Interview: John Jeavons

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I am John Jeavons. I am the director of Ecology Action, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmentally sound food production. We are located in Northern California in the United States.

This is my 43rd year of researching, developing and teaching biologically intensive food raising. There are people now successfully using this method in a 143 countries in the world, eventually in every climate and soil where food is grown.

We prepare the soil deep: 2 feets or 60 centimeters-deep. Normally in agriculture, the soil is only prepared 6 inches or 15 centimeters-deep. What does this mean? It means you have 4 times more nutrients available, and you can grow 4 times the plants per unit of area or per unit of time.

Second thing is we use compost. Compost holds 6 times its weight in water. So it increases the efficiency with which plants utilize water.

Thirdly, because of the deep soil preparation, which put air in hte soil, that the microbes need in order to breathe - because they breathe oxygen as you and me - combined with the use of compost, we are able to put 4 times the plants in a given area, so this means that we have close plant spacing.

We use offset spacing: if you have a dice, look at the side that have 5 dots in it: that is how the plants are. They are so close together that when they are mature their leaves touch, or merely touch. It shades the ground that further conserves water.

The fourth element is companion planting. Certain plants like to grow together just like people, and others like to be apart. Green beans and strawberries like to grow close together rather than far apart.

If you want to have an exiting combination you have 100 plants of wheat with one plant of camomile. Both the camomile and the wheat will be stronger. Whereas if there is 1 plant of wheat for 1 plant of camomile, they will both be weaker.

It is exciting when you understand the plants personalities.

The fifth element is to have 60% of your growing area in carbon and calorie crops. The carbon and calorie crops are grains - such as wheat and oats and barley - and also corn, amaranth, quinoa, sorgho, millet... They produce a tremendous amount of carbon for the compost pile and a significatn amount of calories to eat.

Then the sixth thing is that 30% of your area needs to be in special root crops: plants that produce a large amount of calorie in a small area, in a short amount of time.

There are 7: potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, salsifis, garlic, jerusalem artichoke and parnsip.

Now it turns out that those crops can produce per month up to 20 times the calories that the grains produce.

So in the world of the future, if you wanna have the smallest area to grow your food, you need to have 30% of that area in special high-calorie producing root crops.

It means you can condense your nutrition in the form of calories into a fraction of the space.

The Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center in Taiwan about 15 years ago said that in the world of the future - that I say is now - that in order for people to live well they would have to have a lot of root crops in their diet. (It tastes good and you can do excellent recipes with root crops).

We still have 10% left.

Indeed we are growing in 60% of our area our compost materials.

In 90% of our area we are growing all of our calories but we are missing some vitamins and minerals.

So somewhere in the last 10% we need to grow those missing vitamins and minerals that are not in the other crops. That takes 5% of the area.

In the other 5% of the area we can grow our income.

Now the next thing, the seventh element of Grow Biointensive is using open-pollinated seeds. Those seeds have performed so well for centuries, and also you can save seeds from them, where with F1 hybrid seeds you can't as they don't grow to the type.

Last but not least, this is a whole system.

You can't put all the plants close together and not to use compost and not to prepare the soil deeply.

We had an intern here from Latin America who had been to the university for 6 years and he had good education. He came here and in 1 month of internship out of 6, he said he had learned more than he had learned in 6 years. He didn't learn more information, but he learned the system. And the system tolds how to put all the pieces he had learned at the university. So it made him more effective at what he does.

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