Farmers must wear many hats. And we’m not just talking about their sun hats. They plan, sow, plant, multiply, harvest, wash, sell and so much more in between. And for many, there is another very important role in their job: microbial steward.
Maybe the microbial steward is a job you have not seen on LinkedIn or at a career fair, but for farmers, the health of the earth is paramount. And dare not mix “soil” with “dirt”. Farmer Calvin Bailey of Stubborn Roots Farm explains.
“For us geeks, dirt is, so to speak, a four-letter word. Dirt gives a tone of uselessness and worthlessness. We see the earth we walk on as earth: a living, breathing organism as infinitely complex and fascinating as the cosmos. “
Bailey and his wife, Bradi, run Stubborn Roots Farm, a diversified vegetable farm outside of Fort Collins. Bailey was born and raised in Fort Collins and has worked in agriculture for the past 10 years and has a passion for soil health.
The Bailey family is run by their two young daughters – their farmers in education. That’s right – Baileys is juggling multiple jobs, raising children and raising food, like so many farmers.
Soil, not dirt
According to Bailey, “There are intricacies and relationships between microscopic species in the soil that we just scratch at the surface of understanding; all of which play a role in food quality, nutrient density and taste.”
So a key component in growing nutrient-dense food is caring for the complex ecosystem of our Colorado soil.
“We try to curate and cultivate an environment conducive to a thriving microbial life on our farm because we see it as the foundation from which a healthy society is built.” The extra work of balancing the acidity of the soil, attracting beneficial insects, preventing erosion and fertilizing naturally is worth it for Baileys. They understand the role of good food in society, the role of good soil in producing good food and their role in nurturing nutrient-dense soil.
You may have noticed, from your chapped lips or itchy eyes: Colorado is dry. So what does it take to cultivate land at the foot of the Rockies?
Bailey shared many of his trade secrets with us, including both what they add to their soil and what they plant. Home gardeners, please note!
At Stubborn Roots, they use composted sheep manure as their primary fertilizer, as well as mushroom compost from the beloved local mushroom supplier Hazel Dell Mushrooms. The Baileys also brew a compost, which is how they inoculate their fields with fungi, bacteria and microbial life that is beneficial to the earth’s food tissues.
Plants that are put into the soil also significantly affect the health of the soil. Stubborn Roots operates on a seven-year crop rotation plan that includes nitrogen fixation and carbon-binding cover crops such as markers, vetches and sudan grasses for erosion and weed control as well as green manure. Baileys is also working with the USDA to plant pollinator habitats and plant beneficial insect attractants such as borage flower and snapdragons in their field areas.
We are honestly in awe of the farmers who grow our food and do the work of giving back to the land and regenerating our land. It turns out that agriculture is more about getting your hands dirty than dirty.
Support Stubborn Roots and its peers on Saturdays at Boulder and Longmont Farmers Markets, on Wednesdays at Boulder Farmers Market (starting May 4!), Or online at bcfm.org.