Why would anyone want to change the only way they had ever known to farm, the way their fathers and grandfathers before them farmed?
After spending an entire day spraying chemicals on his fields and despite his protective suit and mask, Martens lost the use of his right arm and had muscle spasms on his right side.
Eventually, he recovered the use of his arm and body but he just couldn’t bring himself to go back to growing with chemicals. “Going organic was the only decision we could morally make,” he said. “…it just would have been wrong to hire others to do work that I couldn’t do because it made me sick.”
After chucking everything he knew about managing the land, Martens had to learn to farm all over again. Without chemicals and herbicides, he didn’t really know how to grow and protect his crops.
So, how did he learn new methods to handle threats to his crops? The old-fashioned way; he did research. One day, he read a quote by a German agricultural researcher that changed his way of thinking:
“Cultural practices form the basis of all weed control. Various other means should be regarded as auxiliary only,” wrote Bernard Rademacher, an early researcher in weed management.
Instead of trying to control the weeds, Martens realized he should be looking at why the weeds were there – what practice was he using that made his farm a good habitat for weeds?
Martens’ answer? Don’t fight the weeds; understand them. Completely and fully, within the context of everything else around them.
Converting his farm wasn’t easy for Martens but he and his wife learned a lot in the process and shared a lot in a two part article for Rodale Institute. Part 2 of the Farms R Us article has a nice list of resources for anyone who would like to take a deeper dive into converting to organic farming.
It was risky and a bit scary to make the switch but the couple has enjoyed growing organically, finding markets for their crops and knowing that they no longer add poisons to the earth or the water.
If a man farming 1400 acres can go organic, every backyard gardener should be able to do the same. If you are an organic gardener, you already know that weeds can tell you volumes about the health of your soil and your gardening practices.
Take a note from Martens, listen to your weeds. Once you get a handle on why they are happy to grow in your garden, you have two choices:
- Find out what organic methods you can use to get your soil back on track and move the weeds to your neighbors’ gardens.
- Grow and eat them! Dandelions, purslane and chickweed are free greens and I enjoy them as much as I do my kale, spinach and leaf lettuce!
Going organic isn’t hard; it;s just different. And the conversion takes a bit of research and a bit of thought. What better month than January to do both?