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Back to the hand

CENTRAL POINT — Jackson County's top Master Gardener for 2016 is making big strides in his efforts to encourage farmers large and small to utilize skills that he said were feeding entire civilizations long before society became reliant on petroleum-based agriculture.

Central Point resident Scott Goode is a retired soil scientist who says his "old school" gardening techniques are a true case of honoring his roots.

Having taught a dozen soil-education classes for the past five years, Goode's current mission is to spread knowledge about good soil practices that will improve food production for gardeners and help heal the land to ensure food security for the future.

Growing up close to his grandparents, who lived in southeastern Colorado and were "heavily influenced by indigenous people," Goode learned to farm by hand, allowing soil to do what he said it is better equipped to do than anything mankind can come up with.

"There's a lot of mixed blood in my family, and I learned from my grandparents this traditional way of growing food. In the Cheyenne culture, it's called the buffalo dance," Goode said.

Goode's style of prepping the soil involves digging trenches that act like a buffalo gut, using soil-borne bacteria to break down layers of landscape clippings, natural debris, rich material such as alfalfa, and straw.

"It'll decompose with the same critters that are in the ruminants' gut and it breaks down — the soil actually gets two to four inches deeper every year with this method. So instead of composting someplace else and bringing it into the garden, we compost right in the garden and between the plants."

Planting involves simply parting the straw for a hole and leaving the rest in place to protect moisture.

An extra advantage to "composting in place," Goode notes, is that the technique produces a smaller carbon footprint. His techniques put compost — and related carbon dioxide, ammonia and water vapor — directly into the soil instead of the air.

"They've discovered that all the industrial-scale composting systems in California are putting a lot of stuff into the atmosphere. When you compost underground, it all goes into the soil and stays there," said Goode, who was named the 2016 Master Gardener of the Year in Jackson County by the Oregon State University Master Gardener program and the Oregon Master Gardener Association.

Goode's "post-petroleum" techniques involve planting and improving the soil with hand tools rather than gas-powered tillers or tractors. He uses a large metal "broad fork" to soften the soil to make it amenable to soil enhancements and composting.

"When it comes up, soil doesn't turn over, which is critical. Soil ecology is a layered habitat. The critters at the bottom have to stay at the bottom and the same goes for the ones on the top. It's a soil lasagna," he said.

"I contend you can do this faster than you could do with a roto-tiller, it's impossible to break, and you don't have to change the oil. It's all about letting biology do it for you."

Maud Powell, an assistant professor of horticulture who specializes in small farms for the Extension Service, said Goode is a real contributor to soil education in the region.

"We consider Scott kind of a real visionary. He's really thinking ahead, and he's just a really generous person who offers a lot in terms of time and expertise to the Extension. What's he's doing is really cutting-edge," said Powell, who with her husband owns and operates Wolf Gulch Farm, a small diversified vegetable and seed farm in the Little Applegate Valley.

Powell said Goode's no-till garden plots at the Extension Service gardens on Hanley Road have proven the value of his techniques, out-producing traditional plots nearby.

"The issue is just how to do it on a scale for farming. I think it's hard for larger-scale farmers to think about operating without petroleum, because that's the way they've done it for so long, but I think what Scott is doing is a great model for ways to face the issues we'll be dealing with in the future."

Goode said his techniques, if things ever "went truly south," would allow food to be grown to sustain populations.

"We are going back to, and at some point will have to go back to, what has worked for thousands of years and fed entire civilizations without ever using any petroleum or any tractors," he said. "This is the way things were meant to be done."

— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

Master Gardener Scott Goode demonstrates broadfork tilling Thursday at his garden in Central Point. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch