How to grow healthy.

My grandmother won prizes for her gorgeous chrysanthemums. She had a huge rose garden that was designed like a Persian Carpet. She had two full time gardeners who kept her topiaries trimmed and her lawns like billiard tables. She taught me to love making things grow and to respect the endless powers of Nature.

One of her pet peeves: “Why must Americans call it ‘dirt’? It’s soil. It’s earth. It’s not dirty. It’s wonderful.”

Last week, I thought about her often as we watched a wonderful film about turning dirt into magic. The Biggest Little Farm is a documentary about the Chesters, a cooking blogger and a filmmaker, who worked for eight years to transform a mistreated farm into a Garden of Eden.

When they bought it, the land was parched, rocky, gray, starved by the monomania of modern agriculture. They decide that the solution is “biodynamics”, planting a super-diverse set of crops that will work together to support each without chemicals or machines.

They plant 200 types of cover crops alongside 76 varietals of fruit trees, and bring in a children’s library of barnyard animals: ducks, sheep, chickens, pigs, woolly cattle, bees and dogs. In a couple of years, the soil is transformed and the crops explode.

But with this bounty comes trouble. The gophers attack the tree roots, the leaves are eaten by snails, the coyotes attack the chickens, and draught, wind and fire threaten the whole enterprise.

Finally, the miracle of an integrated ecosystem kicks in to save the farm. The ducks eat the snails. The coyotes eat the gophers. The cover crops protect the soil from the wind. When the full chain is left to thrive, all the links connect.

Can this approach replace the industry that feeds the world? Maybe not. Unlike the giant factory farms that surround them, they focus only on feeding their local community. They can thrive by selling eggs by the dozen and fruit by the basket rather than filling endless refrigerator trucks with mechanized, chemicalized produce. But the Chesters and their film aren’t trying to subvert the food industry, just to remind us of the rich complexity of nature, and the powers it has to heal and restore.

It’s not just agriculture that has become hyper focussed and out of balance. I’m also concerned about losing touch with the importance of leading a diversified life. Reading all sorts of books. Talking to different kinds of people. Working but also playing. Expertise but also experimentation, lifelong education, exploration and wonder.

A life out of balance grows depleted, unproductive, overmedicated, lost. How are you restoring your own mental and spiritual ecosystem so you can continue to flourish?

12 thoughts on “How to grow healthy.”

  1. Hi Danny, I. I took the scary leap and quit my teaching job last month and moved back in to the country! Renting a beautiful farm cottage with a field as a potential garden. Still surrounded by boxes and clutter bot hopefully we’ll be sorted by next week.

    It will be exciting to get my paints unpacked and start something new. Taking time out to smell the roses again and get back to a more creative life.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hi Danny, I. I took the scary leap and quit my teaching job last month and moved back in to the country! Renting a beautiful farm cottage with a field as a potential garden. Still surrounded by boxes and clutter but hopefully we’ll be sorted by next week.

    It will be exciting to get my paints unpacked and start something new. Taking time out to smell the roses again and get back to a more creative life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, Danny. “Flourish” is not a word I would use about myself. “Languish”, “dilettante”, are words I often hear in my ear. If I’m in a reading phase, I don’t write, and if I’m writing I don’t draw. When I’m knitting (I only know one stitch, and a scarf for myself is my big project), I don’t do any of it. Sometimes reading feels like an escape, and I like the non thinking zone I’m in when I knit. Both feel passive, like I’m running away or hiding. The worst part is I always feel guilty for what I’m not doing. I think if I only focused on one thing, I would improve. After reading this post, I’m beginning to think how I’m framing this is all wrong, that it’s good to have many interests (if not good, at least it’s ok). Thanks for sharing. You always shed some light.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just this weekend I saw a short piece on NorCalifornia winemakers using the practice of Biodynamics in raising their grapes. I think we will begin to see more and more farmers develop and utilize more earth friendly agricultural practices. For more about regenerative farming practices, check out and Seed: The Untold Story I recently downsized from a house with a yard and garden to a condo with a lovely small patio with a small border for planting, two stock troughs for roses and pots for flowers and veg. I love watching the process and cycles, and getting my hands a little dirty.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Everything seems to be disconnected today. We have so many internet connections but lack human connections. We are creating a world of distraction and loneliness. The more technology frees us, the more it imprisons us. It’s a paradox not unlike a Quantum Wave…”Nowhere-Now Here”. The only solution is to “Be Here Now”, which means disconnecting from passive things like watching TV or cruising the web. The more you slow down and take all the stimuli in, the kinder and relaxed you become. You notice things that other people pass by due to them being so preoccupied. It’s hard today. Too many distractions. If we really wake up and collectively decide to not live in the past or future, it would be a kinder world. I think what prevents this is the large gap between the “Have’s and the Have Not’s”. The blatant classism and wage gap make it almost impossible for people to slow down by design. It forces people to work harder for less pay; taking up their valuable free time to explore or learn new hobbies or skills. We are in the machine. We have to break away from it.


  6. I’ve loved making things since I was a child: fiber arts, paper crafts, drawing and painting, and cooking. If I could read the instructions, I tried it. I grew up in a family that made things we used (clothes, quilts, rugs, toys, furniture, paintings…) – it was normal, appreciated and enjoyed. My kids, and now grandkids, feel the same. My husband’s family didn’t grow up knowing about or understanding the drive to make things or appreciating art, craft, and “handmade.” They admire the cards and gifts I’ve made over the years, but they don’t get it. I think we do our kids a disservice when “making” isn’t part of growing up.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The Unitarian Church I drive by every morning had “Wonder and Curiosity” posted on their message board last week. At the time, they struck me as words to live by, have been trying to keep them in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yesterday the earth for our newly made raised beds arrived. So did a torrential sideways rain storm. My fella and I worked hard to cover our earth with tarps so our money wouldn’t flow in a mud stream down the driveway. As we worked we noticed a visitor. A wild duck had arrived and was very curious and not a bit shy. I cannot wait to get the earth into the beds. I love gardening as much as any of the creative arts and due to our peripatetic life have not had a garden for seven years. I had a contract once to interview and photograph farmers who’d emigrated to Nova Scotia. One couple had a biodynamic farm where they raised, among other things, fallow deer. Seeing them in the woods was like catching sight of unicorns or fairy folk. This world is a wonder when we pay attention to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I spend a day a month volunteering on a National Trust farm. I’d do more if I could but I can’t do much of the outdoor work so I can only really help when there’s some creative work on the work schedule. But I love being on the farm, just being connected with nature, the farm animals and, although the farm’s only 6 miles away, being somewhere that has no wireless or phone signal for a few hours. All I do for 6 hours is work with my hands, talk, and have some silent time alone in if I need it, watching and listening to the birds and the sheep. I can almost feel my batteries recharging.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I read a LOT of Mary Oliver’s poetry. They really keep me balanced and I am on a mission to “pay attention”. I’ve read some books (See Sidewalk Oracles by Robert Moss) on synchronicity and happenstance in life. I now talk to people next to me checking out the apples in the grocery and watch to see what is going on because small things make great changes. And who you sit next to on the bus might change your life.


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