Season 3

Restoring Soil Vitality

Episode 1:
Joe Scrimger –
Bio-Systems II

Part 1 Listen

Nitrogen, Water, and the Farm | Length: 6:44

“…nitrogen’s not the issue. It’s putting on too much at one time… even organically, we have to have nitrogen from someplace.” – Joe Scrimger

Joe Scrimger connects the dots between nitrogen use on the farm, soil health and water quality.


Part 2 Listen

Nitrogen Management for Soil Biology | Length: 8:26

“What we try to do in the conventional world is get those farmers to use at least three different sources of nitrogen that release at three different times.” – Joe Scrimger

Joe Scrimger shares how nitrogen applications affect soil biology, including ways to better harness soil life to strengthen your crops.

Part 3 Listen

The Risks of Damaging Soil Life | Length: 8:48

“…it still comes back to the lack of biology in the soil. And once you put the fungicide on to kill the fungal in the plant, most of that goes to the soil and you got less biology and you got more of a problem next year.” – Joe Scrimger

Anything that damages soil biology can stress crop plants and put farms at risk. Joe Scrimger explains.


Part 4 Listen

Low-Till, Biologically-Informed Erosion Control | Length: 12:45

“…there’s a lot of people in the Soil Conservation, and USDA, and some of the new regenerative farmers are suggesting that tillage is the problem. Tillage can be a problem. And we do want to till less. But tillage is not the problem.” – Joe Scrimger

Soil life holds the soil together. Joe Scrimger gives examples of how well functioning soils can produce good crops, resist erosion and runoff, and withstand adverse weather events.

Part 5 Listen

Balancing Soil Biology for Crop Health | Length: 13:41

“…as your soil improves, you actually want to move more to broadleafs. And that brings that fungal balance out. That starts to have a multiplier effect on your building of organic matter, and your water moves better.” – Joe Scrimger

Joe Scrimger on how strategic crop rotation and cover-cropping can enhance the bacterial/fungal balance in the soil and jumpstart the phosphorous system, which improves uptake of many needed minerals.


Part 6 Listen

Soil Building for Hydration, Crops and Nutrition | Length: 16:01

“…there’s all different forms of composting. But if we’re gonna have disease suppression, and if we’re gonna get that high-carbon compost to work in the soil, it has to be composted properly. And if it is, it’s pretty valuable stuff.” – Joe Scrimger

Joe Scrimger describes how introducing and maintaining healthy soil life can help farmers improve hydration and strengthen crop plants, then reminds us it’s all about producing healthy feed and food.

About Joe Scrimger

Joe Scrimger is a longtime farmer and Ag consultant with decades of experience helping farmers strengthen their operations through organic and biologically informed practices. Joe and his wife Kay Scrimger purchased a 160-acre farm in 1972 and began transitioning to organic the following year, eventually expanding to 198 acres and renting another 300 acres. A few years later, Joe launched Bio-Systems, an agricultural consulting and soil testing business that served farms across Michigan and Southwest Ontario for 38 years. more

Organic Apples – Mindset and Methods

Episode 2:
Jim Koan –

Part 1 Listen

Reasons for Going Organic | Length: 7:42

“When I first started growin’ organic, it was not because it was safer for my customers. It was the safety of my children, and having to be exposed to this all the time. That was it. But right behind that followed the idea of me proud that I was growing food that was safer for my customers.”

Why go organic? For Michigan apple producer Jim Koan, it’s about the health of his family and customers, and ultimately the vitality of the environment that supports the entire operation.


Part 2 Listen

The Organic Apple Learning Curve | Length: 9:29

“And so when you’re puttin’ fungicide out there, you just destroyed the food chain. And herbicide, you just destroyed the food chain there. And that tree’s basically starving to death. Then you gotta feed it all this stuff all the time because the food chain down there that’s breaking all the organic material down into its simplest elements is dead.”

Almar Orchards’ Jim Koan describes how observation and trial and error helped him support natural systems in his organic apple operation.

Part 3 Listen

Principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) | Length: 9:34

“…you have to feed Mother Nature first in order to keep the food system balanced. And then you get what’s left after that. So you have to accept a certain amount of damage here. And it shouldn’t bother you because it’s valuable in the sense that it’s feeding the food system.”

Jim Koan describes the early days of Integrated Pest Management and how IPM became a key framework for pest control in his Michigan-based organic apple orchard.


Part 4 Listen

Long-Range Thinking: Plans A, B and C | Length: 4:20

“…we’re a creature that wants security and predictability. And so what happens is, if it worked last year, they’re gonna do it again this year, even though it may not work… that takes energy, to plan far ahead. And you need a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C.”

Organic grower Jim Koan reflects on the mindset needed to succeed with perennial crops like apples that require longer-term investments of labor and capital.

Part 5 Listen

Observations on Going Organic | Length: 1:54

“You can nudge Mother Nature a little bit, but you can’t dominate her. You gotta respect her. So if you don’t know what you’re doin’, don’t do anything.”

Grower Jim Koan shares what it takes to succeed with organic apples and some of the changes he saw during his farm’s transition to organic.


Part 6 Listen

Snow Apples – Evaluating an Apple Variety | Length: 8:25

“Every farm had Snow Apples on it, that had apple trees. And I never could figure out why. In the beginning it kind of intrigued me because I always like to connect dots to try to make sense of stuff.”

Jim Koan discusses how the Snow Apple was introduced by early French settlers, and provides an example of how he evaluates an apple variety for his organic orchard.

Part 7 Listen

Peaches and Brown Rot | Length: 1:53

“I fooled around with ’em for three or four years, and I was able to control all the different insects, but not the brown rot.”

Jim Koan describes the problems he encountered with brown rot in peaches when transitioning from conventional to organic production in the 1980s – part of the reason he went with apples.


Part 8 Listen

First Generation: the Pioneering Mindset | Length: 4:25

“I see the younger people are gonna be more successful than other generations in doin’ this because they’re choosing to do it. Not because they had to do it. They had given this some thought and they’re makin’ the choice.”

Jim Koan emphasizes the importance of maintaining a first-generation attitude for successful farming: Make a choice, see the risks, persevere, and be willing to learn.

Part 9 Listen

Hungarian Bacon Fry | Length: 1:26

“…really, really bacony…”

Jim Koan shares the basics of his mother’s Hungarian bacon fry, a traditional outdoor experience where people gather around an open fire.


About Jim Koan

Jim Koan was born into a family that had been growing apples in Michigan’s Genesee County since the mid-1800s. After completing degree programs in psychology and education at The University of Michigan and beginning a career teaching, Jim and his wife Karen – also an educator – continued working on the farm during their off hours to supplement their income.


In 1978, Jim and Karen left their teaching careers to help run the orchard, with Jim ultimately becoming a full partner and then owner of the family’s conventionally managed operation, Almar Orchards. more

Food as Medicine

Episode 3:
Sally Witkowski –
Cross W Ranch


A Ranch on a Mission

Rancher Sally Witkowski describes how she and her husband Jim Witkowski got their entire family into grass-fed, grass-finished organic cattle ranching. Includes a look at regenerative practices, humane animal care, revenue streams, market trends, and the importance of a mission-driven mindset.

Part 1 Listen

Powerful Motivations | Length: 7:42

What’s it take to go from 0-60 in cattle ranching, coming from a non-farming background?


Part 2 Listen

Clean Food: Meeting the Market | Length: 7:11

Yes, people will go out of their way for better food.

Part 3 Listen

Multiple Revenue Streams | Length: 7:16

With a main emphasis on cattle ranching, Cross W continues to build out other revenue streams to secure their operation and meet community needs.


Part 4 Listen

Ag Tourism as a Revenue Stream | Length: 4:00

How barn weddings became an important additional revenue stream for Cross W Ranch.

Part 5 Listen

A Regenerative Approach to Food Quality | Length: 6:29

Animal and human health start with soil and plant health. Two practices can help jumpstart this process: building diverse plant communities in the pasture, and using foliar feeding when needed to strengthen pasture and hay productivity.


Part 6 Listen

Animal Care and Management | Length: 2:13

How does nature do it? A quick snapshot of animal handling practice and philosophy at Cross W Ranch.

Part 7 Listen

Family, Succession, and Land Conservation | Length: 3:18

How the family component works in the management of Cross W Ranch, and how land preservation fits into the long-term picture.


Part 8 Listen

Ranch Evolution and Plans | Length: 10:29

Business growth at Cross W Ranch: a step-by-step process of getting the needed equipment, adapting farm practice, and planning with a long-term vision in mind.

About Sally Witkowski

Sally Witkowski is a rancher and co-founder, together with husband Jim Witkowski, of Cross W Ranch in Howell, Michigan. A Michigan native, Sally completed a dual degree program in Fine Arts / Industrial Design from The University of Michigan before meeting Jim and starting a family together.

More about Sally Witkowski >

More about Cross W Ranch >