“Left to her own devices, Mother Nature builds topsoil, she enriches it with organic material, adds the products of water and wind erosion and thus deepens the layer of topsoil and lays the foundation for grass and later for forest cover.” ~ The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing.Topsoil is the skin of the earth. It is the place where the feeding roots of plants source their nutrients. It is the fertile canvas of life. An inch of soil can take up to 500 years to form naturally, and a mere month to erode from deforestation and exposure to the elements. On their website, the World Wildlife Foundation states that half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. How do we engage with this staggering fact? What does it look like to address this at a grass roots level?Winged Heart Farm is a 21 acre permaculture farm located on the north end of Salt Spring Island. The farm land, bordered by a protective forest park, contains two orchards, a medicine and vegetable garden, food forests, and numerous buildings. Since the inception of the farm ten years ago, 80 people have come to stay on the land. Some have been short term wWoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), others are long term ‘citizens.’
The farm is founded on the permaculture ethics of:
Caring for the earth. Care for the biological ecosystem that we are each a part of, and care for all living and nonliving things. On the farm this is done by minimizing consumption of energy, packaging and inorganic materials. This also includes minimizing the consumption of water, building soil and plant diversity, not using harmful chemicals, and preserving the existing ecosystem.
Caring for the human. By cultivating community through weekly meetings, cultivating individual heart health and the collective health by collaborating, supporting and celebrating each other. An understanding of shared obligation to the future of all life. Caring for the human means nourishing and educating within the farm community and outside of it.
Fair share. Sharing in the abundance with the humans and the animals and the earth. This can be done by setting limits to one’s own consumption and redistributing the surplus to the earth and greater human community. When an abundance of produce, medicine, skills and knowledge are shared, the connective web between the human, animal and plant worlds are strengthened and stabilized.
On a sunny spring afternoon I sat down with one of the owners, Moe Wendt, over a bowl of nettle soup to learn about how soil awareness and wild-culturing have shaped the evolution of Winged Heart.
“We were alarmed about global warming for 15, maybe 20 years. The initial inspiration here was to create a lifeboat, to create a big garden.”
“There was a really important decision that I made early on, based on having seen vineyard development. When we bought the property, the orchard area had been logged but not cleared. I asked them not to clear the stumps out. See, the stumps reach down to the sub-soil. When you pop them out, what you get is subsoil on the top. You can turn it under and mix it up, but you no longer have a native habitat to work with. By leaving all the stumps intact, it provides diversity and leaves the soil structure for the beautiful, wonderful living creatures living in it so that they are not thrown out of their homes and have to start over again.”
As Moe speaks, a breath of wind blows the front door opens, and the lilting, lyrical strumming of a guitar reaches our ears.
“Art here feeds the soul,” he says. “ when we started the farm, we were inspired by the ethics described in The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing. The idea is no more than four hours of farm work followed by art and music the rest of the day.”
Winged Heart Farm is fortunate to have such intact and healthy soil structures in place. The erosion and fertility exhaustion common of mono-cultured land is spared here. By educating visitors, there is hope that the fertility of the land will be preserved and deepened. One day, if the humans were to walk away from this land, they would leave behind a healthier and a richer topsoil then when they first came.
A stroll through the gardens reveals polyculture beds bountiful with strawberries, bushes of purple sprouting broccoli, bright orange calendula blossoms, valerian, currant bushes covered in mauve blossoms, elderberry trees, and the fresh new shoots of arugula. Although Winged Heart has established over 90 varieties of herbs, grows numerous edible berries, tubers, dozens of kinds of fruits trees, and every vegetable you can name (plus some more), when asked what the main crops produced on the farm are, Moe’s son, Taliesen Wendt replies, “We grow wings on hearts!”
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