MOTHER's Newsworthies: Peter Escher, Frank and Phyllis Dobyns and Bruce Anderson

Learn how Peter Escher is an organic gardening consultant; Frank and Phyllis Dobyns help women and children in Third World countries; and Bruce Anderson promotes the use of solar energy.


| March/April 1981



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Peter Escher works with farmers to teach them how to grow food organically.


PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

Brief: Peter Escher

The business of agricultural consulting, says Peter Escher, "is all hard sell. You have to talk to the growers ... and then follow up to explain your views again. It's really a question of changing people's consciousness." That's the reason Escher visits farms and gardens all up and down the East Coast as a consultant for the Pfeiffer Foundation: to show folks new ways of dealing with their crops' pest and disease problems. The "sale" of organic agriculture isn't always easy, but Escher observes — with some satisfaction — that more and more people are becoming interested in wholistic growing ... especially those men and women who are trying to produce food on rough terrain or infertile soil.

The Swiss-born horticulturist came to organic gardening by a rather circuitous route. During the Depression, Escher operated his own business in Paris (and did quite well, despite France's troubled financial situation) ... but he longed for a more worthwhile way to make a living. So Escher came to America and bought a farm in eastern Maryland, where he learned about agriculture the hard way. "The soil on my land was very poor — a heavy clay — but I soon found that dealing with such difficulties is actually the best way to learn how to farm, because your mistakes come home to roost very quickly!"

Through his initial contacts with Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer and other pioneers in biodynamics, the young farmer learned about the soil-improving qualities of compost and other organic materials. Escher then began to cooperate more closely with Dr. Pfeiffer, and together the pair founded Threefold Farm, a research and laboratory facility in Spring Valley, New York.

At present, in the course of his travels, Escher works with farmers, scientists, agricultural agents, and back-to-the-land groups ... in short, with almost anyone who wants advice on composting, green manuring, and soil improvement. The soft-spoken gentleman doesn't force his knowledge on those who may be skeptical, though. In fact, he's frequently quite guarded about offering his opinions at first: "Sometimes I don't hesitate to take a good look at the situation ... and then say nothing!"

Escher has a lot to say, however, about our nation's attitude toward the cultivation of the earth, and about how he thinks that ought to change. "You can't just look at botany as if it were no more than a subject described in a book ... you must view a plant as a living being." Often — according to Escher — what's diagnosed as a disease is actually nothing more than the cultivar's discomfort, due to improper planting or cultivation.

The main problem facing the soil conservationist today, he says, is that agriculturists tend to "think in terms of poor soils ... and that's my beef with the USDA. If we'd try to think in terms of a healthy, productive soil — and take steps to foster and treasure such earth — then we could produce better plants ... and eat more wholesome food."





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