Cosmic rays and grounded beans
Harry was interviewed by Barbara Bernstein on KBOO radio, June 27, 2011.
Barbara Bernstein: Harry MacCormack co-founded Oregon Tilth. In recent years, he has been involved with the Ten Rivers Food Web and the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project. His new book, Cosmic Influences on Agricultural Processes, concerns itself with the impact of celestial forces on agriculture. Harry’s been living and farming on Sunbow Farm outside of Corvallis, Oregon, since 1972.
Harry MacCormack: I’m here.
Barbara: Do you feel like there’s a direct link between organic farming and looking at cosmic influences on organic processes?
Harry: One of the reasons that we pushed to put Oregon Tilth together, and then pushed to get the National Organic Law into the House and the Senate when we did, had to do with openings that were astrologically based. If you push certain things at certain times, they go through, and if you do it at the wrong time, they don’t. Some people think that’s woo-woo, but I don’t think we would have gotten the National Organic Rules on the floor - and passed - if we’d been even a year or two later.
I use it daily in my planting; right now we’re in the early stages of the fourth quarter of the moon and we’re out there weeding like crazy. We’ll be planting fall crops when we get a new moon next week.
Barbara: I have a friend who was an astrologer, who said she didn’t understand why people who have a scientific outlook didn’t understand astrology. After all, astrology is just a codification of a set of patterns and mathematical principles.
Harry: There’s a different kind of logic when we’re dealing with astrological influences than when we’re dealing with astronomical influences. Both logics function, and we can make decisions based on those logics. The logic for astrology is more like the logic involved with a piece of art, or a play, or a poem. There’s truths there.
Both of them seem to have validity, and you can make predictions using them. It’s a long tradition in all the cultures on the planet. I find them to be helpful in setting up a farming and gardening pattern.
Barbara: The same thing can be said about the cultural traditions you’re talking about: planting by the moon or looking at some of the planetary patterns.
Harry: You have four directions, and that led people to see that there were four elements. We deal with air and water and earth. But we really don’t deal with fire. The whole cosmic influence is fire, the electromagnetic fire that runs the universe.
Barbara: Maybe if we were to reintroduce the concept of fire into agriculture it might give us a little more energy.
Harry: The influence of the sun is so enormous on everything we do. The planetary influences I talk about modulate the tone.
Barbara: I’ve been hearing for a long time about when to plant root crops and when to plant above-the-ground crops. Let’s talk about lunar cycles affecting when you plant, when you cultivate, when you harvest, and the basis of that and how that translates to a broader understanding of these patterns.
Harry: If you plant above-ground crops in the second quarter, which is the week ahead of the full moon, you’re going to get higher protein with the grains that are growing. You’re gonna get fast emergence. Rudolph Steiner talks about it, that you can put a seed in the ground in the first quarter but a lot of times it’s not going to really emerge, or do anything, until the end of the second quarter. What we’re dealing with is tidal pulls. Some is the presence of the moon with the planet, some with a combination of the moon and the sun, and some are solar-oriented.
Barbara: What do you mean by solar-oriented?
Harry: Well there’s flows coming off the sun that we deal with in solar winds, and there’s a seven-day pattern, there’s a two- point-five to three-day pattern. The proton flow changes polarity approximately every seven days.
Barbara: How do we separate patterns that we’re projecting, ones of our own imagination?
Harry: I wrote for Llewellyn for a long time, and the Llewellyn calendars and moon-time and sun-time books have been main-stays of that company. A lot of people rely on that information as they do The Farmer’s Almanac. When they do planting and harvesting in that way, it seems to work. That gives it a pragmatic validity.
Barbara: If the fuzz was really thick on caterpillars, it was going to be a cold winter.
Harry: These come from observation. One of the nice things about gardening is you get to see things. You get to see the spiders that are running around on the ground, and those arthropods are involved with the bacteria that are down in the soil that you can’t see, but they’re involved with them. Every once in a while, even this time of year, a worm comes shooting up out of the soil at you. It’s an amazing world out there that the plants live in, and they go through their cycles a lot faster than humans do. We get to observe cyclic reality right in front of us every few months.
Barbara: You talk about these cycles of ice ages and interglacial ages in your book. I’m wondering how these cycles would have happened without human beings.
Harry: We’re in a set of repeating cycles. One of the repetitions we’re in happened around 1300. The planet was three-point- six degrees warmer from about 900 to 1300 than it is now. Suddenly this same set of line-ups that we’re in now happened, and the planet started to cool. That was the beginning of the Little Ice Age.
In 1640, we had a line-up very much like what we’re in now. When the sun came off its solar maximum, it had no sun spot activity for 78 years, and it affected the food system big time.
On most charts I’ve seen, 1825 to 1850 is where it supposedly ends and we start the warming trend we’re currently in. We’re in a situation that we’ve seen before, but we don’t have memory of.
Barbara: In your book you talk about the coming “Little Ice Age” in the mid-21st century.
Harry: That’s predicted by some scientists. In the northern areas, they say 40 degrees north, which in our case would be Salem north, that area across the globe will start cooling gradually after this solar maximum, and it will take a decade before we actually see any impact from it.
Barbara: I talked with a number of climate scientists who agree with you about it getting wetter, but they’re talking about in terms of warmer and wetter, so that’s interesting.
Harry: The carbon levels have been much higher on the Earth at several times, so, carbon could modulate it.
It’s not just the cooling in the 40-degree zone. I’m more concerned with. It’s the area 20-30 degrees on the other side of the equator [where] we’re importing most of our food from, that’s the area that’s going to have fires, droughts and huge floods.
Barbara: I know you are concerned with how little food is produced here, particularly compared to how much food was produced here 100 years ago. That leads us to the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project. How do you propose that we become more food self-sufficient in the valley?
Harry: Dr. Jason Bradford’s work showed that 90 percent of an emergency food system is rooted in beans and grains. If you look at someone’s diet - meat eater or vegetarian - it’s the beans, greens and edible seeds that are the basis.
We haven’t dealt with this as we’re building our organic systems. The Bean and Grain Project was put together to deal with that issue. Over the last 30 years, a lot of the land that used to produce food here has been turned over to grass seed, which is a fairly easy crop to grow here.
What we want to do is establish a grain base, a bean base and an edible seed base that was organic, [and] transition some of these fields back into organic production. While we’re getting this organic food going, make that available in a very local area.
I’m part of a small organization that has put together a mill in Brownsville, there’s another one that’s part of the project, right on the edge of Eugene, this is all within the last few months. We have some fairly large farms involved in the project, and it lumbers ahead. It’s gonna take time to do this, and it’s difficult. Consumers can come in and support these farms, so that when you buy a loaf of the organic grain bread, one of the things you know you’re doing is putting money into the system that is coming out at .50 cents a bushel for that red wheat, opposed to 10 or 12 cents a bushel. At 12 cents a bushel, these guys are not gonna be able to do it here in the valley.
Barbara: I didn’t know until I went to the Food Justice Conference in Eugene in February that there was a time when the Willamette Valley was the chief producer of wheat in the Northwest. In my lifetime, I’m only familiar with it being in Eastern Oregon.
I also learned that 80 percent of the wheat in Oregon is shipped to Asia. so we don’t get very much. After that, I went and looked where the wheat and different grains come from in New Seasons and discovered you cannot buy any local wheat in bulk. And the flax came from China, which really surprised me, because I learned that flax grows really well in the valley.
Harry: It grows really well here. It used to be a major crop here along with hemp.
Barbara: What would it take to rebuild an infrastructure so that we could grow enough grain?
Harry: It would take people stepping up and taking risks. This little mill we have in Brownsville takes a whole bunch of money to buy the equipment, and the equipment for these new mills is very interesting. It’s self-contained, there’s not a lot of the problems we used to have in flour mills with dust. It’s small, very efficient. We can have these things scattered throughout the valley so we don’t have to be trucking stuff all the way from here to Brownsville, or up in the north. You can have several of these mills going pretty quickly.
There are people who want fresh ground flour that isn’t sitting around for months and months. So you’re getting fresh product, and the product that they get and the bread that they’re making actually taste different. When you taste something that’s fresh, from the farmer’s market, it’s totally different than stuff that’s been even on the road for a week or two. With grain it’s the same way. It should be milled and gotten into production, however it’s gonna be used.
Barbara: I switched over to eating the Oregon Grain Bread from Naturebake after I went to the Food Justice Conference. That’s the only locally-sourced grain bread that I think you can buy in the Portland area. I know there’s a few bakeries in Eugene that also source it, so there’s lots of good lines of local breads that you can buy that are really good breads. Except for the Oregon Grain bread there isn’t any other bread that’s sourced locally.
Harry: We have a list of small bakeries we’re selling to, and restaurants, and pizza parlors. It’s a slow process, getting this ready, and people have to adjust their recipes.
The thing we need to establish is a flow. Once the flow is established, then the farmer knows they can do rotation crops. When you think about any grain crop coming off a field as one of the crops that’s there in a five-year rotation, the price you’re paying on that bread includes a rotation. This is not the way people have been thinking when they do conventional agriculture.
Barbara: One test of the efficacy of the locally sourced grain is when I switched to the local bread that’s local grains. I give my dog the ends of the bread after the loaf is gone. After I started feeding her Oregon Grain bread, she would not eat any other bread. And she eats just about anything.
Harry: I’ve talked to a number of people who quit baking their own bread after they ate it.
Barbara: So if people want to find out more about how they can eat grains that are grown here locally, what can they do to find out?
Harry: If you want to know about the project, go to www.mudcitypress.com. The whole project is chronicled by Dan Armstrong, a novelist who got involved with the project. You should read Prairie Fire. It’s about grain farming in the Midwest. He wrote it back around 2000 and it’s a great novel, it should be made into a movie. Anyway, in terms of being a consumer of this, I’d watch for people coming into the farmer’s markets with fresh beans, fresh grains and stuff. I’d watch your stores, there’s some negotiations going on with New Seasons. It’s just a process that’s gonna take a few years to develop because we have to plant this fall, we’re a month and a half, to two months away from planting for next year. Harvest is starting on some of this stuff, but the grain is probably in another three weeks. And then the cleaning process and the grains from this year will be available in bulk through Willamette Seed and Grain. You can buy them in small, three-pound lots. You can buy them in a bit larger lots. And the website, www.willametteseedandgrain.com is up. They can look at that. But it’s an ongoing process, and hopefully with consumer support we can establish a fairly secure economy for more and more of these farms.
This interview transcribed from a KBOO Radio interview with Barbara Bernstein on the“Locus Focus” program. KBOO is a community radio station providing music, news and public affairs 24 hours/day, 365 days/year to Portland, Corvallis, Vancouver, Salem, Mount Hood and the surrounding areas. KBOO is at 90.7 fm in the Portland area. See www.kboo.fm, for more info online and listen on iTunes radio under Radio/Eclectic/KBOO.