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Marty Travis had completed a highly successful career of crafting reproduction Shaker furniture for clients around the world for more than 35 years, when suddenly he realized that he had a dream to regenerate the family farm and grow sustainably healthy food. Like so many of us thinking about attempting to grow nutritious food in a sustainable manner for the first time, whether it be in our personal home garden, or in a business-oriented market garden or small farm, Travis realized that he had much to learn, but he felt the need to start somewhere and quickly.
Since that persistent dream took command of his life in the early 2000s, Marty, inspirational wife Kris and talented son Will, set out to make their dream come true. They did have the advantage in that they lived on the family farm—the Darnall-Spence Homesteaddating back to 1830, known today as simply the Spence Farm, near Chicago. But the conventional farm had not been actively farmed in many years, so the soil health and even the barns and buildings were in a severe state of neglect, and there was no equipment. The challenge was tremendous, but the Travis family proved equal to it.
The story of the overwhelming success in fulfilling the Travis family dream is featured in Marty’s new book, My Farmer, My Customer: Building Business and Community Through Farming Healthy Food. But by establishing Spence Farm as a prominent organic, and now biodynamic producer of healthy food to fulfill the dream, the Travis family have taken their dream to the next level by incorporating their farm as a model centerpiece into a community cooperative of like-thinking sustainable farmers, gardeners, chefs and consumers.
This book is about Marty’s passion for growing healthy food, and how he wants to share the information—both successes and failures—that he has learned, with hopes of instilling that same passion or dream in all of us. As one professional peer review describes it, “This book belongs in the hands of anyone who eats and wants to understand what it takes to produce healthy food. Through new ideas and a different perspective, Marty shares a winning formula for success in modern family farming.”
Publisher Acres U.S.A. notes: “Written by the co-owner of the Spence Farm featured in the documentary, Sustainable, this book provides the reader with the necessary steps an owner-operator must take to set up their family farm for long-term success. It’s a must read for anyone who is passionate about healthy food and healthy farms, from chefs to home cooks to the professional grower. Marty, a seasoned farmer, writes each chapter like a neighbor giving trusted advice, including honest details about what worked and what failed—more reasons this book is so special.”
In Chapter 2, Rules of Nature—or—Nature Rules!, Travis says, “There is so much we have learned when it comes to working with nature. There is also so much more to learn. Remember that one rule we established in Chapter 1 about only working with nice people? Well, this is my notice to you. Mostly. Mother Nature doesn’t care about being nice. Nature is nature, and we have to come to an understanding of this. Nature is beautiful, incredibly inspiring, and really something to behold!
“Nature is also very harsh, unrelenting, and powerful,” says Travis, “My friend, Gary Reding, shared with us his Four Rules of Nature: (1) Everything is connected to everything. (2) Everything goes somewhere. (3) There is no free lunch. (4) Mother Nature always bats last! So we must come to an understanding of how nature works.”
Travis continues, “We need to have a healthy respect for her, and we need to work on our farms in ways that encourage and develop systems for enhancing natural processes and natural communities. When we think about that first rule of nature—that everything is connected to everything—we need to look at the whole farm using that as a lens.”
The second rule is everything goes somewhere. “If we apply chemicals, they go somewhere,” says Travis, When we leave trash to blow across the landscape, it goes somewhere. Likewise, if we work with nature and are taking care of our soil and applying proper nutrients or biologicals, those nutrients go somewhere too. Think! Think about the consequences of your decisions. Even when we use our nutritional foliar sprays, those go throughout the whole plant, and what isn’t used above ground gets exuded out into the root zone for future use. This idea of interconnectedness is so totally amazing. It truly is a web of life.”
The third rule is that there are no free lunches. Travis says, “Because everything is connected to everything, if we pull on one string, it affects something else. If we don’t acknowledge our place in all of this, we can get overtaken just as easily when someone else pulls on a string. If you want something, there is a cost, one way or another. I know there are a lot of very generous folks out there, and I have met a ton of them. But I also believe that in order for that to continue to happen, I need to pay it forward or backward.
“Soil health is not to be taken for granted, nor is anything else,” he stresses, “In any relationship you have to give good to get good. Again think about the desired outcome. How are you going to get there, and what resources are needed to achieve your goal? We have to factor something in for resources.”
And last is the fourth rule—Mother Nature bats last. “Even in our best planning, preparing and dreaming, Mother Nature has the last word,” Travis declares, “Nature will always win, as time is on its side. I read once that the sum total of our influence on the earth has not been positive. I am sure that if we took away the human influence on the planet, nature would right our wrongs.
“Working with nature doesn’t guarantee that disaster can’t happen, but if we are working with great diversity and nurturing our soil and crops, we can often buffer the effects that nature imposes,” he explains, “For example, applying great nutrition on our crops won’t stop a hail storm, but it will allow those crops to survive and thrive. This past spring, we were transplanting our pepper plants and had nearly one-third planted when a serious hail storm occurred. It hailed inch-sized nuggets for nearly 45 minutes. Within a week, all of those transplants that were exposed to the storm were growing and looked amazing. We had nearly 100 per cent survival of those transplants.
“I feel the response in growth was a direct effect of the nutrition that we had applied,“ he concludes, “Nature is powerful, and that power can go either way. That is the fourth rule to remember. Work with respect of the power that is there.”