English Editorial

Fall 2006

John Bunker of Super Chilly Farm talked about all the miracles in life, at a MOFGA Farm Training Project workshop. English photos.
Visitors at Super Chilly Farm going to see a hugelkultur mound.
A long hugelkultur mound at Super Chilly Farm.

By Jean English

Everything around us is a miracle.

That was John Bunker’s message to the dozens of people – pilgrims, almost – who visited his and Cammy Watts’ Super Chilly Farm in Palermo during MOFGA’s Farm Training Project workshop there this July.

John had heard a radio show in which the Dalai Lama said that each of us is a miracle, and he took that further: Every plant, rock, sky … It’s all a miracle, he told his visitors.

He also quoted a friend who says, “What has been … What can be.”

“That’s the way I’ve tried to live the last 41 years of my life,” said John – since he moved to his $25-per-acre land in 1972, at age 21.

“The way the world was when we arrived [was] a gigantic gift,” he said, and he asked himself, “What can we do with all this stuff that’s been given to us?”

He did not want to save the world – “I don’t even know what that means” – but “maybe to make the world a tiny bit better.”

He learned to scythe, to make compost, to make soil on bony ground, to garden, all with hand tools and the occasional horse, ox, neighbors’ help or chainsaw. (He had purchased his first tractor just two days before the 2013 workshop.) Doing things by hand “allowed me to think while I worked.”

Now John has planted a 40-tree apple orchard on land that was cleared to build his new, off-grid, solar-powered home. From cleared brush and logs, and some wood that came down during a microburst, he has created hugelkultur mounds – mounds of brush and logs covered with soil excavated while digging a pond and with hay. As the wood rots, its sponge-like qualities hold air and water and release nutrients for plants growing there.

“Chippers are very popular these days,” said John. “I decided to use brush, but not to chip it. Instead of playing golf, I [piled] brush …”

One of these mounds, 6 feet high, 20 feet wide and 160 feet long, grows sunflowers, pole beans (up the sunflowers), asparagus, fruit trees, rhubarb, elderberry and other fruiting shrubs, valerian and other medicinal herbs, and a plethora of other plants, including natives that appear naturally. The diverse landscape attracts pollinators and beneficial insects and helps the soil. John hopes eventually to have an ecosystem and the right apple varieties that enable him not to spray anything – not even organic sprays – and still have an apple crop.

“I feel as though I have never invented anything. I love to steal others’ ideas. I hope they steal mine,” said John, adding, “Your life is completely unique … If people are into sharing, there are endless possibilities to what they can discover … Just do stuff. Eliminate the words ‘mistake’ and ‘success.’ I’ve probably had more apple trees die than all of you have planted together, but I’ve learned.”

Super Chilly Farm is beautiful and miraculous in its own right – and it’s just one of the thousands of MOFGA-member farms and gardens where people are trying to work with nature; and one of the thousands and thousands of miracles that come together at the Common Ground Country Fair to share, learn and celebrate. (You’ll likely find John at the Fedco Tent at the Fair.)

So dig in with MOFGA, whether in your own soil, during a Farm Training Project workshop, at the Fair, at our other events, on mofga.net and mofga.org, on our Facebook page.

And let us know: What are you doing with your miracle?

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