Harold Hartzler (March 10, 1926-May 21, 2011) had farmed all his life. But it was in 1954 or '55 that the sprays came along. He drove 50 miles to buy them and started putting it on his hay and corn fields. One day, a heavy rain came in right after he had sprayed. It ran over to a neighbor's hay field and killed everything on the field. Their neighbor was an elderly gentleman whose fields they helped tend. He had never trusted the chemicals and asked Harold shortly thereafter not to use any of the chemicals on his fields again.
Later Harold began to notice how hard his soil was becoming to plow and that his livestock was unhealthy. Most calves were barely living two weeks. Disturbing trends seemed to be developing beneath the earth, too. His sister loved earthworms. She would follow the plow furrow and fill jars with them in a matter of just a few feet. One day Harold was in the middle of plowing a field and it was really hard. So he stopped the tractor and got down just to look around. He walked almost 500 feet and only found two worms. To him, this was evidence the soil was dying.
Harold Hartzler had no governmental help, no professional advice, and no research supporting what he was about to do. Nevertheless, he felt strongly that he had to do it. They went cold turkey from chemicals in 1964 and never looked back.
Harold read voraciously. Not only did he study printed materials, he also began experimenting with his own soil. It ended up being very simple, once he started figuring it out. The life of the soil is much like life in a human being; it depends on air, water, and sunshine. It doesn't matter whether you are growing a tree, cabbages, or corn, they all have to have these three things.
After a rocky start--the farm grew more weeds than profits in the early years--they became prosperous. Now their methods are being thoroughly documented in terms of soil ecology, cropping systems, animal nutrition, economics, and whole farm ecology by an USDA-LISA funded project of the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Program. Farmers from around the world have shown a great interest in their methods.
One of their most important convictions is that the healthiest food is food that is in as close to its natural state as possible. They use the lowest levels of pasteurization allowed by law in a process unique to their farm. They also forego homogenization, which is what accounts for the signature layer of cream you can see through their famous glass bottles!
Harold and his wife raised 8 children on the farm, all of whom continue to be involved with the family business or to farm in their own right. His lessons carried on; his sons each declared, much to Harold's delight, that if they couldn't farm naturally, they wouldn't farm at all. (You can see his son Joe's cows in the above photo. )
The Hartzler clan has grown to epic proportions. There are 75 family members, including 8 children, 22 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, plus spouses.
At MOON, we are thrilled that Harold's children have chosen to carry on his traditions. Hartzler milk is one of the most popular products we carry in the store. You can find their milk and butter in our dairy cooler.
We're very pleased to reproduce this fine article recently published in MOON Co-op's newsletter.