Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2005 | People

Certified Organic: Harry MacCormack

By Jennifer Hemmingsen

In the years since Harry MacCormack graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he’s published five books of poetry and written a handful of plays. But most of the work he’s produced has been a little more—well—perishable.

Harry MacCormack, one of the Pacific Northwest's Pioneers in organic farming, has begun teaching organic techniques at his Sunbow Farm in Philomath, Oregon.

MacCormack, 67MFA, has always been passionate about what he calls the old ways of growing food. He started his first market garden when he was five years old. He didn’t set foot in a grocery store until he was 11. So when he moved to Philomath, Oregon, after graduation to teach at Oregon State University, one of the first things he did was buy a farm and start growing organic produce. In his 30 years on Oregon State’s faculty, MacCormack sidelined as one of the Northwest’s most influential supporters of organic agriculture. His work became the foundation for organic certification guidelines in several states.

Now MacCormack, who retired from teaching in 2001, has co-founded the Institute of BioWisdom on his Sunbow Farm ( The institute will offer seminars and weekend workshops about everything from basic organic gardening methods to using astrology to improve your garden and your life. In July, he’ll start a four-week internship “boot camp” to teach students about planting and growing organic produce as well as the science behind the soil food web, compost teas, and other new develop-ments in organic methods.

"Our labs are the fields, but [the students will] also be doing a lot of head work,” MacCormack says.

MacCormack refuses to be discouraged, even in a time of increasing reliance on chemicals for food production and increasing farm size. He wants farmers to grow food sustainably, companies to process food locally, and people to pay attention to the way our dwindling natural resources will affect everything from gas bills to grocery bills.

"I know it’s right, I know it needs to be said, so I just keep going,” he says. “Even though the trends take people in other directions, you do what you think is right and you feel good about it.”