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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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Traditional Farming, Plant Breeding, and Natural Observation: Possible Solutions to problems facing us in the Twenty First Century.

Written and Researched by: Alan Reed Bishop of Hip-Gnosis Seed Development and Bishop's Homegrown

Without farmers and traditional methods of agriculture, plant selection and breeding it is very doubtful that we would truly know what “civilization” is. The farmer, his cultivation and domestication of crops and livestock are the first and biggest step towards civilization. Without the farmer many facets of civilization become un-thinkable and indeed become extraneous and indeed detrimental to the job at hand, survival; for it is the farmer, the domestication of his crops, the harvesting and distribution of those crops and the reliability of the farmer and his time tested methods of agriculture, plant and seed breeding and selection, and distribution of those crops that make up the very backbone on which the rest of civilization is built.

Without the hard work of the traditional food and textile producing farmer we would still be a hunter and gatherer society, roaming from place to place and taking from the land only that which it naturally gives to us, a cycle which while more natural caries with it implications. Without the advent of the hoe, seed selection, tending of the earth, careful observation of the cycles of the seasons, and ever so careful tending of those crops, we could not and would not have the time for the full on development of culture and civilization that we see rise concurrently with the rise of agriculture around the world. The artist, the poet, the musician, the muse, the soldier, the civil workers, the architects, the metalworkers, religious and spiritual convictions and every niche in society could not be filled and would become utterly futile if not for the work of the farmer. It is farmers which provide us with the impetus for civilization. The farmers arrive and cultivate the land, providing us with food and nourishment, with the very substance of life, seemingly, if not completely, taming the elements of nature if only momentarily, to provide us with a more settled and civilized form of life in which trading, niche jobs, and culture may flourish. Without the farmer all of these systems fail.

It is through traditional and time tested agriculture that these great deeds become possible. It is through the traditional and time tested agriculture that civilizations flourish and or fail partially or wholly and through which the human gene pool can continue to grow and expand. Through the responsible and sustainable and natural cultivation of the earth, saving of seeds, the breeding of new plant varieties, and the basis for the value of food, in the fact that it is a labor of the earth which cannot and should not be cheated with chemical treatment and dangerous cultivation practices least we face the consequences of the poisoning of our own food, water, and the very seed and ground we grow our food in, and more recently the very proteins and genes that we pass on to our offspring which are now threatened by Genetically Modified Organisms which are neither labeled in our country nor covered widely by the press. Farmers who would overlook these practices need not apply to the bold new future which I subscribe to least they take the time to realize the consequences of their actions by informed observation and seeking the knowledge of days long lost but which still holds merit and is passed by word of mouth from farmer to farmer. A good starting point for those of such persuasion would be the Native American philosophical belief known most widely as the law of “seven generations” a law which plainly realizes the consequences of negative actions upon the earth and her eco systems and seeks to inform observers that one should not commit an act if it will in any negative way effect any generation for the next seven.

With this is mind it becomes ever more apparent the predicament that we are placed in as a civilization as we enter deeper into the twenty first century. With the fall of the family farm and the apparent acceptance of chemical and Genetically Modified agriculture by the few remaining corporate farmers in our country and indeed around the world, we are loosing sight of what it is that in fact created our civilization, sustained it for thousands of years, and can again be the savior of much of our heritage and being here on the little planet we call home. We are rampantly overpopulating the planet and stressing it’s natural resources and restorative properties to the max, all the while those with seats in power would have us believe that our very lifestyles, our very being on this planet, our choices in everyday life have nothing to do with rising rates in disease, a rising sea level, more violent ecological disastrous, natural disasters and global warming, while deep within our own hearts, no matter how hard we try to ignore, we know by way of natural observation that we as a species are responsible for the widespread destruction that surely will be the seed of our own destruction.

Only through education, personal choice, moral deliberation, soul seeking and history can we seek to make positive change in this negative atmosphere. Choosing to step away from popular trends, wasteful mentalities, futile wars, twentieth century technology, and earth polluting, life destroying pollutants and towards self sustainable, clean and efficient, natural, truly green technology or the application of which to old technology can we begin to right the wrongs of the generations who have come before us. Only through allowing the voice of reason and right is heard can we stand forth and make positive change.

It is with these ideas that I seek to inform and “push the buttons” of society, cause questioning, and indeed to allow my contribution to civilization to stand forth and be heard. I often find myself observing the nightly news and questioning how the perceived problems that are presented to me are considered to be unsolvable dilemmas when the very answer lies right at the feet of humanity, within 10,000 years of natural observation, cultural memory, and innovative and safe problem solving. I can only surmise that perhaps the cultural memory has been cut off or at least dampened by the growing mentality of “give me, give me, give me”, the lack of soul seeking, and the desire to live vicariously through the gadgetry of the twentieth and twenty-first century.

Indeed it seems that the human population has been deceived and done a great injustice, this is of course saying in a manner, that perhaps we aren’t as intelligent a species as we like to believe and in fact maybe we are nothing more than a dangerous disease on the face of planet earth, a disease which can be manipulated by members of it‘s own design to be unquestioning organisms of defeat and destruction. I say this because I wonder at exactly what point the human civilization went into auto-pilot and handed the keys over to the few individuals with power to make our decisions for us, certainly humans have been manipulated and controlled in the past, but I find it particularly noteworthy that now more than ever attention can be and is swayed from the most important of all dilemmas, indeed those happening in our own backyard yard and are instead swayed towards the latest celebrity gossip, political diatribe, or new techno-gadgetry.

The so called “peak food” dilemma and some ideas which may represent the promise of life and nutrition to a growing populace lost in commerce.

If we are to accept that a growing generation(s) of the human populace are indeed as consumer and trend minded as they appear to be and indeed perhaps this is do to under-education and or deliberate avoidance of factual evidence then perhaps it is time to change our opinion of what exactly constitutes “farm land” or land which can be used to produce agriculture products, both food items as well as those of a beauty or environmentally enhancing character and those which contain medicinal valueS.

One thing I’ve often wondered is why, particularly in urban settings, parks do not more often have areas set aside to grow food plants. For example, why is it not mandatory for a park to have to plant 20% of its grounds with food producing crops such as apple trees, pear trees, and black berry bushes and so on? Within circles of like minded farmers and plant breeding this type of agriculture is known as “perma-culture” and represents a growing percentage of agriculture present on small family owned farms. If indeed every park in America were planted implementing this design can you imagine the way that the tables would turn on nutrition, disease, and hunger overnight? Of course those in power, particularly those within the confined walls of corporate board rooms would never allow such a thing to occur, because suddenly the sales of their fatally poisoned and genetically modified and processed foods would start to decline. Another great area for this type of agriculture would be along the state and federally owned highways right of ways. Can you imagine a highway planted with apple trees instead of dogwoods stretching for miles in every direction? In South America and in some areas of the East it was common for roads to be lined with food producing crops of perennial and annual types, there for the use of the hungry and wary traveler on the way to his next location and often these projects were administered by the governments of the regions. Is it to much to ask for at least rest stops along interstates to be filled with orchards and gardens instead of snack machines filled with processed and irradiated foods?

Urban Gardening/Community Gardening

Another facet that I find quite disturbing is the lack of urban and community gardens in cities the world over. Indeed in recent years, with the help of several adventurous and brave souls we have seen urban and community gardens and agriculture education rise in some of the biggest cities in the U.S. But those cities that go without would only be doing justice to their citizens to seriously consider such measures. It is my belief that every high school should have a one year agriculture program complete with basic education in natural gardening and hands on environment for children to learn to tend to the earth. I mean after all, you can waste all that land on enormous football and baseball fields, what will a small plot, planted naturally and tended with care and administered by the school hurt anything. Children could be taught the basics of tending their own gardens, producing their own foods, saving their own seeds, and in advanced situations breeding their own plants. Information which is rightfully, by way of culture and civilization, as well as 10,000 years of history, theirs to do with as they want.

Informing our children of their agriculture history is just as important as informing our children of the history of the world and the nation and should be a pre-requisite for graduation, it also wouldn’t hurt to cover the topics that are most disastrous to ecology and nature as well. When I was a child earth day and Arbor Day day were a big deal, they were spent learning about agriculture, planting trees, and exchanging information and questions with professional and well educated nature enthusiast, it may be these very people, coupled with my Appalachian heritage and family that have led me down this long strange road at Bishop’s Homegrown/Hip-Gnosis seed development, it wouldn’t hurt to see this education expand the young minds interested in exploring the fields, forests, and bio-diversity of our planet earth, after all it is these minds which will next shape our world. It is these very children who will one day set in political offices and may be able to put a stop to the rampant chemical and genetic modification dangers inherent in today’s agricultural practices.

Farmers Markets, CSA’s, Local Eating, and supporting your local farmer.

Supporting your local farmers market and CSA’s, particularly those who seek to change the agricultural systems common in today’s world back to those which reflect the natural world is another way to curtail the food shortage and to begin to correct the wrongs done to the environment as well as to improve the nutrition that you provide yourself and you family. It is on these very farms that you will find people intertwined with the natural cultivation and observation of the earth, working to improve and sometimes even breed new food crops and preserve the bio-diversity of our food crops. An important step in supporting these very farms is by actually visiting them, many of the growers love to give tours of their farms, exchange information with other farmers and customers, and share in the diversity and heritage of the work that they do.

Green Graffiti

Green Graffiti, which I also refer to as “Positive Vandalism”, is an idea that I’ve been working on for several years. Particularly using the time tested method of seed balls (balls made of red clay containing the seed of food crops or medicinal crops), these seed balls are thrown out onto the ground and sprout with the rains of spring provided much needed beauty and food to areas which have been depleted of natural resources. A great place to use these seed balls is in abandoned lots in the inner city and perhaps even along sidewalks and in plant beds, these seed balls may provide a bit of nourishment to someone in need and could be a great asset to entire communities as well as “greening” up the concrete jungles and bare soils of dilapidated urban areas.

Here is a great article about seed balls as well as instructions for creating your own:

Natural Research and Development

A concept that simply escapes my grasp is why there is little to no money or open resource seed banks available to independent researches in the development of new varieties of food-plants. In an ever changing and dynamic environment that changes year to year with the escalation of global warming it is of utmost importance that independent and regionalized seed breeders have access to genetically diverse material to create the next generation of open pollinated, copy left, seed options. Instead government institutions such as the USDA and the ARS GRIN system have focused all of their contributions on the big bio-tech companies, specifically hurting the small farmer and seed breeder who must do everything out of pocket with only commercially available seed stocks and those traded with others for a starting point.

We started the Hip-Gnosis seed development project to combat just this type of problem, offering seed of our unique varieties and crosses as well as old Open Pollinated selections, and our information to the general public for free. It is with this dynamic relationship that we are putting the power back into the hands of the grower to make selections for his or her own environmental conditions for the betterment of the agriculture world and civilization as a whole. These seed may indeed represent the next generation of self-sustainable agriculture and will always remain open source and the property of humanity as a whole to help nurture along new varieties, adapted to the conditions of a dynamically changing environment. Is it to much to ask for a little co-operation from our own government, or is it that they too stand to loose too much money and power by sleeping in the same bed as their corporate partners?

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