Nominee: Linda Borghi
Fast Fact: In 2009, Linda spoke at the United Nations at a conference entitled “Food, Famine, and the Future of Food Technology.”
Marsha H. | Fayetteville, NC
Did you coin the phrase Farm-A-Yard?
Yes, indeed, we sure did. We even have a jingle, because every movement needs a jingle!
Can you describe the first stirrings of this movement and what inspired you and your co-founders to create it?
I was an urban farmer in the Hudson Valley of New York for 11 years. Farm-A-Yard co-founder Criss Ittermann was my designer and “fairy godmother,” and always helped me with my business. In the latter part of those 11 years, I taught live-streamed classes to five African nations and Australia, and met my first co-founder Marsha Howe when I worked with Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. At the end of my 2015 season (when I grew 300 pounds of garlic), I had to make a decision to either farm full-time or teach full-time. I picked teaching to get exponential results from my efforts. I decided to travel the East Coast in what I called the “Grow Food, Earn Money Tour,” and it took me from Orlando to Boston and back. When Marsha and I launched Farm-A-Yard online classes, it made sense to bring Criss in too.
You’ve said that the mission of the Farm-A-Yard movement is to start a food revolution by “localizing our food one yard at a time.” Can you explain the main tenets of this process?
Every one of us depends on this thin layer of soil that feeds us. But modern agriculture is stripping nutrients out of soil and trying to replace them with lab-grown chemicals while it also forces plants to grow where there are no nutrients or life in the soil. So the food we’re eating, even organic food, is more and more depleted. All because we’ve stopped growing healthy soil. Soil is the foundation of all land-bound life as we know it—which means humans, too. Why are we getting so sick? Because we aren’t really being fed.
So our first goal is teaching people to grow healthy soil. Stop letting grass pull all the nutrients out of the little bit of land that you own before you throw all those clippings away in a big plastic baggie headed straight to a garbage dump! Most people are throwing away all the nutrients in 65 million acres of lawn and using drinking water to water something they can’t even eat!
Seeds will grow if they have sun, water, and soil. But we teach people how to choose the right seeds for what they want to grow, and make sure it’s growing in healthy, rich, soil. Once you start growing—once you taste that food that you know you raised yourself—you won’t stop. Everyone will get the farming bug! Try some pea shoots for starters—10 days from plot to plate! Who can resist that?
We believe that everyone needs to take responsibility and grow a portion of the food that we are eating. Even if it is simply green garlic in the windowsill of a Manhattan apartment on the 56th floor. We need this movement for its multitude of benefits—physical, financial, and economic. There’s magic in growing our own food, and that magic ingredient is love! Put love into growing things, and you get more out of it. Cooking with love tastes better, and growing food with love has more health benefits for you and the plant, too. (Name one person on the 56th floor of a Manhattan apartment building who couldn’t use more love!) But when your broccoli comes from 2,000 miles away, there’s no love left in it.
My Farm-A-Yard team and I are connecting people with the skills and information they need to succeed in putting this magic back into their lives. This way, they can successfully grow real, nourishing food, right from the get-go. You see, it would truly bother me if anyone failed, because I know their chances of trying again are nil to none. We can change the world one plot-to-plate at a time!
Why do you feel it is so important for us to know where our food comes from?
Unfortunately, we live in a time when food can make us really sick depending on how it is grown. Our bodies require clean, better-than-organically grown, nutrient-dense food in order to function like a well-oiled machine. If our food is devoid of nutritive value, we suffer … every cell in our body suffers, and that suffering is the beginning of disease.
The more removed we are from where our food comes from, the less sure we can be of how it was grown. You can produce “organic” food that is grown in depleted soil. The seeds will grow, but they won’t have the nutritional value we really need. Organic methods don’t require taking great care of the soil—only that you abstain from using certain products. And the list of allowable methods and products that can still pass as organic grows all the time—including questionable products and methods. So we really don’t know. Meanwhile, your organic berries can come from Peru. And you may even see organic Washington state apples in stores found in New York apple country! It’s crazy! When these foods travel that distance, they lose vitality all the way to your mouth—they just don’t have the same nutritional density.
Also, due to the hardiness needed for what I call “stupidmarket” foods (yes, I coined that term as well), the species and varieties of our fruits and vegetables are more and more limited. The food has to be able to be picked before it’s ready or keep for weeks in-transit as it gets on a boat or is driven across country in a truck. These foods are not selected because they’re delicious or nutritious. They’re picked because they’re stubborn.
How can home gardens contribute to overall wellness?
Wellness has everything to do with the kind of relationship we have with food and where it comes from. Gardens open a new awareness and consciousness about the value of whole foods. The garden gives us a place and activity through which to hone a new relationship with food that is alive, accessible, and fresh. This experience invokes a deep joy and appreciation.
The foundational act of eating and the kind of food we consume on a daily basis are either our medicine or our poison. Making a decision to grow some of your own food is powerful. It benefits the body and the soul. Gardens can be places that support emotional healing and so much more. Food brings people together. It supports and nurtures healthy relationships with others, builds community connection, and can even provide new, local food entrepreneurial opportunities. Gardens are a place to learn valuable lessons from nature—for adults and especially for children—that can affect our wellness in every area of life.
Tell us about Abundant Life Farm—its start in 1988 and eventual reawakening in 2004—and your experiences with SPIN-Farming and bioenergetic practices.
Abundant Life Farm began on Old Mill Road, Block Island, Rhode Island, where I was the comptroller of the public utility Block Island Power. I farmed on a quarter of an acre, had 23 sheep, 50 chickens, a milking Jersey cow—and the only farm in the United States licensed to sell cheese to the public with a herd of only one. I invented a 5-gallon pasteurization machine to do this.
I was introduced to biodynamics in the late ‘90s when I was the first intern at The Pfeiffer Center garden in Chestnut Ridge, New York. This is the region where biodynamics came to the United States in the ‘50s. When Abundant Life Farm came back to life in Middletown, New York, in 2004, we embraced the SPIN (Small Plot INtensive)-Farming model using biodynamic practices.
When I began Farm-A-Yard, I came upon Evan Folds, the creator of bioenergetic agriculture, which uses biodynamic methods combined with other principles. Over the years, Evan and I have developed a strong relationship, and he is Farm-A-Yard’s official soil doctor. A soil test is the first step anyone who is really serious about growing nutrient-dense food would take. Visit Evan’s web page (be sure to tell him I said hi!) to get your soil amendment prescription and find out if you need a little of this or that—and don’t touch those chemicals! After all, all we need to do is grow the soil to grow healthy people, and Evan can show us how to grow healthy soil.
What are some tips for ensuring that our lawn soil is nutrient-rich and primed for crop production?
To take a page from Evan, who was studying marine biology before he studied soil—soil is a lot like an airy version of the ocean. A lot is going on under the surface when you look at it under a microscope and study it. We don’t know everything there is to know about soil. It is a miraculous and complicated system that, when healthy, delivers nutrition to plants. That may sound weird, but there are highways underground through which tiny microbes bring nutrients to plants. I kid you not! When you kill the soil, how do you replace this highways? You don’t! You fake it. You pretend. You make synthetic nutrients and give them to the plants so they grow, and the synthetics end up in the people and make them sick.
So how do you ensure your soil is primed for crop production? Compost your weeds, use worm poop, stir up some biodynamic preparations, and stay far, far away from those petrochemicals. We talk about this topic a lot on our podcast and have several hours of webinars that cover soil health. It’s difficult to put the whole process into words, which is why Evan is a guest on our podcast often!
How does the Farm-A-Yard movement encourage local food security?
NOTHING is more secure than food growing outside your kitchen door, and we need more of that. With just 100 square feet of growing space, you can shave about $700 off your stupidmarket bill a year.
And what you don’t grow may be grown by your neighbor. You can trade with friends or family. Or go to a farm market, look that farmer in the eye, and ask about the farm’s growing practices. See something you don’t recognize? Ask what it is and how to prepare it. They know!
With droughts threatening our food from California and storms threatening our food from Florida, we need to think more about local food and not be so dependent on just a few large areas of our country and imports. If everyone is growing something, canning something, and sharing something, then when the power is out, everyone can eat. When a storm comes through, people can send relief food—that’s not in a can—to their neighbors. It’s not rocket science to realize that if the food is in your yard, in your kitchen, or at your church down the street, then your food is more secure than if it has to go 2,000 miles by truck and make it from a warehouse to your market, and then you have to go to the market to pick it up.
How do your efforts stimulate entrepreneurial opportunity?
I teach how to grow food and earn money. For the home gardener, I STRONGLY suggest looking at the Seed Voyage web page. This is where the home gardener can easily turn to sell some extra produce. We want all communities to work with a venture like Seed Voyage and collaborate in the growing of food. We also have Wayne Roberts on board, teaching city planners some 30 benefits and billions of dollars of free public service by growing food everywhere. Yup … everywhere! This just makes more sense than allowing 40 million acres of turf grass—the largest cultivated crop in the nation—to use 40 percent of the drinking water on the East Coast!
In your wildest dreams, how do you see the Farm-A-Yard vision benefiting the world?
I see Farm-A-Yard being a major player in reversing the status quo of the lawn. This YouTube video says a lot. I dream of driving down residential streets called Lettuce Lane and Broccoli Boulevard. Yes, indeed.
Can you offer a specific piece of gardening, farming, or healthy living advice that would be of interest to our Grow Network community?
When we develop an intimate relationship with the soil beneath our feet, something happens. I can only describe it as joy. I would like nothing better than for everyone to feel this joy … then it will be Heaven on Earth.
The Grow Network is a global network of people who produce their own food and medicine. We’re the coolest bunch of backyard researchers on Earth! We’re constantly sharing, discovering, and working together to test new paths for sustainable living—while reconnecting with the “old ways” that are slipping away in our modern world. We value soil, water, sunlight, simplicity, sustainability, usefulness, and freedom. We strive to produce, prepare, and preserve our own food and medicine, and we hope you do, too!