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3/11/2009
DIGGING DEEPER WITH FARMER JOHN
DIGGING DEEPER WITH FARMER JOHN

NOTHING MAKES Farmer John happier than his sweet, moist soil. For more than 40 years he’s cared for and eaten from his own patch of earth. Since his childhood beginnings spent feeding chickens and milking cows on land that is today known as Angelic Organics, he has reshaped the farm into a holistic center guided by the ideals of Community Supported Agriculture, as well as organic and even Biodynamic® farming. Today his land, in the heartland of Illinois, vibrantly buzzes with people, plants and animals.

While on tour in Australia promoting the biographical film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, he takes a break to reminisce about home—taking us with him on a journey through his land, and with it, his real dirt.

What drove your move (and the farm’s) from conventional to organic farming?

I began to imagine a natural system by which to farm, a system in which results were derived from the integrity of the soil not the shenanigans of crop chemicals and petroleum-based fertilizers. I envisioned a system that married me to the land, not divorced me from it. Angelic Organics was reborn with an eye to the well being of the earth we live on and the food we eat. The organic approach required looking at underlying causes of plant health—not just shotgunning chemicals at the crops to fix problems. It required looking at fertility from the standpoint of natural processes, learning how to work with green manures, compost and fallow land.

Even further, what prompted you to venture beyond organic into Biodynamic® farming techniques?

It was the early 1980s, and I had fled to Mexico after just losing most of my [at that time conventionally farmed] land due to over-expansion and the collapse of land values. I’d been to Mexico 10 years earlier, and it gave me something that I needed. But I was not in good mental or physical health. That’s when a man I met suggested I try homeopathy. The homeopath gave me potentized aurum—homeopathic gold. Within 24 hours I was pretty much restored to my old self. It was a miracle. Over a period of three or four years of homeopathic treatment, the influence of aurum began to stabilize me, and I was strong enough to heal on my own. Ultimately, this experience led me to Biodynamics® [which utilizes homeopathic preparations to fertilize plants and care for the land]. Biodynamics®, however, also goes way beyond homeopathy. It takes into account the sky, the earth, the flowers, the birds, the orchard. Worms. Vegetables. Livestock. It covers everything a healthy farm can be, and it puts the whole thing together in a harmonious way.

Why do you believe Community Supported Agriculture works so successfully for Angelic Organics?

My way of farming is not just about growing vegetables. It is also about building relationships between the farm and the people who receive our vegetables… and what better way to include people in farming than Community Supported Agriculture?

It is a new socioeconomic form in which the farmer and consumer enter into a sort of partnership, an alliance to take care of each other’s needs. The shareholder [consumer] gets a taste of farm life through his or her relationship with the farm—through the vegetables, our newsletter, farm-based events, and perhaps occasionally volunteering on the farm. Reciprocally, the farmer gets an ongoing relationship with his or her shareholders via the long-term arrangement for providing their vegetables. It’s a win-win partnership for us and our shareholders.

How do you see your farm evolving and growing in the years to come?

I visited many Biodynamic® farms in Europe and saw so much inspiration. I carry the Biodynamic® picture in my heart. We are in the beginning stages of forming a plan for the farm through 2030 based on these principles. I feel that Biodynamic® farming and its offspring, Community Supported Agriculture, are carriers for the transformation of not just agriculture but of society in general.