The Organic Revolution – reconnecting with the Web of Life
By Liz Eglington
It is now 13 years ago that I walked onto a barren and overused, abused piece of ground in the Klein Karoo and responded to a call that came from deep within me- a call from my Soul- that asked me to acquire this land and start the most amazing adventure of my life.
I did not understand any of this then, I just knew that I had said YES!
I was very much “in my head” those days, working for a top corporate company, and so had intellectualized that my journey was to build a healing centre in order to pass on the knowledge and experiences I had just been through in contracting ME (yuppie flu, chronic fatigue syndrome) and healing myself from it. But, it was not to be my journey, and after a few frustrating years of closed doors and non-manifestation of this dream, I decided to turn to the land.
That was when I fell in love. I fell in love with the Web of Life. With the magnificence and complexity, yet simplicity, of this miraculous world of nature, Mother Earth, and the inter-connectedness of it all.
It was not love-at-first-sight and then we all lived happily ever after. This was and still is a work in progress. As I worked with the land using only natural, sustainable and organic agricultural practices and products, I experienced the roller coaster ride of nature trying to re-balance, to rid herself of toxic chemical residues, re-building fertility and life beneath and above the soil, bringing life back to the land. There were difficult and challenging times, when the still existent imbalances meant watching insects determined to decimate my trees, staring perplexed at trees that were unhappy and not knowing what else to do to make them happy, years of little or no harvest, and the knowing that this was going to be a long journey and there were no quick fixes.
And then there were also the miracles, the unexplainable, the successes, vindication when neighbours were infested with insects and spraying frantically and we were untouched. We were rewarded as we watched the wildlife and birds returning in abundance, when our neighbours converted to organic, when the entire valley became organic and we manifested an oasis.
I have also had to deal with my sadness and disappointment in humans and human nature. At our ignorance, greed, arrogance, dishonesty, fearful and destructive behaviour, and disregard for nature and all living things. At our insatiable need for more/better/bigger/greater at the expense of the web of life, nature, our finite resources, our health, and our Planet. How the majority are ignorant of the effects of their choices, lack of responsibility for the current state of the Planet.
And then I have been reassured about our intelligence and innate goodness when farmers have come to visit, to learn and listened with their hearts. So how did we as humans get ourselves into this destructive and unsustainable path?
Before the 1940’s most farms were using natural, sustainable and/or organic agricultural methods and practices. When the second world war was over the war machine had excess chemicals and buildings and personnel, and so there was an economic opportunity to turn this into money. Thus the Agro-chemical industry was born. We were TAUGHT to farm with chemicals.
The multinationals with their billions and huge marketing budgets have so brainwashed us that we now believe that we can no longer farm without chemicals. They have very successfully understood how we operate and tapped into our fear and greed. I believe it is now time to un-learn what they taught us, because the wide-spread destruction of our planet is now being acknowledged and experienced.
Climate change and Global Warming are now here. The research has proven that much of this is caused by excessive pollution through excessive use of chemicals, and the agricultural sector is high on the list of culprits. There is a chain reaction that mankind was warned about 30 years ago, and we ignored it to our peril.
As I worked with my land, and learnt and puzzled my way into understanding HOW nature works, HOW plants work, what healthy soil is, what minerals and nutrients are and how they work, what makes a plant strong or susceptible to attack, I realized how little information is readily available to us and how much we have to learn. Speaking to farmers over the years made me realize that very few of them are actually farming. Not in the true sense of the word- how farming was done successfully for hundreds of years.
Once we got caught up in dependency on agro-chemicals we forgot how to farm. The majority of farmers have an annual schedule given to them by their consultant who works for one of the chemical companies. This schedule tells them the following:
- what chemicals to put onto the land, how much and when. This is calculated NOT from what their soil analyses tells them but on what crop they are growing. The soil does not feature- it is merely a growing medium.
- If they are growing maize, there are tables which tell them how much NPK (Nitrogen, Potassium an phosphates) maize “needs”. If apricot farming the same NPK chemicals are used, but in different ratios. And so on and so on. That’s it. Those 3 chemicals, in mega doses. To mega force feed roots, leaves and fruit.
- Then they are told what pesticides to spray- as a PRE-EMPTIVE spray. Not when the insects appear, but when they are expected to appear. These sprays happen sometimes monthly and sometimes bi-monthly. All the farmer has to do is follow his schedule faithfully and his orchard is a vacuum, and his soil is dead, but his trees grow and produce really fast and well. Any problems and he is immediately on the phone to his “consultant”.
It was into this culture and behaviour pattern that I arrived and started my organic farming. I was seen as a curiosity and was the butt of many snide remarks and jokes. An “engelse meisie” from the “stad” coming into a male environment where “organic” was alien and just considered silly. The farm next door was farming with roses and the valley stank from the myriad chemicals that roses demand. Most of these males had been born and grew up in the area, and as the oasis materialized, and the stories circulated about my “insect resistant” trees their interest grew and the visits started. They were just “passing by” but you cannot “pass by” my farm- it’s in a valley. You have to drive IN to come and see me.
What I shared with them were the following concepts: (I wish to stress here that these concepts are not just for farmers. It’s for anyone who has any land whatsoever- especially suburban properties or smallholdings because when you add up all these properties globally they exceed the volume of farmland ,so there is a REAL responsibility for EVERY ONE OF US to stop the chemicals and poisons and revert to natural methods. Land and soil is just that, whether it’s half an hectare or a thousand):
- I quote from Gary F Zimmer in his book “The Biological farmer”: “Plants and animals grow by natural laws and they grow best when natural laws are followed, not overpowered. Life operates in natural cycles. One thing affects another. This system relies on co-operation, working with nature and not against it. It is a way of give and not get.”
- Commercial reality generally overrides environmental concerns, and it is time that we all realize that what is best for you is also best for the environment.
- Chemical farming often involves a reactive response based on fear, whereas Biological and organic farming is pro-active – working with nature rather than against it..
- Often a paradigm shift is necessary. This involves a realization that you are dealing with a living soil and all farming and land practices impact upon soil biology.
- An essential element of any environment is Commercial agro-chemical farming is steadily destroying the bio-diversity on our planet. The Web of Life.
- Tony Hansen of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative is assisting the wine industry in changing to sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. I quote:
“Biodiversity is the whole variety of living organisms, the genetic difference between them, and the communities and eco-systems in which they occur. It is the natural wealth of the earth, which supplies all our food and much of our shelter. Without adequate protection, it will be destroyed, and leave us all poor.”
- The organic methods will only work when your actions are focused towards creating (or re-creating) a natural and balanced eco system in all areas of your farm or land. This takes time, understanding, commitment, patience, vigilance, observation, and an iron-will because there will be many times when you will be tempted to take the “quick-fix AK47 route” to make the problem go away. However, the only way you can FIX the problem, is to go to the root cause.
- The first rule and prize in organic farming is “feed the soil and the plant will feed itself”. The problems arise when we try to feed the plant and we will always get the proportions or combinations wrong. Each plant s needs are different and it’s DNA is coded to KNOW what that is, which it then fetches using it’s feeding roots. When we “feed” it chemicals and then water it in, we force the plant to drink it’s food using it’s water roots. There is a symbiotic relationship with the billions of micro-organisms in the soil whose existence is dependant on the survival of the plant- so they also “go fetch” nutrients that they sense are missing or in short supply. They break down minerals into a format that makes the nutrients available (or exchangeable) for the plant. It is such a fantastic system. Chemicals kill this army.
To re-create balance and soil health the tool that is of most use is COMPOST. Compost creates humus.a
Raoul France states : Humus is created from life, for life and by life.
Goethe was well acquainted with the laws of nature when he said : Death is an artifice of nature in order to create new life.
In order to define humus, the factor living substance has to be taken into consideration. The law of harmony, that is, the law of balance, reigns over all living things.
- Humus and soil are subjected to the same laws as all other living things. But modern agriculture refuses to work in the same way, and the results of ignoring these laws can be seen in the form of our ailing fields with their depleted soils and damaged structure, and in our disease-prone cultivated plants. Dead soils eventually become barren desert land.
- Supply and demand. Especially in Europe and the USA, the consumer is demanding nutritious and chemical free food. The organic industry is growing 20% per annum and has become a multi-billion industry that everyone wants to be part of. The statistics are readily available on the internet. The wealth of books and industries that are now appearing to support this industry is a testament to this. It has not yet happened in South Africa where organic farming is still seen as a “niche” area producing for the rich. But this will not be for long because we are being educated via a media that is becoming aware and educated. Our global health and environmental crisis is driving people to ask questions and change behaviour. This is a movement that will eventually become the mainstream and the agro-chemical industry will become a dinosaur. Is it not best to move BEFORE you are forced to?
Bush telegraph works well in the country and soon I was getting calls from farmers and smallholders from all the towns and areas in the Klein Karoo- asking questions and wanting to visit. This led to the formation of the Klein Karoo Organic Initiative (KKOI) where we held monthly meetings consisting of an educational session, a networking session, an organic farmers market, and a community project session. Our attendance swelled to about 100 regulars, and another 100 e-mail members who got the lecture notes and meeting minutes via cyber space. This lasted for several years and was a highlight of my journey here.
I met delightful and genuine people- those living in the towns and the farmers- who were hungry for information, understanding that what they were doing was not natural and was doing harm, but not knowing what the next step was. We created a real buzz in the area and we regularly got visitors who traveled for 5 hours to the meetings.
Now I get regular visits to my farm from people all over South Africa- “wanna be” farmers looking for land to get out of the rat-race, real farmers wanting to become sustainable and organic, consultants, various media, and the chemical salesmen who are being asked by their clients to come up with different programmes and more natural methods.
I share my journey and my information. We walk through my orchards and I explain how the natural systems work, they see the extensive composting and mulching practices. They marvel at all my weeds that I never remove, and I explain that they bring nutrients and diversity in micro-organisms as well as in insects. That weeds are herbs and flowering plants that tell a story about where they grow in abundance, give information to eyes that can see, and are a great immediate and in-situ source of mulching and nutrition. A “picture paints a thousand words”, and it is with joy that I watch the “ah-ha” moment happening as we delve beneath all the mulch and organic matter to see dark rich soil underneath teeming with life. I know that right then there is a comparison happening with their own orchard with it’s little soldiers in perfectly straight lines, not a weed in sight, and bare “clean” lifeless soil that is baked to extinction by the sun.
I am especially excited when the visit happens during harvesting time, and they see my olive trees groaning under an abundant harvest, and I hear them mutter “Well, whatever it is, it works”.
I have compassion for these rural people who live and work on the land. They do not have access to the information that would make them realize what an un-natural system they are using. They fully trust the chemical “smouses” and consultants who use words like “feed” and “nutrients” and “improve” when they talk about their chemicals. We have a dearth of information in this country and I realized this when I tried to educate myself.
There is only one company in Johannesburg giving organic farming courses, and there is an organization in KZN which specializes in community education on organics. There are now several initiatives and organizations doing wonderful work in the townships and with communities teaching them to grow their own food and to do this naturally. But this is not where a commercial farmer can come and learn how to farm using sustainable and natural methods, and be economically viable. It does not exist in South Africa, and there is a huge opportunity and gap here to be filled.
I got my information from attending every course and workshop available on soil and mineralization. They are expensive and given by overseas experts who come here because there is a need as we are still a country stuck in chemical farming. I attended 3 ten day Permaculture courses spread over several years. I have an extensive library on organic and biological farming, soil, composting, worm farming, pest and orchard management, and so on. Basically it felt as if I had gone back to school, because the body of information is huge and complex, and the deeper you delve the more you realize how much there still is to know.
And then I have 11 years of practical experience, mistakes and successes. Because of this lack of information and education in organic and sustainable farming I have formed a consultancy business and now take on farms/farmers as clients. The need for information is great and is growing daily as the realization of our global environmental crisis sets in and I am inundated with requests to give talks and workshops. For the last four years I have been one of the speakers for workshops hosted by Country Life, and in 2008 it was so over subscribed that it was repeated a month later. The 2009 workshop taking place in August has already been oversubscribed twice.
The revolution is happening and it’s exciting to witness and participate in.
Quote from Graeme Sait from Australia “Once growers have developed the taste for biological and organic farming, we usually see tremendous enthusiasm. We have yet to encounter a single grower who has reverted back to chemical farming after developing an insight into this approach. “
Another important aspect of organic farming is compassionate and fair labour practices with our farm labourers. These people have been so abused and underpaid over the years that their self worth and need for self improvement is non-existent. This has led to wide spread alcoholism, abuse and violence. It has been as challenging a journey for me in this aspect of my farming, and just as rewarding.
All of my staff, managers and foremen on the farm and in the factory are drawn from the local community, and have been trained and given responsibility. It has been heart warming to see them finally understand that they CAN live better lives and they ARE valuable and capable. Those that get this, fly.
There have been the disappointments, and some heartbreak, but in the minority. And as more and more are being examples within their community, so are they encouraging others to stand up and demand their rights to be treated as valuable humans.
Other initiatives and happenings are:
- The proliferation of farmers and organic markets all over the country. Where we can sell and buy REAL food, and speak to the person growing it, or who knows the person growing it. I believe there are now at least 20 in the Peninsula and Boland area. Now we can take responsibility for what we put into our bodies. It has been a fabulous platform for me to engage in conversation with the consumers, mothers, cooks, retailers and families and explain to them what constitutes whole and nutritious food that has been grown ethically.
- The growth of the Slowfood movement, and the formation of Conviviums. This is an initiative and movement that anyone can engage in and again spread the knowledge, support and eat food grown and cooked slowly and have fun experiences at the same time with like minded people.
- Several companies who will come and install an organic veggie garden at your home- and teach you how to maintain it.
- Green magazines and radio programmes.
- Trade shows and festivals where an organic section is becoming mandatory.
It has been an amazing journey, where I have seen and lived the inter-connectedness of life. Nothing is in isolation, and everything is dependent on everything else. Take out one component and there is an immediate imbalance.
I have a burning desire. To find the resources, money and people to set up training schools, courses, initiatives, associations and workshops across the country. To start a “KKOI” in every area and region, where people do not have to travel for 5 hours, but just an hour or so, where they meet up with like minded souls and gain information, share experiences, sell their produce, and then go back home feeling inspired, motivated and knowing that they are doing no harm and are one with Nature and the Web of Life.
There is SUCH a need for this to manifest in our country.
How about YOU? Who do you know? It does not take special skill- just a desire to protect and extend the Web of Life. To be part of this revolution and take responsibility for the state of our Planet. I was a Financial Consultant working in Cape Town when I started this journey, so there cannot be a greater “shift” than from there!
We can no longer be spectators and bemoan the state of our country, continent, the Planet. “Evil happens when good people do nothing”.
This Planet and all on her can and will heal when EACH one of us energetically makes a conscious decision to be part of the solution and healing. When we take responsibility for our daily CHOICES.
1 Eco-Farm by Charles Walters
2 NTS Certification course by Graeme Sait
3 Hands-on Agronomy by Neal Kinsey and Charles Walters
4 Compost by Clare Foster
5 The Secrets of Fertile Soils by Erhard Hennig
6 Natural Farming by Pat Coleby
7 Fletcher Sim’ Compost by Charles Walters
8 The Biological Farmer by Gary F Zimmer