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The Farmer Who Helped Get the Word “Organic” Out There!

What is Organic?

We hear a lot about organic foods these days. What are they? Are organic foods from Whole Foods, farmers’ markets, Walmart, and the organic food section of your local grocery store all the same? 

What is soil biome and what does healthy microbial life in soil have to do with the biomes in our colon, lungs, or sinuses? 

How do plants direct which nutrients “gather round their roots” to create the heathiest microbial life?

Eliot Coleman answers these questions in his interview with Dr. Berkson, an interview between two long-time friends.

Eliot Coleman and Four Seasons Farm

Eliot Coleman is an American organic farmer, author, researcher and educator. Eliot along with Scott Nearing, PhD, is credited with helping farmers and all of us become aware of authentic organic gardening: what it is, how it benefits life, and how the FDA has sold out to big Agra lobbies . . . even when it comes to organic labeling. OMG! It’s just like medicine! His book, The New Organic Groweris a “bible” for organic farmers, especially those who sell to our food markets.

Coleman has been gardening since the Sixties, when he bought 60 acres of land from Scott Nearing for $33 an acre and turned it into Four Seasons Farms. The farm is in Penopscott Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic Ocean, in south central Maine. Coleman’s gardens produce 50 different vegetables, even artichokes. He grows them “just to make the Californians nervous.” 

Moments in Time

Dr. Berkson lived with the Nearings and Colemans for several years, sleeping in the Coleman’s woodshed at night while learning organic gardening and building rock garden walls and log cabins by day. Berkson and a tall mysterious boat maker named Brent felled the trees one year, let them dry, and then hand-scythed them the following year to build the log cabin. They made the filling in-between the logs out of sphagnum moss gathered from local fields and pebbles from the shoreline, hand mixed together with cement in wheel barrels. In this interview, Berkson was shocked to learn that the cabin still exists; it was moved to another part of the Colemans’ land and is now the formal “guest house” for visitors from all around the world. She has learned, though, that the root-cellar she dug by hand, by candle light at night to get finished before the first huge snows, chronically leaked.

Coleman in Washington DC

Coleman started writing and going to Washington to educate big Agra, serving two years as Executive Director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). He advised the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1979–80, with input into the document that formed the basis of today’s legislated National Organic Program (2002) in the U.S.—the Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming. The program has since become unfortunately diluted by big business. “Organic” labeling now allows inclusion of hydroponics and many plants not really raised organically, especially most berries and tomatoes you find labeled organic, even at markets like Whole Foods.

Back in Maine

The Four Seasons Farm is across the Bay from two islands once owned by Bucky Fuller. Bucky’s islands housed organic gardens, composting toilets, geodesic domes, and hosted experiments held by international scientists. Way back when, Berkson hung out with thinkers like Bucky (along with her boyfriend at the time, Hans Meyers, an astrophysicist who later became president of The Buckminster Fuller Institute. He also designed the water turbines of Austin, the city in Texas where Berkson now lives.) 

In those years, Nearing and Berkson (along with many international visitors) gathered rocks from the countryside (“uglies and beauties,” as Helen Nearing called them), and built huge garden walls (two-and-a-half feet thick, eight feet high, and two feet into the ground,) which extended the growing season two months on either end. The rocks absorbed the sunlight and transmitted it into the soil and plants. With special tools, Nearing could grow food all year long, despite being in Maine and having one of the shortest growing seasons in the U.S.

Eliot now uses unheated and minimally-heated greenhouses and polytunnels to be able to grow veggie year round in Maine.

Fun Fact

Scott and Helen Nearing wrote the foreword for Berkson’s first book, The Foot Book (Harper Row Publishers, 1979), which sold 750 million copies.

Friends and Truth Grounded in the Earth

This interview between Eliot Coleman and Dr. Berkson is a positive show, just what is needed in the midst of the tsunami of suffering, pain, and misunderstanding that is happening now around our planet. Your whole family, clinic, and neighbors will want to hear the truth about our food, and the noble connection between “good folks” and the earth. 

Guest Resources & Links

Book:  The New Organic Grower


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