sustainable family farms.
To encourage the use of less harsh chemical fertilizers, we offer organic vermicompost and natural blends for your soil. And when a homeowner hires us to care for their lawn or garden, we teach them sustainable ways to treat pests and weeds– no harsh chemicals necessary!
To encourage people to grow more fruits and vegetables in their own gardens, we offer season-long crop consulting services— that’s a fancy way to say we’ve got a certified Master Gardener on staff who will walk you through your growing season, from selecting seeds and mapping out your garden to starting your seedlings and pest control to harvesting your bounty.
Finally, to support sustainable family farming, we encourage our customers to shop at local farmers markets. This is a great way to actually see the people who are growing your food, locally. No mealy, chemical-filled tomatoes grown in hot boxes in California, no soil-damaging farming practices utilized to grow corn. Just small family farms. We also donate a portion of our profits to organizations that support sustainable agriculture, like Farm Aid and the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. That means when you purchase products or services from us, you’re supporting west Michigan's natural resources and family farms.
At the end of the day, having a healthy yard is the most tangible step many of us can take toward having a healthier planet. And by buying Good Sweet Earth products or services, the money you spend on organic yard care will have the potential to heal the planet well beyond the edge of your yard. Which then means we really can heal the planet, one yard at a time.
For more information about lawn or garden services, or our organic Worm Compost, shoot us an email at office@GoodSweetEarth.com.
If you’re ready to have your mind blown when it comes to farming and food– or if you’re ready to get a friend or relative on-board with organic and sustainable farming– here are five fantastic movies that we at Good Sweet Earth can’t speak highly enough about. They’re inspiring, educational, informative, and even entertaining.
After seeing these films, you’ll want to sink your hands into some rich, crumbly dirt; sink your teeth into some garden-fresh fruits; and sink the notion that corporate farming is really “no big deal.”
All five of these films are available on DVD/Blu-Ray, and most are on streaming services like Amazon Prime and Netflix as well.
1. Food, Inc.In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.
Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.
2. Dirt! The Movie. Dirt! The Movie is an insightful and timely film that tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet.
Inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, Dirt! The Movie takes a humorous and substantial look into the history and current state of the living organic matter that we come from and will later return to. Dirt! The Movie will make you want to get dirty.
3. Forks Over Knives. Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods. The major storyline in the film traces the personal journeys of a pair of pioneering yet under-appreciated researchers, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
The idea of food as medicine is put to the test. Throughout the film, cameras follow “reality patients” who have chronic conditions from heart disease to diabetes. Doctors teach these patients how to adopt a whole-foods plant-based diet as the primary approach to treat their ailments—while the challenges and triumphs of their journeys are revealed.
4. The Dust Bowl: A Film by Ken Burns. The Dust Bowl chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the “Great Plow-Up,” followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our peril.
5. The Fruit Hunters. You can find them deep in the jungles of Borneo, in the hills of Umbria and perhaps even in your own backyard. They are fruit hunters, the subjects of the new film from acclaimed director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze, China Heavyweight).
The Fruit Hunters travels across culture, history and geography to show how intertwined we are with the fruits we eat. Our guides are devoted fruit fanatics. Movie star Bill Pullman’s obsession leads him on a crusade to create a community orchard in the Hollywood Hills. Adventurers Noris Ledesma and Richard Campbell scour the jungle for rare mangos, hoping to intervene before the plants are steamrolled by industrialization. Pioneering scientist Juan Aguilar races to breed bananas resistant to a deadly fungus that threatens the worldwide crop. And fruit detectives including Isabella Dalla Ragione investigate Renaissance-era paintings for clues, hoping to rediscover lost fruits. And, of course, there are the fruits themselves, presented in all their mouthwatering glory: cherimoyas, ice cream beans, durians and more.
“Farming” is typically thought of as raising plants or animals for profit. “Gardening” is thought of more as a hobby. So which are you? A farmer or a gardener?
Before you answer, consider this: Healthy and attractive landscaping can increase the value of your home up to 11%, according to a recent study from Michigan State University. That means if you have a home worth about $150,000, with a great looking lawn, nicely maintained flowers and shrubs, and a functioning garden, you could be adding another $16,000 to your pocket should you choose to sell your house. On the flip side, a weedy and diseased lawn, with no attractive plant life (either ornamental or edible) on your property could cost you thousands of dollars by considerably lowering your property value.
Also, if you’re growing fruits and vegetables and herbs in your back yard, ideally you’re going to be eating those things, right? That means those are items you won’t need to buy at the grocery store, which means that’s money in your pocket as well.
So when you’re planting those flowers, or pulling those weeds, or mowing your lawn, or harvesting those tomatoes, consider the value you’re adding to your house, and consider the money you’re able to keep in your pocket when you go to the grocery store.
That being said, you are potentially profiting off of the plant life in your yard. So I’ll ask you again, are you a gardener or a farmer? All things considered, I’d say you’re a farmer– a bona fide yard farmer.
Now let me ask you this: Do you support organic farming? Do you appreciate the farmer who works the land the right way– sustainably and naturally? Do you worry about pesticides and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) showing up on your dinner table? If so, then it’s time you became an organic yard farmer! Buying organic produce is great, but it’s not enough. Let’s start farming our own yards the right way– sustainably and naturally. Let’s eliminate Round-Up (a product of Monsanto), let’s eliminate the chemical fertilizers like Scotts, let’s stop using chemical pesticides like Grub-Ex that offer short-term fixes but do long-term damage to the planet.
If you’re interested in becoming an organic yard farmer, get in touch with us at Office@GoodSweetEarth.com, or by calling us at 616-594-0693. We can give you a free consultation for organic lawn and garden fertilization and soil conditioning. Here is more information on the services we offer.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.