By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Louder began experimenting with Garrett's approach. "Lo and behold, you know, it started working. I could go out there and pull weeds, and I didn't water near as much. It just really worked."
In 1995 when Iscar built its new campus in Arlington, Louder decreed that it would be managed a la Garrett. "I just told everybody here that's what I wanted to do. There's no reason not to."
If all of these people are right—if Howard Garrett has been leading this Bible Belt bastion of rock-ribbed conservatism anywhere at all—then some kind of adjustment must be made. Either Garrett is not as out-there as he sometimes sounds, or Dallas is more out-there than it thinks.
Garrett's company, Dirt Doctor Inc., occupies the entire sunny second floor of a two-flat building in a genteel East Dallas neighborhood. Its business is his books, radio show, newspaper columns, a growing line of organic products produced by others but licensed under the "Dirt Doctor" logo, and his services as a consultant.
The offices occupy a tidy, tasteful but informal space, shared with a full-time business manager and an administrative assistant. Behind a broad desk he pours green tea for a guest—a gift, he explains, from a major client in China—and offers a thumbnail sketch of what he believes.
"It's a philosophy of living," he says. "I never have colds. I never have the flu. I'm very anti-vaccine. I've never had flu shots."
He's anti a lot of things.
"Soap is a good example," he says. "You use these anti-bacterial soaps, but there are a lot of bacteria on your skin and your body that are beneficial. You put that chemistry on there, one, you screw up that balance. And, two, the chemistry of that stuff is toxic."
He won't eat beef that isn't grass-fed and purchased from certain suppliers found only in farmers' markets. "Organically grown stuff is far superior in flavor," he says, "and the food value is greater. Grass-fed versus the feedlot makes a tremendous difference.
"When a cow goes through a feedlot and is fed corn and fed all the hormones and pesticides and everything, it changes its gut completely, and you end up with a meat that's completely different than a meat that's raised on grass."
He brews up his own health drink every day. The recipe calls for diatomaceous earth—a white chalky powder from crumbled-up plant fossils—fish oil, vinegar and "some kind of juice."
For most of us that would be a pretty tough swallow, even if "some kind of juice" could be stretched to include gin. But before anybody dismisses Garrett as a kook because of it, serious acknowledgment must be given to the shift of science in his direction.
Professor Amaranthus, who believes the mountain has come to Garrett, says, "I've done research for 30 years. I started out as a really conventional agriculturally-based, chemically treated kind of scientist with the USDA. I used to pooh-pooh the Howards of the world, as well, and that's why the universities of the world are coming to them. It's because they were right, for lack of a better term."
Amaranthus is head of a company that produces products advertised on Garrett's show. But scientists who have never heard of Garrett say similar things.
Frederick Kirschenmann, a Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, argues that chemical-based agriculture just doesn't work and won't sustain necessary world food production levels in the near future. He believes several factors—pollution, toxicity, the breeding of chemical-resistant weeds and pests—are already greatly reducing the viability of chemical agriculture.
Looming over this new awareness is the importance of living, "sustainable" soil. In April of this year, the United Nations published a report arguing that local organic farming is the only method by which the world can stave off catastrophic global famine.
The U.N. report echoed themes often stated in work by Amaranthus and other researchers: chemical-based, industrial-scale "mono-culture"—huge fields of all one crop worked by big machines and doused with pesticides and herbicides—creates bigger problems than it can solve. It causes new pest and weed outbreaks by triggering resistant genetic mutations. It depletes soil.
None of this makes Howard Garrett a scientist. Neil Sperry also agreed to be interviewed for this story only on the promise that he would be asked questions about horticulture, not Garrett. Both he and George said they saw no benefit in a war of personalities.
But both wound up saying similar things about organics, mainly that the question isn't organic versus chemical but science versus folklore. In what they had to say, even though they pointedly were not talking about Garrett personally, another unmistakable theme was loyalty to Texas A&M.
Both expressed hostility for those unnamed persons who have made careers of calling A&M scientists "chemical-pushers" and "environmental thugs."
"What you have with university research is repeatable results," Sperry says. "If I do all of these things and have only one variable, it should happen again. This is what I watched my father do for A&M. My dad was a Ph.D. botanist, a range ecologist."