John Wise, Californian organic farmer since the 1980s, was one of the first in his field, no pun intended...
In 2009, I asked him a few questions about why he decided to move away from conventional farming. Here are some excerpts.
My pop and I share a love for adventure and the wilderness, passion for purpose in everything we do, and a drive to make the world a better place. I recently asked him why he chose to live in nature and pursue farming:
The seventies were all about finding meaning and purpose in life. I wanted to do something important for the benefit of myself and those around me. I didn't want to choose a career path based on financial gain or social prestige. And I definitely didn't want to become a lawyer.
I also wanted to live with 'nature'. Cities were full of crime, pollution, and corruption. We spent our free time hiking the coastal back woods and backpacking in The Sierras. Nature was pure and true. Up there in the mountains, we felt free.
This drove him toward a interest in organic farming before the practice was popularized. He was glad he chose the ‘road less traveled,’ even if it was a struggle. Here he voices a satisfaction with his choice, which made the hard work, setbacks, and uncertainty worth it:
I was never as happy as I was those first five years working in the orchards. I could literally see the fruits of my labor taking shape before me. What I put into the business, I got back. I was working outdoors, in a beautiful landscape, not tied to a desk. I was working with both my mind and body.
Shift to Organics
My dad wasn’t taught the ways of organic farming; the practice was uncommon during the late eighties. Everyone around him was using chemicals on their crops since it was the accepted and most cost effective form of farming. But John assumed a different perspective and decided to follow his intuitional direction towards organics. He realized that conventional farming didn’t suit his philosophy or health:
But something was bothering me. I became concerned about the way we were farming. Like most other farmers at the time, we were spraying chemicals to control pests and weeds. We used petroleum based fertilizers to make our trees grow. This was how I was taught to farm, This was what the university was telling us to do. In my gut, I knew there was a better way to farm.
He soon decided that he needed to make some changes in his lifestyle and business. In 1989 he began farming organically, and throughout the early 1990’s actively participated in efforts to help others convert to organic farming. He started a packinghouse for his fruit and that of other local organic farmers, and established a business title, Sespe Creek Organics. The next few years in his career were characterized by turning points-- concerning transformations in business and agricultural practice methods:
Around this time, a friend developed skin cancer. I got a cut on my leg that wouldn't heal. An employee was sick all the time. I grew tired of poisoning my fields. I started researching alternative ways of farming. I started talking with farmers who were developing organic agriculture. Within this group, I found like-minded individuals who were using innovative and environmentally sensitive farming methods. I quickly adopted those methods as my own.
Years later, we know that he made the right choice, and one with lasting effects. Our family and growing community knows that organic farming is an important political, social and environmental movement for our lives and our children’s futures.
I have never looked back. As an organic farmer, I have found a way to connect the dreams of my youth with my hopes for the future. I look at my healthy fields and feel the wealth of life all around me.
-Monica Wise, Jan. 2015