BONNY DOON -- Elaine Ingham spent much of her childhood in Minnesota visiting farms.
Since her father was a veterinarian, Ingham often accompanied him as he made his rounds.
These days, Ingham still travels to farms, but on a much wider scale.
As the chief scientist of the Rodale Institute -- considered one of the pioneers in organic farming -- Ingham has established herself as one of the foremost experts in soil microbiology in the world.
Thursday, Ingham brought her Living Soil presentation to Shumei Santa Cruz Farm in Bonny Doon. It was Ingham's second trip to the area, having once visited the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden.
"When I began working at Rodale last January, I became familiar with Shumei Farm," said Ingham, a resident of Corvallis, Ore. "I discovered that what I do in terms of soil biology goes hand in hand with what Shumei's natural agriculture does.
Natural agriculture works with nature, observing what the natural patterns are and trying to mimic them in agricultural management, Ingham said. "Natural agriculture realizes that Mother Nature grows plants very, very well without help from human beings. We can absolutely mimic that in our agricultural systems."
Located on 25 acres, Shumei Santa Cruz Farm produced its first crop in 2004 and became certified organic in 2005. The farm has a 40-member Community Supported Agriculture program, and a number of members attended Ingham's presentation. The farm is also a vendor at farmers markets in Mountain View and Saratoga as well as in Felton in the summertime.
The farm's natural agriculture approach is one that was developed in the 1930s in Japan by the late Mokichi Okada. There are three basic tenets: the use of pure soil and pure seed, and those who farm the land must have a pure mind.
Shumei farms are located throughout the world. Shumei Santa Cruz Farm has seven full-time workers and two interns.
One of the seven, Masahide Koyama, is the development coordinator for Shumei Santa Cruz Farm. In November, Koyama was at the Shumei headquarters in Shiga, Japan, where he attended a lecture in which Ingham espoused that soil in itself had enough nutrients to grow plants without outside intervention.
Koyama was so impressed that he asked if he could visit Ingham at the Rodale Institute, located outside of Allentown, Penn. Ingham said she would rather visit Shumei Santa Cruz Farm.
"After testing their soil, I will offer suggestions on how to improve the biology," said Ingham, who has picked up the nickname "Queen of Compost" because of her work. "What I'm really trying to teach is an understanding of what each of the organism groups in soil actually does.
"If people understand what the organisms actually do, I believe they would never kill them."