Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Speaking Engagements - Spreading the word locally about Bishop's Homegrown, Self Sustainability, Natural Gardening, and Plant Breeding

January 15 and 16 2008 saw me give my first two agriculture related "official" speaking engagements here in my home county in Salem Indiana. The first was given to the local Salem Rotary and to say the least I think I've had better days, part of the problem I believe is that I tried to be a bit to structured in my delivery, using a paper I had written word for word and not being nearly liberal enough to ad lib which is something that always made me more comfortable when I was playing music and I hardly ever went on stage knowing what I was doing. The second engagement was given to the Washington County Master Gardeners association at the Washington County Government Building and I can honestly say I had a blast!

Everyone was so receptive to everything I was talking about and really got into the conversation. I fielded several questions ranging all kinds of topics. We covered my farm, my natural "eco-logical" growing practices, vermiculture, seed saving, plant breeding, the politics of food, greenhouses, enhanced nutrition, a little soil health, plant variety protection, genetics and so much more and I really had a lot of fun. I made a lot of new friends and got to share a couple of my creations with everyone including handing out samples of my "Robert Johnson Mississippi Delta" White Burley tobacco which I think everyone will really enjoy once they grow it

I would really like to do some more of these presentations in the future and would love to find some other places to do them so if you know of any then please e-mail me at I would love to do some more speaking in the near future!

Anyhow, since we didn't record the ad-libbed speech and since I haven't posted anything lately due to a bad chest cold and getting things ready for '08 including building a new greenhouse, I though I would post the paper that I used for the first lecture, I also used it as basically a notation of things that I would like to cover at the second lecture as well and definitely used the high points of the paper to illustrate my points. Anyhow, following is the paper pretty much un-edited, the paper will later appear in the 2007 research journal that I will be finishing shortly.

Bishops Homegrown
Hip-Gnosis Seed Development and “Eco-Logical” growing practices
An overview of the importance of self-sustainable, natural growing methods, seed breeding and selection in the 21’st century in lieu of modern food and farm safety dilemmas and small farm independence.
Written by: Alan Reed Bishop

I believe that the future is deeply embedded in our past. Depending upon the sources you choose to accept and read, agrarian agriculture and civilization has and did flourish for anywhere from 7,000 to 4,000 years. Civilizations rose and fell and were supported by a backbone of independent farmers and their selections of seeds and growing practices. Lessons learned and passed down through history by family members and tribal elders, observation of nature was more than a hobby, it was a way of life and the more one observed the more one began to “know” how eco-systems delicately intermingle and balance on one another.

Seeds are direct, living pieces of our agricultural past, each seed holds the germ of the plant selections of generations of peoples settled in one place and selecting a variety to grow in their specific conditions and for their needs over hundreds and sometimes even thousands of seeds, almost all modern open pollinated varieties and even hybrids have some amount of genetic material hearkening back to selection by tribal peoples or early settlers and pioneers.. Seed saving and development is mans way of furthering individual desirable traits and qualities and essentially serves sort of an enhanced form of evolutionary selection pressure.

In days past failing to save seeds and till the earth in preparation of spring meant that there was less food for the civilization and tribal peoples as a whole, a mistake which could in fact be fatal. Until the age of industrialization and the rise of corporate agriculture and synthetic inputs which would supposedly revolutionize the agriculture industry and make life easier all around. Indeed it did make life easier but in time also made folks more reliable on both fossil fuels and poisonous insect and disease controls coincidentally coinciding with the rise in Cancer rates as well as developmental disabilities, taking power from small family farms and putting it in the hands of large corporate conglomerates who would in the future unleash unsafe and highly unstable genetically modified crops and “terminator” genes which could put a stop to seed saving as a whole, damaging the environment and delicate eco-systems, and proving unsafe for human and even animal consumption

Seeds of days gone by do not contain these inherent dangers and neither do the offspring that we breed from two or more parents of open pollinated seeds. Often times these seeds produce in times when modern selections will not do so, and these seeds have done so for thousands of years under conditions less than desirable for growth and perfection, ushering generation after generation from birth, through life and on to death bye way of healthy food and soil.

In days gone by small regional and localized seed companies sold seed developed and suited to particular areas and regions, particularly adapted to the environments where the seed had been sowed, grown, cultivated and harvested over a number of years, often time seeds of merit able value were even shared by families with their favorite seed suppliers, but with the advent of modern commercialized, high input, and environmentally damaging agriculture these seed companies were replaced by large conglomerates only offering gardeners world wide plants that do well on “averages”.

As commercialized agriculture continued to grow so to do the widespread pollution and destruction of the very soil which has supported us along with the air we breathe and the water we drink. Agriculture took very little time to realize the ramifications of putting volatile chemicals directly into the ground, depleting the micro-organisms which feed the soil, destroying the valuable earthworms which Darwin once described as the intestines of the earth, and causing any number of environmental dangers and devastation. People literally forgot how to tend the earth.

Often times I am a target of criticism for my way of small farming, banking seeds, and putting much work into the soil which I tend. The most common comment I hear is “I do things the way my grandfather did.” A comment more often not born out of ignorance for the past, indeed most grandfathers in our community did not use synthetic fertilizers which at the time were either not commercially available or far to expensive to afford, more often in days gone buy composted or aged manure and ash were applied to fields building up the content of organic matter, increasing the micro flora of the soil, and allowing earthworm populations to flourish.

In modern times we have seen the rise of large food markets, fast food, high cholesterol, food poisoning and danger of Genetically Modified genes causing allergies or illness to seep into our food supply. More an more our own food supply is being outsourced and shipped in from other countries or from corporate farms who in fact do little to justify their “organic” labeling because “organic” is now overseen by a government who has done little to no research on “organic” growing practices and has used the “final rule” of organic growing and the paperwork and filing fees involved with “organic” certification to favor corporate agriculture.

In a time when going “green” is becoming trendy, but is none the less of high importance in the minds of many Americans it seems silly to think that we are being green by buying hybrid cars or equipping our house with solar panels while still buying our food at large grocery stores and not locally or even growing much of our own food, instead we are shipping it across country or even worse, across continents and oceans and racking up the food miles and enlarging our carbon foot print. What is truly green? Self sustainability and local food development is my opinion, it’s a small start, but none the less a start.

Where does all of this bring us? How can we start being Locavores?

Bishops Homegrown was started because for too long small family market farms have gone the way of the past, become sub-developed, or been corporate farms. I saw an important community resource, a source of food, friendship, health, and information eroding because my generation refused to pick up the torch of the old ways and carry it forward into the 21’st century. I decided to grow my produce in the most natural way that I could, avoiding “organic” certification and instead relying on educating the public and allowing our farm itself to be open to folks to tour or to come lend a helping hand if they so please, in this way people can indeed have a first hand experience with the person who grows their food, see where their food comes from and how it is produced, but I also wanted to take it a step further.
I wanted to provide agriculture information written by a young layman without a day of college under his belt for young laymen who are interested in resurrecting small farms and a way of life for their family, so I started taking notes and writing research papers to distribute yearly to those who are interested which led me to my next step. Revitalization of localized and regionalized plant breeding inspired by the unique and healthy advantages of colors, sizes, shapes and so on.
It was this that led me to start growing out massive amounts of germ-plasm (seeds) and searching for traits that are desirable for our climate such as diseases resistance, pest resistance, and drought tolerance as well as searching for pigmentation's which inherently contain free amino acids that are not commonly available in commercial agricultural products. For example, did you know that sweet corn comes in more colors than just yellow and white? What if I told you that it comes in every color of the rainbow and can contain high levels of an anti-cancer agent known as anthocyanin? What if I told you that the darker red that a watermelon is the higher the valuable anti-oxidant lycopene is present? Did you know that some carrots are purple, red, yellow, and contain more than just beta carotene? The also can contain lycopene and anthocyanin.

In my few years of independent plant breeding I have developed 8 distinct new lines of open pollinated tomatoes including blacks, purples, whites, greens, yellows, and reds, a new rainbow colored line of sweet corn, a number of sunflowers and tobaccos, winter squash of all shapes sizes and colors, bi-color yellow to red watermelons, rainbow colored high protein field dent and parching corns, A twenty four lettuce blend of seeds collected locally and a number of projects in the works, many which are exclusive to my operation and available only to my customers and community and friends.

I have also done a number of experiments in other fields of agriculture; one of our largest new fields of research at Bishops Homegrown is the raising of red worms for both fishing bait and compost. The red worms do a terrific job of turning produce beyond the point of sell or donation to a food bank into great and fertile compost which we use on the farm, slowly over time we have built up an ability to provide our own farm with nearly 80% of our own fertilizer produced on farm.

We have also been working on a number of lo till to no till experiments as well as inter cropping live mulches and planting of green manure cover crops on our soils to improve their tilth, drainage, and any erosion problems which we have.

Bishop’s Homegrown is striving not only to be a great business but to also be a great resource of healthy and viable food, seeds, and information for our community and indeed the world outside of our region, we send seeds and information to gardeners all over the world and do much work with independent seed breeders the world over to further improve the public domain food crops and their seeds for a world in which the future of food production and safety seems to be bleak.

1 comment:

jason said...

That's a really great essay/speech you have there!