Resurrection: One Farm's Experience
by David Miller
July 19, 2016
Why do plants get sick just as the crop is starting to size and ripen? Why do insects and diseases destroy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food each year? Why are crops infested with fungal and bacterial diseases like downy and powdery mildew? Why do cherries get bacterial canker? Why is there citrus greening in oranges? What is the cause of diseases in plants and why do they mostly show up late in the season?
We pick up the story with one lonely earthworm.
Watch this video to listen to Eli's story of running Blossom Acres Farm.
By 2011, Eli Yoder had been running a successful Community Supported Agriculture program for several years and was eager to expand his business to another farm. He found land near Coshocton, Ohio. “We bought it when it was in standing corn, decent looking corn. We had bottomland and so we were excited and thought we’d have soil that was healthy,” Yoder said. “After the corn was off we dug down and found that we had 14 inches of topsoil and in that 14 inches of topsoil, we found just one scrawny-looking earthworm.”
That was the first hint that Yoder’s new farm wasn’t what he had hoped it would be. The second, and decisive, hint was the yellowing of the leaves of every crop he planted.
“Things didn’t grow as expected,” Yoder noticed. “There was no energy anywhere. Walking through the field was just very discouraging, seeing all of our greens turning up with yellow leaves and looking so unhappy. I just had a sinking feeling in my stomach looking at these vegetables.”
It turned out that years of Roundup usage on the farm’s corn crop had left the soil nutritionally deficient in every way. This soon proved a problem for Yoder’s 100 CSA customers. Lacking the proper soil biology to grow lush, green foods, Yoder was only able to bring a quarter of his popular greens (spinach, collards, and bok choy) to market after the first year. By the second year, yellowish nutrient-deprived vegetables caused him to lose 40 percent of his customer base and compelled him to contact AEA for help.
David Miller, AEA’s president of agronomy education, consulted with Yoder. He tried numerous foliar applications throughout the 2013 growing season with only modest results. Each crop needed its own specialized application and providing it was tedious and time-consuming. While the quality of produce was better, it still was not up to Yoder’s standards and his CSA customers continued to look elsewhere for their vegetables. Whatever was wrong with Eli Yoder’s farm demanded more drastic measures or he’d be out of business.
So Miller sat down with Yoder and discussed their options. They agreed that the fundamental problem was the soil. Miller suggested an aggressive approach to restarting the soil energy engine using AEA’s foundational soil-building products, Rejuvenate and SeaShield. Each product was applied at the maximum rate per acre twice a year.
Results were immediate and dramatic. Suddenly, Yoder’s new farm was thriving. “We had a cauliflower that was twice as big as any we’d ever grown before,” Yoder said. “And we had ground cherries growing up to my shoulders!”
Soil tilth improved as well, and now when Yoder pulls up one of his plants, he finds eight to 14 earthworms and much sturdier root growth. His plants are healthy above and below ground. And the healthier, more abundant fruits and vegetables brought back his CSA customers.
“Everybody was happy again,” Yoder says. “We went back up to 100 customers and I can’t think of a single complaint except one lady who said she can’t eat it all!”
In addition to the dramatically improved quality of the produce, Yoder noticed how much more immune to insect and disease damage his plants have become since working with AEA. “We didn’t have a corn borer until fall, at the last planting,” Yoder said, “and we didn’t have any troubles with cucumber beetles either.” He harvested bigger, healthier potatoes than ever before. Further, higher nutrient levels in the soil created hardier, higher-energy plants that showed evidence of resisting freezing temperatures. His Thanksgiving market, for example, was twice the size of the previous year.
“Without AEA, we would not have been able to keep the farm,” Yoder said. “Now we have a dedicated and expanding customer base. I am very excited to continue making AEA a part of the success on our farm.”