Wendell Berry posed the question: “What are people for?”
We believe this question to be one worth asking. This is why we felt that Next Step Produce needed a mission statement to guide us. “Committed to Growing Nourishing Food in Harmony with Nature” would be what we, at Next Step Produce, are for. There are two elements to this, that of process and product.
The element of our mission statement guiding our product is that of “nourishing food”. Our goal product is not food that simply looks good and meets organic standards, but food that has the ability to nourish. Research shows that, largely, food is lacking in its nutritive potential. Senate Document 264 takes you back to 1936, when already then a few people were trying to bring attention to this basic health issue.
Organic farming should be about feeding the soil which feeds the plants which feed the people. There are very few places left on this earth where we can establish ourselves and simply sustain what is; this land that we farm is not one of those very few places. Southern Maryland has a 200 year history of growing tobacco using very unsustainable methods. Before we can sustain, we need something to sustain, this is where, foremost, restoration comes in.
The element of our mission statement guiding our process is that of “harmony”. At large, agriculture is at war with nature. This is a reflection of people’s relationship with our environment. The methodology is one of hostility, subjugation, and manipulation for the sole purpose of personal gain of a few.
This Earth is undeniably life-giving. It therefore is within our responsibility as recipients of this life-force, to do what we do in stewardship, reflecting our place as a link in a chain, co-existing with our environment. Our process, therefore, is not one of war but of peace; of guiding to be guided. In its practical application, what we do consists of many, many parts:
COMPOST – According to the understandings of Rudolf Steiner, the earth needs assistance in humus building. We strive for quality finished compost using on-farm hay and straw as well as leaves (provided by Charles County), clay (from the excavation of our irrigation pond), amended with minerals and trace elements.
COVER CROPS – According to the understandings of A. Yeoman, in his writing of “Priority One”, farmers can play a major role in halting global warming. This role is one of “carbon sequestration”. Cover-cropping is integral to this process by growing biomass to fix carbon from the air into plant tissue, and hopefully stabilized in humus, all while increasing the soils water-holding capacity, nutrient-holding capacity, as well as microbial activity. Our cover crops are multi-species mixes including flowering plants like sunflowers, providing food for pollinators.
CROP ROTATION – We implement rotations between plant families, as well as between people-nourishing and soil-nourishing crops (aka cover crops/green manure). The diversity of crops we grow makes a healthy rotation possible. That is why we need to find more people who are willing to explore the greatness of foods less common to us, such as barley, buckwheat, millet and sorghum.
MINERAL BALANCING – In the first few years we concentrated our efforts on the three C’s (compost, cover-crops, crop rotation). After several years, we felt that we were not achieving the nutrient density we aim for. We therefore looked outward. We were inspired by the insights of William A. Albrecht, implementing mineral balancing. The Albrecht system is one of the few addressing nutrient density.
FOLIAR FEEDING – On the path to soil restoration, we foliar feed with products like “Sea-Crop”, a product with a proven track record to increase nutrient density.
SUN’S ENERGY – In a world with limited resources, in a world with wars fought over oil, in a world we are meant to steward, it is long-term thinking to use resources at home. Wood is a renewable resource for Next Step Produce; wood is a renewable resource for much of this country.
Having the gift of forests, we low grade, taking down dead / damaged / or pioneer species, facilitating and accelerating the forest succession. This is not a natural process which happens very effectively after unnatural events such as clear-cutting, which Southern Maryland forests have been and still are being. The forests are dynamic ecosystems which have been disrupted by human activity, and so as a consequence human activity must play an active role in regenerating forests. And then we are supposed to learn from our mistakes… We strive to be contributing to the regeneration of our forest, while at the same time, using resources within a closed loop system.
The logs are sorted for either lumber or firewood. Many building projects have been made using lumber from our property, sawn at a local Amish sawmill. The firewood will be cured for at least one year before it is burned in our wood gasification stove. This is a highly efficient stove which burns at 80+% efficiency versus the usual ~30% of your average poorly engineered stove. Therefore, we are gathering maximum heat from our natural renewable resource: https://www.alternateheatingsystems.com. The heat is used in our house as well as the greenhouses. Our wood stove even gets burning in the middle of June, heating air to 115 degrees to be force-blown through drying bins holding freshly harvested grains or beans.
In 2013 we installed a 15.4 KW tracking solar system, generating approximately 75% of our farm and home energy requirements.
In the end, it’s all sun’s energy:
“The lush green leaves absorb the sunlight, storing it in its wood. The tree breaths in the air and embraces the earth with its roots, while carrying its nutrients up, throughout its whole body, and slurps the given water with its leaves and roots. Years came and went, and the tree gets older and older, weaker and weaker, until it falls down, when its turn comes, with a trembling boom! Person discovers the tree and chops it into firewood. While drying in the woodshed, the water which the tree drank, seeps out and evaporates into the air. Person returns, stuffs the firewood into the stove and lights the wood on fire. The heat, the sunlight, that the tree had in its life, stored away, now comes out. The air comes out too, creating smoke, and the earth too , in ash. The water has evaporated, to fall down again as rain for other trees. The heat/light is taken in by person who burned the wood. And the cycle begins again.”