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LIV: Welcome, everybody.
I'm Liv. I'm a cook here.
And I'm just honored today to be here with John Jeavons and
to introduce him to you.
If you care anything about what your food tastes like, if
you've dug a fork into food, you really care about digging
a fork into the Earth.
And that's my whole connection to all of this.
You care about not just the quality of food, but whether
food is going to feed everybody on this planet,
which is one of the main questions we have to answer
these days--
enough food, enough nutritious food for everybody.
When I was assigned to China as a reporter a few years ago,
for me, the most heartbreaking thing I saw was in the
countryside to see these dense concentrations of farmers who
were asked to leave the land that they had farmed for
generations and put in densely populated living conditions no
longer close to their land because
land was that precious.
And the government wanted to develop it.
And here, I saw people who knew the art of farming--
and it is indeed an art, growing food
and growing it well--
who had been through chemical industrial farming who were
told that some of the land that they farm was now too
toxic, over-fertilized, and over-chemicalized for them to
do any more, but who still in their genes and just one
generation back knew how to grow food in mainly a
sustainable way.
And to me, I brought that home with me.
And to me, it's the overriding question for this age
and for all of us.
So from the time I was an immigrant that arrived in this
country, I'd heard about double digging.
I'd heard about biointensive.
And today, for me to meet John and realize that he is this
complete visionary who isn't just a farmer, but is thinking
about food for all of us and for the future of this planet
is indeed an honor.
So please welcome John.
JOHN JEAVONS: Thank you, Liv. Take the
lights down on the screen.
They got me lit.
Before we begin, I'd like to make one
reflection to set the tone.
What Liz said about China in some way reminded me of it.
In 1995, we had an intern come and train with us in Northern
California for six months.
And he shared with me that the cost of farmable soil in
Monterey, Mexico, was $4 a pound.
Do you realize that gasoline only costs $50 a pound
currently at the pump?
Oh, there we go again.
We're going to have to redo this one.
Do you realize that in Monterey, Mexico, that
farmable soil, if you go to purchase it, costs $4 a pound,
where gasoline at the pumps today costs $0.50 a pound.
So they have their priorities right.
They realize the preciousness of the soil.
And they realize that the soil is worth eight times gasoline.
That's really hard to wrap our minds around, I think.
Even for me, it is, and I've been working
with this for 41 years.
So now let's go and look at our presentation for today,
Food for the Future Now.
To know, challenge, and hope.
To feel, relieved and empowered.
And to do, act where you are.
Creating a new and better world.
Creating a new and better world.
This is going to be the only thing we need to focus on.
The joy of the process, it's really a lot of fun.
You can see the happiness in my daughter's face.
And even manual food-raising, which is really
skill-intensive, not
work-intensive, is a lot of fun.
The Earth needs our help now.
You probably know that already.
But this is literally the Earth that's underneath our
feet needs our help right now.
Let's grow soil.
It's not about farming it.
It's about growing it.
Every time we eat a pound of food grown with regular
food-raising practices, an average of 6 pounds in the
United States, 12 pounds in developing countries, where
90% of the world's people live, and 18 pounds in China,
where 20% of the world's people live, and 24 pounds of
farmable soil in California are lost due to wind and water
erosion because of the types of practices being used.
In contrast, over here on the right, you can see
Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming has the capacity
to build, to grow, to create up to 20 pounds of farmable
soil per pound of food eaten--
not deplete 6 to 24 pounds per pound of food eaten, but to
build up to 20 pounds of farmable soil, soil we need to
feed people.
I don't think anyone realizes the number of people that are
born each day, really.
It's 216,000 people net.
That's births less deaths.
It's like Motel 6, and the light's on all the time.
This is enough to repopulate San
Francisco every three days.
Costa Rica every 17.
Mexico City, the second largest city in the world, 3.5
times a year.
And Beijing, China, 8.6 times a year.
What does this mean?
It means--
and this is even more important than those
population statistics--
it means that 34,000 additional acres of farmable
soil need to be found or built daily to feed these people.
It's not happening.
It's probable that organic farming indirectly results in
the loss of three to five and a quarter pounds of farmable
soil per pound of food eaten because of the needs of inputs
in the form of compost, manure, and organic fertilizer
which are taken from other soils.
So we may have our perfect organic farm.
But we're depleting a soil somewhere else
in order to do it.
We don't need to.
But the pattern we're using now does.
Organic farming is a good start.
It's a great start.
It's a major positive step towards more sustainable
Yet, we need to take at least three
more major steps forward.
We need to go beyond organic.
The planet is becoming increasingly urbanized.
Something that's incredible is India's already 91% urban,
China 90% urban.
That's 40% of the world's
population virtually urbanized.
One of the results of this urbanization is that we're
losing our farming literacy.
We don't really know how to farm.
As a result of all these factors, agriculture, as it
is, population growth, the loss of our farming skill
base, most of the world's soils have become
significantly demineralized, compacted, and contain little
organic matter unless all these
elements have been imported.
This isn't a pretty picture.
Though, I think the art here is very pretty.
You can make a case that the entire planet may be
desertified in as little as 69 years.
I'm 70 years old.
That's in less time than I've been here on the planet.
| don't know how long you've been here.
But that's a short time.
What to do?
We need to make farming truly sustainable on as much of a
closed system basis as possible.
It is possible.
We need to grow our own organic matter inputs on the
soil we cultivate and recycle all the nutrients--
all the nutrients--
contained in the crops we grow back into the soil.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has
noted that 13 years from now, in the year 2025--
that's soon--
about 2/3 of the world's people, 5 billion people, will
probably not have sufficient water available for food
growing to live a life with reasonable
nutrition if at all.
We don't have to wait for 2025 for that to happen.
We're going to see that happening in just three years,
the effect of this.
This means a situation of peak water and peak food.
70% to 80% of all the water used by people in the world is
utilized in food production.
There is some hope.
We'll get to that soon.
You can also make a case that as little as 49 years of
farmable soil remains on the Earth.
This is partly because as the soil quality is depleted, the
rate of depletion increases more rapidly.
So we have a situation of peak farmable soil.
And it's here now.
There's also a major different kind of peak energy crisis.
The peak energy crisis really is between these two points
and these two points--
our will, the will to face these things and make a
positive difference.
And I wouldn't tell you these things if we couldn't make a
positive difference.
Feed your dreams and your fears will starve.
So in the future, as you begin to be overwhelmed by
challenges, and there's a good chance that we will all have
that feeling some of the time, feed your dreams. And you'll
find that the dream that you're envisioning will begin
to manifest.
And the reason that we can dream these dreams is because
there are realistic solutions.
We need to utilize our skillful will.
There are psychologists who have studied the different
forms of will that we have. And the most important one is
skillful will, the ability to make and fulfill our choices
with the greatest efficiency and least effort necessary.
I think Google is dedicated to this concept.
What we need is a transformational paradigm
throughout many areas, including food-raising.
Growing food was actually the original green.
And it can be again.
In fact, 10,000 years ago--
this is unbelievable if you really sink into
this and feel it.
This next thing is just totally
unbelievable and wonderful.
10,000 years ago, early Stone Age farmers raised 100% of
their calories per person with just 20 hours of labor
annually, growing the first spelt wheat.
These people were farming literate.
I often give participants in our workshop a handicap, a
fivefold handicap.
And I challenge them to learn how to grow all their food in
100 hours a year during the following three years.
We really can do it.
We don't believe we can, but that's where the problem is,
here and here.
In 1911, China grew complete diets on 3,600 square feet.
And China, Japan, and Korea used biologically-intensive
farming successfully for four millennia until the 1950s when
current practices began to be adopted.
The Chinese used to call their farmers living libraries.
And if you want to read about this type of farming, there's
a book out by F.H. King called Farmers of Forty Centuries.
I recommend you read it.
It's published by Dover Press, and it's not expensive.
In the Philippines, the illiterate Hanunoo Stone Age
culture have a 200-crop, 5-year rotation with 40
varieties of rice grown annually.
So no matter what the climate, hot, cold, wet, or dry, they
achieve a sufficient quantity of calories.
They are living libraries too.
There are no agricultural universities that I know of in
the world that have any kind of rotation system that's as
sophisticated, or as complex, and uses so many varieties as
this one does.
And these people don't know how to read
and don't use computers.
Oh my god.
And it's even worse because they spend 80% of their table
conversation at meals talking about farming.
And their children, if they were in inner city schools,
you'd have to disassociate yourself from them because
they play farmer.
When other cultures around them were fading, the Mayan
culture thrived with neighborhood--
there's documentation on this--
neighborhood biologically-intensive
Why did the Mayan culture eventually dissipate?
No one knows.
There's maybe five or six possibilities.
But one of them no one has listed.
They may not have been farming with biological intensivity in
a sustainable way.
You can deplete your soil really fast if you don't do it
Biosphere II, where they locked six people up in a
two-acre greenhouse for two years, grew complete diets on
about 3,300 square feet with
biologically-intensive practices.
In fact, one of our interns trained the basis for that
Ecology Action, Grow Biointensive, registered
trademark, Sustainable Mini-Farming, feeding the
world one garden at the time.
We began relearning, teaching, and researching--
relearning, see, because we didn't know anything, and
we're still learning.
We began relearning, teaching, and researching
biologically-intensive food-raising in the Stanford
University Industrial Park over 40 years ago in 1972.
We developed a systems approach.
Because I'm really interested in patterns.
You can learn more faster with patterns.
And the systems approach enables people to learn
faster, teach more effectively, and take more
efficient action.
One intern from Latin America told us that after his first
four weeks in our six-month intern program that he'd
learned more than he'd learned in six years in the university
in his country.
He didn't learn more information.
He learned more of a pattern and a system which enabled him
to put the data bits and the information into the most
effective places.
Grow Biointensive is now used in over 143 countries in
virtually all climates and soils where food is grown.
It's taught at tours, classes, three-day and five-day
domestic and international workshops, two- and six-month
internships, and three-year apprenticeships.
This year, we have a new program.
Our two-month internship is especially for college
students that during their summers can come and get a
taste of farming and decide if they want to get into it.
It's exciting.
We've had three times the number of applicants than we
have positions for.
And it's not just limited to college students.
We have one person who is from Uzbekistan who
will be taking it.
And she'll be going back and teaching people in all the
-istans in the former Soviet Union.
This information is learned also from over 250 how-to
books, booklets, and information sheets, and even
videos on topics such as how to grow complete nutrition and
soil fertility in the smallest area.
This is what's motivated me for over 40 years.
In the 1970s, I wanted to know what's the smallest area that
you could grow all your food, all your clothing, all your
money, and all your other agricultural products from in
an environmentally sound way and an equitable way.
So that if everyone in the world used that technique or a
similarly effective technique, that everyone could live well.
We now know that you can grow all your seed for next year in
3% additional area.
And we have a booklet out called "Growing the Seed" that
shows you how to grow all your seed in the smallest area
while preserving genetic diversity.
It used to be that in order to design a diet, you needed to
read our booklet number 31, "Designing a Complete Grow
Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farm." And there's just
lots of pages and charts in there.
And the result is growing all your food in
4,000 square feet.
In the United States, it takes 30,000 square feet.
It's not the same food, but all the nutrients are there.
Well, it takes a lot of time to fill out these forms and
understand them.
But now we can teach you from your heart how to make choices
in five minutes, so you can design your own diet and one
that will produce all the composts for the diet of the
microbes in the soils in less than an hour.
So this is the kind of simplicity that grows out of
the systems approach.
How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible
on Less Land Than You Can Imagine has increased to and
Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops.
The title just got longer.
It's in eight languages, including Braille, and now
going into four more languages.
The fully revised, updated, and expanded eighth edition
has just been published.
We're teaching in the field and on the web.
There are five training sites in the US, four of them in
Next year, there'll be one in North Carolina in addition to
the one that's in Ohio this year.
We have international partner training sites in Latin
America, Africa, and Asia.
Ecology Action's website has a self-teaching section where
you can download a 12-page How to Grow More Vegetables
equivalent for free.
It has eight training videos that you can download from
YouTube and use for free.
We also sell the DVD.
So you can have all of it right there.
Our international mail order service can be found at
Our website is
Our garden supply and education center can be
located right here in the San Francisco mid-peninsula Bay
Area in Palo Alto, California.
And you can go online to
There's some cards at the back that you can get more
information about all of these initiatives.
My site,, includes a special section
that I really encourage you to look at called "The World of
Hope." It has eight segments to it.
And I recommend that you read one a day and absorb the hope
that's contained in it.
Onward, to help meet the world's challenges, Ecology
Action has developed a proposal to train a half
million African farmers in six countries in four and a
quarter years at a cost of only $9 a person.
In a world that has economic challenges, this is a great
opportunity to make a difference.
I don't know if you know, but there are a billion people in
Africa, and 1/3 of them are on starvation track.
We want to meet that challenge.
We're also developing a similar proposal to train
500,000 Latin American farmers in all 22 countries.
It's exciting.
We can't wait.
We're working with the US Department of Agriculture
currently to catalyze four Grow Biointensive teaching
mini-ag centers and soil test stations to monitor how the
soil quality improves, stays the same, or whatever in the
Sudan, where 4 to 7 million people are at risk for
malnutrition and/or starvation.
Our international partners, Samuel Nderitu from G-BIACK in
Kenya, who helps us in so many ways, will be doing the
initial trainings there next week.
We've discovered that this method, Grow Biointensive
Sustainable Mini-Farming, has the capacity to produce higher
yields and increased income per unit of area and use as
little as 33% to 12% the water.
We've been down as low as 3% the water.
Use as little as 50% to 100% less purchased nutrient and
organic fertilizer form.
And use as little as 6% to 1% the energy in all forms,
compared with practices normally used per pound of
food produced.
Grow Biointensive builds soil.
According to a master's thesis from the University of
California at Berkeley in the soil science department there,
Grow Biointensive has the capacity to build soil up to
60 times more rapidly than in nature.
What does this mean?
Up to six inches of farmable soil can be built in as little
as 50 years.
Remember earlier I noted that in as little as 49 years,
there might be no farmable soil left.
So we might as well begin now and avoid the rush.
We could be in time.
On the average around the world and in the US, it
doesn't take 50 years to build up 6 inches of farmable soil,
the depth of soil you need in order to grow food.
It takes 3,000 years to do this.
And in California, because of the natural geologic
formation, the climate, and other factors, it takes 12,000
years to build up 6 inches of farmable soil.
Do you realize that the 3,000 years of farmable soil that
we've built up in the United States, that we've depleted
75% of it in the last 250 years?
We depleted 2,250 years' worth in 250 years.
And the rate at which it's being depleted is increasing.
We don't have to do that.
With Grow Biointensive higher yields plus a better
understanding of nutrition from a farming point of view,
it's possible to grow diets plus all the compost materials
needed for sustainable soil fertility on as little as
4,000, 2,500, 1,800, or even 1,000 square feet or less
depending on the diet.
You could even do it in the yard on your
suburban home lot.
Frightening, the responsibility is.
It's true that the foods eaten are different.
But all nourishment for world standards is met in all of
these small diets.
How does Grow Biointensive do this?
Deep soil structure creation for
quadruple nutrient cycling.
Compost for microbe nutrition.
Soil, water retention, and soil antibiotic development.
Plants don't get sick if you have enough microbes in the
soil because they have their own pharmaceutical thing going
on down there to keep the plants healthy.
And if the plants are healthy, insects don't come because the
amino acid mix in the plant tissue is such that the
insects are not interested.
But a sick plant, the amino acid mix changes.
And the signal goes out to the insects, and they come for
their feast.
Close plant spacing for improved plant environment and
water conservation.
Companion planting, putting plants together that like each
other and stimulate each other--
like the people you choose for your parties or your dinners--
for crop enhancement and pest minimization.
60% growing area in compost and calorie crops that produce
large amount of compost materials, plus a significant
quantity of calories, such as wheat,
oats, corn, and amaranth.
But there are many others.
30% of our growing area in special root crops-- and in a
moment, you'll see how important that is, it's very
such as potatoes, garlic, and leeks that can produce 5 to 20
times the calories per unit of area per unit of time.
Using easily available seeds.
And using the whole system.
It doesn't work well if only some of its elements are used.
If you prepare the soil shallowly and put all the
plants close together, you stress the soil.
And the system may even become unsustainable.
The solution to sustainable agriculture isn't the system.
It's you, and me, and how we use it.
Taking into account all the preceding, scarcity can be
transformed into abundance.
The transformation of the situations of peak water, peak
farming energy, and peak farmable soil into situations
of more than enough.
We don't need to be facing the scarcity that
we're looking at globally.
We can be looking at abundance instead.
In a way, it's not all that challenging.
You may feel overwhelmed right now.
But let's go to a quote from Voltaire in his book Candide,
on the last page.
Candide says, "The whole world is a garden, and what a
wonderful place it would be if each one of us just took care
of our part of the Earth, our garden."
It's not complicated.
It's simple.
It's not someone else who needs to take the
We can.
And it's a pleasurable responsibility.
Gandhi, "To forget how to dig the Earth and tend the soil is
to forget oneself." Grow Biointensive is
skill-intensive, rather than labor-intensive.
As you can see here, there's as many lettuces in the upper
area as in the lower area.
The amount of work, if you know how to Aikido double
dig-- which actually, you don't do the work.
Gravity does the work.
The amount of energy it takes to double dig that in a very
quiet, simple, easy way is the same amount of energy that it
is to single dig two of those row areas.
So it's less work.
It's less water.
It's less weeding.
It's less compost. It's less nutrients in organic
fertilizer form.
It's skill-intensive.
Don't work harder.
Think smarter.
Small is bountiful.
And there truly are economies of small scale.
Remember how much less water and nutrient we use?
Those are economies of small scale.
And we need to become farming literate.
So what does this mean for us in our own backyards?
And what does this mean for our communities?
Assuming intermediate Grow Biointensive yields, one
mature apple tree can produce one pound of apples for each
day in the year for three and a quarter people.
In addition, you can graft 9 additional varieties on the
tree for a total of 10 producing varieties.
Luther Burbank had 30 varieties of plums grafted on
one plum tree in Santa Rosa, California.
You can go still see the tree.
It only has 10 varieties on it now because they didn't want
to keep up with that complexity.
But wouldn't it be wonderful to go have that kind of a
choice right at home?
Also assuming intermediate Grow Biointensive yields, you
can grow one 1-pound loaf of bread for each week in the
year in just 300 square feet of wheat, two good-sized bowls
of oatmeal per week in another 300 square feet
using hulless oats.
You can experience that primordial waves of grain
feeling right where you are.
Now all crops are not equal.
This is really important.
And if you get the new edition of How to Grow More
Vegetables, the last three pages also of the compost
chapter describe how all compost is not equal.
Here, what we're going to see is we have wheat, which is a
winter grain crop.
And the calories produced per month set our index of one
unit of productivity.
If instead we use flour corn, which is a summer seed crop,
we have five times the productivity and
calories per month.
And if instead we use potatoes, a 65-day maturing
variety, we get nineteen times the calories per month per
unit of area.
If you read the material on compost, you'll find that
instead of just having a bucket of compost that you
dump into an area where you're growing, that bucket of
compost can be one unit of compost power, two units of
compost power, and up to eight units of compost power.
This is what 41 years of research, teaching, and, most
important, learning by Ecology Action is making possible for
everyone in the world on a simple basis.
But the final question really is, what kind of future do you
want to create?
Because it's really up to each of us.
There's applications here for localization of food growing,
including public toolbraries of small-scale food-raising
and cleaning tools.
You could thresh your grain right at your local library.
Seed exchanges with growing collection and
preservation classes.
Demonstration orchards with a wide spectrum of heritage
fruit and nut trees.
There's hundreds of varieties to choose from.
Mini-ag centers for learning, training, and growing food.
More local farms for foods, including green belts and
business parklands.
Smaller, more income productive microforms growing
specialty crops.
Do you realize that the average income for the average
US farmer is about $6,700 for a half million dollars of
capital investment?
It's about a 2% return on investment.
And the farmer has to work, he or she has to work, to get the
other $33,300 a year needed to live on at an off the farm,
non-farm job.
With small-scale, sustainable, biologically-intensive
farming, you can make up to $50,000 and more on a quarter
of an acre net.
There was a man who did this in
Berkeley, California already.
And there are other people beginning to do it.
One of the exciting things is more and more women are
getting into farming.
Another thing that we can include in our localization
possibilities are two-acre, complete diet,
community-supported agriculture mini-farms. This
is where a family farm could grow enough food for complete
diets for 20 people and make $40,000 a year.
Most important, grow a community attitude.
We must be the change that we wish to see in the world.
And last but not least, we can grow new
kinds of living contexts.
A land trust sustainable mini-farming community is
where you have three 33-family neighborhoods
in a 130-acre area.
And each family has a half-acre farm in which they
can grow all the food for their three- to four-person
family and grow $40,000 a year or more.
Now this quote from Abraham Lincoln was given in 1857.
And how did this man know?
He was busy and occupied with a few other topics.
"Before long, the most valuable of all arts will be
that of deriving a comfortable subsistence from the smallest
area of land." It's going to be the only game in town for
most of the world's people and already is for many of them.
Working together, we can build a better future.
To keep it simple, what's one tiny thing that each of us can
do today to create a better world?
It truly only takes a smile exchanged with another person
to cause a ripple effect that will change the world.
And we can begin today.
We don't have to wait.
Thank you.
LIV: Thank you so much.
JOHN JEAVONS: You're welcome.
LIV: So I'm feeling guilty for the bags of compost that I
bought and the irrigation system that I have.
JOHN JEAVONS: We all have to start somewhere.
LIV: We do.
So let's go straight to what you said.
What should Google do?
We just feed people all three meals every day.
JOHN JEAVONS: I think it would be wonderful if Google could
be one of the pace setters for the world.
I think they could have a green belt farm right out in
this area, somewhere not too far away.
They could support the new type of farmer who's more
efficient, using fewer resources, and produce all the
food that you need to feed everyone here, the 15,000 to
20,000 people that you feed daily, which is incredible.
But think of the kind of jobs that you can make.
And a lot of these can be really small farms that are
supporting the re-education of our population in farming.
Most of the world's really illiterate in farming.
And it's pretty scary.
If this whole room were a football field, and there were
625 people in it, and one person in the middle had a
green cap on, and a green hat, and green pants, that's the
token farmer.
That's the person who is raising the food for himself
and the other 624 people.
And that person generally knows how to grow a few crops.
And the soil that he's growing it from, or she's growing it
from, is being depleted really rapidly.
But we need to not discount these farmers.
They really love farming, and they care about us.
And they want to feed us.
And they're going bankrupt.
Can you imagine?
Just to feed us.
And so we need to give them some help
with some new patterns.
And I think Google is uniquely in a position to consider, in
a small way, having a pilot for that.
LIV: So tell me, let's get in depth.
What does that look like?
How big should the green belt be?
Where do we gather the literate farmers that we want?
And how big is each unit for each farm family?
JOHN JEAVONS: Well, that's a good question.
First of all, we have to not only grow soil.
We're going to have to grow farmers.
And that takes some time, and everybody isn't going to be
perfect the first time out.
Many people in the world get out of farming because it
depends on weather.
It depends on soil and the fluctuation of markets.
But if you were to grow enough farmers
to feed all of Google--
we're talking about thousands of farmers--
how about starting with 5 or 10?
LIV: OK, all right.
Let's do that.
JOHN JEAVONS: And then if the pattern works, and the farmers
are happy, and they're making more money than they've been
making otherwise, I don't think you're going to have to
do a whole lot to get it to spread.
LIV: OK, so five farm families, two acres each?
Is that what I was getting?
JOHN JEAVONS: It depends on which of the
patterns you choose.
You can choose one that's growing complete diets.
You can choose one that's growing mainly high-end
vegetables, which we all in California like
to eat a lot of.
You can have others that are growing seeds.
And if you grow seeds and those farmers become their own
seed company, you can make a lot of money with seeds.
So I would suggest at least those three types of
approaches, the ones that are complete diet, the ones that
are mainly high-end vegetables, and another that's
growing seeds.
LIV: And the soil growing, we can get the first generation
going in six months?
JOHN JEAVONS: Well, when we began at the Stanford
University Industrial Park, all the top soil had been
scraped off of the area that was donated to us.
And all of the subsoil had been scraped off in the
construction process.
So we were growing our crops in a mollisol clay that
normally takes at least 500 years in nature to make one
inch of farmable soil out of.
And we got fairly good results to begin with.
But you get better results over time.
One thing that I want everyone to understand is to build up a
soil in a temperate zone and to have a good soil, you need
4% to 6% organic matter in the soil.
Most of the world's soils are only 1% organic matter.
And you can only, in a stable way, build up a soil in
organic matter 1/20 of 1% a year.
So to build up from 1% organic matter soil to 4%, the minimum
to have a really good soil, it's going
to take us 60 years.
So it involves a responsibility, a commitment,
and a relationship.
We know how difficult relationships are.
But this one's with the soil and with the planet.
And to be a farmer of the future, what we're going to
have to do-- this is going to be really hard because
nobody's going to want to do it.
I promise you.
You have to leave half of your farmable soil in wild because
what we're growing is we're growing a planet.
We're not growing food.
We're growing soil.
And we're not growing just soil.
We need to grow ecosystems. And if we take all the
farmable soil and we grow food with it, the natural cycles of
plants and animals are just going to tank.
LIV: Is there a way for me to tell my gophers to stay on the
wild side and not come into my garden?
JOHN JEAVONS: There are, but we can't talk about that here.
Yes, please, questions?
Could you speak to whether--
there's a lot of other systems out there.
There's no-till.
There's food forest. There's the biodynamics people,
biochart enthusiasts, the permaculture folks, the soil
food web, creating natural farming, IMOs.
There's all these alternative agriculture systems out there.
Could you speak to your
organization's relation to them?
Do you think you're an alternative?
Or you incorporate ideas from them all?
Or how does that work?
JOHN JEAVONS: OK, I think the first thing I'd like to
describe is that the bottom line is the soil.
And I have evaluated what's happening to soils in other
systems. And generally, the soil's being
depleted fairly rapidly.
So I don't need to specify which systems. I'd
just as soon not.
Because the goal here isn't for how so much that we're
different, or whether we're better or
less good, or whatever.
The real goal here is how do we build the soil.
And so if each one of us, whether we're
permaculturalists, whether we're biodynamic, whether
we're Fukuoka culture, which there's a tremendous amount to
be said for, the important thing is what is it
doing to the soil?
So our teaching units, which are a minimum of 4,000 square
feet of plantable surface, because you can easily do a
complete diet for yourself and for the microbes, they're not
only called mini-ag centers.
They're also called soil test stations.
And they're not going to test your soil or my soil.
They're going to monitor their own soil so that we can see.
Is it getting better?
Is it getting worse?
Is it staying the same?
And we have a new program that we're
developing that's actually--
already, we have a very, very small grant--
in Africa, in Kenya, where we're doing it.
But we're going to begin to list key points around the
world where the soil's been tested.
And we're going to say the altitude, the longitude, the
soil type, and the climate for each one of these nodes.
And then we're going to show online these 24 soil
nutrients, and relationships, and aspects, how they were
tested out, what they were missing, what was done to
improve them.
And then we're going to show yield levels for
five years or more.
So that you won't need, I won't need Ecology Action.
What you do is you go online, and you'll educate yourself
about what someone in a similar situation did.
So it becomes a big chat room in a way even though it won't
have that capacity.
Does that answer your question?
AUDIENCE: Pretty much.
Thank you.
Can you talk a little bit about sustainable ways to
harvest and utilize water?
JOHN JEAVONS: OK, sustainable water use?
JOHN JEAVONS: Sure, I'd be glad to.
First of all, if you want to reduce your water consumption
per unit of calorie produced, a really good
crop to grow is potatoes.
It produces a lot of calories per unit of
water per unit of time.
Another crop that's fairly efficient is carrots.
I was surprised.
I thought, carrots are succulent.
They're crunchy.
But they're really water efficient.
There are a number of crops in the world in the grain seed
area that are called C4 crops.
They have a special genetic pathway.
And this enables them to produce more calories and more
carbon with less water.
But I'll give you an idea of what this method that we're
using and learning about does.
In the Stanford Industrial Park, when we began in 1972 in
Santa Clara County, where you are right now, they were using
20 gallons of water for 100 square feet per day in
When we began, we were too.
After five years, we were down to 10 gallons of water per 100
square feet per day.
And after six, we were down to 8 gallons of water.
But the yields that we were getting were two
to five times higher.
So really, we would end up using, to make a long story
short, 1/8 the water per pound of vegetable produced.
Now how do we do this?
And that's what you're asking.
First of all, we have a new booklet out.
It's called booklet 35.
It's name is "Growing More Food with Less Water." So I'll
tell you the three ways that this method enables you to use
so much less water.
What it means is that those people, the 5 billion people
who don't have enough water very soon to grow their food,
could have enough water to grow their food.
The first way is that if you build up the organic matter in
your soil, you can reduce the amount of water you need to
grow food by as much as 75%.
That's huge.
Secondly, if you put all the plants close together that the
deep soil preparation allows you to do, you get a
And it shades the ground.
And you can reduce the amount of water you need by an
additional up to 50% less.
Now we were already from 75% down.
So we're at 25% of the water being used because of the
organic matter.
So now we can get it down to 12 and 1/2% the water being
used by the shading of the ground with the mini-climate.
And last, but not least--
and this one is just a mind blower to me--
but I always thought plants drank water in order to stand
up and get water turgor, right?
Well, that's not untrue.
But the main reason they drink water is to get food.
And if there's enough nutrients in your soil, when
they drink the water, one gulp, and they get enough food
for a long time.
And they don't have to drink more water right away.
So you can then reduce by as much as an additional 75% the
amount of water you need.
So you can take it down.
We were at 12 and 1/2%.
You can take it down to as little as 3% of the water.
And we reached that in the Stanford Industrial Park with
a crop that you'll laugh at, zucchini.
So that's how we do it.
LIV: So you're actually answering one of the questions
I wanted to ask you most, which is what does this food
taste like.
And when you're telling me it's nutrient dense, I know it
tastes great and it's really good for you.
The two are the same.
JOHN JEAVONS: Yeah, we grow tree collards in our garden.
They are indigenous to Africa and/or the Gurney Islands just
off of England.
And they're green milk.
And not only do they taste good, but one of the exciting
things you may not realize is if this room were all growing
alfalfa, and we fed it to a cow, and you drank all the
milk from that, the alfalfa that went through the cow, you
drank the milk that it produced, and instead, you had
tree collards planted in this same area, you'd get four
times the protein and eight times the calcium from the
tree collards.
And it's been tested with Mexican schoolchildren.
And it's been found to work as well as milk or even a little
bit better.
So there's marvelous possibilities.
The one that I like the best in nutrition that just makes
me smile is parsley.
Now in India, there's 200 million children who have
brain damage and eye sight damage because they didn't get
enough Vitamin A and iron during their early life, the
first six years.
In 25 square feet, a five by five square foot plot, they
can grow with parsley all the missing Vitamin A and iron
that they didn't get.
And so they could take care of their own issue, which
shouldn't be their issue.
But they could intervene.
And one of the things we found in Mexico is that often, the
adults won't do manual food-raising.
So the kids do it.
And the kids eventually teach the parents
how to get into it.
It's a mind blower.
This happened in the first project in Mexico at Vicente
Guerrero, 200 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Two Quakers from Palo Alto, Eric and Kaki, went in for two
years to teach biointensive.
And no one would do it.
So the kids did.
And I have photographs of them with pick axes
prepping the beds.
And it worked.
So after the first year, the families had family councils.
And they all said, it works.
And the father said, mamasita, you do it.
So the next year, the children and the mothers did it.
And they continued to be successful.
And Kaki and Eric were supposed to leave at the end
of the second year.
But they realized it wouldn't continue.
There wasn't enough momentum yet.
So they stayed a third year.
And they picked out the best mothers.
And they taught them to be managers of the program.
And it continued.
So you'd be surprised about kid power.
And people tell us in Africa that people with AIDS won't do
this because it's manual, and they don't have enough energy.
Well, let me tell you, they do it.
They love doing it.
It gets them more food, and it stabilizes, in many cases,
their AIDS.
It doesn't cure them, but it alleviates it.
And so it's more like we, from developed countries, can't
imagine somebody doing manual gardening, especially if
you've got AIDS.
And we have a photo of a blind person in
India double digging.
Can you imagine?
You can't get people with sight to double dig sometimes.
So it gets more and more fun as you learn more and more.
AUDIENCE: I've just been beginning to brainstorm as to
how to maybe pull this off.
If you have a customer like Google that needs 20,000
people a day fed, you've got all these people like us that
have backyards.
There's even a book you mentioned,
The Apartment Farmer.
There's people here from the permaculture group, Chris
Burley, Hayes Valley Farm.
All these folks could be growing this kind of stuff.
Maybe we could take a boot camp course in biointensive,
so we could get up to speed real quick and get the
hundreds of farmers that we'd need.
So now you have people that could have
all this spare income.
You could maybe get it down to a few hours, like you say, a
day or a month in terms of tending the farm.
So you do something before you go to work.
Come back, put a little more water on it.
Then on the weekends, you go down to the farmer's market.
And Liv is there picking up stuff for the Google kitchens
or something like that.
The pieces are there if we can just figure out
how to put it together.
JOHN JEAVONS: And Cliff, I don't know because the mic
didn't seem to be picking it up fully.
So I'll try to paraphrase.
And you can correct me if I miss something.
Cliff is suggesting that maybe having a boot camp for Grow
Biointensive Sustainable Mini-Farming for people
connected with Google could enable them in window boxes
using the techniques in the two editions of The Apartment
Farmer by Duane Newcomb and other techniques in other good
books to do it in window boxes, or barrels, and
Also, he indicated, as he and I have talked about, it's
possible to grow all the vegetables for one person for
all year in this kind of climate in 200
square feet or less.
And it actually would probably take you something like 30
minutes a day.
And maybe people could do it before work.
Actually, it's an invigorating thing after work.
But I'll have to let people experience that themselves.
It's a big mental jump to make.
I feel more invigorated after double digging than before.
And if I don't double dig every three days, I feel
So that may not be true for you.
Then Cliff suggested that the food from these 100 square
foot, 200 square foot gardens, window box, and barrel
gardens, some of it could be then given to the food bank,
or the farmer's market, or even the restaurants of the
wonderful cafes here at Google.
It really is, in the future, going to take all of us to
make the difference in the world.
That's why we have the self-teaching
section of our website.
And even if there weren't the global challenges that there
are-- and there really are--
it's not just a story.
It's there.
But even if those things weren't there, we'd be doing
it because it's a lot of fun.
And it's good exercise.
Your food's going to be fresher.
It's not going to have pesticides in it.
And you're going to be building soil.
Can you imagine?
It's going to be as if you have geological power.
Why not?
LIV: Thank you so much.
JOHN JEAVONS: You're welcome.
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richardwang published on March 22, 2014
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