Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Soil for the Soul: T. McLeod

The real work of planet saving will be small, humble, and humbling and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous. --Wendell Berry
Introduction to the Sustainability Heroes Series:
This interview series is meant to celebrate people in and around west-central North Carolina who are making valiant efforts to live sustainably and to help others on their own sustainable living journeys. It is my hope that these interviews will be a source of information and inspiration to the readers of this blog.

I begin the series with an interview with T. McLeod, owner and manager of McLeod's Organics in Huntersville, NC. As the business's website says, customers can find at McLeod's organic soil amendments, fertilizers, plants & seeds, feeds, garden pest control, books, broad forks, and chicken coops--plus "tons of informative support." 

I met T. soon after our family moved to nearby Davidson last summer and was immensely relieved to find someone in the local area who understood and supported organic gardening and livestock care. It was obvious even during that first brief encounter that he would be an invaluable resource for information, support, and supplies as we attempted to set up our little homestead. We now get all our chicken and goat feed from his store and plan to get many of our other supplies there as well. 

Recently, I sat down with T. to ask him about his business and his ideas about sustainability. It became clear during the course of this interview that T.'s passion for sustainability is rooted in the belief that we all have both the innate need and the capacity to nurture the earth and reap its bounties. I hope you will find something here that will motivate you to explore that need and capacity in new ways.

LBCF: Could you share with us how you became interested in organic farming and sustainable living?
McLeod:  I have always been a gardener and have been around farming all my life. [T. grew up on a small North Carolina hobby farm and now tends chickens, sheep, and a garden of his own.] Once I had my own home and my own family, I started becoming more interested in growing organically. As time went by, it became a passion to see how much more I could do organically and how much more I could remove myself from industrial agriculture. I felt a need to connect others to [the earth that] we've become so disconnected from.

LBCF: How do you respond to people who say that you can't possibly get the sort of yields from organic farming that you can from conventional agriculture?
McLeod: Well, first of all I encourage them to become students of the natural and organic way. [If they do, they will learn that] the most important thing is the soil you grow your food in. If it's not given what it needs, then you're not going to be successful. But if you take care of your soil, you can be very successful. 
For a brief description of research-based comparisons between organic and conventional farming, see this article from Cornell University
LBCF: Could you sum up your mission as owner of McLeold's Organics in a few words?
McLeod: Yes, our tagline is "Soil for the Soul." I want to help people nurture their souls by nurturing their soil. I think everybody has a desire to be a nurturer. We've just been convinced that the industrial economy is the way to pursue happiness. Once you've learned that's not the truth, then you can become more comfortable with your natural inclination to live [a life that enriches the earth].

LBCF: Do you have a vision for where you hope your business will be in 5-10 years?
McLeod:  I would hope the business would have other facilities, that we can grow and expand. But I want to keep it local. That is very important to me. One of the worst things [people concerned about sustainability] do is try to "do it all." What is important is to create a network of localities.
I want to help the folks that have never grown a thing in their lives, and I also want to help well-established farmers. Everybody who plants a seed and attempts to coax some bounty from the earth is farmer. I want to support all different kinds of farmers. 

LBCF: In the book, Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living, author Rachel Kaplan portrays the story of the sustainability movement as “a David and Goliath story." Do you agree that it’s a David and Goliath story? If so, does David have a chance?
McLeod: Yes, David has a chance. Just because of the fact that it is everybody's natural inclination is to be part of the earth. We are part of the earth. We come from the earth. If David gets out and begins to grow [something] and comes to understand and respond to his natural inclinations, and to realize that these inclinations make him capable, make him equipped to defeat Goliath [no matter how much or how little training or experience he has], then the he is on the road [to victory].

LBCF: Could you share some resources that have inspired and/or guided you?
McLeod: The works of Wendell Berry. Everybody on the face of this earth needs to read The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture [published by Sierra Club Books in 1996]. I would also recommend the works of Lewis Bromfield, who resurrected Malabar Farm in the 1940s, and William Albrecht.

LBCF: You seem to do a lot of work connecting people with one another: organic growers with conscientious consumers; novice gardeners with seasoned farmers; like-minded people who might enjoy and benefit from knowing one another. Do you consider this sort of networking central to your vocation?
McLeod: Absolutely. Connecting people is key to David defeating Goliath. Like-minded people getting together is a source of strength. When a person is a member of a larger community all good things can happen.

LBCFWhat advice do you have for people who are considering transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle?
McLeod: The first thing they must do is open their hearts. The second thing they must do is open their minds. They have to be willing to admit that they've had the wool pulled over their eyes [by the industrial economy] for a long period of time. After that, it all comes pretty naturally.

If you would like to meet T. and learn more about McLeod's Organics, swing by sometime and see him (right by the Bradford Store, at 15915 Davidson-Concord Road, Huntersville, NC). He will make you feel right at home.

In the meantime, in honor of T. and all the other folks who, like him, are working to nurture our soil and our souls, a few lines from Wendell Berry (from "Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer"):
Sowing the seed,
my hand is one with the earth. 
Wanting the seed to grow,
my mind is one with the light. 
Hoeing the crop,
my hands are one with the rain. 
Having cared for the plants,
my mind is one with the air. 
Hungry and trusting,
my mind is one with the earth. 
Eating the fruit,
my body is one with the earth.

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