Raymond Burton Howard Dale's Organic Farming 101: Potatoes, Cowpeas, Corn, Tomatoes
Burton Dale is a frequent and insightful commenter and Short Order so I emailed him some questions. Check out this awesome story, the first in a series.
"What is my experience with organic foods? I worked as a chemist for Space Science Services that used to be in Philips Park in Riviera Beach. We were a backup for Nasa at the cape. The shielding in the darkroom of my spectroscopy lab accidentally was removed during some repairs at the lower section next to where we stored the cobalt 60 and Iridium 192 sources we used to do field x-ray. My pocket badge did not indicate a problem, but one day I had the Geiger counter in hand and discovered I had been getting 50 to 60 milli Roentgens/hour through the wall. A year or so after I left Space Science Services I started getting sick and my hair turned white. When doctors could not give me answers, I started to experiment with diet and felt better. Ann Wigmore came down to speak in West Palm one night and her story provided the answer. My body could no longer manufacture some of the enzymes required to maintain life. But, green wheat grass, sprouts, and living things had the enzymes I needed. So I became a plant vampire sustaining my life and well being by eating living plant tissues that were green.
"When I ran into difficulty finding all the things I needed, I decided to grow my own.
"This led to going to Washington D.C. where a group of a few people
were into a plan to survive what they thought was an oncoming nuclear
disaster. The game plan was to purchase a hundred acres and subdivide
into ten acre sustainable farming plots. We were all reading Mother
Earth News. After a year of this I found these people liked to talk
about the plan, but no action was implemented. So I left Washington
with my twenty or so rabbits I was raising on a third floor balcony two
blocks North of Dupont Circle and caught a train back to Sherwood
Forest in Lake Worth. Shortly thereafter a couple who were living on 2
1/2 acres in Columbia County, Florida decided to divorce and made me an
offer I could not refuse. They would give me an acre of farmland if I
would look after Heather Dale and Schannon Danyell Darling. Thus began
a venture of six years learning from scratch how to grow our organic
"My first year was a disaster. We all came down with scurvey because I
KNEW tomatoes contained Vitamin C and therefore we did not, could not
suffer from scurvey that first winter. That taught me the books might
not have true answers. The Agricultural Agents were no help but
hindered all progress. Then G-D sent me Mr. Loys Johns who with a
fourth grade education knew the correct answers to my knotty ag
problems. He told me he would teach me everything as taught his sons on
two conditions, I would do things his way without question, and I would
put down anything else and be there when a task must be done. I agreed
and shortly thereafter felt I had tied my fate to a madman.
"He would not eat any food prepared by a woman, because one night years
before, he got drunk one night and his wife put poison in his whiskey
and he nearly died. He planted by moonsigns, and I came over one day
and he had hired a couple of bulldozers to shove three acres of virgin
forest he had decided would be the slate I should learn to write on
farming. He would not let me water any seed I planted and we had a 2
1/2 month drought around planting time. I could go on for many pages,
I think you get the idea.
"I harvested 27 bushels (he called them hampers) of Burbank Irish
potatoes in a 300 foot row, planted 14 varieties of cow peas, (he liked
to eat cowpeas.) We had corn about 12 to 15 feet high (Hickory King
because he liked white cornmeal to make a pone of cornbread.) We had
mustard, turnips, and Georgia collards, Texas long horn okra pods over
a foot long. I could not sell my okra because people thought it would
be tough that big. Pumpkins filled a ten by ten metal shed I bought to
house them. And I canned so many scurvey bringing quarts of tomatoes I
thought I would die. Did I mention this was all done with a tiller, a
push plow, and a hoe? Organic farming is hard work which makes me
think that is why so few people do it. BUT once it gets into your
blood it courses fully as strong as the sexual urges of late teens and
early twenties. You can take a person out of a farm, but you cannot
take the farm out of a person.
"So that is how I got started, with knowledge from a man who had
knowledge and refused to eat anything that had herbicides, bug killers,
and told me I could have a farm or a garden, but not both. He would
not let me harvest the corners because that was for the gleaners, and
surprise of surprises, they came at the appropriate time as he
predicted. He told me to never take profit from them as this was part
of what I owed G-d for receiving a harvest. And he told me to give
away the first fruits of every harvest. Superstition? I do not
truthfully know. But I do know I promised a crazy old man years ago I
would always do things the way he taught me. And I do know this, what
we grew had a taste you will never find in a store, and he made me make
mess of cowpeas grown in a field next to ours. Yes! There is a
remarkable difference. And that is how I got started in organic farming."
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.