In 1981, Maynard Murray, now retired to southwest Florida where he had constructed a 12-acre hydroponic farm. Dr. Murray met Don Jansen, son of a Mennonite farmer in western Nebraska. Don had spread sea solids on his wheat field, and was so surprised at the results, he contacted his fertilizer supplier, Dr. Murray.
After high school, Don Jansen had left his parents Mennonite farm to pursue a college degree and professional career. His elderly parents passed the wheat and buffalo farm on to Don's brother. But when this brother had multiple schlerosis and a crippling heart attack, Don left his urban career to return to the farm.
Wheat grew unevenly on the farm's rolling Nebraska hills. Fertilizer and topsoil washed off high spots and steep slopes to puddle in hollows. Wheat on upper slopes was thin, weak, while bottom soils grew sturdy stands.
Don spread Murray's sea solids on wheat fields, uncertain what would happen. All his wheat grew stronger, stouter, fuller heads, and matured earlier. Differences between upland and bottomland was gone, and former bare patches filled in and flourished.
The Jansen farm included a small herd of 35 buffalo. Don noticed right away the buffalo preferred sea solids to regular salt blocks, and chose sea-solid-fertilized crops over conventionally chemical fertilized.
Buffalo were a tourist attraction, and significant source of extra income. They drew steady streams of guests to observe indigenous American herbivore. But visitors were usually disappointed, because the herd stayed far from the fence, and were hard to see. Tourists found it unrewarding to admire tiny brown specks half a mile away.
Remembering Murray's cattle experiences, Don devised a solution for his bovine voyeurs. He fertilized along the fence with sea solids. Soon the herd hung out along the fence to munch the dark green, vigorous grass growing there. They would graze that area first in preference to all other pasture grass. This made the herd happy, and tourists, too.
In 1982, Dr. Murray invited Don to buy his 5.5 acre seaponic farm in Ft. Myers, Florida. Don's acceptance was timely, for the doctor died in 1983. In that last year, he paid Don steady visits to offer his information and insight gathered in 45 years of research and medical practice.
Don found sea solid dilutions gave the highest yields, and made fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides unnecessary, since the nutrients are complete and the plants resist disease and insects. Nutrients were measurably higher in sea solid grown foods, and blind taste tests proved them favorites. Fruit trees responded enthusiastically to sea solid feedings.
Since it grows without synthetic chemicals, Don's produce is Certified Organic, and his few intensive acres supply international organic wholesalers. However, Don believes seaponics is beyond organic, since organic methods alone do not insure the will have all the essential elements. Seaponics is ideal for areas where soils are rain-leached and depleted, such as south Florida.
America Doesn't Get It
Don tried to tell others the tremendous success of sea solids gave him, but found no one cared to listen.
One grower asked for help with his dying citrus orchard. Don delivered a series of sea solid soil treatments over the next year, and the citrus decline vanished. But Don heard nothing further from any farmers.
Dominance of agriculture petrochemical industries. Extension service, farm supply, bank loan requirements, federal support policies all favor the chemical paradigm. inability to introduce new or different thinking. Severe restriction on the ability of farming-which is to say, farmers-to change.
"America just doesn't get it" lamented Don Jansen. "I've tried for 25 years to make the case for sea solid fertilizers and more natural, balanced methods. But Americans aren't ready to hear the truth."
"And America isn't going to get it anytime soon, because the chemical-pharmaceutical-petroleum industry has too tight a grip on all the markets and everyone's thinking."
Hydroponics in Haiti
Last year, now in his 70's, but still stubbornly pursuing his work with sea solids, Don decided to look elsewhere for collaborators in research. He decided to go where the need is greatest, and began negotiations with Haiti to transfer his sea solid hydroponics to this poverty riddled Caribbean island nation. With over-population, widespread poverty and unemployment, limited arable farmland, and significant hunger and malnutrition, Haiti was in desperate need of an intensive food growing system.
Don was able to negotiate with Gulf Coast University to collaborate on his Haiti hydroponics project. The university will provide technical support, training, scientific design, research protocols, and documentation and publishing support.
Imagine that seawater—so abundant it's nearly free—is just what soils need to grow healthy plants. Three quarters of Earth's surface is ocean. Something so ordinary, so freely available, is so effective as a balanced fertilizer, fundamental and essential for health.
Such a simple idea. Yet it seems to work. Wonderfully.
But how to make money on a resource so cheap and available? Unless a business can control its product and price, survival in the marketplace is short-lived. Enterprise can't turn a profit selling a natural resource beyond the ownership boundaries of any nation. Yet, an industry is needed to convert seawater into a product usable on the scale of farmers and other husbandmen.
In the 1980's, the reality was that American markets for farm supplies was already owned and controlled by a few companies that manufacture chemicals for fertilizers. Most are owned or controlled by oil companies and their subsidiaries. The result of this extreme level of concentrated corporate control and vertical consolidation is that farmers have no options to buying bags and tanks of synthetic chemicals. Research and education services are financed exclusively to investigate and encourage chemical industry approaches.
Such well-established, deeply entrenched companies have too much vested interest to avoid their complete control of consensus over farm technology, training and extension. Any idea or effort for alternatives to the chemical mindset is lost or smothered by the weight of consensus to keep doing it by the same sure way. Alien ideas are weeded out and ridiculed without any trial or investigation.
Today, this chemical mindset is being supplanted by ideas embracing biological, ecological and social dimensions of farm technology. Farmers are now accountable for the impact of their practices on the biosphere. "Cost effectiveness" is giving ground to "sustainability" as research priority, policy guide and sales slogan. Alternative techniques and products are available to any grower motivated to search for them. Volumes of information are clicks away on the internet, in every agriculture library, from any bookseller.