Dana Visalli’s Tryin’ta Farm embraces ‘regenerative ag’
Dana Visalli’s Tryin’ta Farm is a flourishing work in progress, one that he wants to leave in better shape when he dies than it was when he was born.
With the energy of the sun and his own two hands, Visalli produces fruits, vegetables and grains along the shores of the Methow River. His small commercial garden is an example of high-yield sustainability with low energy consumption.
A play on words, Tryin’ta Farm is a living example of Visalli “trying to farm” using regenerative agriculture methods.
“Regenerative agriculture” is a farming practice used to restore soil biodiversity. The practice reverses climate change by capturing carbon dioxide in the soil and improving the water cycle through reduced erosion and the elimination of harmful chemicals.
“This garden is an effort to create a productive small farm that builds soil over time, uses a minimum of fossil fuels, is sustainable over the long term, and is in better shape ecologically when we die than when we were born,” Visalli said.
A seed is planted
Visalli was first introduced to farming by Mennonite farmers. “The Amish would not take me,” he laughed. In the early 1970s, people yearned to grow their own food and take care of the land through the Back to the Land movement. Visalli came to Methow Valley and soon realized he was always fixing the tractor instead of spending his time farming.
Visalli found modern-day farming to be unsustainable with the popular use of non-renewable energy, chemicals, and practices that damaged the soil, water and surrounding land. He ditched the tractor and looked for sustainable ways to nurture the soil without damaging the ecosystem and biosphere and without using fossil fuels.
“I always grew things — this was meaningful to me,” he said, “I wanted farm on a small scale, using less energy.”
Visalli started by clearing stone cobbles from the soil by hand. “Ninety-five percent of the work here is done by hand,” he said, “very little fossil fuels are used.”
Two large compost bins are steadily filled with the addition of organic material. The humus is watered, turned and covered to encourage active composting. “It’s like taking care of a baby.” Visalli said.
The compost pile is tended to with the same care and attention given to growing plants. The composted humus is routinely fed to the garden beds, building healthy soil and feeding nutrients to crops. “We do not use any chemical fertilizers nor any insecticides, even organic ones,” Visalli said. Occasionally, soapy water is used on plants to control aphids.
Irrigation water is sent to the garden by the energy of the sun. An off-grid solar system uses 12-volt solar panels and a 12-volt pump.
A 20-by-50 foot greenhouse, heated only by the rays of the sun, extends the growing season from early spring into the winter months. On Feb. 27 of this year, Visalli skied to the greenhouse towing a sled filled with chicken manure to feed the soil. He and his co-worker, Chase Vanderyacht, planted seeds in the greenhouse on the first day of March when there was still a foot of snow on the ground.
Vanderyacht watered the seeds and seedlings with buckets of snow that melted immediately in the warm greenhouse. The water line to the greenhouse remained frozen until early April. Until then, buckets of soft melting snow kept the seedlings moist.
The greenhouse receives a third round of plantings in mid-July. This late planting will grow to full size by the end of September. The plants stop growing in October as the soil cools and the sun treks low across the winter sky. The crops that can handle freezing temperatures are fresh through December, yielding fresh lettuce, arugula, spinach, chard, kale, carrots, beets and more in early winter. This technique is called winter gardening.
“Most vegetables are nutrient-rich but not energy-rich,” Visalli said. To ensure his garden produces a wholesome variety of fruit, greens, root vegetables and protein, Visalli also plants hard red spring wheat. He harvests the wheat by hand with a scythe. From this energy-rich grain from the garden, Visalli makes lasagna noodles, cookies and bread to accompany all the fresh fruits and vegetables.
A living process
Visalli’s Tryin’ta Farm is a living process to showcase the biological cycle of using the sun’s energy to fuel the body. Solar panels provide power to keep water flowing to plants. Plants are fed organic compost that holds the energy of the sun deep within hydrocarbon bonds.
When the plant matter decomposes and is added to the soil, those energy and nutrients are fed back into the living plants. Plant roots absorb nutrients and energy from the soil, the stems and leaves reach up to the sky. Through photosynthesis, plants eat sunshine, converting the sun’s energy to sugar.
These plants, using the energy of the sun, grow into a food source to sustain other living creatures. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide, storing the excess within their root system and trapping the carbon dioxide in the soil. In exchange, plants breathe out oxygen, a key component of human health and survival.
“It is a living process, a community,” Visalli said. Once a person realizes the constant biological cycle of soil, water and sun, “it becomes exciting to be a participant,” he said.
Visalli’s Tryin’ta Farm has the first produce available in the spring at Glover Street Market, and the latest fresh produce in the valley in early winter. People can order directly from Visalli, or schedule a time to pick their own produce at www.methownaturalist.com, Visalli’s online journal and website. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.