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ogs microbes, soil food web image

Thinking about the minute scale of soil microorganisms, juxtaposed with the scope of their diversity, can make your brain hurt the way it hurts when you try to think about what is beyond the end of the universe. There are more microbial organisms living in a single teaspoon of healthy soil than there are human beings living on the earth. This year a team of Spanish researchers counted more than 33,000 prokaryotic species living on the roots of a sugar beet. And that’s just the single-celled organisms—broaden the lens a little and you will find tardigrades, which look like tiny alien-walrus-bear hybrids and can survive ten years without food, and Caenorhabditis nematodes, which have three sexes, and a panoply of other midget wonders. You will find plants “talking” via the filaments of fungal mycorrhizae that colonize their roots, and little beasts that help plants to eat rocks. We understand so little of this world that these flashes of discovery feel like divine revelations from some truly bizarre god of agriculture. That our food system—not to mention the ecosystem and our digestive systems—relies on this enormous community of tiny citizens, in all its mystery and complexity and vulnerability and resilience, should exhilarate, awe, and probably terrify us.

As goes the microcosm, so goes the world: full social prosperity, like the health of the soil microbiome, requires balance and diversity. It requires respect for the possible consequences of ignorant action and does not fare well when certain parts of the whole are aggrandized at the expense of the rest, nor when quick growth is achieved by sacrificing the foundations of growth over the long term. True soil fertility relies on the health of the soil’s microbiome. Fertile, living soil supports the health of the crops we grow and the health of the livestock that eat those crops, and to feed our bodies with the produce of healthy plants and animals supports our own physical and mental well-being, without which we cannot build solid families and functional communities. Wealth that we achieve by sacrificing our soils, workers, children, livestock, water, air, trees, farmers, pollinators, and microbes will crumble. We can achieve lasting wealth only by working with and for these.

I have worked “in the trenches” farming for ten years. In that time my husband and I built a successful full-time farm business, raising certified-organic hogs, feed grains, hay, and produce. The seasons have turned, our children have grown older, and now it is time for us to play a different role in the farm community. Fedco, and especially Organic Growers Supply, played an important role in sustaining our farm business by offering a convenient one-stop shop for planting stock and supplies at fair prices, with a side helping of good advice and good conversation. It is a pleasure to transfer my farming and business experience from the farm itself to such a great farm and garden supplier. Longtime OGS coordinator David Shipman has assembled a fantastic team to work here, with experience in computer programming, small ruminants, inventory management, orchards, customer service, cheesemaking, graphic design, vegetables, pigs, construction, field crops, summer camp counseling, potatoes, indoor growing, engineering, and more. David let me write the editorial this year, but fortunately for us all he still shows up regularly to solve database mysteries, dispense advice, and quote Virgil, and we will all miss him greatly if he decides he wants to retire for real.

May 2016 bring you great weather, bountiful crops, bustling markets, and thriving microbes!

Alice Percy
OGS Coordinator