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Blake is an Air Force Veteran who worked in Radio Frequency communications. He has spent the last 14 years working in Information Technology in some form or fashion including a brief venture into the world of SCADA Automation. He holds four college degrees including an undergraduate in computer science and an MBA. He founded his own Web Development and IT consulting firm in 2013, and started working for himself full-time this year. One of his latest projects is Agritrue.com. Agritrue is a community policed, beyond organic food certification and labeling program. It was designed to provide a low barrier to entry alternative to USDA organic. Agritrue is also an online directory where local consumers and producers can connect and grow the local food economy.
Tell us a little about yourself.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on the side trying to grow this software business, Agritrue, to the point where I could take it full time… shortly after the whole 2007-8 thing, a lot of fear around the incident, got into gardening as a result of that indirectly, it kind of stuck. It’s just fun to be outside, and to unwind before and afterwork…So I’ve been gardening trying to do the permaculture stuff, re-gen ag stuff around the house…. to provide our own food and take care of the land we have here…
So how big of a place?
traditional 3 bed/2 bath on 1.25 acres… it’s on top of a hill, it’s actually one of he tallest points in our county, so becasue of that we have some problems with drainage and clay soils…
Did you garden when you were a kid or did you grow up in Alabama? Or are you there because of the army? Airforce?
I grew up here, airforce… it’s a funny story if you say you want to go somewhere you don’t go there. They call it a dream sheet, becasue it’s really just a dream and your probably not gonna get what you pick. So they sent me to Germany, and we got to see Europe which was really neat but eventually we came home because we have family here and roots and all that… want to be able to take care of parents…
Tell me about your first gardening experience?
A little bit as a kid, not much, not enough to really stick… you know when youre a kid you have other interests and you’re pulled in different directions…. We had a couple of gardens when I was young but we never really did much with them, but for me having your own property a lot of people don’t do anything but for me a lawn is really wasted space…
So that was part of the motivation for me when I really got into that whole preparedness thing after the financial crash…. I got into that a little bit, some people take it way too far, I try not to but if you have seeds in a freezer somewhere what good is that if you don’t know how to garden?
so my purpose is to maintain that skill and have something fun to do… you know drink a beer and get back into nature… we don’t spend enough time outdoors…
How did you learn how to garden organically?
A lot of different resources probably the most beneficial
Gaia’s Garden By Toby Hemenway
Toby Hemenway’s book Gaia’s Garden. That’s just a great resource for somebody who’s got 1-2 acres and they are looking to learn how can we make this more productive by integrating different systems together so you do less work to work with the system
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) resource
Backwoods Home Magazine they have some really great articles practical diy stuff… that I have found beneficial over the years.
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
We were out of town most of the summer, we’d come back one or 2 weekends the month. The only thing that really did well was peppers, for some reason in the south, jalapeños will survive the appocolyse if it happens… it was amazing! They did fine without us being here…
We set up a lot of irrigation systems…and mulch and the raised garden and that kind of helped…
at the end of the day when it got to the heat of June and July and August, things just got sad and died.
In the past we’ve done really well with cucumbers for some reason, literally, 5-6 plants bringing in 400 lbs of cucumbers!
wouldn’t think that
have that heavy clay soil
there’s a mineral they just love
the right temp they
Problem we had was when they werer ready that early the dill wasn’t ready…
we try to eat a lot of them fresh, but when you’re grabbing 20 lbs up in one afternoon you can’t even do that. I never tried dill, I just buy bulk spices and buy a pound of it, and make pickles that way. We tried fermenting, it was kind of interesting need to work on timing because if you leave them in too long they get a little soggy.
Mike has some recipe, boy are they good in the middle of winter!
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
So while we were out of town, the plan was to move, that fell through.
We keep maybe 5-6 chickens around to share with friends and family. So we got rid of the chickens, so next year this thing I want to try. Have you seen these chicken tunnels people are doing…
So to give you a visual, you have your rows in your garden, in my case I have raised beds with wood framing, so you have that area you have to weed… so people are making these tunnels, just tall enough for one chicken to move and they set it up so the chickens have access in the space between the rows, so they can’t really damage your plants but they can help with insect control, weed control, fertility
- insect control
- weed control
getting into that permaculture principle of working with nature, getting animals to help you instead of doing all the labor yourself.
I love that because this is the first year our chickens had access to the garden, maybe becasue when the garden was blooming there was so much stuff… but they didn’t wreck anything… they didn’t have access to mike’s mini farm… I like the idea of them getting to eat bugs and weeds, for a long time they were in a pen, they only got scratch and lay mash, I like the idea they can get out and get more bugs we would save them chicken scraps! That sounds cool chicken wire tunnells! Are they portable?
So, if I design it, the concept is to make it lighweight enought so I can put it between the raised beds. So two people could pick it up and we could move it, they would just have access for about 3-4 days, let them out to a bigger area.
I LOVE IT!
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
There’s that during the summer, everything went wrong and nothing worked… we’re in the middle of the worst drought, in this part of the country! It’s historic! We have forest fires everywhere! We got literally 1/8’ rain in the past 90 days, even my perennials trying to dry out… normally we get a dry spell that lasts through sept, usually by this time of year it’s rainy. So that’s been a challenge getting the perennials moist enough to make ithtourhg the winter. …
That’s so true! Leslie Fowler talked about that in episode 152 that a lot of people think fruit trees die around her because of the cold, but it’s actually the lack of water, if they don’t have enough water before the frost, they die of thirst, dehydration, so it’s important to douse them with gallons of water in the fall.
“A lot of people around think you lose trees over the winter because of the cold, but you
- need to soak them down really well in the fall
if I’m anticipating a frost in 2-3 weeks I …
- put soakers and sprinklers and soak over night and move it over and over and over
- water on the drip line not at the base of the tree
- fertilizer same time, because it encourages the roots to reach outward”
So I could see getting your perennials to make it have enough water beforehand.
Actually we are allowed to hand-water once every other week.
That’s not much!
Well, it’s extreme, lakes drying up, all kinds of problems, probably the first of the year before we have a significant rain event… historic!
Probably what’s helping me the most is getting the soil ready before hand, doing things like
- preventing evaporation
- building the webs under the soil of life what that does is hold in the moisture
In places where I have worked on improving the soil, the trees are doing a lot better then the places that I’ve neglected over the past years, I love the preventative part of what your saying! And doing everything you can to keep that soil as healthy as you can and bring it to life, keep on mulching!
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Let’s get to the Root of Things!
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?
In the past I did, had that hardpacked clay soil with a rototiller trying to break it up, that’s just backbreaking work. I’m probably one of the more lazy gardeners you’ll ever meet, anything like that, or tilling … where you have to get out…
It is a lot of work! I look at mike out there pushing that maching and I think that is too hard for me!
do it every year over and over again… forget this,we have a nursery place, I can go down the road I can get a entire load of wood mulch for $14
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Back to Eden Method….
Skype dropped the call… you were telling us about a load of mulch you put down in one spot.
that worked for a few years in that spotit worked great for a while for us, over time it kind of compacted down, we didn’t have the soil biology, worms doing the tilling for us… part of that is the erosion runoff, from being on this steep inclination on the top of the hill
simple if possible minimize effort, so I gabe up on gardening in a regular basis and I moved everything annual to raised beds so I could bring in high quality to g
we converted that annual garden to a blackberry patch. So they eat that stuff up, love heavy clay soil, it’s all about getting back to interacting with the landscape and figuring out what works in a particular area and for us, blackberries work great in that spot they like the clay and tomatoes not such so much….
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?
I would have to say either planting or harvesting… they’re both fun, you get that excitement of I don’t know what this things gonna do when I plant a seed, I don’t know if it’s gonna be the most awesome plant ever or what?
And at harvest you get that sudden rush in June, where everything’s producing like wild! And then also in winter planning for next season, whether it’s nursery starts or just planning out what you want to do!
I like planning too, and Megan Cain is big on being strategic and the most fun is planning and ordering your seeds!
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
his methods work great for us, he has a whole process of
- stacking organic matter
- straw not hay
- certain things you can amend the soil with
- certain things aren’t such a good idea
- rabbit manure
- chicken manure
pointing out the nuts and bolts of building soil up over time.
chicken manure is hot… that kind of thing… really pointing out the nuts and bolts of building soil up over time so you have a good site to grow with.
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
Not so much as a tool so to speak, but I use it as a tool and this might sound a little off at first…
but stacks of cardboard we gave up on tilling so one of the best things for starting a site off for no till
If you have grass, weather it’s manicured lawn, or weeds growing up, put about 3 layers of cardboard directly in the grass in the fall, water it down really good with a garden hose, put a 3-4 inches of mulch on it… IDK what it is about the cardboard but it attacks earthworms. think it’s good to eat
to plant our perennial
surviving the drought better then anything else…
that whole cardboard method seems to really kickstart things…
nitrogen from the grass dying…. that cardboard… if you keep it wet for a week or two after you set it out it seems to really mix altogether… and kickstarts everything….
I’m so glad you said that because I had someone ask me about lavender…
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
Not so much a recipe, we like to do a lot of fermentation, whether it’s beer wine with alcohol or
lacto fermentation with veggies
200 lbs of cukes, buckets of tomatoes
lacto-fermentation to kickstart that process
beneficial bacteria breaking down the food and preserving it, if you take fresh tomatoes and turn it into a lacto-fermented salsa that’s good for at least 20-30days
everybody’s’ worried about probiotics and good gut health but we also do it for the practicality of making that food last….and less go to waste…
For me I hate harvest because everything comes on and like right now I have 4 cabbages in my car and someone even said they’d take them I posted on Facebook but have I made it to her house no…
I should go back and clarify that, when you set that out in the fall the the intent is to plant in the spring…. you want 6 months for that to break down
how mentioned that someone wanted to plant lavender, you need to wait you don’t want to plant right in that
gonna suck up all the nitrogen
to start there… get the spot ready 6 months in advance…
it think people will really like that because it’s simple and easy to get there… I have worked so many places where we threw away a ton of cardboard… plastic and cardboard… I’ve had that questions too… furniture, your big box stores… there’s tons of cardboard that doesn’t get recycled….
A favorite internet resource? Is this where you’re gonna talk about Agriture?
it’s not really an education resource…
real big int eh permaculture design aspect of gardening, phenomenal amount of resources as far as education.. great site to check out.. they are bringing more awareness to US…started in japan, Australia… so you’re not seeing it here so much on large scale…
projects like perm ethos…
what’s really possible and the abundance you get when you design systems
People probably don’t know it’s Thanksgiving we’re talking and right after the big election and I know people are worried, especially the way you started out, people are gonna like hearing a positive answer since it’s so scary out there… and unstable…
A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?
not so much reading we could go back to toby hemmingway’s
Permaculture one by Bill Mollison but that’s where you read a page and it has has about 10 pages of info more of
It’s really more of a reference guide…
he has all these great videos that show you what’s possible
His project around Jordan greening of the desert
the local ag department told what your doing is not possible you’re gonna fail and he proved them wrong… so it’s neat to see your p
If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?
Part of that is taking that hobby and applying it to what I do everyday to help people along in that whole backyard small scale farming … I worked with Jack Spirco from the survival podcast on a few projects…
one of the projects he was trying to get off for a long time was Agritrue…so this is really Agritrue 2.0
The business directory software were we had customized to make it do what we wanted to for jacks’ site… we brought that true to this site…
farmers to list their farm
for basically $1/month, it’s $5 for a 6 month subscription…
hey there’s 5-10 fifteen farms near me… I can shop with, meet them at the farmers market
connect producers to consumers…
when your starting out you don’t have a big marketing budget,
we weren’t happy with USDA certified organic its kind of been coopted by the larger farms
a lot of regulations make sense for a big operation and not a small
at the end of the day if you have 200 head of dairy cattle, if one of those cows gets sick… you have to sell it off … if it gets sick and needs antibiotics … if you have 5-6 cows and you have to sell a cow you’ve lost 20% of your revenue …
take it quarantine … don’t use it
doesn’t really work for … responsible use or irresponsible use of antibiotics …. its not responsible to have a chicken house of horrors where they eat antibiotics all day…
USDA organic it penalizes small farmers…
We wanted a standard that was more flexible so Agritrue is community policed
sign up and agree to the standard … never gonna have a police that comes out to your farm and check you out but we’re having a rating system on the site … let’s say you visit someone farm …. see a big bottle of roundup in the corner or something like that… you can rate that farm… make community aware of the situation, have that policing action going on instead of having this regulation where farmers have to spend all this money and effort to quality
its impossible if you are starting out and you are a certain number of acres
people just starting out and people who can benefit form it
sign up you instantly get access to product labels…
Let’s say you said you were selling honey
you could take that logo off of our site…. and you have a Agritrue
you have a agree to our standards…
clean food, healthy practices and soil management…
agree to standards…
I like that idea… I like it a lot…
It’s much more, when I first want to buy something I go to amazon… nothing is gonna have a perfect score, no negative reviews…
not a retail site.
small nice community
if there’s five or six people if one or 2 of them rate the farm, it’s one of the neighbors…
one of the things I like about arguer
a fertilizer product where you can treat an entire acre for less then $30
kelp bone meal that kind of thing
farmers do we convert to organic
do we not convert
give them the tool
what it gets down to the bottom line
what’s gonna happen in the next season
give you a
product that’s half the price of the chemical farms
organic mineral research institute
that cycle your speaking of it gets worse and worse you spray chemical fertilizer more prone to erosion
nutritionist washes off next year you have to
the amount of nitrogen phosphorus and potassium
10% of what your spraying in an area…
with our product it[s a foliar spray you dilute in water
take all that nutrient down to the roots
pulling up the roots
averrable for next seasons crop
actually feeding the soil
getting back to the drought and you have that soil biology
more drought resistant
less problems of drought
have that fear of converting over
from the perspective of…
am i building the soil or am I mining the soil and if your mining the soil eventually your gonna run out.. so that is one of the big reasons to make leap and convert over to organic fertilizer…
awww I think this is so great what a great day we re thankfully for you because your making solutions to offer to other people … i think a lot of us feel we’re alone out there…I get people that ask me all the time, what’s wrong with chemicals, what’s wrong with fertilizers… what’s wrong with Miracle go soil… Im like you really want to go with healthy soil, natural compost in your soil
the thing with miracle grow is it works but it doesn’t work in the long term…
Miracle grow works…
to find good healthy soil. to find compost
you spray it on the plant… and two days later it’s having again…
part of what you’ve done
in the long run actually degrades the soil… so it works great the first time…
keep having to spray more and more of it
that’s what we’re trying to get away from
with fertilizer for less were trying to put something that will actually feed the soil
in subsequent seasons you need less of our product instead of more…
trying to get away from the attitude of instant gratification……
really encourage anybody who’s thinking of starting a farm, make a part time income
sign up for a listing
help us grow this community
consumer awareness of the certification
everybody who wants to start a farm…can be certified in year one
I think it’s gonna help us get more small farmers in the us
get away from that big farm model…
do you want to tell people about the on basic/// where they silver packages?
Bronze silver and gold. One year two year and three years… when you sign up for a longer period of time…
premium packages you get a longer description
talk about your farm more…
can upload pictures
link to your website
sign up for one of those package then you get a follow link
search engine marketing a bit
tells the search engine, this is something I want to look at will increase prestige
getting images and other features…
Facebook like shares
if you can afford the premium package and helps up spread awareness….\
free to shop
that’s why we want to get as many farms signed we launched last week and have about 1/2 dozen firms listed… really want to grow it… brand new to grow as a national brand and certification
goal on the label of a few products in every farmer’s market in the country!
viable for people to be able …
i love it, I talked to this woman Jackie Fulcomer… she talked about certified farms, I know people are gonna be intersted I talked to a guy in NJ who has a similar site, but the more sites the better… one person just wants to have raspberries will give them a place to sell raspberries… or lavender or apples or lettuce… having a low cost way to get in… reducing those barriers is helpful for everyone… m audience is just invested in getting healthy food. a lot of people are like me with a full time job and can’t grow as much so they are gonna be untested in ways to connect with local food.
Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?
i think a big thing for me is local food. converting large production over to permaculture
Darby Simpsons farm
neighbors are growing corn
silver pasture models, moves pigs and chickens between rows of chestnuts animals feed plants
more regenerative and sustainable… improving the land instead of sustaining
getting more local production, decentralizing our food system
its not just an environmental thing
if we rely on food that comes in on a truck and we don’t have
trucks can’t run
need that resiliency
need hard skills to be able to do things as individual
don’t know how change a tire…
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
This gets back to my whole idea of using nature and working with animals in a system
bill Mollison said
if you can fid a way to raise animals bring them into the garden pest control, weed control. they interact with the plants
different way you can hardness that energy…
How do we connect with you?
for agriture… agritrue.com
For web design websites for several farms
email at Blake@blakedevelopment.net
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