Streptomyces. A common soil and compost bacteria that grows in threads like a fungus! Over 500 species of Streptomyces bacteria have been described. They produce the majority of antibiotics used medicinally. Part of the beauty of the soil. – photo courtesy of Anne Bikle.


Dear Real Organic friends,

After many months of research and work, the first session of the Real Organic Symposium came out last Sunday. Over 1500 people have signed up, and the first session was a remarkable success.

The biggest question we heard was, “What can we do?”

As one person wrote: “In the beginning, I found the history interesting. By the middle, I was totally invested. By the end, I was like: ‘let’s get these mother*@%#ers! Just tell me what to do!’”

We have wrestled with that question for years now. Creating the Real Organic Project was the beginning of our answer.

Fungal hyphae eating a nematode – picture courtesy of Anne Bikle.

In the symposium, we are going on a journey together. Each weekly session is a whole new chapter. This Sunday’s chapter will be “Soil Health.” These days we hear about “soil health” from every multinational. McDonald’s, Cargill, The National Corn Growers Association, Bayer Monsanto, General Mills, Pepsi, Walmart! They are all now self-proclaimed “champions of soil health.” Wonderful words. But what is the reality?

Something can only be “healthy” when it is alive. Only living soils can be healthy. This has always been the foundation of all organic farming. On Sunday come to listen to scientists and farmers who have been studying this for a very long time.

We hope that Session 2 will let you share in the lifetimes of learning of our speakers. They are good. And remember, every weekly session is unique.

Turning organic matter into humus – Picture courtesy of Anne Bikle.

In Session 2 we will get to hear from Linley Dixon, Paul Muller, Onika Abraham, Walter Jehne, Arran Stephens, Karen Washington, David Montgomery, Didi Pershouse, Eliot Coleman, Hugh Kent, JM Fortier, Liza Frey, Stuart Hill, Anne Bikle, Michael Phillips, Kris Nicholes, Nora Taleb, Dave Mortensen, Julie Rawson, Ben Dobson, Savannah Flynn, Francis Thicke, David Zuckerman, Brian Park, Vandana Shiva, Paul Miller, Dag Falk, Zach Wolf, Javier Zamora, Mike Appel, Emily Oakley, and Jean-Paul Courtens. Whew! I am sure I missed someone. So sorry. You will have to show up to find out who.

There is still time to get a ticket, and then you can watch Session 1 as a recording. It is exciting!

We start at 3 pm Eastern time and go until 5 pm (we promise).

At 5 pm there is a special bonus of a 15-minute conversation with farmers Paul Muller and Scott Park about their experiences in tillage and their experiments with organic no-till as part of a UC Davis study.

The best organic vegetable farmers in the country are NOT no-till. They are growing high biomass covercrops, mowing them down, and then deeply tilling all that organic matter under. These practices create healthy soils, high in farm-derived organic matter. Soils that absorb rain, prevent nutrient run-off, erosion, and flooding, replenish aquifers, AND sequester carbon. The tasty, nutritious vegetable is a bonus!”

– Real Organic farmer Linley Dixon from Colorado (pictured here with Real Organic farmer Liz Graznak from Missouri).

“Dr. Bronner’s has resigned from the Organic Trade Association (OTA), citing the association’s betrayal of the consumer-led GMO labeling movement, and general drift away from the core principles that drive the organic movement.”
– Dr. Bronner’s press release

We have two special panels on Sunday. One is Michael Phillips and Linley Dixon talking about the biology and politics of living soil. Michael is an author, farmer, and a leading educator about organic orcharding. I am privileged to eat apples from his Lost Nation Orchard every Fall. Linley, of course, is Co-Director at the Real Organic Project. But she also has a strong background as both a farmer and USDA researcher. In the panel, two mycologists share ideas.

“One of the things that life on this planet teaches us, if we’re receptive is that we proceed best on the basis of collaboration and support networks. That’s what we’re talking about here with quorum sensing. When I contemplate that, one of the things I think about is something that Frank Egler said, he was an ecologist back in Rachel Carson’s time. He said, ‘Nature is not more complicated than you think, it is more complicated than we CAN think.’

“And I’m fine with that, I’m a humble guy. But I’m also standing in awe of how all these things come together. The more we learn to support biodiversity both above and below, the better we become as growers.”

– Michael Phillips at Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire.

“I have a buyer that asked me if he convinces another grower (conventional) into planting cover crops, would that farmer be considered ‘regenerative’? There is a current movement in Northern California that is trying to consolidate buyers, processors, farmers, packing material companies, etc into a holistic unit that will market ‘regenerative’. This movement is well intended, but faces huge hurdles, plus it will dilute the value of organic, as the regenerative definition may be quite open-ended. Not determined at this time. It is comparable to ROP (Real Organic Project) to NOP (National Organic Programs) standards. Calling food organic that never had soil in the growing process?

“We should have a lively conversation.”

– Scott Park teaching his grandkids about soil health on the farm in California.

The bonus panel is Paul Muller and Scott Park talking about their experiments with no-till organic vegetables, discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think there will be a lot of farmers at that final panel!

Paul is a partner at Full Belly Farm, and Scott is a partner at Park Farming Organics, both in California. Two highly respected organic pioneers who are still learning and still feeding us, even as the next generations take over.

“Speaking of regenerative, it is too bad that Rodale didn’t copyright the word when they started promoting it – they could have had standards set and have moved the needle with the concept. I am more in the camp that we need all ideas on deck to begin to get farmers in the mindset of putting more carbon into the soil and reducing the carbon footprint of our food system. If these concepts aren’t backed with market support and financial support, then it is again a burden dropped on farmers to pay for the costs of being ‘regenerative’ for market access. If there is no definition, shared investment in that definition, standards, and verification, – all things that Organic has carefully put into place over the past 40 years- then it is just marketing.

“Unfortunately, most all of the ‘regenerative no-till’ systems rely heavily on GMOs and herbicides. Not a good set of tools to hang one’s market on.”

– Paul Muller with the next generation at Full Belly Farm in California.


See you Sunday.

Many thanks,
Dave and Linley

Updated: You can still watch recordings from our January symposium by clicking here.