Organic farming pioneer Amigo Bob Cantisano dies
Amigo Bob Cantisano, 69, an early pioneer of the organic farming movement whose accomplishments have been featured in National Geographic and the New York Times, died Saturday after an eight-year battle with cancer.
“Amigo Bob was a powerhouse to be reckoned with,” said wife Jenifer Bliss. “His wisdom and inspiration will live on around the world.”
It should come as no surprise to those who knew Cantisano that the man who spent decades as a “fierce advocate for the earth” made plans for his remains to be turned into compost to feed the soil.
“Being an organic farmer, Amigo knew that compost is the foundation of all the best organic farming,” Bliss said. “It is only fit that he should be composted and become the living biology that will inoculate and nourish the composts, farms and gardens of others.”
Cantisano wanted to have his body composted in the world’s first human composting facility, just opened for business this month, Bliss said. Cantisano’s family is accepting donations to help cover the costs with a GoFundMe page and the resulting cubic yard of compost should be ready for pick-up in roughly a month.
“In death, Amigo continues to be a pioneer,” Bliss said.
Long before terms like “organic farming” became part of the mainstream lexicon, Cantisano helped pioneer a form of agriculture emphasizing crop rotation, green manure compost and biological pest control, rather than manufactured fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and food additives.
Cantisano began a lifelong commitment to providing healthy, organic foods to his community in 1972, when he helped start We The People Natural Foods Cooperative in Truckee, Bliss said.
He then became involved in early efforts to certify organic farms and products, helping to found California Certified Organic Farmers and to organize the first EcoFarm Conference, the longest running organic farming conference on the West Coast.
This year will be EcoFarm’s 41st anniversary, Bliss noted.
In 1987, Cantisano founded Organic Ag Advisors, the nation’s first organic crops advisory service, which he operated until the last months of his life.
The list of farms and organizations Cantisano founded or co-founded is staggering and includes Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Aeolia Organics, Starr Farms, Heaven and Earth Farm, and the Felix Gillet Institute, as well as the Ecological Farming Conference and the Ecological Farming Association.
Cantisano was a dynamic speaker who could stand up and talk organic farming and activism without any pre-written notes, Bliss said, adding he could get a huge crowd inspired to go out and change the world for the better.
“I have witnessed many people come and sit next to Amigo and thank him for setting them on their life’s path,” she said.
As news spread of Cantisano’s death, Bliss said, his Facebook page became a place to share tributes and memories.
“There are people all over the world praying, chanting and lighting candles for the journey of his soul,” she said.
’A GIANT OF A MAN’
Cantisano, it is clear, touched many in the community on a number of levels.
“He was really a remarkable guy,” said local author Hank Meals. “He was a giant of a man, in my book. He was a super hippie, and he made no bones about it. He was the real thing. He tried to live his life according to these righteous principles.”
The Union columnist Patti Bess called Cantisano “a walking, (always) talking encyclopedia of knowledge and organic growing techniques,” noting he answered listeners’ every question as a broadcaster for KVMR’s Organic Matters for 20 years and continued to consult with growers even as he underwent treatment for cancer.
“I had a regular radio show on KVMR in the late 90s and early 2000s,” said Judith Hill-Weld in an email. “Amigo Bob joined me about once a month for a gardening advice segment. He would talk about whatever was on his mind in the world of organic farming, and then took listener questions. He almost always brought a seasonal treat to share with me, breaking all the rules about not having food in the broadcast studio. I loved his generous sharing of wisdom, expertise, and produce.”
Brad Peceimer was looking for some fruit trees in the early 1990s when someone told him he needed to meet a guy named Amigo Bob who lived on the San Juan Ridge. Peceimer ended up buying a number of trees from Cantisano over the years, he said.
“He was a vast resource,” Peceimer said. “If I ever had a question, I knew he would answer it.”
Peceimer still has a tree trunk harvested from a Gillet cherry tree planted in the 1800s, acquired thanks to a tip from Cantisano.
“I was thinking it would be cool to (make) some bowls from it, for the Hospitality House Empty Bowl benefit, to keep the legacy of his work alive,” he said.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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