HISTORY OF ECOLOGY
In 1966 Alan Chadwick, English gardening master,
brought his synthesis of the biodynamic/French intensive method
to the US and converted a barren slope at the University of California-Santa
Cruz into a flourishing garden. In 1971 the city of Palo Alto,
California invited Stephen Kafka, Senior Apprentice at the University’s
student garden, to give a four-hour class on the method. Ecology
Action had been started that year and had developed a recycling
program that was so successful it had been taken over by the city.
Members of Ecology Action were excited about the class and wanted
to make the information more readily available to the public.
In January 1972 the Board of Directors approved a Biointensive
research and education project whose purposes would be to teach
regular classes, collect data, make land available for gardening
and publish information on the method’s techniques. John
Jeavons became the project’s director. The Common Ground
Organic Garden Supply and Education Center in Palo Alto was also
started at this time as part of the Ecology Action organization.
After a five-month search for land, the Syntex Corporation offered
three and three-quarters acres of their grounds in the Stanford
Industrial Park, with all the necessary water. A half acre was
kept for the research garden and the rest became a community garden.
Alan Chadwick visited the garden site and gave us basic advice
on how to proceed. We then attended a series of lectures he gave
nearby. In the spring we started teaching our own classes, based
on Chadwick’s classes and Stephen Kafka’s.
Our work grew out of a concern about worldwide starvation and
malnutrition. If we could determine the smallest amount of land
and resources needed for one person to supply all of his or her
needs in a sustainable way, we might have a personal solution
to these challenges. In 1974 we published the first edition of
what has become How to Grow More Vegetables, Fruits, nuts, Berries,
Grains and Other Crops than you ever thought possible on less
land than you can imagine, (HTG) based on our research. The same
year we sent out inquiries to 200 alternative technology organizations
around the world, offering our materials. The only response at
that time came from Dr. Seshadri of the Murugappu Chettiar Research
Center in India. After the method was tried out by village women,
it was reported: “This method can be taught to people with
no previous experience of vegetable growing. They can produce
good yields with locally-available resources in poor soils.”
1980 was the garden’s last year in Palo Alto. Syntex now
needed the space. But while the garden was still functioning,
a University of California graduate student in soil science tested
the beds. He found an unexpected accelerated rate of humified
carbon buildup, a process that normally takes hundreds of years.
A search began for a rural site for the research garden that would
also be the headquarters for Ecology Action.
In 1982 we moved to a site near Willits, California, with conditions
for a garden similar to those experienced by farmers in much of
the world: steep, rocky, with heavy winter rains, prolonged summer
droughts, and a short growing season.
In retrospect, the years from 1976 to 1984 laid a firm foundation
for the expansion and outreach that has marked our work ever since.
Two revised and expanded editions of HTG were published, as well
as many booklets based on our research. HTG was translated into
Spanish, French and German. Gardensong, a video based on Alan
Chadwick and the projects he inspired, was aired many times on
PBS-TV, and magazines printed articles about our work, resulting
in thousands of inquiries. An apprenticeship program was started.
Bountiful Gardens, a mail-order supply service for essential seeds,
books and garden supplies, was launched. We co-sponsored the Third
International Conference on Small-Scale and Intensive Food Production
in 1981, which drew 100 participants from 14 countries around
the world, including China. Polly Noyce, Carol Vesecky and Sandra
Mardigian, soon to play important roles, became acquainted with
In 1984 the Biointensive method began to catch on globally. Juan
Manuel Martinez, who was director of the Menos y Mejores project
in one of the poorest areas of Mexico, chose the Biointensive
system to teach to villagers after reading the Spanish translation
of HTG. As a result of this five-year project, 2,000 Biointensive
growing beds were established in 67 villages in the area and hunger
and malnutrition were significantly reduced. Polly Noyce, on a
trip to Kenya, bought a former boys’ school four hours north
of Nairobi and offered it to Ecology Action as a site for a Biointensive
project. Ecology Action’s Board approved the idea and the
Manor House Agricultural Centre was started, with a two-year program
for training high school graduates in Biointensive agriculture
and other alternative technology methods. The Peace Corps started
using the French translation of HTG in Togo, West Africa, and
has been using it and other translations ever since. In 1986 Julian
Gonsalves, who had attended the 1981 conference, worked for the
International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in the Philippines.
He helped establish the Biointensive Gardening Project, which
initiated 300 Biointensive growing beds on the island of Negros
as part of a UNICEF project for malnourished children.
In 1987 Sandra Mardigian, who had lived in Kenya and was concerned
about the marginal conditions under which rural villagers lived,
began a two-year correspondence with Manor House. She started
Kilili Self-Help Project, which in 1989 began sending groups of
farmers to Manor House for one-week trainings in Biointensive
From 1985 through 1989 we published several more books and many
booklets. A PBS video, “Circle of Plenty,” about our
work, was taped and broadcast nationwide. Articles appeared in
major magazines. Ecology Action staff made two teaching trips
to Mexico and Juan Manuel Martinez came to the Willits Mini-Farm
for advanced training. At that time he and John Jeavons strategized
the further dissemination of Biointensive mini-farming throughout
Mexico and all of Latin America. In 1989 the first five-day workshop
was held at the Willits site with participants from the US and
Mexico. In 1987 Carol Vesecky took Ecology Action materials to
distribute to contacts in Russia. In 1989 the first five-day workshop
was held at the Willits site with participants from the US and
1990 was the beginning of an ongoing series of workshops—many
training people from other countries—which have continued
to this time. That year nine gardeners from Russia attended a
5-day workshop given by Ecology Action at Stanford University.
Ecology Action staff gave two more workshops in Mexico. 1993 saw
the inauguration of our Three-Day Workshops. As of the beginning
of 2005, 1,413 people from 46 states and 24 countries have been
trained in these workshops. Fernando Pia was a participant at
one in San Diego in 1993. An agricultural extensionist from Argentina,
Fernando had been looking for ways to encourage small-scale sustainable
agriculture in his area of Patagonia. When he returned home he
started CIESA and spent the next 3 years researching the growing
of crops using Biointensive. Since then, Fernando has given regular
trainings in Argentina and Chile and has also trained people in
Peru and Bolivia.
In 1992 Juan Manuel Martinez started ECOPOL, a non-profit organization
that has been actively working to spread Biointensive throughout
Mexico and Latin America. In 1993, Ecology Action published the
Russian translation of HTG, which had been facilitated by Carol
Vesecky. In order to help distribution of the book in the Former
Soviet Union, she started the non-profit Biointensive for Russia.
In the years since, the organization has facilitated workshops
that have trained people in Russia, Siberia and Uzbekistan.
In 1994 Ecology Action started training six-month interns, many
of whom are now directing significant Biointensive projects in
other countries. During the last half of the 1990s Ecology Action
inaugurated a Teacher Training and Certification Program to teach
teachers who will teach other teachers, who will, in turn, teach
beginning practitioners. Also, because the term biointensive has
come into such general usage, we initiated the term GROW BIOINTENSIVE—somewhat
like a brand name—to distinguish the system we have been
developing for more than three decades.
In 2000, in order to promote sustainable agriculture and help
GROW BIOINTENSIVE become better known in academic and scientific
circles, we presented the “Soil, Food and People”
Conference at U.C.-Davis. Over 200 people attended, ranging from
university professors to farmers to directors of Biointensive
projects, as well as members of the general public.
Looking back over our history it becomes obvious that things take
time to develop—but that sometimes they can grow with unbelievable
speed. We have remained a small organization by choice, functioning
as a catalyst that inspires and encourages others to take up the
work and run with it.
For more detail about Ecology Action's history, read our Highlights section.