Community Dig It Education

Grow Soil, Grow People, Grow Food

Reflections on the Ecology Action 3-Day Grow Biointensive Workshop in Willits, CA

by Magnolia Barrett, Learning Garden Manager

Sometimes, my alarm goes off in the morning and it takes all of my strength to leave to cozy, dark nest of my bed and face the world. Sometimes, the daunting reality of the current struggles facing the human species weigh so heavily on my mind that I feel immobilized. Our rapidly increasing human population is even more rapidly depleting all of the natural resources that have supported our existence and evolution. Many sources point to agriculture as one of the most detrimental human acts of them all.

I like to think that I chose to be a gardener/farmer (perhaps a reflection on that identity crisis another time…), but I think more realistically, it chose me. In the face of overwhelming statistics about top soil loss, pollution, climate change, corporate control of the food system, structural inequity, human and environmental exploitation (and more), I have to remain optimistic. Luckily, I’m not alone.

This weekend, I experienced a glimmer of a positive future. I attended Ecology Action’s 3-Day Grow Biointensive Workshop at Ridgewood Ranch in Willits. At the conclusion of the workshop, I felt nourished on so many levels—intellectually, emotionally, nutritionally, and spiritually.

The experience filled me with hope.

Workshop attendees came from as far away as Oaxaca, Alaska, Michigan, and Alabama and from as close by as Mendocino County and Northern California. Every single person had an inspiring story to tell, beautiful dreams for the future, and a desire to create better world.

Grow Biointensive is a system popularized by John Jeavons and Ecology Action. This system builds on the knowledge and expertise of Alan Chadwick, Rudolph Steiner, and so many before them (including all of our ancestors) who understood the importance of honoring the natural world and working in relationship to derive our own sustenance.

Grow Biointensive strives to maximize food production sustainably on the smallest amount of space possible. (Visit their website for more information: Basic principles include growing soil (through nutrient rich compost and mindful tillage), growing people (who have an awareness of and role in the system around them), and growing food (that is nutrient dense and delicious).

John Jeavons and a community of incredible people at Ecology Action in Willits and the world beyond have spent years documenting data relating to crop yields, calorie production, food pounds, compost application, soil science and more. They are proving that this method works.

This is a system that is skill intensive rather than labor intensive. It requires a fine-tuned awareness of ecological and agricultural knowledge that kept our ancestors alive for thousands of years. Within a few short generations of human activity in this industrial age, we have lost our sense of interconnectedness with the planet that literally supports our physical bodies in space.

I like to imagine that I can remember it… Maybe my hands will remember what a healthy soil feels like and my instincts will help guide my actions in the garden. I’m hoping the knowledge isn’t trapped too far back in my genetics. I already feel an ancestral pull towards seed and soil, but sometimes it feels overwhelming to put it all together. As the growing season rapidly approaches, I have to believe that our attempts are not in vain. This region is incredibly active in creating a more livable future, and I am humbled to work alongside some of the leaders in the small-scale, sustainable agriculture movement. I can’t wait to continue discovering the wealth this region has cultivated.

If you are interested in getting an introduction to the basic elements of the Grow Biointensive method of gardening, check out the upcoming workshop at the Greenbelt Mini-Farm on April 9th from 10am-6pm. Workshop donations are on a sliding scale (suggestion $35). All proceeds go directly towards supporting the FBUSD Garden & Nutrition Program. Lunch will be provided! Contact Matt Drewno for more information