“Floods, drought, climate change and even war are all directly related to the way we are treating dirt”

I hate grocery shopping. Even at the holiest of “health”/”whole” food stores, I find refrigerated produce depressing, I find bulk foods sourced from faraway places unnerving, packaged dried pasta disturbing. Is there something wrong with me? Do other people experience this kind of thing?

The other night I watched the new documentary “Dirt! The movie” and it made me cry. It made me realise that there is definitely something dreadfully wrong; it’s the link between food degradation, land degradation and human degradation. And I don’t just mean that supermarket food grown in dead monocultured soil is lacking in nutrients and loaded with toxins. Industrial agriculture is killing displaced people who can no longer live off the devastated, desertified, pesticide-ridden, infertile land. It’s no wonder that I find the experience of buying food so damn depressing, I’m contributing to mass genocide and total destruction. It’s also no wonder that we’ve all moved to the city. More of us in cities than ever before, looking for ways to make money to eat because being a farmer and living out in the country just became way too expensive.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

First we’re going to remember the hummingbird and face the fire. Then we get our asses to work. If the city is our home then the city is going to be where we grow, find, make our food.

Last month I went down to North Otago in New Zealand to visit a guy named Jim O’Gorman. He runs a cranking one-man-backyard-farm with hand tools (many of which he has fashioned himself), rain water (very little of it recently) and well observed and smartly applied techniques. Jim deliberately lives in ‘third world’ conditions in a seaside neighbourhood, has remediated what was formerly depleted soil covered almost entirely in california thistles, has no electricity, has a 10m2 shack he calls home, and only gathers resources that he can collect with his wheelbarrow. He has his system nailed so that he produces a lot of food with very little fuss. Every step of the way is there because it passed the test of careful consideration.

Jim and his son Matthew Dadley started a business known as Dirt Doctor, in which they’ve created a series of seminars and workshops to teach people bio intensive methods of growing as much food as you can in a little amount of space and time. Matt moved to India at the beginning of the year and meanwhile my partner Jacob and I have been getting ready to spread the word. It’s been a real eye opener, one of those experiences where all of a sudden you see something that has been under your nose this whoooole time – dirt, soil, earth – for what it really really is. Far more precious than gold or diamonds. The stuff of stars and humans alike. There is a whole universe of industrious microbes in a handful of dirt, doing their thing down below to create the life above ground that we can see. Soil is naturally inclined to do the best it can and we can learn from it, which is what Jim has done and we are doing.

We are teaching the first seminar series – urban compost making, weed collaboration, microbe brewing – starting this weekend in Wellington. Join us if you can. Get the dirt on dirt. Give yourself the gift of eating homegrown.  (check out the Dirt Doctor website for more info, or join us on our Facebook page, it’s got to be good for something ps. If you don’t already know about Oooby (Out of Our Own Backyards) you should check it out, like Facebook for small scale food growers and initiated by folks on Waiheke Island, also a great resource and community).

PPS. click to see more pictures