Michael Phillips

On 28 February 2022 the holistic orcharding community lost a giant amongst us when Michael Phillips passed. His contributions and dedication to holistic apple growing are more than obvious - three seminal books, the Holistic Orchard Network, and years of working with and mentoring budding orchardists into a new world of not just doing but thinking about farming. What most people would suspect from that is how beloved he was by so many from around the world. The Holistic Orchard Network currently has over 2500 subscribers from at least 7 countries. That’s how far his reach was. When he passed the accolades and condolences from many poured in. The following was my little contribution in honor of his life and efforts. You can go here to read many of the other contributions from his colleagues and students. Mike Biltonen

I had been growing apples for nearly 20 years when I stumbled across Michael’s book The Apple Grower. Though I knew plenty about growing apples, I knew little about growing apples organically. Everyone said it was impossible, though deep down I knew there must be a way. As I started to crack the door, his insights and wisdom kicked the whole damn door in for me. He evoked a new trajectory, philosophy, and passion for what had become my pomology career. He did this as well for an ever-growing tribe of avid apple growers asking ‘what next?’. He did that every day of his life leading up to that fateful night when the inevitability of death caught up with him. He’ll continue to do that I spirit for years to come. Others have picked up the torch, for holistic anything is the only way forward towards any salvation of ourselves, apples, and Earth. I can still hear the refrain from the Ivory tower: “Oh, that’s just wishful thinking.”

There is a somber reflectiveness to Michael’s passing where I am sad for him. He had just finished his cidery, almost finished a book, seen renewed energy injected into the Holistic Orchard Network forum, and we were just about to gather again at Stump Sprouts. He was passionate about getting us all together again, giddy after almost two years of not seeing many of us. But I mostly feel for Nancy and Gracie who lost a husband and a father without warning – I can’t even imagine.

When I first heard of Michael’s passing it reminded me of an Ed Abbey story Deadman at Grandview Point. It’s the story of a man lost in the red rock canyons of the desert southwest. A man so lost that he sits down in the shade of the blistering heat to die knowing that the end is nigh. But in his last moments he takes in the grandeur of everything around him and is content. I can only imagine Michael doing the same, albeit in the snowy wilderness of Lost Nation Orchard, becoming one with everything around him and taking a deep breath while looking up at the night sky. And not for the last time, but for the first and for eternity.

Michael in many ways was larger than life, yet so down to Earth. I reflected recently about how for someone with so much knowledge inside him that he was such a good listener. He will be with us for a long time to come. He is with us here to-day. It is up to us to honor and carry on his legacy – the earth, the people and the apples demand it. He is listening, floating in the stars and taking notes.

Michael Phillips