The Belize Project
the Start Now impresarios (Glenn and Jean, bought quite a lot of land in
Belize, Central America. The land was deemed worthless, and therefore
was cheap. Belize, the former British Honduras, was pillaged for
mahogany for sailing ships in the colonial days. As we now know, clear
cut tropical forests don't regenerate, because almost all of the organic
material necessary to support life is in the trees. Take them away, and
the land that is left is devoid of topsoil and exposed to the deluge of
tropical rain, about 130 inches per year in the area where we bought
land. The rain quickly washes away the remaining fertility, and the land
might believe, as we did, that the soil, after all, is only necessary
for plants to stand in, and that the addition of purchased fertilizer
will correct the barrenness problem. This is what the "green revolution"
taught in decades past. Soluble chemical fertilizer acts quickly, and
plants respond with rapid growth. We planned citrus orchards for the
empty land. We thought that they would increase the value of the land
and make our fortune.
was right for new citrus orchards. Massive plantings in Brazil had been
killed by rampant disease. We raised trees on a disease resistant
rootstock, expecting to fill a hungry market. Poor drainage kept our
land too soggy for much of the year, but some earth moving fixed that
problem. We laid out several hundred acres of new orchards, and created
Parrot Hill Farm. We shipped in and applied fertilizer, and sure enough,
the trees put on a spurt of growth. It wasn't long at all, however,
before growth slowed, leaves looked pale, and nutrient deficiencies
appeared. We applied more fertilizer. The cycle repeated, a bit shorter
this time. Soon we realized that the soluble fertilizer was washing away
in the heavy rains, and the barren, sandy soil itself had nothing to
offer. We couldn't buy enough fertilizer to keep the trees going, and
certain failure was looming.
didn't give up, but looked for better answers. We found them in books of
soil science and organic agriculture. This led us to the discovery of
much wider problems resulting from the use of agricultural chemicals,
problems with worldwide significance, including global warming, which is
only now coming to widespread acceptance as a dominant issue.
research back then in the eighties led us to organic agriculture
solutions, which brought about dramatic recovery of our orchards, and
more than that, resulted in creation of deep and fertile topsoil where
there was once only worthless sand. (For more information on the Parrot
Hill Farm project, see
"Agribusiness in the Tropics.") We thought the ecological
significance of our project was more important than the fortune, and so
invested the entire project into a newly formed non-profit corporation,
Start Now, formed for the purpose of establishing and carrying on
commercial projects which would improve earth's ecology.
Hill Farm went on to diversify its orchards, develop techniques of
large-scale composting from organic waste from the citrus, sugar and
fish processing industries, construct raised beds to create fertile soil
and facilitate vegetable production, and demonstrate water hyacinth
sewage treatment methods. Parrot Hill Farm also became an educational
training center for teaching these techniques.
Born in 1930, Glenn is officially an old guy
known in the community for his Santa Claus beard. Glenn’s mother
was widowed when he was 2 years old, and she supported her
family of five young children by raising and selling vegetables.
Glenn has childhood memories of pulling a coaster wagon around
his rural Kansas hometown, hawking his mother’s produce.
After a stint in the Navy, Glenn took an
engineering degree at Kansas State University, and went on to a
career as a civil engineer, migrating as a young man to the
state of Alaska, where he worked for the state, and was
responsible for designing and rebuilding roads destroyed by the
big Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Glenn became a land
developer, creating subdivisions in the rapidly populating
Glenn’s life changed direction in 1979 when
he met Jean Schanen and they became life partners. They visited
Belize for the first time in that year, and soon took on the
agricultural project described in this website which led to the
formation of Start Now.
From then on, Glenn’s history became Start
Now’s history. These days, he is back to selling vegetables, now
on behalf of Start Now and planet earth.
Jean is younger than
Glenn, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1938. She started growing
vegetables as a toddler, toiling in the family victory garden,
but left gardening for a long time, growing up and living her
early adult life as an apartment dweller. She farmed a great
number of house plants on the windowsills during those years.
She graduated from Southern Illinois
University with a social science degree. She built an early
career on self-taught Fortran programming, conducting
statistical research projects for a variety of public agencies.
Almost on a whim, she took the law school aptitude test, did
well on it, and enrolled in Washington University School of Law
(St. Louis), graduating in 1978 at age 40.
Fate intervened on her plan to
become a Seattle lawyer forever, and sent her to Alaska the
following summer, where she met Glenn and the rest is history.
She wants you to know that “the rest” includes creating and
running Beautiful Soup restaurant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
during the nineties. As “the soup lady” she delighted customers
with hundreds of ethnically diverse soup creations using organic
vegetables from Start Now Gardens in Eau Claire.
Now she is the plant starter for
Start Now Gardens on Bloomington Avenue, and womans the Start
Now table at the Bremerton farmers market.
The Wisconsin Project
After thirteen years developing Parrot Hill
Farm, we were ready for a change, and undertook a new project in Eau
Claire, Wisconsin, applying what we had learned in Belize in a different
climate and with different problems.
In 1993,we bought a small piece of land near
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 57 acres, which had been used for conventional
farming for many years, a relentless cycle of corn and soybeans, using
chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The chemicals killed soil
microorganisms. The exposed soil during the corn cycle eroded away.
Tractor traffic through the fields compacted the ground. The result was
lifeless, sandy soil with virtually no topsoil or natural fertility,
very similar to the unimproved land we started with in Belize.
We undertook a recovery program, using the
knowledge we acquired down South. We halted all applications of
chemicals, added rock dust to the fields to restore depleted minerals,
and planted a variety of grasses and legumes to let the healing process
begin. With far less rain and a hard winter instead of a year round
growing season, the process of recovery was much slower than in Belize,
but our actions halted the soil degradation process, and improvement was
apparent even in the first year.
Instead of orchards, we planned organic
vegetable production for the Eau Claire farm. To get a quick start, we
imported fertility in the form of many tons of composted turkey manure.
To extend the growing season, we built covered growing houses for
intensive planting, and built raised beds in them, which we filled with
compost. We built a large solar greenhouse, 40 by 60 feet, in which to
start our vegetable seedlings. We used straw bale construction for the
greenhouse, erecting the first straw bale building in the state. And so,
Start Now Gardens began.
We sold vegetables in the Eau Claire farmers
market, but soon developed the concept of community supported
agriculture through a restaurant. The goal in local food production is
to shorten the distance traveled between field and table. A difficulty
in achieving this goal often arises in the cooking phase, since many
busy people no longer cook very often, and find themselves buying foods
in the grocery store which were grown and prepared in distant locations,
the antithesis of local food.
We set up a restaurant in Eau Claire called
it Beautiful Soup, grew vegetables for the restaurant, and opened for
business. The vegetables went from farm to kitchen to consumer. Start
Now Gardens and Beautiful Soup were the Start Now projects of the