Every Saturday on my way to the dump, I pass by David and Andria Craxton’s organic farm, Roots and Fruits. From the road, I peer through the towering evergreens that are like the curtain that hides the true identity of the great Wizard of Oz.
I wonder how Farmer Dave pulls it off – producing so much food with such little impact on the environment. He’s the area’s most prominent and prolific gardener, yet he forgoes many of the most basic modern tools that seem to be a necessity to most small backyard growers and farmers. He feeds many of us through his stand at Lancaster’s Farmers Market (each Saturday morning), but consumes relatively little fossil fuels by practicing sustainable, organic and local agriculture. His wisdom and success lies in listening to the land.
Craxton has been called the King of garlic. After all, he produces 25 varieties of garlic on his 12 acre farm on Whitefield Road in Dalton. But, that is tip of the ice berg (lettuce,) he also turns out some 200 different variations of three dozen fruit and vegetable crops that range from lettuce (10 kinds) to potatoes (22 kinds) to hot peppers (11 kinds.)
Last fall, I let my wonder get the best of me and invite myself over for a tour. Along the way, I get a tutorial on organic gardening and local food. Farmer Dave is a quiet, reflective man with deep thoughts and few words. His wife, Andria, on the other hand, uses her artistic photography and poems to vividly communicate their shared passion for the land.
Dave’s three decades of “playing in the dirt,” have not muddied his agrarian idealism, adherence to ancient farming principles or creative curiosity. If there is one guiding principle at the Roots and Fruits Farm, it is that product cannot be separated from process – even if the process is backbreaking (or as Dave calls it “time consuming.”) He uses a broad fork to open up the land instead of a rotatiller. He cuts with a scythe, rather than a weed whacker. The key, he says, is to “work the land in a gentle way” and build the soil by enriching it with good compost and rotating crops. This year the Craxton’s installed 8 solar panels that further reduce their electric consumption by one-third.
Wholesome, flavorful and nutritious food can’t be forced on the land. “You have to train yourself to hear,” he says, “The land tells me what to grow.”