An Historical Introduction

In September 1971, Larry White, Director of the Nature and

Science Department for the City of Palo Alto, invited

Stephen Kafka, Senior Apprentice at the University of California Santa Cruz Student Garden, to give a 4-hour class on the biodynamic/French intensive method of gardening. Two years before, the city had made land available to the public for gardening, and residents appeared eager to hear more about this method. Alan Chadwick had brought the method to Santa Cruz 5 years earlier, and with love, vision, and apparent magic, the master horticulturist had converted a barren slope into a Garden of Eden. Vegetables, flowers, and herbs flourished everywhere. The method's techniques were primarily available through training in a 2-year apprentice program at Santa Cruz and through periodic classes given by Alan Chadwick or Stephen Kafka. However, neither detailed public classes nor vegetable yield research were being conducted regularly at Santa Cruz or in Palo Alto.

In January 1972, Ecology Action's board of directors approved a Biointensive research and education project. The purposes of the Ecology Action project were to:

  • teach regular classes;
  • collect data on the reportedly fourfold yields produced by the environmentally sound horticultural method;
  • make land available for gardening to additional midpenin-sula residents;
  • publish information on the method's techniques.

In May, after a 5-month search for land, the Syntex Corporation offered 33/4 acres of their grounds in the Stanford Industrial Park with all the water needed for the project at no cost. Frank Koch, Syntex Public Affairs Director, told Dr. Alejandro Zaffa-roni of the Alza Corporation about the project, and Dr. Zaffaroni subsequently contributed the first money to the project, $5,000, without which we never could have begun. Commitment by Frank Koch, Don Keppy, Chuck and Dian Missar, Ruth Edwards, Ibby Bagley, numerous other individuals, several corporations, and the Point Foundation enabled the project to continue.

Alan Chadwick soon visited the garden site and gave us basic advice on how to proceed. We then attended a series of lectures given by Mr. Chadwick in Saratoga, California. Using the classes taught by Alan Chadwick and Stephen Kafka as a base, we began teaching our own classes in the spring of 1972.

Further study and experience in the garden made it possible to increase the original class to a 5-week series. The classes led to the development of information sheets on topics such as vegetable spacings and composting techniques. Many people asked for a book containing all the information we gathered. Those who were unable to attend our Saturday classes or who had friends living outside the area were especially insistent. This book was the result. Robin Leler Jeavons, Betsy Jeavons Bruneau, Tom Walker, Craig Cook, Rip King, Bill Spencer, Claudette Paige, Keven Raftery, Marion Cartwright, Paka, Phyllis Anderson, Wayne Miller, Paul Hwoschinsky, Dave Smith, Steve and Judi Rioch, Louisa Lenz, Bill Bruneau, Dean Nims, Tommy Derrick, Carol Cox, John Beeby, Cynthia Raiser Jeavons, Dan Whittaker, Shirley Coe, members of Ecology Action, and friends have all made important contributions to the book's content and spirit.

I assume responsibility for any inaccuracies that may have been included; they are mine and not Alan Chadwick's or Stephen Kafka's. This book is not intended to be an exhaustive work on the subject, but rather one of simple completeness. Most of us at Ecology Action are only beginning to intermediate grow biointensive gardeners. The purpose of this book is to turn on as many people as possible to a beautiful, dynamically alive method of horticulture and life. I had hoped that the great interest this book stimulated would encourage Alan to write an extensive work on the many sophisticated techniques that only he knew well. Because of his untimely death in 1980, this is no longer possible.

Our initial research indicates that grow biointensive can produce an average of 2 to 6 times more vegetables per acre than the amount grown by farmers using mechanized and chemical agricultural techniques. The method also appears to use 33% to 12% the water, 50% to no purchased nitrogen fertilizer, and 1% the energy consumed by commercial agriculture per pound of vegetable grown.7 The vegetables usually taste

7. Figures for yield and water and fertilizer consumption are based on data collected through 1979. The 1% energy consumption figure is from a November 2, 1973, letter from Richard Merrill, Director of the New Alchemy Institute—West, Pescadero, California. Energy data were collected and evaluated by Mr. Merrill and Michael J. Perelman, Assistant Professor of Economics, California State University at Chico. The data are for a growing area with a excellent, and there are indications that their nutritive value can be higher than that of commercially grown vegetables. This method is exciting to me because each of us becomes important as we find our place in relation to nature.

One person annually consumes in food the energy equivalent (in calories or British Thermal Units) of 32.6 gallons of gasoline.8 In contrast, the most efficient economy car will use that much gas in a month or two of ordinary driving. Imagine the fuel consumed by a tractor or industrial machine in a year! People are not only beautiful, they are very capable and efficient. We believe grow biointensive can produce more net income per acre than commercial agriculture. With grow biointensive we help provide for the needs of the plants instead of trying to dominate them. When we provide for these real needs, the plants bounteously provide more food. In striving for quality gardening, a person will be able to provide a diet and income more than sufficient for his or her needs. The effort will produce a human renaissance and a cornucopia of food for all.

Our work grows out of a personal concern about worldwide starvation and malnutrition. If we could determine the smallest amount of land and resources needed for one person to supply all of his or her own needs in a sustainable way, we might have a personal solution. What if a person could, in a tiny area, easily raise all the crops that would supply all food, clothes, building materials, compost materials, seeds, and income for an entire year? We asked whether others knew the smallest area required to do this, and no one did—so we began our 30-year quest to help settle an ongoing problem and make possible a better quality of life.

Generally, the challenges of world hunger, soil depletion, and diminishing resources seem so overwhelming that we tend to look for big solutions, such as massive grain shipments, breeding high-yield miracle crops, or establishing infrastructures—bank loans, machinery and fertilizer purchases, markets, and roads. These solutions create long-term dependency. What is so exciting about a personal approach is that it seeks to answer the question: "How do we enable ourselves to take care of our own needs?" Personal solutions will have as many varied applications as there are people, soils, climates, and cultures. Our work is one way for people to begin to develop those solutions.

proper humus content after a 5-year development period. The data are a qualitative projection and have been assembled during a 3-year period of tests performed on root and leaf crops (except brassicas) grown by hand cultivation in the Santa Barbara area with its 9-month growing season. (The 1/100 figure does not include the energy required to get the soil system to the point noted above and does not include unproductive plants that constituted 10% of the area under cultivation.)

8. Michael Perelman, "Efficiency in Agriculture: The Economics of Energy," in Richard Merrill (ed.), Radical Agriculture (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), p. 86.

Universal scientific principles operate within GROW biointensive sustainable mini-farming's biological systems. Yet our gardening results change each time we modify our system. For example, the microbial life levels and yields differ depending on whether we prepare the soil 7 inches, 12 inches, or 24 inches deep. Why? We do not know all the reasons yet. As we explore, we will come to understand the underlying principles, and a whole new world will unfold. We will be able to make changes to improve the health, fertility, effectiveness, and sustainability of the way we farm for an even better life on this planet.

Much new material is included in this latest revision: some improved techniques, understandings, and approaches; updated yield and seed information; corrected and updated planning data; and a greatly expanded bibliography. That is, more information to add to your fun as you grow past the beginning stage of grow biointensive mini-farming in depth and breadth! This edition represents 30 years of working with plants, soils, and people—in virtually all climates and soils around the world. The result is for your benefit. I hope it will make your path easier.

John Jeavons January 2, 2002 Willits, California

Vegetable Yield ChartBiointensive Planting Design
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