The King’s Visit

The following essay by Farmer John is reprinted from the Farm News: Week 15, 1999

This week, Tom Spaulding, Director of our CSA Learning Center, writes the centerfold story about the visit to Angelic Organics by the King of Uganda and his Prime Minister. It is because of Tom & his wife Neddy that our farm is able to receive so many people from so many walks of life this year. It simply would not be possible without their full time effort & dedication. On our sign-up form for 2000, we included a space for you to make a contribution to the Learning Center. When reading Tom’s account of the royal visit, please consider the value your contribution can make in spreading the message of organic agriculture throughout the world.

I want to add to Tom’s story a little bit about my interaction with the King. As I began to show him the fields and our equipment and facilities, I suspected that I was showing something that was not easily transferable to his country. It is a country of tiny landholdings, a country where the farmers are generally without capital. How can I approach this message of organic farming in a way that makes a difference?, I wondered. On that day, we were planting cover crops in a race to beat the rain-big tractor, spiffy grain drill-fast, flying across the fields. Where does a country start, I wondered. Not with the machines, not with the irrigation system, not with the barns. Where did the United States start? With the soil. It is the soil that grows the food that feeds the people. A robust people will build the barns, make the machines.

I showed His Highness the knee-high yellow blossom sweet clover growing in our new land. “This is a restorative crop,” I announced. “It adds nitrogen to the soil, increases organic matter, prevents erosion. Its roots penetrate the subsoil, aerating it, increasing drainage, & bringing up nutrients from far down in the ground.”

I took King Henry and his Prime Minister into the packing room, hoisted a bag of yellow blossom sweet clover to the table, held up a handful of seed. “This 50 lb bag of seed can produce as much as 30 to 40 tons of biomass in the soil, this one little bag of seed. You don’t need machines to sow it; you can just spread it on the ground by hand.”

His Highness replied, “in my country, it is very difficult to take land out of production for a crop like this. The farmers need to use their land all the time.”

I suggested, “perhaps a long season crop like this is not right for your farmers; perhaps a crop that grows quickly like the peas we are planting today. In just a few weeks they will bring a lot to the soil.”

“Yes, perhaps there is such a crop.” Sir Henry added, “it is important for it to be a seed that cannot be eaten. In my country, sometimes the farmers are very, very poor, and when they become hungry, that seed that is there for the land, they will eat it to stay alive.” His Highness let the seed sift through his fingers. “Yes”, he reflected, “perhaps there is a crop that can be used.”