Paul & Elizabeth Kaiser: Sustainable Farming 2.0

Here at Peak Prosperity, we're continuously on the hunt for new models that offer promise for a better future. These tend to be models of stewardship and sustainability, which contrast starkly with society's current focus on resource consumption and exploitation.

The farming model being pioneered at Singing Frogs Farm, a small micro-farm in northern California is one such example of doing things "right". Developed over years of combining bio-intensive land/forestry management theory with empirical trial & error, the farming practices at Singing Frogs have produced astounding results.

First off and most important, no tilling of any kind is done to the soil. No pesticide/herbicide/fungicide sprays (organic or otherwise) are used. And the only fertilizer used is natural compost.

These practices result in a build-up of nutrient-dense, highly bio-rich topsoil. Where most farms have less than 12 inches of 'alive' topsoil in which they can grow things, Singing Frogs' extends to a depth over 4 feet(!).

This high-carbon layer of soil retains much more water than conventional topsoil, requiring much less irrigation than used at most farms (a very important factor given the historic drought the West is suffering).

All these advantages combine to enable Singing Frogs Farm to produce 5-7 harvests per year on their land, vs the 1-2 harvest average of other farms. And since the annual crop yield is so much higher, so is the revenue. Most other farms in northern California average $14,000 in gross revenue per acre. Singing Frogs grosses nearly $100,000 per acre -- a stunning 5x more.

On this week's podcast, we're joined by the husband-and-wife team behind Singing Frogs Farm, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser, who are eager to help other food producers understand the science behind their success, and to replicate and improve upon it wherever possible.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Paul & Elizabeth Kaiser (52m:00s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Two interviews that have helped me as a new market grower, Jean Martin Fortier, and Singing Frogs Farm.

Thank you Adam!

This was excellent podcast that highlights the importance of organic matter in the soil to retain moisture and fertility. I loved the youthful enthusiasm displayed by this couple and their entrepreneurial “moxie” to generate the revenue they have.
The conundrum: I bought 3 acres 35 years ago and have practiced non-stop composting and this type of cropping with fairly good success; raised 5 children on one income and home schooled them; built a house workshop/garage and have raised livestock. Now entering my retirement years and don’t see anybody interested in investing the labour it requires to live this lifestyle. 3 of my kids are self-employed, 2 working for large companies and think I’m crazy to spend so much time in the garden (though I’ve never had a gym membership and appear to be in pretty good shape). The relatively few other “Young’ins” that show an interest, either can’t afford the increase value it has acquired over the years or those that can afford it , want a place for their horses or ATV’s and riding mowers. What to do, what to do?

Perhaps we just have to wait for the general level of health of our society to deteriorate or wait for “stagflation” to kick in before we are forced to adopt this approach to life. I guess I’m just another boomer lamenting the “pickle” we find ourselves in, in this energy obese lifestyle. Oh well!

We're in a similar state. However, we had children late, they recognize the lands value and are kissing their mothers butt(who will certainly outlive me) to inherit the farm. We told 'em early and often that the operation would be left to one of them. We would not divide that which has taken us our lives to put together.

This is perhaps the best podcast I have listened to.
Paul And Elizabeth are exceedingly humble, and don't hesitate to give credit to the workers on their farm, and are careful not to disparage those who are still practicing Organic 1.0 and have not transitioned to 2.0.

I do minimal tillage, but after hearing the segment on cutting the broccoli tops off and covering the roots with fresh compost and planting seedlings the same day I am inspired to try their method.

Also the fact that they use no insecticides, even those deemed natural, takes their practices to another level.

Please do a follow-up interview Adam, there is so much more that could be learned from these good people.

This is the most encouraging sign I've seen in a long time that there is a way forward out of our mess. What a beautiful family! Thanks so much for this great interview - I've looked up more information on Singing Frogs Farm and intend to immediately begin implementing some of their practices on my small field. 
A follow up interview I would love to hear is how they market their food. Here in my area if food is more expensive than Wal-Mart, it tends to be dismissed as "too expensive". It is understandable as here where I live there are generally very low incomes with lots of people with almost no income living off food stamps. In Sebastapol (sp?), CA there may be more high income people who can support higher food costs. So I would love to hear their experiences and how they market. In my experience the marketing is harder than the growing. How do they do it?

With my business hat on, I'm wondering about the details of the operation.
About how many man-years does it take to manage the farm throughout one year of operation?  I.e., I notice the farm has 6 people not including our two owners.  Are they all full-time?  How much do they make per hour, approximately?

I'm trying to get a sense of the economics, if we were to scale this operation.  That is, not scale the thing up to some massive farm, but rather, what if all farms worked like this?  How many workers would it take?  Would a whole lot more people have to become farm workers?  If so, how much would they end up making?

It does seem like we'd end up using a whole lot less land to grow the same amount of food.  And the food quality would improve tremendously, not to mention the soil.  Less gasoline, no pesticides, it all seems like a win.


Hope the workers are getting more than apprentice wages or minimum wage. 

Good Morning!
The rain is going to come in sometime in the late morning to early afternoon, but I down loaded the podcast last night, and here it is, before 7:00 a.m. and out to the garden for a few hours of work.  Nothing like working in the garden, listening to real information, getting stuff done.

For what it is worth, based on the comments above (I occasionally re-listen to Jean Martin Fortier podcast every once in a while) I strongly believe this is the direction our society needs to move and would encourage such content whenever possible.   For various reasons, I just think it is important to focus in on this as an important aspect of prepping.   After taking a look at the information presented in the Crash Course we all react in different ways…  Being in the garden, planting trees on my own property…I have found these things to be some of the most calming, relaxing, and enjoyable ways to work on my skills and provide a safer future.

Time for work.  After I have listened to the podcast, I'll post more of a content related reaction.

Chris, Adam…thanks for focusing on Ag…it is important.


I've been gardening for a long time, and we use various permaculture principles and the best organic practices we know, but it's really been through the long avenue of trial and error.
Truthfully, there's nothing like experience, but even with that I am struggling with the drought we are experiencing.  On April 22 we received 0.06" of rain which evaporated as soon as it hit the ground.  Since then, two full months later, we've only had one other rain 'event' which was 0.22" on May 19.  We are now short by some 7.8 inches of normal precipitation over the past two months.

On top of that, we've had a long string of dry, windy days over 85 degrees F.  My lawn is literally crispy when I walk on it.

Now this all relates to this exciting podcast because my normal mulch this time of year are lawn clippings.  I've not had those because the lawn is crispy, as I said, not growing, so some of my garden beds have had exposed dirt because I planted things but then had no mulch readily available to fill in the blank spots.

After hearing this podcast I got that sick feeling in my stomach that I had gotten a bit lazy and should have sourced some alternative mulch and gotten it on my beds.  So that's part one.

Part two is it never occurred to me to cut the harvested plants at the base stem and leave the roots in the ground.  I've always pulled them out and tossed them on the compost pile.  But as soon as I heard the rationale I felt pretty dumb because - duh! - that's both carbon and nutrients right in the ground and second after the roots decay I imagine that provides nice aeration channels and such.

So no more pulling roots out!  Those are too valuable right where they are.

So this year is going to be about working on my soil building and awareness skills.  

I've had the same experience several times over the course to the last four decades which is why I started composting. Despite the looks I got from people, as I asked for their grass clippings and leaves piled on the curbside, I made it an avocation. It has saved me from the effects of a lack of cover. You just can't get enough organic matter. The only reason California supplies an abundance of produce to North America is that they tapped the Colorado to irrigate and look what it has cost them.
Best video on the market is Paul Gautschi's experience with lack of water as seen at:  .  While it may not be everyone's cup of compost tea, it get's the point across. Might be a good subject for the podcast. Happy growing!

Great Podcast.
The primary idea I got out of it is soil health, which has been a major theme of some of the literature I have been reading lately.  I will listen to the entire podcast again soon, but anything people can do to increase soil health gives them a better harvest and saves on work.

Chris, you might get some rain today.  Here in VT we have showers expected soon, that is why we are outside working our tails off this morning.  Most of the veggies are in!  Working on my partner's flower garden right now.  Trying to compost everything, even the weeds, as it is all part of the cycle we are trying to get to work for our advantage.

If we do  get rain, rain barrels are all set up.  When that cold winter was coming to an end, I felt like an idiot setting up barrels to catch rain.  Just thinking of California and how dry it is out there.  It is dry here in Vermont, so, well…just thinking ahead.  Since it has been so parched, I don't regret putting out the rain barrels one bit.  First, it is amazing how much water you use when you are watering a garden, but 2nd, it was all right there…in the rain barrels, ready to go.  We are still a long way from drought conditions up here, but I know if things continue to be dry, I wouldn't be taxing my well at all.

Okay, back to work before the precip arrives.



I'll concur.  This was enlightening.  I'm going to leave the roots in the soil too now.  I'm also going to redouble my efforts to get composting materials and keep the soil covered.  My garden got a huge boost last spring when I built raised beds and put in 5 inches of sandy loam and two inches of compost and manure on top of my heavy, but well drained glacial outwash soil (a bit of everything in the soil from clay and silt to sand, gravel and cobbles).  Now I want to maintain the soil cover to continue to build organic matter.
Here are some questions and thoughts I have based on my own experience.

  1. Some plants (carrots, radishes, cutting lettuces, plus beets and chard to a lesser extent, are labor intensive to transplant.  I find it easier to direct seed.  I've struggled with finding ways to maintain the mulch cover in a way that allows these tiny seeds to germinate.  Has anyone else had success in this area?
  2. In wet years, much provides perfect places for slugs to hang out between feasts on my cabbage, lettuce, etc.  Have any of you found a solution to this?
  3. I selectively weed.  If it's something edible that can be harvested fairly small (dandelion, chickweed, one of the chenopodiums (some call them pigweeds, some goosefoots, etc.), I'll leave it and harvest it heavily enough to keep it from getting out of hand.  If I can't eat enough to keep it in line, I'll pull it out en masse and give it to the chickens.  This is especially true for dandelion.  It grows much better greens in the garden than the lawn.  It's also one of the only taprooted plants that can pump deep minerals to the surface and be small enough not to crowd out the veggies.

I'm hard of hearing and waiting for the transcript, but this podcast sounds wonderful. Can't wait.
Quercus bicolor, perhaps I have an answer to one of your questions. With things like grass seed, there is a commercial way to broadcast the seed inside a wet paper pulp - where you spray the seed-impregnated pulp with the help of a garden hose. It recently became available at the homeowner level. I could see me mashing up, say, carrot seeds with water and paper (mashed, soggy recycled egg cartons?) and spraying it on the raised bed I wanted to plant. Once the seedlings came up I could thin them and then mulch with something heavier. Gonna try it next year.

As for slugs under the mulch (what are you using for mulch? we use pine straw - bark brought slugs in droves), if they become a problem we just put out tuna-can sized pans of beer. They fall in and die happy, and leave our plants alone. It's hardly an original idea, but it works.

sigh I wish we had edible dandelions; where we live, all we have is Carolina false dandelions.

Came in for lunch…
In the garden I planted five more tomato plants, two different types of onions, two rows of golden beats, a  row of beans, some bell squash, and a rare variety of pumpkin…we will see how everything does.  Always try for a 100% and then examine why you didn't get there.  Fairly planned out work day, but ran out of room for the cucumbers.

Helped my better half with her raised bed, her flower garden, and flowers around the property.  Planted 17 different types of flowers/herbs…whew…

Maybe go back outside after lunch.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.


The paper seed mix sounds intriguing.  I've been too lazy to do the beer thing.  Our mulch the year we had slug problems was oak leaves and maybe grass clippings too.  I might have made them too thick.  I thought dandelions grew everywhere!   But I guess not.

I don't know what I was waiting for with this dry northeast weather.  As soon as I heard the podcast, I got off my butt and hauled a few wheelbarrow loads of (almost) finished compost to the garden.  I mulched everything I could - even between the rows of baby carrot plants and a thin layer over the not yet sprouted green beans. 
I had some crazy idea in my head that I had to wait for it to finish completely, but what is mulch but unfinished compost?  The chicken manure and table scraps are completely composted (it's been sitting since last summer).  The straw bedding is still visible as little 1-2 inch shreds, but vanishing rapidly. Perfect mulch?

unfinished compost or some mulches:
"If quickly decaying organic mulches such as fresh leaves, wood chips, and straw, are used, a considerable amount of nitrogen is taken from the soil by the micro-organisms decomposing the organic matter. This reduces the nitrogen reserves in the root zone of the growing plant. If additions of nitrogenous fertilizer aren't made regularly, a nitrogen deficiency may result. "


I used ruined hay as mulch this spring and believe I am seeing this reduced nitrogen effect with my pepper transplants, but the tomato transplants are doing fine. The effect is mostly at the soil/mulch interface, so I think deeply rooted plants suffer less.

In my garden, a major problem with heavy mulch is that it provides cover for meadow voles which are very destructive to plant roots.

I am reading about composting and everyone agree that the liquids from the pile are full of nutrient.
What if I install a liquids collector under the pile of compost and recirculate this liquid over the pile? this way I keep everything: nutrients + bacterias.

Of course, the compost pile should be protected from rain.

a voice of reality. the mare is a compost generator. Hay in one end and compost out the other. it is a bit much for only a few garden varieties. she grows the craziest carrots( alot of humus, nitrogen OM etc. makes carrots do crazy…)