Mendocino Talking: Charles Martin, Renegade Farmer

[Author Note: Charles Martin and his wife, Catherine, ran a small, organic/biodynamic farm for many years near the coast in Comptche, supplying their neighbors and local restaurants including Cafe Beaujolais. They also operated a nonprofit health foundation. They co-founded the Ecology Action/Golden Rule Bio-Intensive Intern/Apprentice training program with John Jeavons, and Charles was active as Vice-President and Farm Reviewer for the Mendocino Renegade eco-label program of the Mendocino Organic Network. They now live in active retirement near Willits, California.

In 1989, during the Mediterranean Fruit Fly infestation in California, Governor Brown ordered the stripping of all fruit trees to stop it. Charles was dependent on his small orchard for his own health, thought the order was too broad and indiscriminate, refused the order, sued Governor Brown, and won.

As a boy growing up in Whittier, in southern California, Charles was interested in gardening and farming, and in high school he had a job milking cows on a dairy farm. Inducted into the Korean War, he was seriously injured. The drugs and antibiotics administered to him for his injury further damaged his health. After graduating from mechanical engineering school and going to work for Boeing in Seattle, he began exploring his health problems and was advised by a homeopathic specialist in degenerative diseases that he needed to “get back to nature, get off all refined foods, grow your own organic produce, get your water from clean springs, buy a juicer, grind your own flour, and eat naturally.” The doctor told him that his body could gradually repair itself over time if it was fed properly. That advice changed his life. I asked him what he had learned from changing his diet so many years ago…]

I’m convinced that health comes from the soil, from what we eat and the quality of what we eat. I had kidney problems, backaches, ulcers, you name it. By my late twenties, eating mostly from our backyard organic garden, I was back in very good shape.

charles-martinI’ve always gardened and farmed for health reasons, not for commercial reasons. There are certain compromises I won’t make because of that. Biodynamics is a sustainable way of organic farming with nature. If you start taking short cuts you start having health problems on the farm. When I first started farming I had a few plant disease problems, a few insect problems like cabbage worms and coddling moth, but as the years went on, things kept getting better until we had no disease problems or insect problems. Cabbage worms were controlled by an old green tree frog that I had out in the garden and by hornets that lived in the area, and the ground toads took care of the earwigs and mealy bugs, so I had a nice balance of nature built up. I had shelter belts and habitats and water dishes in the garden for the frogs so they didn’t have to leave to cool off. The tree frog would sit in the cabbage patch devouring cabbage worms, a big worm in his mouth and a grin on his face. It was a real joy to be a part of that.

I wasn’t interested in selling our produce to people who didn’t appreciate the effort that I put into it. I’d go to farmers markets, but many there are just looking for the lowest price — I didn’t have time for that. I spent too much time raising good quality, tasty produce. I just would not quibble over price. There were too many customers who appreciated what I was doing. I feel that if you’re looking to save money on food, then you’re going to pay for it in doctor bills later on. That’s not the way we wanted to live.

Both our farming and our health counseling were based on the idea of soil and health because if you grow healthy soils you’ll have healthy plants, and if you have healthy plants you’ll have healthy animals, and therefore healthy people who eat those plants and animals. It’s really that simple. Health is natural in nature, and this nonsense that disease is a normal way of life is just not true. It’s because you’re not living according to nature’s laws that you get sick. If you just go back to nature’s laws, you’ll find that these problems will be controlled naturally and you won’t have to depend on drugs and high technology.

We counsel the use of a healing diet of vegetarian, organic raw foods, and juices. If you are really ill, we believe you should just fast — stop eating for awhile and let the body do its own healing by ridding itself of toxins. And it really does work, whether you have arthritis, tuberculosis, colds, tonsillitis. Disease is the body’s attempt to rid itself of poisons because of our eating habits. I don’t have any strong views against eating good healthy meat, but I’ve come to be vegetarian myself for health reasons.

I do not believe that germs cause disease. Germs are nature’s scavengers coming in to clean up sick waste materials that you have in your body. The same principle applies in the garden. Plant disease and insects are attempting to clean up an unhealthy situation in the garden. Nature is consistent. The drug company’s answer is to kill the messenger, the germ, just as the pesticide company’s answer is to kill the insect. In both cases the hosts, whether it is the plant or the body, is the problem. The plant needs to be strengthened by good soil practices, the body needs to be strengthened by good nutrition. Then they each will be strong enough to deal with the problem.

We had a couple of apprentices at our farm who came here with health problems. Both boys had severe environmental illnesses and had been to the best medical clinics. Nothing helped. They had been given drugs, cortisones, antihistamines. They were in devitalized states, one a walking skeleton, the other hyper-allergic to everything. They went through an educational program at the farm, learned to eat raw foods. One went on a twenty-eight day fast on water, the other went on two fasts of ten days and seventeen days. Before the hyper-allergic boy left after six months, he had worked sixty hours in the hot fields of Albion harvesting hay and never sneezed once. He couldn’t believe it. The other one is doing well, last we heard, and knows exactly what to do if symptoms come back after eating junk food. It was amazing to see.

My spirituality is very important to me. I reverence and respect God’s creation. Catherine and I look upon our roles here in life as stewards. We feel that we have a responsibility to our Creator to care for the Creation, to nurture it, and look after it. And this includes our bodies… Spirituality plays a central part of our whole philosophy of farming as well. I believe in treating animals well, providing them with a natural environment and a natural diet. They should be allowed to range free and be treated with gentleness and kindness. I don’t think we could ever do it any differently. We feel that this is the way our Creator wants us to live. He’s created this wonderful world for us, and living in harmony with nature’s spiritual and moral laws is where peace really comes from.

[Next up: Christie Olson Day, Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino.]

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