How We Farm
Many of our customers wish to learn more about how our goodies are
grown. Although we are not "certified organic," we are ardent
supporters of organic methods. In fact, we hold to the approach
espoused by Eliot Coleman and others, in which even organic pesticides are only to be
used as a last resort. We try to approach pest and nutrient problems by
making the soil, and thus the plants, as healthy as possible.
Experience (and much research) has shown that often this is enough –
healthy plants tend to bolster
themselves against pests.
Most of our work lies in building the soil: spreading composted
manures, laying sheets of (plain) cardboard, forking straw over beds,
adding rock lime dust, and the like. Of course there's still weeding to
be done – eventually the things will even come up from under mulch. But
adding organic matter through mulching or cover crops greatly improves
soil health and biotic activity. We also avoid compacting the soil with
heavy machinery. We don't even own a tractor. Luckily, Alex
enjoys scything large swaths of land (something he learned from his
father). Occassionally we ask a neighbor to plow up a patch, but our
key pieces of machinery are the lawn mower and the tiller.
Sometimes none of this is enough for pests or blight, though, and
that's when we occassionally
try some of the many products approved by the Organic
Materials Review Institute (OMRI).
Of course, we realize
that "without chemicals, life itself would be impossible," as the old
ad used to say, and we recognize that plants can make
chemicals that are toxic (hemlock, anyone?). Nonetheless,
we feel that besides being more toxic,
synthetic chemicals, engineered for a
purely one-dimensional effect, do not become reincorporated into the
ecological system as readily as less pure, plant-derived compounds. We
choose to use only pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers that are
certified for "organic" by the OMRI. We believe this translates into
healthier plants and soil,
not to mention healthier meals.
Occassionally even organically-approved pesticides or fungicides
won't do the trick, and we've learned to simply write off that crop and
move on, hoping to avoid the pest in future seasons through crop
rotation or planting at a different time to avoid a specific pest's
We both grew up with farming in our families. Lori's grandmother
lived next door on the outskirts of Savannah, Tennessee, and three
generations from both homes worked a huge shared garden through most of
the summer. Alex's childhood home was a Nebraskan farm settled by his
great-grandfather, a blacksmith, in the 1880s. His grandmother, who had
been a vaudeville actress before returning home, led him through two
acres of garden every summer, teaching him German as they worked. His
father taught him how to work a scythe.
So, we feel we're carrying on some very worthy life ways when we
farm. And we see similar stories unfolding on our
neighbor's farms today. Our neighbors' backgrounds range from
Mennonite to 'hippy', but one thing we share with all the Olive Hill
Community Growers is a commitment to organic principles and the notion
that truly sustainable land use means farming on a human scale.