13 January

A Man Who Devotes His Life To Soil. I Love Where I Live

by Jon Katz

It’s always surprising to me, a city boy for most of his life, to learn how much I have come to love the country and many of the people who live here.

There are all kinds of amazing people – outsiders and oddballs like me – who have made their way up here and are working to build their own lives in their own way, fighting corporate American notions of security and expectation.

Most often, they love what they do, and like Maria or me, that is important. People who risk everything to do what they love and live freely and with passion for their work are heroes to me.

Dave Weeks is one of those people.

I’ve been getting hay delivered to my farms every year for nearly 20 years. Most of the people who pull up in trucks are farmers, often showing up with strong sons or hired hands.

They are mostly strong, young people, the older people drive and keep count.

Their hay is always good and fresh, and they are unfailingly honest, but like most of us, they tend to do things the way they have always been done.

We were running out of hay – there is a severe shortage up here due to climate change – and after 36 phone calls to farms, I got hold of John, who owns the Greenwich, N.Y., Agway.

He had some good first cut square bales left, I bought them on the spot, and he said someone would be by to deliver them.

The next morning, Dave Weeks showed up to deliver the hay. It was his hay, and I was blown away by him. He is unlike any farmer or hay supplier I had met so far. And his hay is wonderful.

Dave lives alone, has never married, and has devoted his life to studying soil and its nutrients and working to develop the idea that we don’t need to put chemicals and supplements into our soil to keep it healthy.

He is what I would call a “Biologist Farmer,” he studies the soil and the nutrients in it.

Two people have turned their farms over to him, one for life so he can do his work and conduct his experiments. He farms hay and straw.

The hay he brought us was astonishing – it was gorgeous, nutritious, large bales of nourishing food, legumes like red clover and alfalfa, and three different types of grass – Timothy, Grone, and Orchard.

There are two major challenges to hay suppliers for farms in America. In states where cannabis is legal, many farmers are switching over to that lucrative crop.

And climate change – drought in some places, excessive rain in others –  is making hay harvests unpredictable and sometimes unreliable.

This has significant consequences for people like Maria and me who keep animals on farms. I need to get to work and find good sources of hay for the coming years.

Talking soil and hay is like pushing a button with Dave; he can go on forever. I got about 20 percent of what he says. It’s impressive.

I only understand half of what he was saying, but I’m eager to figure out the rest.

His warmth, honesty, and empathy struck me. We made plans to get together for lunch as soon as the covid-10 pandemic is over. He also took care to wear a mask and keeps some distance.

As one of those highly at-risk people, I appreciated it.

Dave talked to Maria about her work, asked me about my heart; he wanted to know what we are like instead of just telling us what he is like. He watched Maria toss hay bales around and said he hoped he wasn’t offensive, but she was “one strong girl.” I told her my nickname for Maria is “Tarzana.”

That, I have learned, can be a rare trait. I’ve met many men here who are unable to focus on anyone but themselves.

Dave was impressive; we talked for a long time.

He has chosen to sacrifice much of his life to studying the soil and figuring out how to sustain and nourish it. Wendell Berry would run off with him.

I very much look forward to getting to know him better, and I marvel once again at the amazing people tucked away in the farms and valleys and hills all around me.

I see America as a nation of individuals, even as we are often told we must work in jobs we hate in places we don’t care to live to store away the millions of dollars we are told we need to live on and grow old with.

That isn’t enough for people of the heart. They want their lives to have meaning beyond security. They are the blessed and the few.

13 Comments

  1. Here in Oregon where cannabis is legal – and apparently profitable – many hay farmers have recently switched to growing that or hemp, leaving a serious shortage of livestock feed. A sad commentary of our times. Luckily, we grow our own hay and are only dependent on the favors of Mother Nature.

  2. He looks like you………..or your brother…….
    guess he is your brother spiritually.
    Great message and photo. Thnks.

  3. Great story! Sustainable agriculture is a growing movement across the country. People are realizing that the diet of chemicals isn’t good for us. A good movie on the subject is “Kiss The Ground”. There is also a guy in South Dakota who gave up raising cattle and brought bison back to the land. He is restoring native grasses and grasslands while marketing grass fed, humanely harvested bison meat.

  4. Jon…
    Your biologist farmer reminded me of an episode when I worked for a Texas electronics company. We were looking for a particular type of equipment. Many of our leads were for established companies with similar designs, but also a smaller Arizona outfit we had never heard of. When we looked more closely, we learned that their design was developed “from scratch” using an understanding of the requirements and applied common sense. They didn’t engage an army of scientists.

    I believe that’s the story with bright and curious individuals who have the tenacity to achieve positive results without a pile of cash.

    I’ve learned about creative, hands-on fixes by smaller farmers who just needed to make-do. (Sound familiar?)

    On the other hand, “The Heart Healers,” in recounting the history of heart surgery, reveals that a combination of individualism and creativity has also produced high-tech advances.

    I wonder what’s been happening with our entrepreneurial spirit.

  5. What a wonderful story of a very interesting individual! I admire what he is doing – studying soil and working with it instead of treating it as something to add chemicals to. Beautiful hay indeed! I bet your animals will benefit from it.
    Glad to know you are healthy!

  6. There is a whole movement called regenerative agriculture. One of the proponents has written a book called Dirt to Soil. Don’t remember his name. I believe it’s published by Chelsea Green. I’m not sure monocropping cannabis or hemp will result in any better news for the soil. Then there’s the book The Reindeer Chronicles. It talks about regenerative foresting and regenerative agriculture. I’ve also heard of forest gardening.

  7. You’ve attracted to you yet another “outsider and oddball” who seems to be a free spirit, like you. I believe people like Dave and you are the salt of the earth; both marching to the beat of your own drum, not caring what others think, yet deeply caring about others. A very interesting dichotomy.

  8. Just reading the types of grass that are in his hay, made my mouth water. I never thought that my mouth would water over hay! No wonder the donkeys wanted it all to themselves.

  9. Thank you for this article. If you haven’t read The Thrid Plate by Dan Barber, I highly recommend it. He explores this topic and many others in depth.

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