TGN Interviews Linda Borghi, Local Changemaker

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Nominee: Linda Borghi


Follow On Social Media At: Yard Farming (Patreon Podcast), Farm-A-Yard (iTunes Podcast), Farm-A-Yard (Facebook)

Fast Fact: In 2009, Linda spoke at the United Nations at a conference entitled “Food, Famine, and the Future of Food Technology.”

Nominated By:
Marsha H. | Fayetteville, NC


Did you coin the phrase Farm-A-Yard?

Yes, indeed, we sure did. We even have a jingle, because every movement needs a jingle!

Can you describe the first stirrings of this movement and what inspired you and your co-founders to create it?

I was an urban farmer in the Hudson Valley of New York for 11 years. Farm-A-Yard co-founder Criss Ittermann was my designer and “fairy godmother,” and always helped me with my business. In the latter part of those 11 years, I taught live-streamed classes to five African nations and Australia, and met my first co-founder Marsha Howe when I worked with Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. At the end of my 2015 season (when I grew 300 pounds of garlic), I had to make a decision to either farm full-time or teach full-time. I picked teaching to get exponential results from my efforts. I decided to travel the East Coast in what I called the “Grow Food, Earn Money Tour,” and it took me from Orlando to Boston and back. When Marsha and I launched Farm-A-Yard online classes, it made sense to bring Criss in too.

You’ve said that the mission of the Farm-A-Yard movement is to start a food revolution by “localizing our food one yard at a time.” Can you explain the main tenets of this process?

Every one of us depends on this thin layer of soil that feeds us. But modern agriculture is stripping nutrients out of soil and trying to replace them with lab-grown chemicals while it also forces plants to grow where there are no nutrients or life in the soil. So the food we’re eating, even organic food, is more and more depleted. All because we’ve stopped growing healthy soil. Soil is the foundation of all land-bound life as we know it—which means humans, too. Why are we getting so sick? Because we aren’t really being fed.

So our first goal is teaching people to grow healthy soil. Stop letting grass pull all the nutrients out of the little bit of land that you own before you throw all those clippings away in a big plastic baggie headed straight to a garbage dump! Most people are throwing away all the nutrients in 65 million acres of lawn and using drinking water to water something they can’t even eat!

Seeds will grow if they have sun, water, and soil. But we teach people how to choose the right seeds for what they want to grow, and make sure it’s growing in healthy, rich, soil. Once you start growing—once you taste that food that you know you raised yourself—you won’t stop. Everyone will get the farming bug! Try some pea shoots for starters—10 days from plot to plate! Who can resist that?

We believe that everyone needs to take responsibility and grow a portion of the food that we are eating. Even if it is simply green garlic in the windowsill of a Manhattan apartment on the 56th floor. We need this movement for its multitude of benefits—physical, financial, and economic. There’s magic in growing our own food, and that magic ingredient is love! Put love into growing things, and you get more out of it. Cooking with love tastes better, and growing food with love has more health benefits for you and the plant, too. (Name one person on the 56th floor of a Manhattan apartment building who couldn’t use more love!) But when your broccoli comes from 2,000 miles away, there’s no love left in it.

My Farm-A-Yard team and I are connecting people with the skills and information they need to succeed in putting this magic back into their lives. This way, they can successfully grow real, nourishing food, right from the get-go. You see, It would truly bother me if anyone failed, because I know their chances of trying again are nil to none. We can change the world one plot-to-plate at a time!

Why do you feel it is so important for us to know where our food comes from?

Unfortunately, we live in a time when food can make us really sick depending on how it is grown. Our bodies require clean, better-than-organically grown, nutrient-dense food in order to function like a well-oiled machine. If our food is devoid of nutritive value, we suffer … every cell in our body suffers, and that suffering is the beginning of disease.

The more removed we are from where our food comes from, the less sure we can be of how it was grown. You can produce “organic” food that is grown in depleted soil. The seeds will grow, but they won’t have the nutritional value we really need. Organic methods don’t require taking great care of the soil—only that you abstain from using certain products. And the list of allowable methods and products that can still pass as organic grows all the time—including questionable products and methods. So we really don’t know. Meanwhile, your organic berries can come from Peru. And you may even see organic Washington state apples in stores found in New York apple country! It’s crazy! When these foods travel that distance, they lose vitality all the way to your mouth—they just don’t have the same nutritional density.

Also, due to the hardiness needed for what I call “stupidmarket” foods (yes, I coined that term as well), the species and varieties of our fruits and vegetables are more and more limited. The food has to be able to be picked before it’s ready or keep for weeks in-transit as it gets on a boat or is driven across country in a truck. These foods are not selected because they’re delicious or nutritious. They’re picked because they’re stubborn.

How can home gardens contribute to overall wellness?

Wellness has everything to do with the kind of relationship we have with food and where it comes from. Gardens open a new awareness and consciousness about the value of whole foods. The garden gives us a place and activity through which to hone a new relationship with food that is alive, accessible, and fresh. This experience invokes a deep joy and appreciation.

The foundational act of eating and the kind of food we consume on a daily basis are either our medicine or our poison. Making a decision to grow some of your own food is powerful. It benefits the body and the soul. Gardens can be places that support emotional healing and so much more.  Food brings people together. It supports and nurtures healthy relationships with others, builds community connection, and can even provide new, local food entrepreneurial opportunities. Gardens are a place to learn valuable lessons from nature—for adults and especially for children—that can affect our wellness in every area of life.

Tell us about Abundant Life Farm—its start in 1988 and eventual reawakening in 2004—and your experiences with SPIN-Farming and bioenergetic practices.

Abundant Life Farm began on Old Mill Road, Block Island, Rhode Island, where I was the comptroller of the public utility Block Island Power. I farmed on a quarter of an acre, had 23 sheep, 50 chickens, a milking Jersey cow—and the only farm in the United States licensed to sell cheese to the public with a herd of only one. I invented a 5-gallon pasteurization machine to do this.

I was introduced to biodynamics in the late ‘90s when I was the first intern at The Pfeiffer Center garden in Chestnut Ridge, New York. This is the region where biodynamics came to the United States in the ‘50s. When Abundant Life Farm came back to life in Middletown, New York, in 2004, we embraced the SPIN (Small Plot INtensive)-Farming model using biodynamic practices.

When I began Farm-A-Yard, I came upon Evan Folds, the creator of bioenergetic agriculture, which uses biodynamic methods combined with other principles. Over the years, Evan and I have developed a strong relationship, and he is Farm-A-Yard’s official soil doctor. A soil test is the first step anyone who is really serious about growing nutrient-dense food would take. Visit Evan’s web page (be sure to tell him I said hi!) to get your soil amendment prescription and find out if you need a little of this or that—and don’t touch those chemicals! After all, all we need to do is grow the soil to grow healthy people, and Evan can show us how to grow healthy soil.

What are some tips for ensuring that our lawn soil is nutrient-rich and primed for crop production?

To take a page from Evan, who was studying marine biology before he studied soil—soil is a lot like an airy version of the ocean. A lot is going on under the surface when you look at it under a microscope and study it. We don’t know everything there is to know about soil. It is a miraculous and complicated system that, when healthy, delivers nutrition to plants. That may sound weird, but there are highways underground through which tiny microbes bring nutrients to plants. I kid you not! When you kill the soil, how do you replace this highways? You don’t! You fake it. You pretend. You make synthetic nutrients and give them to the plants so they grow, and the synthetics end up in the people and make them sick.

So how do you ensure your soil is primed for crop production? Compost your weeds, use worm poop, stir up some biodynamic preparations, and stay far, far away from those petrochemicals. We talk about this topic a lot on our podcast and have several hours of webinars that cover soil health. It’s difficult to put the whole process into words, which is why Evan is a guest on our podcast often!

How does the Farm-A-Yard movement encourage local food security?

NOTHING is more secure than food growing outside your kitchen door, and we need more of that. With just 100 square feet of growing space, you can shave about $700 off your stupidmarket bill a year.

And what you don’t grow may be grown by your neighbor. You can trade with friends or family. Or go to a farm market, look that farmer in the eye, and ask about the farm’s growing practices. See something you don’t recognize? Ask what it is and how to prepare it. They know!

With droughts threatening our food from California and storms threatening our food from Florida, we need to think more about local food and not be so dependent on just a few large areas of our country and imports. If everyone is growing something, canning something, and sharing something, then when the power is out, everyone can eat. When a storm comes through, people can send relief food—that’s not in a can—to their neighbors. It’s not rocket science to realize that if the food is in your yard, in your kitchen, or at your church down the street, then your food is more secure than if it has to go 2,000 miles by truck and make it from a warehouse to your market, and then you have to go to the market to pick it up.

How do your efforts stimulate entrepreneurial opportunity?

I teach how to grow food and earn money. For the home gardener, I STRONGLY suggest looking at the Seed Voyage web page. This is where the home gardener can easily turn to sell some extra produce. We want all communities to work with a venture like Seed Voyage and collaborate in the growing of food. We also have Wayne Roberts on board, teaching city planners some 30 benefits and billions of dollars of free public service by growing food everywhere. Yup … everywhere! This just makes more sense than allowing 40 million acres of turf grass—the largest cultivated crop in the nation—to use 40 percent of the drinking water on the East Coast!

In your wildest dreams, how do you see the Farm-A-Yard vision benefiting the world?

I see Farm-A-Yard being a major player in reversing the status quo of the lawn. This YouTube video says a lot. I dream of driving down residential streets called Lettuce Lane and Broccoli Boulevard. Yes, indeed.

Can you offer a specific piece of gardening, farming, or healthy living advice that would be of interest to our Grow Network community?

When we develop an intimate relationship with the soil beneath our feet, something happens. I can only describe it as joy. I would like nothing better than for everyone to feel this joy … then it will be Heaven on Earth.


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Meet Elena Upton, Local Changemaker

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Elena Upton, Local Changemaker

Elena Upton
Local Changemaker


Follow on Social Media: Mastering Alternative Medicine (Facebook)

Fast Fact: Elena’s first book, Mastering Alternative Medicine: Your Family’s Guide to Wellness, is set to release this spring. Find all the details and more great tips on her website!


Tell us a bit about your background—your heritage, where you grew up, and what first drew your attention to the world of natural remedies?

I am a native of New England, and my family ancestry is Italian. You know what that means . . . good food!

My paternal grandparents had a garden, and my grandfather made his own wine. He also owned small neighborhood grocery stores (five at one point). I remember them as being no more than probably 500–600 square feet and jam-packed with fruits and vegetables and imported Italian grocery products.

I would go into the store up the hill from my house after school and, of course, make my way to the little ice cream cooler. He kept a box of change by the register for those who needed a little extra, and I’d pick out a nickel to buy a frozen treat.

I also remember he had a large notebook with names and numbers scribbled in it. He said it was for “credit.” The locals would come in and pick up food staples they needed and run a tab, promising to come back later to pay.

This didn’t connect me with natural medicine specifically, but it gave me a foundation for good, healthy food and a sense of taking care of the community.

Was there a particular “Aha!” moment in your family’s medical history that you’d consider a true turning point away from traditional treatment methods?

The “Aha!” moment that changed my life forever was a ski trip to Colorado with my husband and sons in 1988.

We were visiting my husband’s former college roommate, George, when his wife, Colleen, pulled out a little white box filled with vials. She referenced a booklet, opened one of the vials, and popped a few little pills into her mouth.

She had been getting noticeably sick with a cold. Within an hour or so, though, there was no sign of the cold continuing to materialize.

I asked her what had been in the box, and she said homeopathy.

I had never even heard the word before!

She went on to explain that it was natural medicine from Germany. It is made from tiny expressions of plant, animal, and mineral substances that act as “information” for the body to follow to heal itself.

I thought that was the most amazing thing I had ever heard! When we went back to Massachusetts, I immediately went to the library to research homeopathy. (There was no World Wide Web then.)

The reason I was so interested was because I was developing some health issues, my husband had health issues, and both my sons had their own health problems cropping up. It seemed whatever conventional medical intervention we were given only suppressed the problem or made it worse. I wanted to know what this magical medicine was and why I’d never heard of it.

Soon after, my husband was transferred to California, and my good friend’s family was also transferred there. At our first West Coast reunion, my friend mentioned learning about homeopathy in Ohio and had a prospectus in her hand for The British Institute of Homeopathy. They had opened a satellite school in Los Angeles. Needless to say, we both enrolled. This was the beginning of a decade of formal training in homeopathy.

My health immediately improved with the use of homeopathy. My husband’s lifelong allergies were gone, and my son’s chronic, seasonal bronchitis cleared. I never looked back.

You’re a strong believer in “food as your first medicine.” How has your diet and that of your family evolved since the days before your homeopathic training?

Wholesome, fresh food was always my first medicine with the rich experience from my family.

The piece of the puzzle that came next, once I was deeply ingrained in the holistic medical community, was developing an understanding of how our food sources had deteriorated with the use of preservatives, the introduction of fungicides into “modern” farming, and the advent of GMO seeds.

What studies/training did you undergo to lead to your role today as a homeopath, author, lecturer and product development specialist?

When you study homeopathy, or any other form of holistic medicine (naturopathic, acupuncture and Chinese medicine, chiropractic, etc.), you gain insight into working with the whole person mentally, emotionally, and physically.

This includes their energetic body.

It is a huge departure from the Western model of medicine, with its use of pharmaceutical drugs and invasive procedures. Instead, there is a respect for the innate intelligence of the body to heal itself, if given the correct information. This information comes in the form of clean, nutritious food and natural-based medicines.

My earliest experiences included a Canadian naturopathic doctor who came to work with me in the clinic I opened after finishing school. He had trained in Germany and opened my eyes to many modalities beyond homeopathy.

We found herbs, supplements, and homeopathic remedies to be a winning combination.

In addition, my older son became a licensed acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist (yes, I’m very proud!), and we have clients we work with together. He can read their pulse, use needles to direct or unblock energy, fix structural issues, etc., and homeopathy adds another dimension.

Sometimes, when someone is stuck in a certain health pattern and not making the expected progress, I treat with a homeopathic remedy that reaches the emotional blockages, and Bam!, their physical issues clear up.

Grief is, by far, the largest block to healing.

You make an especially ardent case against commonly used antibiotics. Please explain the research behind this movement and the top alternative treatments you credit with keeping you and your family off of antibiotics for 30 years now.

Before antibiotics (and before vaccines were introduced in response to epidemics), there was homeopathy.

It is over 230 years old and is the second largest system of medicine in the world—everywhere but America.

In my upcoming book, Mastering Alternative Medicine: Your Family’s Guide to Wellness, I briefly explain the history of homeopathy and how this inexpensive, safe medicine has been systematically driven out. The space here simply doesn’t allow me to explain the volume of research that exists for homeopathic remedies and the true facts about people saved from smallpox and other diseases when conventional medicine failed.

Armed with a reference guide and a homeopathic kit, you can stop many illnesses in their tracks before they even develop.

Examples include using Euphrasia as soon as symptoms of conjunctivitis (pink eye) arise; Hydrastis for sinusitis, and adding Sanguinaria if it’s chronic; mercurius solubilis or mercurius vivus for tonsillitis; hepar sulph calcarea for dental abscesses; Allium cepa for hay fever; Aconitum and Bryonia (or Gelsemium, depending on symptoms) for the common cold or flu; Belladonna or ferrum phos (depending on symptoms) for fever; and Nux vomica for acid reflux.

I could go on with pages and pages of natural solutions, and this is exactly the subject of my book. Listed above is just a small sampling of the FDA-approved remedies you can buy for $6 to $8 in any health food store or pharmacy or online. (I have an extensive reference section in the book on how to source the remedies you need.)

Not everyone has an opportunity to grow their own food or healing herbs. Even if you do, there are important natural remedies we all should know about sitting on a shelf in your health food store. Just as it takes effort to grow your own food, it takes effort to find health solutions not readily spoken about in mainstream society.

Please tell us how your new book came about and the personal research that fueled it.

For nearly 30 years, I have studied homeopathy and other holistic modalities.

It never gets old to see how quickly people improve (with no side effects) when they use remedies from nature.

I have gathered data, researched, and studied with medical professionals who have found another way . . . a safe way to stay healthy. It was a natural transition to pull it all together and share information you’ll never hear on the nightly news or from your insurance-mandated doctor.

It is your right to keep your family and yourself as healthy as possible. Bringing holistic medicine into your life may be what you are looking for, as it was for me.

Can you offer any last piece of healthy living advice that would be of interest to our Grow Network community?

I would like to stress that, because of the source of homeopathic remedies, they are safe for pregnant women, infants, and the elderly, as well as animals and plants. In essence, when you feed the body what it needs—clean, organic food and clean, natural medicine—it responds in kind.


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Vandana Shiva talks ‘fake cheap’ food (VIDEO)

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Just saw this video of Indian scholar and sustainable-agriculture advocate Vandana Shiva talking about the true cost of cheap food and three keys to ending what she calls “the final stages of a very deceitful system.”

(By the way, Shiva is on our list of 50 Global Changemakers, here.)

She makes some excellent points, and I thought you might enjoy the video as much as I did.

Some of my favorite quotes from the video:

  • “We are living the final stages of a very deceitful system that has made everything that is very costly for the planet, costly for the producer, look cheap for the consumer. So very high-cost production with GMOs and patents and royalties and fossil fuel is made to look like cheap food.”
  • “Every young person should recognize that working with their hands and their hearts and their minds—and they’re interconnected—is the highest evolution of our species. Working with our hands is not a degradation. It’s our real humanity.”
  • “We are not atomized producers and community. We are part of the earth family. We are part of the human family. We are part of a food community. Food connects us—everything is food.”

I also love the way she defines “true freedom” in the video: “Never be afraid of deceitful, dishonest, brutal power. That is true freedom.”

And hey, let me know what you think about her solutions to the problem of high-cost “cheap” food! What others would you add? Leave me a comment below. 🙂


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Meet Mike Reeske, Local Changemaker

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Mike Reeske, Local Changemaker

Mike Reeske
Local Changemaker

Company: Rio Del Rey Heirloom Beans


Fast Fact: It was a happy accident that first led Rio Del Rey to introduce the Anazapi bean, a cross between the Anasazi and Rio Zape. The company will produce its first commercial crop of the hybrid bean in 2018.

Nominated by:
Cat M. | Escondido, CA


Please explain a little about your background and what first sparked your interest in developing organic dry heirloom beans?

I grew up in Anaheim, California, where my parents were orange ranchers and restaurant owners. I graduated from Chapman University in 1967 and began teaching high school science, a career that spanned more than 40 years in the classroom.

During this time, I opened the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point Harbor as its education director, developed the Outdoor Education Program on Palomar Mountain for the Vista Unified School District, and worked 12 years as a writer and developer on the Science Education for Public Understanding Program for the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley. I have co-authored 13 books there, including Science and Sustainability, Understanding Environmental Health Risks, and Plastics in Our Lives. My last book, The Life Cycle of Everyday Stuff, deals with natural systems.

In every place I have lived, I’ve developed programs that were community-based, teaching people about their local environments and the need to preserve them. I live in the chaparral now and have merged my bean-growing philosophy with the cultural and historic themes of the Southwest.

After retiring, I began what is now an eight-year effort to bring heirloom dry beans to more people as a fantastic superfood that is both very flavorful and great for personal health.

How did your passions grow into what is today Rio Del Rey Heirloom Beans and the “small family farm” that yields them?

While teaching, I had the opportunity in the early ‘70s to offer gardening as an alternative to a semester of life science in high school. There was an acre of land behind my classroom, and it soon became the center of 36 student gardens. There, the kids discovered that kohlrabi actually tastes great, and real learning takes place when we provide relevant, hands-on experiences.

Soon after this, I was hired at a new high school in Cypress, California. In addition to teaching science, I was asked to lead a volunteer community and student effort to raise funds in order to landscape the new school—a task both fun and formidable. It took two years of work, and when I wasn’t in the classroom, I was out pushing a wheel barrow of hoses to water the burgeoning plants.

After I retired, I asked myself, “What would I like to do when I grow up?” You see, in all of our lives there are opportunities to reinvent ourselves—to germinate the dormant seeds of creativity we have made in other parts of our lives and call upon those energies and ideas to lead us into the future.

I remember thinking back to what Voltaire said in the ending to Candide. After experiencing the world’s conditions and catastrophes, Candide was asked what he learned about life. His reply was, “We must tend our gardens.” That really struck me in its beautiful simplicity. I had always enjoyed working the soil and seeing the fruition of my labor. But what would I grow?

There are meaningful coincidences in our lives. In 2008, I was reading an article on heirloom dry beans—and it struck me that I had never really tasted these critters. I did some research and discovered Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona. It was founded to preserve the native tribal seeds of the Southwest (including Northern Mexico).

I obtained some purple Hopi beans. They were like the purple, black-striped, shiny Rio Zape beans we sell today.

I was blown away by their taste!

After preparing them simply with garlic, onions, and some salt, I took my first taste. Wow! These were not my mother’s limas. They were meaty, full-flavored, and oh, so creamy. They were so unlike the canned pinto, black, and kidney beans that I had come to think of as my culinary bean palette. They sung with flavor and richness. I had to have more, and I needed to do my homework on beans.

I was able to begin growing some varieties of heirloom beans to determine which ones had the best taste and were adaptable to the inland valley of San Diego County. After three years of work, I had grown enough beans organically to begin commercial production on 23 acres of land adjacent to the San Luis Rey River that I leased from an Indian tribe.

I named my farm Rio Del Rey (“the King’s River”) and began growing heirloom beans in 2013. In 2017, we moved the farm to the land surrounding our home in Valley Center, California.

Can you describe the main tenets of the organic and sustainable farming practices you employ? How can Rio Del Rey serve as a model for other small farms that share your climate?

As I began my farm, I realized that to produce great food, you must employ the best of farming methods—and do this in a sustainable way. Conventional farming methods are, at many times, at odds with nature and interfere with the natural systems that produce soil fertility. The heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on our food crops is not sustainable and, in many cases, harmful.

We go through a great deal of effort to say that our beans are certified organic. Unlike with other terms, such as “natural,” our beans are regulated through an extensive certification process and undergo an annual inspection to ensure they meet the USDA’s National Organic Program requirements.

Our products are also certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a not-for-profit organization. It is important to me to share with others the goal of sustainability and the stewardship we practice in caring for the land we grow on.

There are more small farms and organic farms in San Diego County than in any other county in the U.S. More than 5,500 farmers call it home and make their living on 5,732 small family farms. Sixty-eight percent of these are nine or fewer acres in size.

When I decided to farm heirloom dry beans organically, I made the commitment to a holistic management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.

In short, it’s restoring the soil to the point that it can sustain healthy growth now and in years to come.

Beans are a natural complement, because they add nitrogen to the soil and are a part of the traditional rotation of crops to promote long-term sustainability. As farmers, we work for years to restore this natural balance of the soil. Sustainable farming works in harmony with the renewable systems found in nature. Because it requires long-term goals, it costs more to implement—and leads to increased costs for organic produce.

Heirloom dry beans are a niche market with few organic players. Our farm serves as a model for what is possible using relatively inexpensive equipment and enhanced farming practices to produce a unique crop that is highly desirable for a healthy lifestyle.

Rio Del Rey’s goals focus on:

  • Developing new and disease-resistant bean varieties
  • Collecting and preserving rare and endangered beans from around the world
  • Supplying unique organic heirloom beans for cooking and for planting as seeds
  • Creating a sustainable farming system as a model for future small farms to use in further developing heirloom beans
  • Providing educational opportunities for everyone interested in our heirloom beans

You source rare and endangered bean varieties (and even the farming equipment used on them!) from all over the world. Please describe how some of these connections came about.

When I met Steve Temple, a highly respected bean researcher at the University of California, Davis (UCD), he pointed out that the greatest barrier for the small bean farmer comes in the cost of a bean threshing machine, because no small machines have been made in the U.S. for many years.

My earlier research had confirmed this, and lingering at the back of my mind was the impending harvest of 4 acres of beans. Imagine freeing the beans by hand labor! (We do this now for our 44 experimental beans, and I can assure you that shelling thousands of beans is no pool party!)

The only small-scale threshers on the market were those made in China and Italy, but after intensifying my search, I also found a company in Konya, Turkey—home of the Whirling Dervishes. These threshing machines are used all over Greece, Turkey, and northern Africa. And the best part? They were affordable! I contacted them and purchased two machines. The thresher runs off the PTO drive of a tractor. It met my desires for a more sustainable use of energy, as opposed to buying a diesel or electrically powered model.

In October 2013, my wife, Chris, and I flew to Konya for a day to meet the owners, Osman and his son Nuri, and the workers at their thresher factory. [It astonished me that the threshers were completely manufactured there using large rolls of steel and steel bars, formed by milling, bending, and welding. Only the wheels and tires were outsourced. Even the painting was done there.]

It was a great visit, demonstrating to me the high quality of the product and the integrity of the owners. I also learned how to operate the thresher and diagnose any problems that might arise during operation.

As for the beans themselves, I spent time in 2014 in Mexico’s Hidalgo state learning to harvest and prepare many foods in a 1704 hacienda. I had the opportunity to meet bean farmers who had preserved some of the great diversity found in beans.

One Hidalgo farmer gave me a bag of large, purple runner beans—each just sparkling like a deep purple gem—the Ayocote Morado.

I planted these beans back home along with subsequent beans that we collected from Turkey in 2014 and from Chile and Argentina in 2015 to determine which kinds were most productive and well-suited to our soil and climate. All of this has led me to the passion I have today for growing and sharing my heirloom beans with people.

Can you explain the goals behind the research you conduct on your own and in conjunction with the University of California?

Our goal is to make the supply of heirloom dry beans available in larger quantities and at a cheaper price than the going rates of $6-plus per pound.

We face two challenges.

The first is the lack of availability of high-quality organic bean seed, and the second (and much more daunting) is the limited amount of seed free of the Bean common mosaic virus (BCMV), which stunts plant growth and pod production.

Any industry is always in need of good research and development, and I found that partnering with UCD was an ideal answer. It has one of the most well-known bean researchers in the world, Dr. Paul Gepts. With his support, we are making great progress toward our goal.

As I mentioned, one of the greatest problems in growing heirloom dry beans is the presence of BCMV. Plants infected with the virus have light green or yellow mosaic patterns on the leaves, accompanied by puckering, blistering, and downward curling and rolling, resulting in stunted growth or death of the bean plant. This is a major barrier in producing substantial bean yields.

In 2015, we provided a grant donation to help fund the research efforts of Travis Parker, a UCD doctoral student. Travis’s work involves inserting the BCMV-resistant I gene (found naturally in most string beans and many commercial beans) into some heirloom varieties using the traditional processes of plant breeding. This begins with growing, then cross-pollinating, an heirloom plant.

In this example, the Rio Zape is crossed with a white bean, the Matterhorn, which contains the resistant I gene. The plant is grown to maturity, producing what is called the F1 hybrid seed. The hybrid seed (all brown) looks quite different from the original Rio Zape seed (purple with black stripes), but now contains the I gene. This process is repeated six more times. With each generation of back-crossing to the heirloom parent, more heirloom seed characteristics are recovered. To regain all of the original qualities of the Rio Zape bean, the hybrid seeds are planted, and their pollen is used to cross-pollinate a normal Rio Zape parent.

At the end, 99.6 percent of the qualities of the original Rio Zape have been added—with the benefit of the plant now being resistant to BCMV. From our 2017 research, this bean produces a plant twice as big as the original and with many more pods!

Our goal now is to scale up seed production and distribute the seed free of charge to farmers across America.

How about the work you’re doing to develop your own hybrid bean made from crossing an Anasazi with a Rio Zape?

Since there are no large bean processing warehouses in southern California, I needed to find a way to further clean my beans. I purchased a new Clipper seed and grain cleaner—the most widely used air screen cleaners in the world—from the A.T. Ferrell Company, which has been manufacturing them since 1869.

It worked wonders in separating split beans and debris from the beans. However, no cleaner can further separate out discolored or slightly cracked beans.

The big warehouses use a $750,000 color sorter that uses computers, laser beams, and air jets to do the final sorting. For a small farm like ours, it’s my wife and I who do the final hand sorting, a slow but effective process.

In 2014, while hand cleaning some Anasazi beans, my wife noticed a very different bean that looked like it had the characteristics of both the Anasazi and Rio Zape. After cleaning several hundred pounds of beans, we had gleaned about 50 of these seeds.

Since beans are self-pollinating, there had to be a pollinator, which we attributed to the four beehives on the farm (the Anasazi beans were planted on a field next to a field of Rio Zape beans). The following year, I planted these seeds and they stayed “true,” producing the same hybrid seeds we began with. After two more years of planting and selectively harvesting, we now have almost 30 pounds, enough to finally produce a commercial crop in 2018—God willing and the creeks don’t overflow!

Anasazi and Rio Zape beans are some of our best-tasting beans. The new Anazapi bean, as we call it, should surely excel in taste, and it also has a more upright bush habit and shorter maturity date than the Rio Zape.

You work with chefs in San Diego County and throughout southern California. How do you partner with them to determine which heirlooms will most complement their menus?

Our beans serve as an alternative to traditional bean varieties, offering unique taste and freshness free of synthetic residues. (Commercial bean producers employ up to six different synthetic pesticides.)

Unlike the limited variety of dry beans found in stores (that can be up to five years old), our beans are sold fresh each year. The difference in how fast they cook is amazing! But the real delight comes in the remarkable taste of heirloom beans.

After hosting many cooking demos at farmers markets and stores, I realized that another valuable way for people to learn about heirloom dry beans was to educate the chefs of top San Diego restaurants. I invited the chefs and their staffs to our farm to see how we grow and process the beans and, most importantly, to do some tasting!

I developed a bean-tasting scale to evaluate the flavor, texture, and other qualities people look for in a good bean. This provided an education for the chefs and helped them discover what traits were valuable for use in their cooking. They assessed our current crop of beans and also some new varieties we had been growing to help determine what we would plant the next growing season.

This made them feel more connected to the farm and also provided us with a future market for these new beans. My philosophy here was to have chefs taste and think of the beans as a culinary palette of colors and flavors. A creative chef could use these experiences to come up some great new ideas that featured our beans in their menus.

You’ve said your work is a “celebration of a common heritage we share with all the people of the Americas.” What makes this a focal point of your efforts as a farmer and business owner?

Dry beans were domesticated from wild plants and first cultivated in Mexico more than 10,000 years ago, then shared with people who spread both north and south to form some of the great empires of the Americas. Today, we find these beans in a multitude of shapes and colors throughout the world. It is these dry bean seeds that are the heartbeat of Rio Del Rey.

I share a love for the indigenous people of the Americas, who gave us so many foods, including beans, corn, tomatoes, chocolate, potatoes, quinoa, and myriad more.

I first discovered this on my honeymoon in 1968, when we visited my best friend, John, who was in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. We traveled through Quito and reached the headwaters of the Amazon in the small village of Tena, crossing the river on a cart attached to a wire and pulley. There was no electricity, but infinite night sky and bats flying through the open houses!

It was here that I first experienced the wonder of the unknown, the sweet taste of so many different foods, and, most importantly, the friendship of the people.

We continued our travels, and in early 2017, we met organic farmers in Lima, Peru, who shared some of their beans with us. They are now growing outside our home so we can determine whether they are adaptable to a southern California climate.

We all benefit from the great diversity of people, cultures, and food traditions found in the Americas. In a time when there are forces at work to separate us from our common humanity, I find the mentality of the campfire most useful. Around the warmth of the fire, we share songs and stories and celebrate our differences rather than our prejudices. In our eyes is reflected the fire that radiates our hopes and dreams for the future and our optimism that those forces that would divide will fade away in the coming dawn.

Are there plans for Rio Del Rey to provide formal educational opportunities to those interested in heirloom beans?

We are currently working with CCOF to promote more agritourism in San Diego County. In the past, we have hosted groups, such as Farm Bureau members, schools, garden clubs, and permaculture clubs. We are working on a plan with a major tour company in San Diego to promote Valley Center, where our farm is located, and the new, unique groups of farms, wineries, and specialty livestock growers in this area 40 miles north of San Diego. We also teach organic farming to students at the local high school adjacent to our farm.

Can you offer a specific piece of farming, cooking, or healthy living advice that would be of interest to our Grow Network community?

Beans are an excellent, nonfat source of protein. Just one cup of cooked dry beans provides as much as 16 grams of protein (adults generally need to eat between 50 to 60 grams in a day). Beans can also help to counteract increases in diseases linked to lifestyle, such as obesity and diabetes, and are celebrated for increasing food security in areas with shortages. Plus, they improve cropping systems and are good for farmers.


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TGN Interviews Marianne Cicala, Local Changemaker

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Marianne Cicala, Local Changemaker

Marianne Cicala
Local Changemaker

Companies: Cricket’s Cove Farm & Forge (working biodynamic farm) in Victoria, VA; Twigs & Berries (organic grocery store) in Kenbridge, VA


Follow on social media at: Twigs & Berries (Facebook) and Cricket’s Cove Farm & Forge (Facebook)

Fast facts: Cricket’s Cove not only offers regular permaculture workshops, but also serves as the studio of artist and blacksmith Jim Cooper (who also happens to be Marianne’s husband).

Nominated by:
Patricia M. | Kenbridge, VA
Joyce J. | Palmer Springs, VA


When did you first become interested in organic farming and clean eating?

In college, I rented an old sharecropper house on a working farm. The caretakers were an elderly couple, born at the turn of the last century and raised during a time when self-sufficiency and true homesteading were the norm.

Mrs. Skinner (the farmer’s wife) couldn’t comprehend that I grew up without a home garden, and my knowledge of canning involved buying them at the grocery store. I became her project and mission.

Mrs. Skinner read the night sky as the basis for everything that happened in her kitchen garden, referred to a silver maple as her “rain tree,” split open persimmon seeds in the early fall, and looked at corn silks and the undercoat of her beloved donkey’s rump for the winter forecast.

She taught me how to can, make jam, and pickle everything from squash to pole beans. It was literally a brand new world which grabbed me in a way that nothing else ever has or will. Mrs. Skinner introduced me to the importance of observation and being a partner with nature. Those memories underscore how much knowledge we’ve lost in an age when the ease of buying bottles and bags from garden centers has replaced a millennium of skills.

What path led you to the countryside of southern Virginia?

I was reared in Memphis, Tennessee, then got out of school and pursued a corporate career. I escaped that world as often as possible to go hang out in the country or woods.

My career took me to North Carolina, and my escape act continued—whether it was in my garden or the forest. My husband, Coop, had the same passion about the peace of the country, but, as an artist, residing in a large city also had professional benefits.

While living in Raleigh, we began looking for land with a short punch list in hand: not farmed for at least 50 years; running water via a river, creek, etc.; rolling hills; and loads of wildlife. We were lucky enough to eventually find our “home.”  As we bushwhacked our way around this land, we instantly knew it was perfect.

We spent the next 10 years buzzing back and forth between our city life and our future life, and we’ve now lived here full time for 10 years.

How did your passions grow into what is today Cricket’s Cove Farm & Forge and your Twigs & Berries organic grocery store?

I didn’t intend to be a farmer; I only wanted a personal garden. But I was completely sucker punched by the lack of good food available living deep in the country. I had naively assumed that by being in an agriculture-based community, I would have access to an abundance of mouthwatering, clean, fresh produce. I had a lot learn.

Unbeknownst to me, the stars began lining up for my future. While a local man helped me install a small orchard, I also faced the challenge of planting a proper kitchen garden. Since I was dealing with compacted clay for the first time, I began educating myself by listening to Dr. Elaine Ingham’s podcasts about soil. However, not only was the closest garden center almost an hour away, but it was also a big-box store. I was frustrated by the selection and was forced to blindly purchase via the Internet.

Out of the blue, the same man who had helped with my orchard called to let me know that a dilapidated building and bit of land on Main Street in nearby Kenbridge were for sale—and they would make a great garden center.

My future began to unfold. Twigs & Berries would come to specialize in young fruit trees, berries, and other edibles, hence its name. We also invited local truck farmers to sell their produce inside, since there was only one area chain grocery store and no farmers market in this county.

As I began getting to know the local growers and their practices, though, I realized the common approach was to pelt the crops with Sevin® Dust regularly and use Roundup® between seasonal plantings. I also realized that my edible plant customers weren’t buying the local produce, but were driving over an hour to get clean, fresh food.

It was inexcusable to me that so many locals like us, people who had left city life for the peace of country living, were heading back to the city every week to buy food.

I contacted the USDA and, since our homestead was untouched by “modern” farming practices, we got certified organic quickly—and my kitchen garden grew into Cricket’s Cove Organic Farm (my last name translates to cricket). Twigs & Berries then shifted our edibles to only organics. (The local grocery store didn’t offer any organic goods at the time.)

How did you earn the title of first certified biodynamic produce farm in Virginia? What differentiates biodynamic from organic?

We’ve been certified organic for seven years and certified biodynamic for three years. In the United States, you must be certified organic for a number of years before applying for biodynamic certification—and you must maintain both.

Biodynamic is an internationally recognized certification that is actually older than USDA Organic Certification. I learned of biodynamics a few years after we had been certified organic—and as I watched the constraints of organic certification ease to allow synthetic amendments and accommodations for industrial farms. I became disenchanted to a degree and asked around for direction to a cleaner alternative. What I got was an avalanche of responses pointing to biodynamics.

It’s a holistic approach that I prefer to coin as “wholistic.” It is heritage growing, right up there with what Mrs. Skinner educated me about all those decades ago.

Our farm is basically a closed system with next to nothing coming in, and almost everything coming from within. I use no mechanical equipment on any of our gardens today and no fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides.

Planting, transplanting, and harvesting follow the biodynamic calendar, which maps moon phases and more. Our beds are permanent (no till), we plant intensively, and we companion plant like mad. We have massive compost piles that we empty and start up again throughout the year.

There are so many practices common to permaculture, sustainable growing, and biodynamics—like our orchards serving as food forests, complete with herbs, berries, perennial flowers, annual crops, etc.—that the transition was virtually seamless. This is the basis of the entire farm’s design.

You’ve earned both Permaculture Design Certification and your Advanced Permaculture Practicum. How do you balance the “bookish” side of your expertise with your love for the “down-and-dirty” aspects of daily farm life?

I see them as one thing.

How can you be really good at anything without constantly learning, especially with something so fluid and ever-changing as farming?

I know that I have so much more to learn, and the deeper I dig into this life and passion, the more questions I have about it. The beauty of this exploration today is the open dialogue on an international basis. People like me are so ready to share their practices, their successes, and their failures and questions. The massive number of global comrades in this quest for deeper discovery is truly awesome and so important given the current challenges.

You’ve said that your farm experiments extensively, resulting in both successes and what you describe as “epic failures.” Can you cite an example of one of your victories?

An example of a success beyond my hopes happened this past fall. Our challenge was impressive heat and 10 weeks without more than .10” of rainfall. In early August, I began to hear a lot of chatter about a possible fall drought and began reading about growing practices in desert areas.

We grow rice in conventional rice paddies; the base of these beds is below ground level. We harvested our rice in late August, which left several unoccupied below-grade beds. In deserts, sunken beds are a common approach, since their soil temperature and evaporation rate are lower (i.e., they hold water longer). We carved out narrow walking paths and used that soil to build up beds within the paddies.

I’m kind of a maniac about water retention and movement, so we also sculpted waterways so that we could simply flood the paddy, allowing the water to move around the raised beds. This resulted in easy and quick watering (since by dropping a hose at one end, the water would meander throughout) and deep, root-soaking penetration (since this approach works much like a swale and berm, which it is).

We planted the same crops in these beds as in our other above-ground gardens. There were marked differences. We watered the paddy gardens much less, and they boasted bigger, healthier plants and an earlier harvest. We even got a second fall crop planting in a couple of these beds.

Here’s the surprise—the plants in the sunken beds did just fine when we dipped to temps in the low 20s; plants in our other beds got smoked.

How about an example of a failure?

An epic financial failure was our foray into aquaponics. I loved the idea, especially since it is a closed system for the most part, with fish-fertilized water pumped throughout the grow beds and plant roots supplying some shelter and food for the fish.

We dedicated half of a greenhouse (normally used during the winter for veggie and herb propagation) and three 650-gallon drums for the fish. We cut the tops off the drums for grow beds and invested in pumps, pipes, heaters, and pea gravel; pipes for crawfish homes; baby tilapia; and, of course, fish food.

The first mental failure on my part was assuming that the submerged heaters would be enough to allow this tropical fish to thrive in an unheated greenhouse. They survived, but were incredibly slow to grow.

Technically, the experiment worked—and we enjoy some of the sweetest strawberries, peas, etc.—but from a financial standpoint, it was folly.

It was too small to produce anything other than for personal consumption, but we still had to power the pumps and heater. It was a great novelty, and had it been a much larger system and our primary focus, it would have worked. Instead, it was simply a distraction. Lesson learned—keep your eye on the ball and don’t spread yourself too thin.

Of the many hats you wear (among them farmer, educator, and business owner), do you have a favorite?

I’m always happiest when I’m knee deep in and covered with soil, but I think presenting workshops is probably my favorite aspect of what we do.

It’s easy to sometimes get overwhelmed with the day to day of farming, so it’s important to me to surround myself with new faces and like-minded people. Spending the day with others interested in the moving parts of how we do things and happy to share what they’re doing as well is important. It’s an incredible mental break and reaffirmation when I see our farm through the eyes of our guests. It just does my soul good.

How do you and your husband partner in the workings of your businesses?

We share the same passions about life and, luckily, are incredibly different in our approach to it. I’m a bit of a taskmaster, while he’s laid back, usually rolling with the flow. We mutually admire what the other is doing, and I think that ensures a great partnership.

Plus, since we have separate businesses on the same piece of land, there is automatic interaction throughout the day. My college major was metals, so I have a bit of knowledge about what he does, and he is constantly reading up and watching the happenings on the farm, so he has a bit of knowledge about what I do. Coop is my sounding board, and his areas of expertise are invaluable to me and the farm’s success.

We’re also fortunate that Twigs & Berries is run by a few dedicated people, but Coop heads there once a week, and I’m there two and a half days—just to keep in touch with our customers. It’s a good break for both of us to be in town, see people, and keep up with the community.

What advice would you offer our TGN community?

At least a couple times a week, I schedule time to just walk about. I do this alone, so there are no distractions … no tasks other than observation. We have spots to sit and rest at throughout the farm and, after such a walk, I’ll pick one and just be. I think it’s important to make sure there are places to sit, take it all in, and just breathe for a moment.


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Meet The Changemakers: 14 People Inspiring & Leading Change In Sustainable Farming

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It’s no secret that industrial agriculture is wreaking havoc on our planet. But, in a world of seven billion people, can alternative growing strategies really feed everyone?

In truth, sustainable agriculture is the ONLY option for adequately feeding the world. While conventional strategies steal fertility from the future by relying on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides at the expense of soil health, organic methods leave the earth better after every season.

There are thousands of people working hard to promote alternative agricultural techniques around the world today, and together they are slowly changing the conversation around food.

This week, to kick off our four-part Global Changemakers articles series, we’ve chosen to celebrate 13 individuals who are transforming how we all get our food — educating others about how we can eat well and still leave the planet healthier in the process.

We hope these individuals will inspire YOU to find NEW WAYS to improve the sustainability of your own diet.

Listed in no particular order (because each of these folks deserves to be celebrated and honored in their own right):

Sustainable farming changemaker - Howard Garrett

#1 – Howard Garrett
Radio Show Host, “The Dirt Doctor”

As one of the legends of organic gardening, Howard Garrett (the ‘Dirt Doctor’) has long been a leader in the movement in the United States. Throughout his career, Howard has worked in greenhouses, as a landscape contractor, golf course planner and organic product developer, and he is the chairman of the Texas Organic Research Center (TORC).

Born in Pittsburgh, Texas, Howard served in the Marines from 1970 to 1977 after graduating from Texas Tech University. The birth of his daughter in 1985 was a turning point in Howard’s life, and concerns about the world she was going to grow up in caused him to commit his career to the education, research, and the promotion of organic gardening practices.

Howard is the author of over a dozen books based on gardening, lawn care and natural wellness for the planet, including Marjory Wildcraft’s personal favorite, Bugs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Today, Howard hosts the Organic Gardening Show as the Dirt Doctor, a nationally-syndicated radio show that airs each weekend on the Salem Radio Network. You can learn from Howard Garrett by checking out his radio show live from 8 to 11 am CST on Sundays, or by listening to his weekly radio show as a podcast through the Dirt Doctor App.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Joel Salatin

#2 – Joel Salatin
Sustainable Grass Farmer Extraordinaire

As the persona behind Polyface Farms, Joel Salatin needs little introduction in the world of natural farming. Salatin got his start in agriculture when his parents moved to an abused, worn-out farm in the Shenandoah Valley. As a family, they began to heal the landscape and restore fertility through innovative farming techniques that relied on nature as a guide.

Today, Salatin still farms that same plot of land and continues to improve it by planting trees, digging ponds, and building fertility through compost piles. He is famous for his rotational grazing strategies that move animals around his property through portable electric fences, and his ‘pastured poultry’ strategies for producing meat that’s raised entirely on his property’s fertility. For this reason, Joel considers himself first to be a grass farmer, as a healthy prairie system is a key to the functioning of every aspect of his farm.

Today, Polyface feeds hundreds of people and is considered to be a premier non-industrial production oasis. Beyond working his farm, Joel seeks to educate the world about the benefits of natural farming through numerous books and a lecture series that takes him throughout the country. In this way, Salatin works endlessly to make environmentally- friendly agricultural practices more accessible to people everywhere.


Sustainable farming changemaker - Hank Will

#3 – Hank Will
Molecular Geneticist turned Magazine Editor

From molecular geneticist to editor for eight national magazines, Hank Will’s career path has hardly been typical. Forever in love with the prairies of the Midwest, Hank became a professor of molecular genetics while still dabbling in the world of heritage livestock and unconventional farming as much as he could. His parent’s seed company was a major inspiration throughout his life and was the primary reason why he studied genetics in school.

After two decades as a professor, Hank transitioned his career and became a freelance journalist while working at his home farm, Cottonwood Creek Farms. His farm experience has allowed him to be an educational voice for small-scale, sustainable agriculture around the world. Today, he is the Editor in Chief of Mother Earth News Magazine and Heirloom Gardener Magazine, as well as the editorial director for all other brands from Ogden Publishing.

Hank’s personal farming experience spans more than four decades and is predominately focused on small-scale, high-cash flow operations, as well as maintaining perennial plants and raising heritage chickens. Today, he has written multiple books about natural farming while living in Kansas with his wife at their home on Prairie Turnip Farm.

#4 – John Dromgoole
Organic Gardening Radio Talk Show Host

His south Texas roots might account for John Dromgoole’s passion for southwest plants, but John has kept his passion for organic agriculture alive for over three decades. He is the host of America’s longest running organic gardening radio talk show (Gardening Naturally with John Dromgoole) and was the host of the first natural gardening series on PBS, called “The New Garden.”

John is also the owner of The Natural Gardener, an award-winning organic garden center in Austin, TX that is considered one of the top five garden centers in the United States. His main passion is finding better ways to bring professional and novice gardeners alike information about organic gardening techniques and resources so that they can personally experience how easy and beneficial following sustainable practices can be. Dwelling in the desert southwest, John is primarily concerned with the increasing scarcity of water resources and focuses his efforts on educating gardeners on water conservation efforts.

Thanks to his work for the organic farming movement, John has won local, state and regional awards, including the “Texas Legendary Promotor of Organics.”

#5 – Roger Doiron
Replanter of the White House Garden

Considered to be one of the “10 Most Inspiring People in Local Food”, Roger Doiron has made a significant impact on the planet in surprising ways — including through starting the campaign to replant the kitchen garden at the White House. Most notable, Roger is the founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit based in Maine that today includes over 35,000 individuals from 120 countries who are making a conscious effort to grow their own food at home.

Roger is also a freelance food and gardening writer, and his efforts to promote local, slow food has been featured in numerous news sources, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Mother Earth News Magazine and more.

By combining his passion for supporting his own local food system and the state of slow food at large, Roger has helped bring the issues of sustainable food to the global stage — one kitchen garden at a time.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Sustainable farming changemaker - Dan Bussey

#6 – Dan Bussey
Seed Savers Exchange’s Heirloom Apple Enthusiast

As a longtime apple lover, perhaps only Johnny Appleseed has more passion for this classic fall fruit than Dan Bussey. Dan is the author of a 7-volume set titled The Illustrated History of Apples in North America, which is an encyclopedia collection that documents all 17,000 apple varieties that have grown in America between 1623 and 2000, making it the most complete collection of its kind.

Currently, Dan works as the orchard manager for the Seed Savers Exchange’s Heritage Orchard in Iowa. There, he tends to over 1,100 apple trees to preserve rare varieties so that they can be propagated and sold to customers of the exchange.

Founded in Missouri in 1975, Seed Savers Exchange started with two heirloom seed varieties from Bavaria and has since expanded to include over 20,000 plant varieties and 13,000 members. Almost every variety of apple is included in the Exchange’s collection, and if you choose to plant an heirloom apple tree, you might have Dan Bussey to thank.

Sustainable farming changemaker - John Jeavons

#7 – John Jeavons
Grow More Food With Less Water,
While Boosting Soil Fertility

As the Executive Director of the global non-profit Ecology Action, John Jeavons has long been a leader in the field of bio-intensive agriculture. His passion for developing small-scale, high-yield farming systems led to the development of the GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farming method, which is an approach to farming that allows small farmers to increase their yields while using two-thirds less water and building up their soil fertility up 60 times faster than nature can manage. This technique has been used for over four decades and has been successfully implemented in almost every climate system of the world, including 143 different countries.

John has also authored a book about his techniques, titled How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. Now translated into eight languages, this book is considered the primer on sustainable mini-farming.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Paul Gautschit

#8 – Paul Gautschi
Back to Eden Soil Star

Known throughout northern Washington as a master arborist, Paul Gautschi has been puttering in his backyard soil for over 55 years. Though he rarely raises food to sell, Paul has been feeding friends and his seven children off his garden for decades. Over the years, he has also given tours of his orchards and gardens to groups that sometimes range to over 400 people.

When Paul first moved to Washinton, he struggled to make plants grow in the heavy clay soil. However, he slowly started modifying his techniques to mimic the ways plants grow in the natural world with much more success.

This achievement made Paul the star in the popular film Back to Eden, which has been viewed online over 50 million times. The film shares Paul’s lifelong journey as a gardener, his relationship with God, and the simple, sustainable growing methods he incorporates into his garden to achieve impressive results. Through this film, you can gain inspiration from the life of a man who has devoted himself to organic growing and better understand what you can do to your own garden to increase yields simply and sustainably.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Ron Finley

#9 – Ron Finley
Los Angeles’s ‘Gangsta Gardener’

A lifelong South Los Angeles resident, Ron Finley knew firsthand what the consequences of living in a food desert were when he set out to make a change for his community. Today, Ron is working to create urban food forests that can provide food to urban residents.

In 2010, Ron planted a small garden in a dirt strip near his home and started giving away the produce it delivered to his neighbors. Despite the value he was adding to the neighborhood food system, Ron was cited by the City of Los Angeles for illegally using the city’s property. Rather than let the government shut down his garden, Ron fought back with other green activists and demanded the right to grow food in his neighborhood. The city eventually backed off, and Ron has been expanding his operation to the surrounding communities ever since.

Thanks to his popular TED talk, Ron’s mission gained mainstream attention, and today he is supported by a team that knows him as the ‘Gangsta Gardener.’ Together, they are working to turn Los Angeles into a place where communities come together to create gardens and kids can grow up with more options for healthy food, sustainably grown food.

 Sustainable Farming Changemaker Justin Rohner

#10 – Justin Rohner
Founder, Agriscaping Technologies

If Justin Rohner has his way, every family will be able to step outside into a beautiful, easy-to-maintain yard and harvest dinner from “edible, elegant landscaping.” Rohner has dubbed this new perspective on landscaping “agriscaping,” defined as “what you get when you bring together the best of ornamental landscaping and the best of productive agriculture.”

The co-founder and CEO of Agriscaping Technologies, Rohner works with homeowners to help them discover their yards’ microclimates, choose the right plant for the right place, determine how much space they’ll need to cultivate to feed their families, and evaluate their properties’ water-harvesting potential. Clients who want further help can hire the company to create and maintain a beautiful, food-producing landscape.

A believer in using the power of technology to advance the synergistic principles of self-reliance and sustainable food, Rohner is leading the development of MyAgriscapePro, a mobile app that will serve as a virtual mentor for those interested in DIYing an edible landscape in their own backyards.

In addition to his work with Agriscaping, Rohner is a founding partner of Astonishing Families International and has created several other products and programs. In 2014, he was named one of Arizona’s Top 35 Entrepreneurs Under 35.

 Sustainable farming changemaker - Allan Savory

#11 – Allan Savory
Rotational Grazing Pioneer

Born in Zimbabwe, Allan Savory has long held a passion for managing ecosystems. He studied botany and zoology in South Africa and pursued a career as a research biologist. In the 1960s, Allan had a breakthrough about the cause of deforestation around the globe when he realized how important grazing animals were for preserving the African Savannahs. These observations led him to the conclusion that rotationally graving cattle on degraded land could improve grasslands and keep desertification at bay while promoting a more sustainable food source than tilling up soil to plant crops.

In 2003, he was the recipient of Australia’s International Banksia Award “for the person or organization doing the most for the environment on a global scale.” A TED talk he gave in 2013 has since gotten over 3.4 million views, earning it recognition as one of the top fifty most intriguing TED talks of all time.

Though his views on increasing cattle around the globe have been controversial, Allan Savory’s organization continues to promote the idea that bunching and moving livestock in ways that mimic nature is good for the environment. Savory’s book, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision-Making is a record to his effort to find ways for regular people to find the means to combat the ecological damage of the modern age by implementing strategies that mimic how nature naturally works.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Maheswar Khillar

#12 – Maheswar Khillar
Rooftop Gardener Inspiring His Indian Neighborhood

Mahesward Khillar is a retired OAS officer in India who is making rooftop gardening trendy in his community. His love of homegrown vegetables inspired him to start producing his own, despite severe space limitations. He has maintained his impressively diverse rooftop garden for the past 25 years and has inspired others around him to do the same.

Though Mahesward has been interested in plants since he was a kid, his house in Bhubaneswar had no space for anything but potted plants on the roof. Not one to back away from a challenge, he gradually began experimenting with putting different plants and fruit trees on the rooftop. Now, his collection has taken over the entire roof and takes him roughly three hours each day to maintain. The produce he grows regularly winds up in the meals that his wife cooks and the excess is often given to local friends that appreciate the ability to eat food that hasn’t been tainted with synthetic chemicals.

Now, roughly 300 other families in the region have been inspired enough by Mahesward’s rooftop garden to start their own, making him the leader of a gardening movement in his community that shows no sign of slowing down.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Echo International

#13 – Echo International
Development Hub for Sustainable Agriculture

For the world’s most at risk-farming communities, surviving the crisis of climate change will come down to cultivating robust seed varieties, utilizing appropriate technology, and having the knowledge to implement it- three missions that ECHO has taken to heart for decades.

ECHO is an information hub for development practitioners that strives to find agricultural solutions to feed the world’s most vulnerable populations. ECHO maintains a demonstration farm in southern Florida as well as retreats for development organizers and an annual conference on sustainable farming for impoverished communities.

The organization began in the early 1970s when Indiana businessman Richard Dugger took a group of high school students to Haiti and saw firsthand how difficult farming could be for people in developing countries. ECHO (Educational Concerns for Haiti Organization) was formed to address the problem, and since then ECHO has grown its involvement to include countries throughout Central America, Africa, and Asia.

Today, the organization operates as an experimental farm for low-tech agricultural solutions and as a pipeline for sharing information, ideas, methods, techniques and even seeds that have potential to lessen the impacts of world hunger.

Sustainable farming changemaker - Biodiversity International

#14 – Bioversity International
Supporting Farmers In Developing Countries

Bioversity International is a global research and development organization that strives to support smallholder farmers in developing countries. The organization provides resources for sustainable agriculture techniques that improve harvests while promoting resource conservation around the planet.

By partnering with low-income countries, the organization is working from the soil up to improve agricultural sustainability and global food security for the world’s most vulnerable populations. The organization works to deliver scientific evidence and policy options that fit the unique conditions of each community to ensure that farmers have the resources they need to make improvements that increase their yields and profit margins.

In this way, Bioversity farmers are taught techniques for harvesting and using rainwater, creating on-farm fertility and rotational grazing techniques that enhance pastureland. The program specifically works to improve the range of appropriate technology options in regions where large-scale agriculture isn’t possible.

Want To Meet Even MORE Changemakers…? 

Want to spend more time learning from and supporting the work of Changemakers?   Consider becoming a member of The Grow Network here. 

And stay tuned… because this article is #1 of 4 in this series, highlighting the important work of Changemakers from around the world.

(This article was originally published September 11, 2017.)

The post Meet The Changemakers: 14 People Inspiring & Leading Change In Sustainable Farming appeared first on The Grow Network.

Meet the Changemakers: 11 Leaders in Permaculture and Sustainable Living

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How much damage does tilling up farm fields really cause? A lot, it turns out. American farms are losing 30 soccer fields’ worth of topsoil every minute,1 and the global food system is careening toward a resource shortage that may lead to dire consequences in the coming decades.

However, losing soil’s natural fertility is hardly inevitable.

Throughout the world, thousands of farmers and gardening enthusiasts are experimenting with better ways to use land — ways that conserve and restore natural resources like water and fertility in a manner that mimics nature’s design. Often falling under the category of “permaculture,” these strategies strive to create farm systems that are both sustainable and self-sufficient (no tilling required).

For this list, we’ve highlighted 11 changemakers working to promote sustainability in the food system. Some are permaculture experts, others are gardeners, educators, and even podcast hosts. Regardless of the specifics, we believe that every person on this list will inspire you to think differently about what the world’s food future could look like.

Sustainable Living Changemaker David Goodman

#1 – David Goodman
Author and Blogger

The author of five books and the force behind the daily blog, David Goodman (known as “David the Good”) is a permaculture enthusiast and an educator on all topics concerning gardening and sustainable living.

Goodman learned the specifics behind traditional farming at an early age on his family’s farm and discovered his passion for permaculture while living in Florida. However, after several years he realized that he wanted to experiment with permaculture techniques that went beyond Florida’s ecosystem, so he moved farther south.

He and his wife now live at an undisclosed location near the equator, where he continues to publish content on his blog and YouTube channel that draws on his 30 years of growing experience. You can also find his content at other places across the Internet, including Mother Earth News, Heirloom Gardening magazine,, and right here at the Grow Network!

When he’s not experimenting with better ways to grow food, Goodman spends his time painting and making music.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Paul Wheaton

#2 – Paul Wheaton

Wheaton is a certified master gardener and permaculture designer as well as a hügelkultur enthusiast. Considered by some to be the “Duke of Permaculture,” Wheaton strives to make sustainable living both straightforward and attainable for people around the globe. He is also the founder of, the largest permaculture forum on the Internet today. There, he provides members with detailed information about the principles of permaculture through comprehensive guides, articles, and question-and-answer sessions.

Though his passion for plants is evident from his website, Wheaton actually began his professional life as a software engineer. His prior knowledge of coding and design were essential to his forum becoming a success, and he has used his technological expertise to draw attention to numerous other permaculture experts over the years. You can connect with him through the forum, on his YouTube channel, and often through personal workshops on his own property in Western Montana.

Recently, Wheaton has been experimenting with rocket mass heaters and developing his own designs for a semi-underground natural building technique that he calls “wofati.”

Sustainable Living Changemaker Jerome Osentowski

#3 – Jerome Osentowski
Founder, Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute

By common consensus, Jerome Osentowski is considered one of the most accomplished permaculture designers in North America today. Known as a forager and sustainable design enthusiast, Osentowski grew up in Nebraska but now maintains a passive solar house in Colorado.

A permaculture designer for over 30 years, Osentowski founded the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, where he successfully farms at more than 7,000 feet above sea level. His permaculture specialty is greenhouses, and he maintains an acre of intensively cultivated indoor and outdoor forest gardens, as well as a plant nursery. These gardens are the foundation of his permaculture courses, which are the longest-running in the world.

Osentowski’s greenhouse designs range from homesteader-friendly to high-budget commercial systems. However, regardless of size, they all rely on ecological principles to trap heat and regulate interior conditions in order to encourage the best possible plant growth. His book, The Forest Garden Greenhouse, presents the principles he uses to bring forest gardening indoors through zero-energy techniques and permaculture design.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Geoff Lawton

#4 – Geoff Lawton
Managing Director, Permaculture Research Institute

Renowned permaculture designer Geoff Lawton has spent thousands of hours teaching and consulting about permaculture, as well as implementing self-sustaining building and garden designs around the world.

Taught by the “father of permaculture,” Bill Mollison himself, Lawton has worked in over 50 countries for clients ranging from private individuals and community centers to governments and multinational companies. He has educated over 15,000 permaculture students worldwide, and his designs in Australia won him the Permaculture Community Services Award in 1996.

Throughout the years, Lawton has established demonstration sites for his permaculture techniques that work as sustainable educational centers. Today, he is the managing director of both the Permaculture Research Institute Australia and the Permaculture Research Institute USA. To access some of his training online, visit

Sustainable Living Changemaker Jenny Nazak


#5 – Jenny Nazak
Author, Deep Green

A longtime sustainable farming enthusiast, Jenny Nazak is a permaculture educator, eco-activist, and community organizer. She has made it her mission to help environmentalists improve their effectiveness in “walking the talk” of personal sustainability without compromising the benefits of financial security, health, free time, and inner peace in the process.

Nazak’s passion for permaculture started in childhood during long walks outdoors, and was furthered during the time she spent in other countries that incorporated sustainable design into their infrastructure. Inspired to make a change in her home country of America, Nazak took permaculture classes in 2005.

Today, she heads up the Austin, TX, Permaculture Guild and offers workshops, presentations, and consulting that help small businesses find innovative ways to incorporate permaculture principles into their practices. Her first book, DEEP GREEN, was published in August 2017.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Jack Spirko

Source: http://www.thesurvivalpodcast .com/

#6 – Jack Spirko
Host, The Survival Podcast

Jack Spirko is the founder and host of The Survival Podcast, a daily online audio show about self-reliance, disaster preparedness, and debt-free living. He is also a passionate follower and teacher of permaculture principles.

Spirko’s career path to podcast host isn’t typical. He spent time in the military and learned technical, marketing, and sales skills as a small business owner afterward. “The Survival Podcast” began in 2008 as informal recordings Spirko made each day during his 55 mile commute to work. Within a year, the show grew from about 2,000 daily listeners to over 15,000, so he developed it into a full-time business.

Today, the show attracts a half million-plus daily listeners and has inspired thousands to improve their self-sufficiency and start taking control of their own lives. The podcast regularly covers topics related to homesteading, personal economics, investing, small business ownership, debt elimination, homeschooling, permaculture, primitive skills, and more.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Matt Powers

Source: permaculture-matt-powers/

#7 – Matt Powers
Author, The Permaculture Student 1 & 2

Matt Powers is a renowned expert in the world of permaculture and regenerative agriculture, and he teaches gardening and farming techniques to families, schools, and adults on every continent besides Antarctica through online courses, videos, and books. His first book, The Permaculture Student 1, has been translated into over a dozen languages and is considered by many to be foundational to an understanding of permaculture.

Despite his success in the world of natural gardening, Powers never set out to be an author or farmer. Instead, as a young adult, he worked as a recording artist and musician in New York City. After his wife lost her thyroid to cancer, the two underwent a major lifestyle change to better understand the role that food played in their physical health and how to eat the best food for their bodies. They turned to local, organic food, but found it hard to source as much as they needed due to the desert conditions in the Sierra Nevadas where they lived. For this reason, they started taking steps to grow their own food sustainably and with minimal inputs.

After learning the basics of permaculture, Powers grew inspired by the philosophy and implemented the techniques in his garden to great effect. Passionate about spreading the knowledge of sustainable agriculture design to as many people as possible, he became a speaker, writer, and podcast producer who presents information about the practical implications of permaculture for farmers and backyard growers alike.

 Sustainable Living Changemaker Tom Elpel

#8 – Tom Elpel
Founder, Green University

A successful author, builder, educator, and conservationist, Elpel credits his grandmother with much of his passion for outdoor living. As he was growing up, the two of them spent hours exploring the hills of Montana looking for arrowheads and evidence of wildlife. During these adventures, Elpel gained an interest in native plants and the ways they could be used, which inspired a passion for nature and survival skills that has stuck with him ever since.

Because of this passion, Elpel founded Green University in Pony, Montana. With a focus on equipping students to answer the world’s big sustainability questions, the university’s programs offer a unique way to connect the dots between wilderness survival, botany, and sustainable living by integrating them into a set of practical skills that students can apply in their daily lives. Students learn how to harvest wild food, make their own clothing, and thrive in survival situations.

In addition to his work with Green University, Elpel is also the founder of the Outdoor Wilderness Living School, an innovative program that educates school groups through immersive wilderness experiences, helping them reconnect with nature. Through his publishing company HOPS Press LLC, Elpel has published numerous books and videos about wilderness survival, nature, and sustainable living.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Brad Lancaster

#9 – Brad Lancaster
Author, Rainwater Harvesting for Dryland and Beyond

Living in a place that gets very little rainfall has helped make Brad Lancaster passionate about harvesting it. The Sonoran Desert that Lancaster and his brother call home gets just 11 inches of rainwater a year, but the two still manage to harvest over 100,000 gallons on their eighth-acre urban lot. They then use this water to tend to their food-bearing shade trees, numerous vegetable gardens, and landscaped rain gardens. In turn, the trees and gardens provide wildlife habitats, natural beauty, medicinal plants, and more.

Hoping to empower people to make the most of the natural resources around them, Lancaster cofounded He also authored the book series Rainwater Harvesting for Dryland and Beyond, which reveals ways that desert dwellers can transform their communities for the better by making the most of the water that’s naturally available. Since 1993, Lancaster has also run a permaculture consulting and design business.

Sustainable Living Changemaker David Blume

Source: http://www.permaculture. com/node/237

#10 – David Blume
Founder, Blume Distillation

The founder of Blume Distillation, David Blume is a permaculture teacher, entrepreneur, and force for social change for the betterment of the environment. Growing up, he worked with his father to grow almost all the food that his family ate, despite the fact that they lived in the middle of urban San Francisco.

Blume put himself through college by teaching summer backpacking and ecology classes, and majored in Ecological Biology at San Francisco State University. In the late 70s, he worked for NASA on experiments with solar-powered sewage treatment plants. He joined the Mother Earth News Eco Village as an expert in alternative building techniques soon after.

After the 1980s energy crisis, Blume began experimenting with alternative fuel sources like ethanol and wrote and hosted the 10-part series Alcohol as Fuel for PBS affiliate KQED. He also wrote the accompanying book, Alcohol Can Be a Gas! However, the information he presented was so inflammatory to oil and gas companies that they threatened to sue PBS unless it pulled the content, and the network caved. Despite these setbacks, Blume has continued to develop Blume Distillation into an ethanol company that promotes the power of sustainable, small-scale fuel production.

Sustainable Living Changemaker Cary Fowler

Source: Cary_Fowler

#11 – Cary Fowler
Founder, Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Cary Fowler is the brainpower behind the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is designed to survive any crisis. Also known as the “doomsday vault,” Svalbard was created to ensure viable post-disaster agriculture through seed diversity. It provides the highest possible security for almost a million unique crop varieties and has been described as an “inspirational symbol of peace and food security” for all humanity.

It was Fowler’s suggestion to create the vault within the Arctic Circle in Norway. He headed the committee that developed it and is the chair of the international council that manages its operations.

The vault was completed in 2008, but Fowler was involved in its planning for decades prior to that. He led the team that created the first global assessment of the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in the early 1990s, and he drafted the first Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The latter eventually led to the creation of the vault. He is also the author of several books, including Shattering: Food, Politics, and the Loss of Genetic Diversity; Unnatural Selection: Technology, Politics, and Plant Evolution; and Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault.

Want To Meet Even MORE Changemakers…? 

Want to spend more time learning from and supporting the work of changemakers? Consider becoming a member of the Grow Network here. 

And, if you missed the previous articles in this series, you can read them using the following links:

  • Read the first article, focused on sustainable farming, here.
  • Read the second article, about changemakers in natural health, here.
  • And read the third article, about female changemakers, here.

Then, would you let us know if we missed someone?

We know these are just a handful of the many, many people making a difference in the areas of sustainable farming, permaculture, and natural health today.

Please leave us a comment to let us know who else you look up to in these areas — whether it’s a big name, a relative, or your next door neighbor! (Because, yes, we have something else up our sleeve — stay tuned! 😉 )

References   [ + ]


The post Meet the Changemakers: 11 Leaders in Permaculture and Sustainable Living appeared first on The Grow Network.

Meet the Changemakers: 14 Women Leading Today’s Natural Food Movement

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The term “Mother” Earth should tell you something: Female power makes the world go ’round. And the natural food movement is no exception. Today, countless women are making it their life’s work to preserve and protect the planet we all call home.

The following list of female changemakers includes just a handful of the many women who are powerful forces of change in the world of gardening, natural health, and sustainability. From starting preschool gardening programs to protecting the rights of small farmers, the women on this list are making our world a better place every day.

Female Changemaker Jacqueline Freeman

#1 – Jacqueline Freeman
Author, Song of Increase

Farmer, author, and beekeeper Jacqueline Freeman is celebrated for her gentle treatment and innate understanding of bees. By striving to understand the world from a bee’s perspective—and sharing this knowledge across the globe—she has taught myriad beekeepers better methods for maintaining their hives.

Freeman lives on a biodynamic farm in Washington, but her work has taken her around the world—including to the Dominican Republic via a USDA program. She was featured in the award-winning honeybee documentary Queen of the Sun.

Her recently published book, Song of Increase: Listening to the Wisdom of Honeybees for Kinder Beekeeping and a Better World, has been translated into numerous languages and can be found on every continent. To connect with Freeman and see videos of her working with thousands of bees without protective clothing, visit her website at

Female Changemaker Patricia Foreman

#2 – Patricia Foreman
Creator, Chickens and You

“Chicken lover” is a term that falls short of truly describing Patricia Foreman. An author focusing on sustainable agriculture, Foreman is also a local foods activist and speaker. In fact, she and her famous chicken, Oprah Hen-Free, are renowned for giving presentations about raising poultry across the country.

Foreman’s love of chickens has led her to maintain her own flock of broilers, layers, turkeys, and more for over 25 years. She also cohosted the Chicken Whisperer talk show for several years, and her interviews were often featured on NPR and CBS.

Eager to help new chicken owners gain support for their flocks, Patricia has developed a Chickens and You training series that culminates in a Master Backyard Chicken Keeper Certificate. She is also the author of City Chicks and the coauthor of several other chicken-themed publications. You can find her online at

Female Changemaker Stacey Murphy

#3 – Stacey Murphy
Founder, BK Farmyards

Stacey Murphy is the founder and force behind BK Farmyards, an urban farm in Brooklyn dedicated to promoting work opportunities and social justice for urban teens and young adults. Working two acres of property altogether, BK Farmyards maintains a CSA, offers a Backyard Farmer Training Program, and provides educational space where thousands of beginning gardeners have learned to grow, harvest, and cook with homegrown food.

A former engineer and architect, Murphy’s most thrilled about what she’s building now: a generation of kids who are excited about growing food and learning about herbal medicine. Beyond working directly in the dirt, Murphy has written children’s books, including the Amazon bestseller My Dinosaur Ate My Broccoli. Thanks to her impact, Stacy has been featured on PBS, Martha Stewart Radio, and the David Letterman show.

Female Changemaker Stephanie Syson

#4 – Stephanie Syson
Founder, Biodynamic Botanicals

Sustainable agriculture has always been Stephanie Syson’s passion, and she spent years working directly in the dirt growing botanical herbs for food and medicine. After more than 10 years of herb-growing experience, Syson drew on her extensive knowledge of herbs to create Dynamic Roots, an herbal medicine product line.

A Certified Permaculture Designer and an educator about greenhouse management, permaculture, seed saving, and herbalism, Syson is also a lead grower of the herbs she sells through her company Biodynamic Botanicals, a Demeter-certified herb farm at high altitude in Colorado.

When she’s not growing herbs or running her businesses, Syson helps others learn about herbal medicine and sustainable agriculture and apply the benefits of both to their daily lives.

Female Changemaker Marjory Wildcraft

#5 – Marjory Wildcraft
Founder, The Grow Network

Though some have called her “the most dangerous woman in America,” Marjory Wildcraft’s goal for world domination is simple: She wants the world to free itself from dependency on supermarkets and drugstores.

The founder of the Grow Network, Wildcraft has helped people around the world realize that they can find food beyond the grocery store—namely, in their own backyards! The Grow Network is an online global gathering of people who produce their own food and medicine, and Wildcraft helps facilitate the conversation.

Through the Grow Network, Marjory inspires people to self-sufficiency by growing their own food and is famous for promoting techniques that provide ways to grow half your food in less than an hour a day in a small backyard garden. You can find her online at the Grow Network.

Female Changemaker Jeannette Beranger

#6 – Jeannette Beranger
Author, An Introduction to Heritage Breeds

Animals have always been Jeannette Beranger’s passion, so working for the Livestock Conservancy was a natural fit. Today, Beranger is the Conservancy’s Senior Program Manager and uses her position to help implement livestock conservation programs by conducting field research and advising farmers about the best ways to utilize the unique benefits of heritage breeds.

Relying on over 30 years of experience working with heritage livestock, Beranger helped author the bestseller An Introduction to Heritage Breeds: Saving and Raising Rare-Breed Livestock and Poultry and maintains a heritage chicken and horse farm at home. Recently, Country Woman magazine honored Beranger’s conservancy work by including her on its list of “45 Amazing Country Women.

Female Changemaker Machaelle Small-Wright

#7 – Machaelle Small-Wright
Founder, Perelandra Center for Nature Research

As a teacher, writer, and passionate proponent of the environment, Machaelle Small-Wright is the co-founder of Perelandra, a nature research center in rural Virginia. The center was founded in 1976 and is focused on fostering healthy relationships between visitors and nature.

Perelandra is a space for anyone who wants to gain more control over their health and the environment by learning about the power of the individual. For this reason, the center teaches visitors how to live in harmony with nature in three areas: the environment, health, and  the cultivation of “soil-less gardens” like businesses, homes, and creative projects.

Small-Wright is also the author of multiple books, including Behaving as if the God in All Life Mattered and Perelandra Garden Workbook I & II—A Complete Guide To Gardening With Nature Intelligences.

Female Changemaker Judith McGeary

#8 – Judith McGeary
Founder, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance

As a child, Judith McGeary was a passionate horse rider and loved participating in mock trials in school. So it’s hardly surprising that she grew up to be an attorney, environmental activist, and sustainable livestock farmer in Texas.

Throughout her law practice, McGeary repeatedly watched as government regulations were proposed that were designed to benefit industrial agriculture at the cost of small family farmers. To help small farms retain their rights, McGeary founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to aid the promotion and legislature of common sense policies for diversified farm systems.

Thanks to her work, McGeary has been featured in the magazines Texas Observer and Edible Austin, in the food documentary Farmageddon, as well as on radio shows across the country.

Female Changemaker Carol Deppe

#9 – Carol Deppe, PhD
Founder, Fertile Valley Seeds

Getting a PhD in biology was only the beginning of Carol Deppe’s career as a plant enthusiast. As the founder and owner of Fertile Valley Seeds (FVS), Deppe is passionate about developing and distributing organic gardening seeds that have exceptional flavor and can grow well in a variety of climates.

Seeds from FVS stand out because they are open source, meaning that a patent doesn’t restrict who has access to them. Deppe believes that the best seed varieties should be available to everyone, and FVS operates with this philosophy.

Deppe is also the author of several books about organic gardening. Her popular titles include Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener’s and Farmer’s Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, and The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity. You can find her online at

Female Changemaker Nicole Telkes

#10 – Nicole Telkes
Founder, Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine

Nicole Telkes is an herbal enthusiast and member of the American Herbalists Guild. She attributes her love of herbalism and wildcrafts to her maternal grandmother, an herbalist and avid mushroom and berry forager. From her, Telkes learned how to walk through the woods and observe the potential of the plants she saw around her.

She uses her extensive knowledge of ecology, biology, and herbal medicine to educate people about the use of wild herbs and responsible harvesting strategies. For the last 20 years, she has traveled throughout different regions in North America studying and experimenting with native plants.

Author of Medicinal Plants of TexasA Guide to Locating, Growing, Harvesting, and Using Plants in Texas and the Deep South, Telkes is the founder of the Austin-based Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, which also offers online classes. Since 2003, she has lived on an eight-acre botanical sanctuary in Central Texas.

Female Changemaker Vandana Shiva


#11 – Vandana Shiva, PhD
Founder, the Research Foundation for
Science, Technology, and Ecology

The power behind the non-GMO movement in India, Vandana Shiva, PhD, is a whirlwind of intelligence and a force of inspiration for encouraging sustainable agriculture around the world. Shiva trained as a physicist at the University of Punjab and earned her PhD in quantum theory in Canada. Since then, she has shifted her interests toward science and environmental policy, which she teaches at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India.

Founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology, Shiva is known throughout the world for her courageous activism and support of rural peasant farmers throughout South Asia. Upset about the impacts of genetic engineering on farmers who can’t afford to pay for patented seeds each year, Shiva worked to support the propagation of heirloom seeds that are genetically suited to the region in which they were developed. Her work has made major contributions to the growing field of intellectual property rights and biotechnology.

Shiva is the author of numerous books about the importance of sustainable agriculture, including The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics; Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversty and Biotechnology; Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge; Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; and more.

Female Changemaker Elaine Ingham

Source: portfolio-items/dr-elaine-ingham/

#12 – Elaine Ingham, PhD
Founder, Soil Foodweb

A world-renowned soil microbiologist, Elaine Ingham, PhD, has focused on soil health for the past 30 years. She has worked with everyone from produce farmers to livestock grazers to help them understand what their soil needs to function better.

Ingham is the founder and president of Soil Foodweb, an international laboratory dedicated to assessing bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and other soil dwellers in order to understand which ratios make for the best agricultural land. The organization’s website provides information to help farmers understand the quality of their soil and grow the most resilient crops for their soil conditions.

The focus of Ingham’s work is to return the soil to full health through natural nutrient cycling, disease suppression, and other restoration techniques. She leads workshops and seminars about her findings, and her engaging, easy-to-understand presentation style has inspired countless gardeners and farmers to make the health of their soil the first priority for their fields.

Female Changemaker Ruth Stout

Source: http://allthedirtongardening.blogspot. com/2015/05/ruth-stout-original-naked-gardener.html

#13 – Ruth Stout
Author, How to Have a Green Thumb
Without an Aching Back

Though deceased, Ruth Stout was an American author whose “no work” gardening books and techniques are still popular today.

Though Stout was in her mid-40s before she planted her first garden, she quickly made up for lost time. During her first few seasons, Stout attempted to follow conventional techniques but found them lacking because she always had to wait for men to plow her field before she could start. Sick of wasting so much time during her already short growing seasons, Stout began experimenting with simply sticking seeds in the ground to see what would happen. When she found that her plants flourished, Stout found that she had stumbled upon an effective no-till gardening strategy.

Over the years, Stout refined her technique and eventually adopted a year-round mulching system that eliminated almost all the labor involved with traditional gardening methods. This minimalist style of cultivation proved inspiring for gardeners everywhere, and Stout published several books as well as multiyear article series in Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine.

Female Changemaker Rosemary Gladstar


#14 – Rosemary Gladstar
Founder, United Plant Savers

Like many herbalists, Rosemary Gladstar’s passion for plants began in early childhood. After she completed a middle school project on native medicinal plants in her region of Sonoma County, she was hooked for life. In her early 20s, Rosemary went on a months-long horseback riding trip with her toddler and friend to Canada. Throughout the journey, the trio relied on native plants for dinner most nights, which only enhanced Rosemary’s passion for how beneficial the plants could be to her health.

To help protect them, Rosemary founded the California School of Herbal Studies, the first herbal school in California, and Sage Mountain Herbals in Vermont. She also founded United Plant Savers, an organization dedicated to protecting native medicinal plants in the United States and Canada by preserving their native habitats and educating people about their benefits. Today, United Plant Savers has chapters around the country that are filled with passionate herbalists working to protect at-risk populations of native medicinal plants.

Rosemary is also the author of several books about herbalism, including Herbal Healing for WomenHerbs for Natural BeautyHerbs for the Home Medicine ChestHerbal Recipes for Vibrant Health and Planting the Future: Saving Our Medicinal Herbs.

Want To Meet Even MORE Changemakers…? 

Want to spend more time learning from and supporting the work of changemakers? Consider becoming a member of the Grow Network here. 

And stay tuned … because this article is No. 3 of 4 in this series, highlighting the important work of changemakers from around the world.

(Miss the previous articles in this series? Read the first article, focused on sustainable farming, here, and the second article, about changemakers in natural health, here.)

The post Meet the Changemakers: 14 Women Leading Today’s Natural Food Movement appeared first on The Grow Network.

Meet the Changemakers: 11 People Inspiring and Leading Change in Natural Health

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What does it take to make a permanent improvement in your health? For the 11 changemakers on this list, it involved questioning the promises of conventional medicine and turning instead to the ancient wisdom of deep nutrition and herbal medicine.

Their stories may all be different, but every individual on this list is leaving a mark on the field of natural wellness and finding ways to improve the health of those around them. Hundreds more could be included here, but for now, we are celebrating the achievements of these 11 changemakers and their work providing strategies that lead to long-lasting health.

Natural Health Changemaker Mike Adams

Changemaker #1 – Mike Adams

Illness often inspires major lifestyle changes, and Mike Adam’s bout with type 2 diabetes was no exception. After his diagnosis, Adams threw himself into detailed research on nutrition, wellness programs, and even pharmaceutical drugs to understand the best ways to improve his health.

Throughout his extensive research, he noticed a common theme. Almost all diseases could be prevented, treated, and cured without invasive drugs or surgery. Rather, the solution was a deeply nutritious diet. Adams began improving his diet, and in a matter of months he had cured his diabetes and improved his overall health.

Eager to inspire others with his research, he founded, one of the most popular natural health websites today. Through this site, Adams provides well-researched information to his readers about the dangerous heavy metals, hormone disruptors, and synthetic chemicals in food, beauty products, children’s toys, and other ordinary household objects. presents alternatives to these products, as well as information about holistic wellness, natural gardening techniques, consciousness and spirituality, and nutrition.

Through this website and others that he’s founded, Adams is advancing a greater awareness of modern health risks and encouraging people around the world to regain control of their health.

Natural Health Changemaker Dr. Patrick Jones

Changemaker #2 – Patrick Jones
Veterinarian; Traditional Naturopath; Founder, HomeGrown Herbalist LLC

While the world is filled with plant lovers and animal lovers, Dr. Patrick Jones is an individual who loves both. A practicing veterinarian, clinical herbalist, and traditional naturopath, Jones has made a career out of using the power of plants to promote health for both his human and animal patients.

He founded HomeGrown Herbalist LLC with an aim to help others improve their health through botanical medicine. Today, Jones leads workshops, herb walks, and lectures that teach people how to take natural remedies beyond the theoretical to the practical.

And he practices what he preaches. On his two-acre property, Jones grows more than 100 different medicinal plants that he uses in his practice and workshops.

Through his pioneering medical work, Jones has used herbs to bring health and healing to his patients—and a broader public awareness of the power of plant medicine.

Natural Health Changemaker Sam Coffman

Changemaker #3 – Sam Coffman
Founder, The Human Path; Author, The Herbal Medic

Though he owes much of his medical education to his service as a medic with the U.S. Special Forces, Sam Coffman’s passion for herbalism goes beyond active duty. Traveling through remote areas with minimal medical supplies taught him firsthand the value of recognizing and using whatever healing herbs and wild plants might be available at that moment.

Since leaving the military, Sam has worked as a clinical herbalist for more than 15 years and is registered with the American Herbalist Guild. Through thousands of clinical hours, he has learned to integrate herbs with more standard medical methods for optimal success.

Today, Sam runs The Human Path, the survival and herbalism school he founded in Central Texas. He is also the author of The Herbal Medic.

Natural Health Changemaker Susun Weed

Changemaker #4 – Susun Weed
Founder, the Wise Woman Center; Author, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year

Though she never finished high school or graduated from college, Susun Weed has been a force in education for decades. While living in Manhattan in 1965, Weed discovered the field of herbalism. She has been passionate about it ever since. Her first book, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, has been in print since its first publication in 1985. Her other books also focus on the role of herbalism in women’s health, particularly pertaining to menopause and breast health.

In addition to being an author, Weed works with women directly through training apprenticeships and correspondence courses at the Wise Woman Center in New York. Weed also utilizes her knowledge of wild plants in her role as a Peace Elder, a High Priestess of Dianic Wicca, and a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields. You can regularly find her on BlogTalkRadio and National Public Radio, as well as through her personal website at

Natural Health Changemaker Ocean Robbins


Changemaker #5 – Ocean Robbins
Founder, Food Revolution Network

As the grandson of the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, it’s hardly surprising that Ocean Robbins has dedicated his adult life to food. However, the path he’s taken is anything but typical. His father rejected the family ice cream business and the consumerism that came with it in his 20s, meaning that Robbins was born in a one-room cabin and grew up producing his own food, practicing yoga, and living on less than $500 a year.

Despite this intentionally simple lifestyle, he demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit early on and sought opportunities to reach out to his generation, even as a child. At 16, he founded Yes!, a youth social change organization he directed for the next two decades. Today, Yes! offers conferences and workshops in over 65 countries.

In 2012, Robbins founded the Food Revolution Network, an organization focused on improving access to healthy, sustainably grown food across the globe. The international network now has over 500,000 members.

Today, his blog reaches millions each month, and Robbins is actively organizing webinars, workshops, and classes around the country to reach millions more. His books, The Power of Partnership and Voices of a Food Revolution, are national bestsellers.

Natural Health Changemaker Rob Greenfield


Changemaker #6 – Rob Greenfield
Founder, The Food Waste Fiasco Campaign

While 50 million Americans are food insecure, close to half of the food in the country is tossed in the trash. Adventurer, environmental activist, and food enthusiast Rob Greenfield is working to change that.

Greenfield is the founder and creator of The Food Waste Fiasco, a campaign that seeks to end hunger in the United States. Throughout the campaign, he has recovered food from over two thousand dumpsters to show just how much food is wasted each day in America.

Although he’s had a passion for outdoor living since childhood, it wasn’t until he was 24 years old that Greenfield realized how threatened the natural environment was. Today, he is famous for taking bike trips across the country carrying nothing but what fits in a backpack.

All of the media income Greenfield earns is donated directly to nonprofits, ensuring that he puts his resources to the best possible use.

By challenging the modern definition of happiness and by drawing attention to the waste inherent in the American food system, he hopes to inspire millions of people to make better choices for the good of the planet.

Natural Health Changemaker Nick Polizzi


Changemaker #7 – Nick Polizzi
Film Director

Nick Polizzi is a passionate proponent of natural alternatives to conventional medicine. His life’s work so far has been creating feature-length documentaries that highlight the positive potential of plant-based medicine for treating the world’s common diseases. Nick is currently directing The Sacred Science, a film that calls viewers to honor, preserve, and protect traditional medicinal knowledge from indigenous people groups around the world.

The inspiration for the film came when a group of chronically ill people from the Western world abandoned their standard medical treatments to investigate the effectiveness of traditional Peruvian medicine instead. The positive health results they experienced convinced Nick’s film team to explore the greater implications of this traditional medicine. The film provides the most in-depth look at these forms of medicine to date—and documents them before they are forgotten forever.

Natural Health Changemaker Doug Simons

Changemaker #8 – Doug Simons
Founder, Chanchka Remedios

Doug Simons’ lifelong attraction to principles of sustainability and native plants began when he was 11 years old. Aided by his mother, Simons learned about the plant species throughout his region of Colorado. As an adult, his travels took him through the Western United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, and he studied the traditional medical techniques of indigenous cultures along the way.

For more than 20 years, Simons lived primitively in the Sonoran Desert and Gila Wilderness in southern New Mexico. Only in the past few years has he rejoined society to share his wilderness experiences with others.

Simons’ organization, Chanchka Remedios, offers workshops throughout the American Southwest that range in length from one to three days. Through daylong herb hikes and in-depth lessons, students learn about medicinal plants and benefit from Simons’ extensive personal experience and engaging personality. He encourages his students to connect deeply with each plant through taste, touch, and smell.

Simons’ video set Treating Infections Without Antibiotics teaches viewers how to take care of wounds, snake bites, and other injuries in the wilderness using the power of the plants around them.

Natural Health Changemakers Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons


Changemaker #9 – Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons
Founders, Bioneers

When Kenny Ausubel was 19 years old, he woke up one morning completely paralyzed on his left side. Multiple doctors couldn’t explain his condition, so Ausubel began to research alternative medicine. Eventually, he discovered that his symptoms were caused by overexposure to the toxic environmental pollutant dioxin. Understandably alarmed, Ausubel committed himself to finding less dangerous ways for the modern world to operate.

That experience eventually led Ausubel and his wife, Nina Simons, to found Bioneers in 1990. Fueled by the belief that enduring changes for environmental sustainability begin at the community level, the nonprofit operates as a hub for social and scientific innovators, encouraging collaboration as they work together to solve the world’s most dire environmental problems. A renowned annual conference of the same name reaches millions of people around the world through radio and the Internet.

Natural Health Changemaker Kami McBride

Changemaker #10 – Kami McBride
Creator, Herbal Kitchen Remedy Solutions

Kami McBride went on her first herb walk as an 8 year old at summer camp, and she hasn’t stopped since. A health concern in her teens turned her toward the potential of plants for promoting health, and today McBride is the creator of Herbal Kitchen Remedy Solutions. This online course teaches the foundations of herbal medicine and ways to maintain an herb garden for self-care and illness prevention.

McBride gained her herbal certification as a Clinical Herbalist from the Southwest School of Botanical Studies and has worked over the past 25 years to help thousands of patients apply the benefits of herbal medicine to their own lives. She has also developed and taught an herbal curriculum in the Alternative Medicine department at the University of California.

McBride’s book, The Herbal Kitchen, demonstrates ways that you can put common herbs to use in a variety of culinary dishes for health and flavor.

Natural Health Changemaker Katrina Blair

Changemaker #11 – Katrina Blair
Founder, Turtle Lake Refuge

Wild plants have fascinated Katrina Blair since her childhood, and a summer spent in the wilderness as a teenager found her foraging much of her diet. Unsurprisingly, this multimonth walkabout inspired her later career as a native plant educator.

In 1998, Katrina founded Turtle Lake Refuge, an educational nonprofit that celebrates the connections between human health and wild spaces. Today, she is a wild-foods advocate, gardener, community activist, chef, and teacher who presents internationally about the health benefits of foraging wild foods. Katrina has also authored a self-published cookbook titled Local Wild Life: Turtle Lake Refuge’s Recipes for Living Deep.

Her second book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, discusses the importance of wild spaces in the world today and what we can learn from them in an age of overwhelming technology. It is designed to help people from any part of the country identify the nutritious weeds around them so that they never need to go hungry in a true survival situation.


Want To Meet Even MORE Changemakers…? 

Want to spend more time learning from and supporting the work of Changemakers? Consider becoming a member of The Grow Network here. 

And stay tuned … because this article is No. 2 of 4 in this series, highlighting the important work of Changemakers from around the world.

(Did you miss article No. 1 in this series?   You can read it here now!)

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