Across dusty roads and the course of nearly two decades, a University of California researcher named Jeff Mitchell has encouraged an increasing number of producers to develop farm systems that are closer to “proven natural systems.” No-till is Mitchell’s philosophy…and his passion.

It’s not a single practice, but rather, a combination of techniques that he advocates. There are four primary things about the methods he promotes: “Don’t disturb the soil; maximize the diversity of plants, insects, fungi, and microbiota; keep living roots in the soil; and keep the ground covered with plant residues.” Research is bearing out that these practices work.

Nathanael Johnson (@SavorTooth) writes for Grist.

About Mitchell’s iconic and well-traveled car:

“I was never able to get a straight answer out of Mitchell as to why his car was so squalid, but it’s easy enough to guess. He has spent years driving up and down California’s long Central Valley, from one field to another, asking farmers to sign up to try new conservation techniques. He estimates that the car has driven 600,000 miles, though he can’t say for sure: The odometer stopped at 299,999. The car really does have to function as a high-speed file cabinet, as well as a mobile tool shed and soil-sample transporter.”

Mitchell talks about his life’s work:


“You know, I’ve been truly fortunate. I’ve been doing this long enough that wherever I go I’ll look out and see a field and think, ‘That’s where we did that one trial, how’s that coming along?’ And there have been some big changes. It’s gratifying. There’s a soil scientist at Berkeley, Garrison Sposito, who says it may be just once or twice in a century that agriculture has an opportunity to re-create itself in a revolutionary way. Now, it may sound way over the top, but I think that’s what’s happening with conservation agriculture. It’s energizing for me to wake up to that every day.”


Mitchell’s research is part of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, which seeks to address one of the most compelling issues of our time: how to sustainably and nutritiously feed the world’s growing population.


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