I'm in Louisville, Kentucky where this evening I'll keynote the 2018 national ACRES USA conference. But last night was Eliot Coleman's keynote. For those of you who don't know Eliot, he is one of the granddaddies of American ecological agriculture.
Last night, he treated us all to an endearing recount of his 50-year love affair in four season organic farming. Like me, he has never participated in the government organic program. He and wife Barbara treated me to a night cap after the program and told me he's done playing games with the USDA, which bans nonparticipants like us from using the word "organic."
"I'm just saying I'm organic and telling them to sue me," said Eliot. Kudos for him. I was threatened with litigation when I coined the phrase "beyond organic." Because the word "organic" was on our website, we were held in violation of the government organic licensing regulations. Pete Kennedy, at that time lead counsel for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, responded on our behalf and that was the end of it. I'm overjoyed to know Eliot's fighting spirit is alive and well.
What struck me about his story is that he started in a fir forest rock pile on the coast of Maine, with no money, no equipment, and no customers. That parallel with my own start is striking. I'm so thankful for poverty because it makes you innovative. I'm thankful for the tough situation because it makes you emotionally and spiritually creative. And when the tough land begins to respond to caressing stewardship, the redemption is remarkable.
I consider Eliot one of my mentors and it was a privilege to listen to his story. He's nearly 80 and keeps saying he's going to slow down, but I don't believe it. He's been saying that for 10 years. Author of THE NEW ORGANIC GROWER and FOUR SEASONS HARVEST, he's an icon in our tribe, a prince and chief of the ecological farming movement. I hope I get to follow him for many more of my years.
Have you read any of Eliot's essays or books, and if so, what is your biggest takeaway?