February 26, 2015: Dennis Dierks of Paradise Family Produce
Dennis grows delicious vibrant produce that he sells at the Marin farmers markets and he is a talented artist.
He grew up in Idaho and New Mexico and wasn’t trained as a farmer although he worked on farms during the summers when he was young. His initial impression of farming wasn’t positive because he worked on very large farms and remembers them spraying chemicals when he was working in the fields.
After he moved to California he worked as an artist for a publishing company illustrating books. He didn’t enjoy living in the city so he moved to Bolinas with some friends. He and a core community of friends put together a land trust where the land couldn’t be sold or divided. None of them had farmed before so he and his wife started growing leeks on a small patch of land. He’s now been farming for 40 years and it’s been a long learning process ever since.
He’s learned that soil is a living thing. It’s not just a medium to plant in. The microbial life is key to everything so that is his main focus. Every winter he plants cover crops (legumes and oats) or “green manure” to feed the microorganisms. He said that he can grow more nitrogen than he can truck into the farm. 98% of the nutrients he uses come from within 5 miles of his farm.
He’s been learning a system from a gentleman from the Philippines. It was developed so small farmers in third world countries could produce their own nutrient cycles. It’s another approach to the soil where nutrients are extracted using fermentation and made more digestible for the plants. He ferments nettles, comfrey, horsetail, kelp, compost tea and fish byproducts and applies the microbial and nutrient-rich liquids to his growing plants. The horsetail, for example, is high in silica. The fermented horsetail provides easily absorbable silica, which helps the plant cell wall be strong so they are more resistant to bugs. Lactose is another very important nutrient that he collects from the environment using rice, water and milk. The lactose, when sprayed on the plants, keeps the pores of the plants open longer so they absorb more nutrients.
The farm has an apprentice program where young people come to learn farming.
He is fascinated by intact indigenous cultures and likes to travel to Mexico, Guatemala and Panama. He brought several beautiful paintings he painted to share with us. He said that many of these cultures are losing their farming wisdom and practices very quickly, which is a tragedy. A number of young people who he met in Central America have visited his farm and traded farming knowledge.
He had the opportunity to visit Hopi land just last week and was honored to witness a sacred kachina ceremony. It was a water and farming ceremony, a giving ceremony where they had reverence for the land. He said they were so generous despite the fact they had so little.
By Karen Hamilton-Roth