Friday, July 30, 2010

Harrisonburg, Virginia: Mike Philips

"Well, Kacy and the Sunshine Band!" Mike Philips exclaimed as we parked behind his flatbed truck and put out our hands for some shaking. We plopped down on the truck and Mike proceeded to regale us with story after story of farming and neighbors and the one vacation he's ever taken in his life, a 30 day trip via Hawai'i.

Mike is the kind of guy one feels immediately comfortable with and we contentedly stayed where we were for a good 2 and a half hours as the sun sank low. Mike grew up on the farm that he currently runs and he also devotes a part of his farm to test plots for the National Resource Conservation Service. He showed us pictures of what some of the research from these plots have shown, pictures of giant radishes with gnarly twisted bottoms. "Hmmm" I said after looking at those compelling results (I wasn't quite sure what the research was showing us, unless there is a blue ribbon out there in the 4-H fairs for most corkscrewed radish). Mike excitedly explained that what the corkscrew actually meant was that these radishes were penetrating through extremely compacted, microbially-dead soil (known as hardpan in farm lingo) and allowing air and nutrients to seep through it again. Radishes doing the job of a plow, and with far less damage!

Although Mike is much too humble to say so, he is kind of a big deal in his community. The truck we were sitting on was right off of a country road and anytime a truck would pass the horn would honk and the driver would toss out a greeting/ribbing/wave to Mike and Mike would give us that person's story. Mike is all about stories whether he's telling you about how his grandmomma and the community elders taught him about farming or how he teaches the up and comers about farming, or his relationships with his neighbors. The best thing to do is make yourself comfortable and enjoy the tales that come from living in a small town with big characters in it, people you wish you knew because they sound so warm and real.

Before heading on, Mike walked us around his farm, beautiful long rows of verdant green. His pride in his life's work as well as his acknowledgement of how many people he has learned from and accepted help from seemed like the traditional farmers cocktail; one part pride to one part humility to one part pure grateful faith. I left with the hope that whatever place I settle in will have Mike Phillips' counterpart as the community sustainer, the story teller, the one who doesn't forget who has walked here before us.


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