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.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.