Home » Remembering Michael Phillips

“Michael Phillips was the patron saint of organic orcharding. He gave many talks around the country. His books The Organic Orchardist and The Holistic Orchard are classic guides to both commercial and home growers. With his partner Nancy, together they wrote The Herbalist’s Way. Separately and together they traveled the country giving workshops on orcharding and herbalism.”

– Dave Chapman in this week’s letter. Read his full remembrance of Michael Phillips below.

Remembering Michael Phillips of Lost Nation Orchard

“We only become wise when we recognize that we need to emulate nature in our agricultural systems and in how we care for this planet.” – Michael Phillips

Click the video above or visit here to listen to the excellent Real Organic interview with Michael Phillips.

Every Fall Claudia and I drive to the backcountry of New Hampshire to buy our winter apples. Our destination is Lost Nation Orchard, owned by Michael and Nancy Phillips. This 3-acre orchard, with 120 different varieties of apples, is lovingly tended by Michael. Last week the world suffered a loss when Michael died of a heart attack while working in his orchard. Our thoughts go to his family.

A hole is left. Those of us Michael Phillips left behind are a little poorer.

I heard Michael give the keynote in 2017 at a NOFA summer conference after the release of his last book, Mycorrhizal Planet.  He began by standing up to the microphone and singing a benediction in his booming voice.  His talk was filled with his big vision and his expansive heart. I was surprised, seeing him afterward signing books because he was so quiet and shy. 

Hanging out with Michael, these two parts were often present. He had a quietude born of working alone for many hours with no human in sight. But Michael clearly liked people. At times I felt like an excited Jack Russell terrier as I yapped away to his patient silence. But Michael also had an eloquence that gave expression to his inquisitive mind. He was a true citizen scientist, a true farmer scholar.

A blue square with an image of Michael Phillips talking in his orchard. Below the image is white text that reads:  "Today, depending on how that apple is grown, it may be that 64 apples a day are what’s needed to keep the doctor away…  What I’m referring to here is a fruit that’s devoid of nutrition, that doesn’t have the same phytochemical connection, is not going to do the same for you as a fruit grown in a living soil system as a fruit that deals with environmental reality.  So I’m going to explain that idea of 'environmental reality.'

A blue square with an image on the left of an apple leaf with fungal spots from scab. White text to the right reads: "Let's say that I’m an apple tree.  I have leaves. The rain falls.   And scab spores come with that rain.   And here or there, the fungal pathogen, the scab, sends out a hypha to penetrate the leaf cell in order to cause an infection, which is the disease issue that manifests and growers don’t want to see, or at least see too much of.   I, on the other hand, recognize that the experience of scab trying to get a foothold means that the plant in turn responds with more phytochemical action. More richness."

A blue square with white text underneath an image of Michael Phillips. The text reads: "And so, when I pick apples off my trees, and here and there I see a fruit with a scab spot or two, and there isn’t that much, I know that ALL the apples on that tree benefited from that systemic response.   And so now not just the nutritional aspect of the apple, but the medicinal virtue of the apple is that much higher.   And so that’s what I’m referring to about how was that apple grown?   That makes all the difference in the world."  - Michael Phillps"

Visiting Michael Phillips in the Fall was always a treat. Literally.

Michael would keep slicing apple after apple, saying, “Taste this. Taste this! Now I want you to taste this.” And then there was the cider. Rich and complex. And then there was Nancy’s apple cake that we ate on the long drive home, our car filled with the sweet aroma of apples.

Michael was the patron saint of organic orcharding. He gave many talks around the country. His books The Organic Orchardist and The Holistic Orchard are classic guides to both commercial and home growers. With his partner Nancy, together they wrote The Herbalist’s Way. Separately and together they traveled the country giving workshops on orcharding and herbalism.

Lost Nation Orchard wasn’t certified with the Real Organic Project because it wasn’t certified with the USDA.

Michael was not a fan of the USDA.

Deeply committed to a local food system, one truly based on Know Your Farmer. He was committed to deep organic. He had little interest in wholesaling his apples, preferring to draw people to the orchard. Michael wasn’t selling apples. He was building a community around the undeniable truth of the food that he grew. 

Jesse Laflamme, Enid Wonnacott, and Michael before they all spoke at the Hanover Rally. A sign behind them reads "Organic = SOIL. No Hydroponics!"
Jesse Laflamme, Enid Wonnacott, and Michael Phillips before they all spoke at the Hanover Rally.

Michael spoke at the rally to Keep The Soil In Organic in New Hampshire in 2017. I well remember eating the incredibly delicious apples he brought to feed all of us at the rally. We had to contest every mouthful with the yellow jackets drawn to the sweet scent of the apples.

His latest project was his cider social club, bringing together his neighbors to make and drink cider as a community activity.

Michael appreciated the need to organize, but he also believed in the importance of personal action.

We all have our own little corner of the universe to honor and redeem. He worked hard to share his vision of a healed planet. He demonstrated that each of us has the power to make a difference. His life was filled with spirit. His orchard was suffused with soul.

Dave Chapman stands next to Michael, who has a medium white beard and wears a zip up vest over an orange shirt. Dave wears a hooded UCONN grey sweatshirt.

“And I know people talk about, ‘Can you organic guys feed the world?’

“If there’s enough of us? Yes, we can feed the world.

“And that’s what we’re working to change. That’s why I’m so pleased to call you my friend, and then know that this work you do for the Real Organic Project is getting us back to those kinds of principles.”

– Michael Phillips

I am resharing the link to our 2021 interview with Michael. Listen or watch it. It is great. The video version is here on the Real Organic Youtube station. The podcast version is available here and on any podcast platform. I am so grateful that we recorded that conversation. Michael gives wonderful descriptions of real organic agriculture.

I regret that there will be no encore. It is up to others to continue his work.

Dave Chapman

Michael can be seen up in an apple tree with red apples on the branches.

“To go beyond three acres, I couldn’t do it, as I now manage it by myself.  My orchard is also a happy place. And this is an important point. Because as growers, as farmers, we need to make a living. But we certainly deserve to be happy too.”

– Michael Phillips

visit here to listen to the excellent Real Organic interview with Michael Phillips
Missed The Symposium? Sign up to watch the Recordings here.