Sunflowers and Apples

It's tough. All odds are against us. But we are not turning back
Amit Sengupta 

Mike and Clint Lindsey, father and son, own a sprawling 860 acres of fertile land in the Corvallis valley in Oregon surrounded by lush green forests and mountains. Since last one year they have started experimenting with organic farming - comprising about 4 per cent of organic farmers in the area where some mechanised farmers own huge tracts of land. They are growing apples, sunflowers, oats, wheat, experimenting with a new genre of agriculture hitherto absent in the region - looking for local markets in what is a growing space for organic, healthy, non-pesticide or chemicalised food. (There are weekday farmer markets in every city). 

"It's tough. All odds are against us. But we are not turning back," says Mike, who, with Clint and Bill, the manager, changed his agriculture method after three decades, because Clint wanted him to. Clint is just one of the many educated youngsters in the US, who are returning to their roots after college, bringing in an alternative, radical philosophy in what is a traditional, status-quoist political economy of land, commercial crops and free market, mostly for exports or big cities. "Every experiment we are doing is being first done by a farmer who has 10,000 acres of land, and who is happily sharing his secrets with us - unlike most farmers," says Clint.

And not all farmers are so big. There is a couple with just three acres of land, staking everything for their organic farm. There are others with just a bit more, and yet committed to this new philosophy. And their great inspiration is coming from Harry MacCormack and his partner Cheri, who, with their 15 acre farm, are the original protagonists of organic farming, teaching, learning, unlearning, experimenting, showing the way. Their land with multiple crops - apple, grass seeds, tomato, onion, capsicum, garlic, green leafy vegetables, various kinds of fruits - is the basic laboratory which showcases the reality of the dram. Author of a landmark book on organic farming, Harry, a professor at the Oregon State University for 28 years, built, rebuilt, dismantled, created new homes and performance spaces in the campus. "With proper tools and materials anything can be created or dismantled, cycled or recycled. Design and intent coupled with physical effort builds a world," says his website.

"They were afraid they couldn't grow sunflowers. So I helped them out. And despite the risk, see the flowers blooming," he says. "And the apples, aren't they juicy?" In their simple log house and wood barn, with onion and garlic plants hanging on the walls, and his greenhouse full of leafy vegetables "for the Chinese and Mexican organic food market" , Harry and Cheri are sharing 'apple pressing' with young school teachers from the neighbourhood. Huge jars of apple cider float, while they chat happily around a firewood space, the home-made oven full of baked vegetables. 

"We need more help from the state and the federal government. When a neighbourhood farmer uses an aircraft to spray pesticide on his land, we too become breathless and helpless. But we are not losing the battle so soon," he says, and Cheri laughs. And the truth is, her laughter is infectious, brave, joyful. And it is spreading.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2010

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