NEO 1.0 - 2.0: Returning to the Land
The Gaia hypothesis is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the earth and the life it bears and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here.
J.E. Lovelock, The Gaia Hypothesis, (1979)
Future farmer Nelson Robert Palmer Hayhurst, with Phyllis the Goat in 2016.
I first really came to appreciate the land-food-water-health-justice connection when I was in Cape Town doing Masters field work for with Abalimi in 2002. At the time marginalized communities were fighting back against privatization of their water system, which had come to undermine the livelihood of urban farmers and underline the importance of this basic human right. This ongoing struggle of agrarian consciousness and environmental justice was instilled in me and has since been at times a difficult journey reconnecting with my ancestry while giving forward to future generations through farming. It is with the South African food-water-land-health-justice advocates in mind, as well as my own kids and community, that I continue advocating for a food and health system that nurtures whole health, health of the soil food web and a healthy future for all beings.
Everdale apprentices learning in the field, 2004.
What's in a name? A sense of place and a connection home
I was drawn to this cumbersome name, Niagara Escarpment Organics, for the same reasons I was drawn to farming: because I had grown up in and around the natural beauty of the Escarpment here in southern Ontario; its my home and we are intertwined. It is in my view southern Ontario's greatest symbol of the rugged wilderness and jagged pristine edge of Nature, to which many a permaculturalists seeking some manner of deep ecology and wild-craft are drawn. The NEO acronym was apt too - the mulch on top of the garden - because like another infamous Neo, my farm journey has also been about 'navigating the Matrix', and helping to foster a new paradigm of conscious eating, mindful growing and deep appreciation for the soil and the Earth.
Even the famous conservationist John Muir remarked favourably on the beauty of the Escarpment Bioregion, perhaps leading him to conclude then that 'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.' (John Muir, 1911)
The most epic VR, Mr. Ryan Horning at NEO 1.0 in 2005/06.
NEO 1.0-2.0 Timeline
In addition to inspiration, I also have some accreditation. I did finish my Masters in Environmental Design in 2003, most of a CRAFT apprenticeship at Everdale Organic Farm in 2004, then worked at The Big Carrot later that year to round out my initial organic education. I was ready...or so I thought...and I started Niagara Escarpment Organics NEO1.0 on the back of an envelope while seeding transplants in my apartment in Riverdale that December 2004. The following spring I had a farm and began reclaiming my farmerhood, one acre of market garden at a time.
NEO1.0 from 2005-2009 was at Chescott Farm near Duncan in the TOBM. For five years, with immeasurable support from Laura Euesden, I managed an organic CSA program working 5-10 acres and sourcing from other farmers for households, farmer's markets and restaurants year round in Collingwood, Meaford & TOBM. During this time we also hosted a number of kids camps, facilitated school groups, and were active in the community growing markets, speaking publicly on important food, health and environmental issues while supporting community resilience.
From 2010 - 2015 I moved to Guelph and was based in the Rural Studies PhD program at SEDRD where I worked as a researcher, educator and consultant to a number of community-based food systems initiatives, urban agriculture projects and community gardens.
NEO2.0 began in the summer of 2016 when I was fortunate to take on ownership and stewardship responsibility for a very special small acreage nestled up against the Escarpment just north of Kimberley. This special sanctuary was the former home of Douglas Nadler, environmentalist, musician and poet extraordinaire. I plan to honour Douglas' legacy and remain true to my own roots, as an agroecological grower, designer, educator and action researcher; a father, a healthy food activist...and a friend.
NEO2.0's focus in 2017 is on partnerships and community building via our nutrient dense vegetable and medicinal/functional plant production and research. We grow a wide range of perennial and annual plants from all herbal traditions: indigenous herbs and roots, Western/European botanicals, Ayurvedic herbs, Chinese herbs as well as some small fruits and small livestock (bees/chickens/goats) on our permaculture homestead.