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Farming Forward

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Critical Thought For Earth

Grant Schultz


A letter from Don M. Huber, Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology, Purdue University Dr. Hartzler has written several similar papers, as have others, defending GMOs and glyphosate in spite of the growing scientific peer-reviewed studies to the contrary that document the serious health and safety risks associated with them. I guess it is like the saying, "it is easy to be down on something you are not up on."

I have stated on several occasions that Future historians may well look back upon our time and write, not about how many pounds of pesticides we did or did not apply, but about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and future generations with this massive experiment we call genetic engineering that is based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the 'bottom line' of a commercial enterprise."

I do not worry about the critics because this is common in science, but the truth finally prevails with a little time (it took quite a long time re tobacco). I was surprised that Dr. Wise was listed as a coauthor to the information although she is relatively new to Purdue and perhaps inexperienced and not familiar with all of the research that has and is being done in this area by her colleagues there.

I am not interested in a bashing game or debate so I generally just share the information and documentation and let it go. However,I am concerned about the damage that is done to our production efficiency; and soil, plant, animal, and human health that is obvious all around us. I will briefly comment on several items in the Arneson paper:

The effect of glyphosate as a strong mineral chelator is well documented in the published literature (also herbicide labels and US Patent Office). It is also patented as a strong antibiotic to many beneficial soil, animal and human microorganisms that protect us from disease as well as enhance nutrient uptake and availability from soil or the GI Tract.

I also had serious concerns in writing a very private/confidential letter to alert Secretary Vilsack of the impact of what we were seeing could have on our exports. Within two months of the letter being leaked to the public, scientists in other countries had also identified the abortigenic agent in Roundup Ready soybeans imported from the US. They also have been observing reproductive failure, 'gut' diseases, birth defects, etc. when animals are fed the imported GMO or glyphosate containing feed stocks. Some countries have initiated efforts to secure sources of NON-GMO products to replace US imports because the US is not considered a viable source of these materials that they want. (Remember, the customer is always right - a lesson we should have learned from the Japanese in the 70s when they developed a competitive source of soybeans in Brazil.) If we keep our collective and governmental heads in the sand and continue to force them to have only GMO products, our markets are shot - along with our ag economy without the markets).

Dr. Wise's colleagues at Purdue have published some excellent research verifying numerous earlier peer-reviewed scientific papers showing that it is the soilborne pathogens that are the herbicidal mode of action of glyphosate. In fact, they approached it from a new angle and showed that if you treat susceptible weeds with a fungicide, it destroys the efficacy of glyphosate. They then looked at "glyphosate resistant" weeds and showed that they are resistant to the fungi (not the glyphosate) and therefore don't respond to normal herbicidal rates of the glyphosate (See the Ph-D Thesis of Jessica Schaffer and publications of Johnson, Shaffer, et al in Dr. Wise's Department at Purdue). Increasing the rate of glyphosate to kill "resistant weeds" merely increases the virulence of these soil borne pathogens and kills off (antibiotic activity) the soil microorganisms that would otherwise provide natural biological control of these pathogens. These are common pathogens that are then left 'souped up' to attack other crops grown on these more disease conducive soils. There are few voids in nature, so when entire groups of beneficial microbes are eliminated, the void is filled with the bad guys to increase disease (See Krueger, et al. papers).

Dr. Hartzler's assumptions of a large (10,000 to 100,000 times higher)excess of metal ions is not correct. It is the opposite relative to 'available' ions - that's why we refer to many of them as MICRO-nutrients)! The availability of many of these nutrients (esp. manganese and iron) for plants is determined by microbial activity in the soil. Glyphosate is toxic (patented as an antibiotic) to beneficial organisms critical to effective biological function in soil (and also in our intestinal tract).

Corn used to be the healthiest crop grown. Now, look at Goss' wilt, etc. and all of the fungicides applied to it - and also to wheat. If you will ask yourself "what has changed" and then connect the dots, you will probably come to the same conclusion that I and other scientists have, that we have a lot of failed promises because we haven't recognized the flawed science involved in the GMO process and toxicity by applying chemicals such as glyphosate in our food. The wealth of literature documenting these health and safety concerns continues to grow while I know of no long-term safety studies that indicate that our current glyphosate herbicide practices or GMO toxins in feed and food are safe.

Don M. Huber Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology, Purdue University

True Lifecycle

Grant Schultz


New people, methods, and products are often suggested, recommended by peers, media, and governments.  As individuals, we must constantly ask, "Is this right for me?" You're invited to watch this very practical, well produced video.

You may have had the observation that your CFL light bulbs are burning out faster than your 'old style' incandescents.

Have you also considered CFL's poor light quality, lower brightness, and excessive toxicity as well as their increased acquisition cost?

Yep, old is new again, again.

Restoration Agriculture

Grant Schultz

restorationagbook We recently had the pleasure of visiting one of the premier examples of broadacre permaculture in the US, 106-acre New Forest Farm in Viola, Wisconsin.  Mark Shepard and family have sculpted New Forest Farm from a cookie-cutter row-crop operation into a diverse and productive farm of meat, fruit, nuts, and honey (much more than milk and honey).

Mark has also recently released his book Restoration Agriculture: Farm-scale Permaculture for Farmers

Here's a recent talk Mark gave at ACRES USA Conference in Louisville, Kentucky this December.

Thanks Mark and Jen for being wonderful hosts and putting a positive woosh on the Earth!

Permaculture in Austria

Grant Schultz


Here's two videos on the Holzer family, permaculture farmers we hold in high regard.

There are only a few Midwestern farmers practicing these techniques as a holistic system, and we aspire to be among them.


Grant Schultz

As Americans, we like to think that we're trend-setters.  That's true in some ways, definitely not in others. Fashion? Paris, Milan...then NYC.  Tech? OK, we lead with Silicon Valley, Seattle...then Berlin, Bern, and SE Asia.

Agriculture.  Hmm this is a tough one.  Depending upon what angle you approach food-growing, different regions of the world can be considered trend-setters.

Switzerland leads in seasonally pastured dairy.  Australia leads in permaculture.  Cuba leads in local vegetable production.

We like to think of ourselves as the fly in the Iowa ointment.  Innovating sustainable, local food production in a sea of Big Ag.  But we're not afraid of participating in and leveraging a Global Economy either.

The tools to grow local food can come from anywhere.  We like to build from scratch, purchase used, or in rare cases import quality products from overseas.

Our vegetable planter is a Jang, manufactured in Korea.  It's high quality, and will last a lifetime.  The transport energy to get it stateside is easily justified when considering its life-cycle analysis.  Quality is worth it.

But our *favorite* tillage tool is a Maschio power harrow.   It's a uniquely European implement, with 10 sets of rotating harrow blades on a vertical axis.  Most horizontal tillers (rotovators) till 6-8" deep and leave a plow pan layer below.  Our power harrow tills up to 12" deep and preserves soil structure and drainage while still preparing a suitable seedbed.

We farm using transitional permaculture methods, and the power harrow is one of the tools to get there without getting a 12-oxen hitch.

Try one.  Better yet, visit our farms.


Culinary Ride

Grant Schultz


An excellent blend of minds, motivation, and muscle creates community with purpose.  Living and working near Iowa City has distinct advantages.   Culinary Ride is a prime example. Blending a cycling ethic with a penchant for fine, local food created a unique event that invites cyclists of all abilities to go on an adventure from 20-70 miles in, on, and around area farms to sample and enjoy locally-produced foods.

Farmers Grant and Carolyn were snapped enjoying a morning breakfast prepared by Griddle Me This before starting the ride (look at those cuties).


Grant took a 30lb watermelon along for the ride to be enjoyed at the last stop.

Garlic Season

Grant Schultz


Garlic-planting season is just around the corner for VersaLand Farm.  The first frosts have kissed the ground of Iowa, and we will be planting this season's garlic soon.  We aim to start garlic planting two weeks after the first hard frost (28º F), around October 15th this year.

Planting garlic in the fall gives cloves just enough time sprout some roots before winter.  This gives them a leg up to be one the first crops poking out of the soil in Spring.

We've built two new specialized pieces of machinery to aid in our largest planting of garlic yet, several TONS of heirloom hardneck varieties.  We'll tell you all about them soon enough (with photos!)  VersaLand Farm does an exceptional job of adapting precision agricultural methods typically done by hand into scalable, sustainable machine-assisted processes.

Humans+Machines+Intelligence = Winning

All three parts of the equation are necessary to achieve the desired result.  We could go on about this, but know that integrated care of the land needs a steady eye.  'Big Ag' doesn't work because it distances human cognition too far from nature.

Our aim for machine design is to remove only the monotony of hand labor, while maintaining direct and intimate interaction between man, woman, seed, and soil.


Wendell Berry At Work

Grant Schultz


Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry


Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die. And you will have a window in your head. Not even your future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Denounce the government and embrace the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. Give your approval to all you cannot understand. Praise ignorance, for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers. Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Listen to carrion – put your ear close, and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come. Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. So long as women do not go cheap for power, please women more than men. Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child? Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields. Lie down in the shade. Rest your head in her lap. Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts. As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it. Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

A Seasonal Poem

Grant Schultz


The following poem was shared on the PFI email listserv. May we all strive to create similar experiences for our communities, children, and future children.

The Farm  by Joyce Sutphen My father's farm is an apple blossomer. He keeps his hills in dandelion carpet and weaves a lane of lilacs between the rose and the jack-in-the-pulpits. His sleek cows ripple in the pastures. The dog and purple iris keep watch at the garden's end.

His farm is rolling thunder, a lightning bolt on the horizon. His crops suck rain from the sky and swallow the smoldering sun. His fields are oceans of heat, where waves of gold beat the burning shore.

A red fox pauses under the birch trees, a shadow is in the river's bend. When the hawk circles the land, my father's grainfields whirl beneath it. Owls gather together to sing in his woods, and the deer run his golden meadow.

My father's farm is an icicle, a hillside of white powder. He parts the snowy sea, and smooths away the valleys. He cultivates his rows of starlight and drags the crescent moon through dark unfurrowed fields. "The Farm" by Joyce Sutphen, from Straight Out of View.   (c) Beacon Press,

1995. Reprinted with permission.

Garlic Exotica

Grant Schultz

VersaLand farm is lovingly known for two things; approaching business wildly different, and growing exotic varieties of garlic. We just completed our garlic harvest, so we thought we'd show off some pictures of our garlic exotica.  Enjoy.

FarmHack: IOWA

Grant Schultz

Want Instant Farm Hack plans?  Go HERE.



We've had a busy week, co-hosting FarmHack Iowa, a tremendous success.  FarmHack is a series of workshops that brings farmers, engineers, designers, and programmers together to create new ideas, and solve old problems.  Created as a project of the National Young Farmers Coalition and The Greenhorns, it's a fun event with real-world practicality.

Hear Harvest Public Media's NPR coverage here.


Kristen Loria of FoodCorps and Grant Schultz of VersaLand Farm joined forces to organize and host the event.  The University of Iowa Memorial Union, Echollective CSA, and Members of the University of Iowa Student Garden all provided host locations for the event and abundant meals.  (we also had some frosty gifts from New Belgium Brewery)

Check out some of the creations from FarmHack: IOWA at the FarmHack tools page or check out the forum.  We're open sourcing the movement of cool farm tools 24/7/365, learn, share, and hack your own awesome, inexpensive tools right now.

Some photos below.


Electric Tractor

Grant Schultz

VersaLand Farm operates forward of common practice, and we're proud of that.  Here's one way we innovate:

In our work to maximize profits and be an energy independent farm, we focus on resilient technologies. The constant question is, "How do we foster independence?'

Grant Schultz, hacker-in-residence at VersaLand Farm, built an electric-powered tractor.  Used for planting, cultivating, mowing and hauling; it's a true plug-in, charged from the conventional grid, photovoltaic panels, or turbines.

Some innovative features:

  • E-PTOs Tractor has electric power takeoffs. Instead of using inefficient mechanical PTO shafts, powered implements attach quickly with a special Anderson plug. This adds all sorts of efficiencies and versatility.
  • DC/AC Inverter The tractor uses a 2500W power inverter to supply two traditional 110V AC outlets. This means ANYTHING you would typically plug into the wall of your home can be used in the middle of a field. Drills, chargers, lights, and saws are all effortless.
  • On-board Charger The tractor plugs into a regular 110V wall socket to charge. The charger is programmed to automatically shut off when the batteries are full, avoiding overcharging and extending battery life.
  • USB ports Charge your smartphone while on the tractor.
  • Waterproof Stereo System Adopted from marine applications, combined with a line-in from an iPhone, the tractor operator can listen to podcasts or stream Pandora for the operator, crops, and field workers. Music for motivation.
  • No-till Cultivator Using the E-PTO system, this tractor can selectively mow down strips of cover crop, leave it as mulch, and no-till plant into the residue. In one pass. Burning no diesel fuel.
We'll post some more videos later and polish this post as time goes on, but here's some photos of the build.

Special thanks to Nikola Tesla and Ron Khosla, their passion laid the creative groundwork to build this tractor.  Thanks, gents.

Regional Energy

Grant Schultz


The widespread adoption of smart grid technology is inevitable.  The crux of its advantage lies in the diversity of generation sources it enables.  When factoring in fuel sourcing, emissions management, and transmission losses of traditional large-scale power generation plants, multi-source microgeneration will become a much larger contributor to overall energy availability. Enter the Regional Energy Web.

Our investment strategy leans toward 100% sustainable, independent generation with regional capacity.

Distributed micro-hydro, geothermal, and PV sources all play into our Regional Energy investment thesis.