|Organic Farmer Touts Benefits of Soil-Building|
By Kathy Keeser
March 16, 2009
North Adams, Mass. — Want your impatiens to pop,
your tomatoes to flourish, your grass to turn a
verdant green? Then don't feed them.
It sounds like apostasy but Bill Duesing says it's
more important to feed what's under them.
"Feed the soil not the plants and the soil will
feed the plants," the executive director of the
Northeast Organic Farming Association told a
roomful of gardeners searching for the secret to
safely growing luxuriant flora.
The session last week at Massachusetts College of
Liberal Arts was the seventh workshop in the
"Green Living" seminars being presented by the
college's Berkshire Environmental Resource Center.
Held on Thursdays in Murdock Hall, the workshops
focus on sustainable issues.
Some 25 students and local residents were at
Duesing's "Soil Building Techniques" workshop, and
the organic farmer seemed pleased with the
turnout. Duesing, of Connecticut, has been
involved in organic farming and sustainable
agriculture for more than 35 years and has
lectured and written about it throughout the region.
"It is great to see your interest in things
green," he said, adding he would begin with a "big
picture" overview because "the Earth is the only
place we can live."
Back in the 1960s, the planet's population as a
whole only used about half what the Earth
produced. Now, the nearly 7 billion use about 25
percent more than what is produced each year, said
Duesing, which is causing global warming and other
To understand the United State's large ecological
footprint, the home-gardening advocate referred
attendees to www.rprogress.org and similar sites.
And understanding how everything fits together in
ecological terms aids is in imperative in organic farming.
"Organic principles are a holistic method that
pays attention to the whole system — where things
come from, where they go and the effects at both
ends," he said. The basic principle in working
with soil is "to learn from nature, disturb as
little as possible and keep the soil covered with
a diversity of plants."
There's life in soil — more than 6 million
organisms can be found in a handful of good dirt.
It has the ability to store resources, he said.
"Simple fertilizers added to soil will not get the
same nutrients out of the soil as when you use
organic ... Nature creates beauty even in decay."
That means avoiding pesticides and chemical
fertilizers that kill the microorganisms; instead,
natural composting should be feeding the life in
the soil, which will help provide the nutrients
required by plants. Chemicals can also be absorbed
by the plant and into our food chain.
Many of those attending the hourlong talk
questioned Duesing about their own gardens, an
aspect of the series that Katherine Montgomery of
North Adams found particularly helpful.
"I only missed one of the series this year. It is
a very interesting series that allows you to also
ask specific questions like I asked tonight about
turning a grassy area into a garden," she said.
"[It] excites me in looking ahead for my
gardening, which I have been expanding these past few years."
Taking notes as Duesing, top right, lectures on
building up soil.
Montgomery said she derives a lot of pleasure from
her gardening, especially after harvesting more
than 40 butternut squash.
The seminars may be changing the way people look
at living green, and it's guaranteed in at least
Josh Williams of Lanesborough graduated from MCLA
a year ago, but he's become so interested in
environmental studies after attending the "Green
Living" workshops last year for credit and all but
one this year that he's changed his career focus.
Now he's planning to get hands-on experience in a
farming program out west. "[The series] is a great
asset to the community that is free," he said.
"Anyone can attend and it offers local people a
chance to learn how to do [sustainable living]."
Plus, Williams said, it's a chance to network and
meet people in the field like the local beekeeper,
Tony Pisano, and hear about more events.
Elena Traister, an instructor in environmental
science and coordinator of the series, said she's
pleased with the success of the series.
"Students are exploring ways of increasing the
sustainability of our food system while at the
same time working on proposals to expand the MCLA
campus garden and composing programs as well as
working collaboratively with Reach for Community
Health on its community garden program," she said.
"We are also reaching out beyond the student body
to local residents in new ways through not only
our publicity for this series but also by
broadcasting the series on local television and
posting podcasts of the events online."