This will be some of the saddest words I have had to write, but Michael Phillips passed away on Sunday. This will be news to most of you, and a shock to all. He suffered a heart attack while out in the orchard. I know a lot of you in the forum will want to know how to offer condolences or how they may help his family, so we will let you know how that may be possible. This is not the kind of space many would have liked to hear this sad news, but it is important you all know. He was a sweet man, a fine friend to many of us, and an unmatched giant in this nerdy world of apples. He will be greatly missed.
I woke this morning to a phone call from a friend of mine within the orcharding community notifying me of Michael's passing. It was tough to begin my day hearing the news, particularly of a man I admired so much. Nearly a decade ago I began my career as an orchardist. Michael's work touched me deeply; not just in how I manage trees but in my personal life as well. He changed the way I think, my perception, and essentially the course of my life. I will forever remember the times we've met, the things I've learned, and the gentle touch he had for the land. He positively impacted the apple growing community and will live in my heart (and orchard) forever.
I am deeply saddened by Michael’s passing. I owe him so much. I was an orchardist/apple grower for 30 years before I met Michael at a workshop in Virginia. His thoughts and practices about encouraging apple tree health, rather than just treating disease and pest symptoms, was revelatory for me. His teachings have completely changed the way I now nurture my orchards. He was a lovely man, my mentor, and inspiration. I will miss you my friend, and I will do my small part to carry on your legacy.
My heart is feeling such appreciation for Michael. I loved how Michael radiated his passion and love for our earth and her bounty. Michael and his apples supported, encouraged, and nurtured each other with beauty, bounty, love, and deliciousness. I always loved seeing his response to my enjoyment of his apples. We were children just playing. I would look at him and think “this man is in his Garden of Eden.” All blessings for him and his family and friends.
Just seeing this... feeling shocked and reeling. To lose someone you admire and respect, even from afar, can be devastating. But I'm sure the loss is far heavier for his family and close friends, maybe some of whom are here, on the site he launched. So take care, be well, and know you're not alone everyone.
Michael was an exceptional whole systems thinker and communicator. His insights, enthusiasm and playfulness inspired. May all of us, in ways great and small, continue to share his sense of purpose and joy of life.
This is so unbelievably sad. Everything we have done here on our little orchard in Missouri has been based on of my readings of Michael's books, this forum, and this holistic network as a whole. I dreamed of one day being able to meet him and go to The Lost Nation Orchard. May you rest in peace, good teacher, you will be deeply missed.
Giving heartfelt thanks today and deep appreciation for Michael's life, his work and his vision.
Such a loss! Michael, you took us so much further than we would have ever gotten. We miss you dearly, old friend.
I was just walking through our orchard, rejoicing in the beauty and resilience of the natural world, and thinking about Michael, his books, the knowledge he shared, and his great appreciation for the life and breath of a tree, of roots, soil, mycorrhiza. His teachings inspired us to see and feel the synergy, the complexity, the joy of embracing a different way. When I opened the Orchard Cheer email today, I was so saddened to hear of Michael’s passing. My husband and I only had the pleasure of meeting Michael twice in the past decade or so, but both times we heard him speak we were inspired to embrace a deeper way of living with the land and our lovely, old apple trees. We love his books and really appreciated his response to our questions. His passion and eloquence created an amazing movement, a legacy of wisdom and a love of life and trees… sending peace and love to his family and friends.
Thank you Michael and family for guiding and inspiring me on this journey. You have led me in the right direction to better care for our Earth, feed our loved ones delicious fruit, and be a curious student and teacher of the mysteries.
|There was a chair for Michael at the apple growers meeting yesterday. This book and this apple were placed on it.|
Much of what I know of orcharding I learned from Michael these last 10 years. Spoke to him, but never met him. The world is less for losing him.
Devastated to hear of Michael’s death. We never met, but corresponded and exchanged books. I used to joke that he had an orchard in New Hampshire while the one I planted (of similar size) was in Old Hampshire, Old England. Sorry for his family and loved ones, this is a terrible loss of a warm, kind, wise, generous and irreplaceable human. I hope that admirers will honour Michael’s memory by following his example.
Michael’s foundational books guided us as we grew our orchard at Bastard County Fruit Farm. Michael’s turn of phrase and playful writing style helped take away some of the sting of the tougher orchard chores. I will keep his image in my mind as I go about tending our beloved trees. My sincerest sympathies to Michael’s family on their loss of such a beautiful soul.
I lost a friend to an avalanche once. He had been instrumental in starting an avalanche forecasting division on a heavily used mountain range in Alaska. If he'd died in the mountains, people could use those meant to be soothing words, 'At least he died doing what he loved.' But my friend didn't set off a slide on some beautiful peak with alpenglow lighting the snow. It was a chunk of ice sliding off a roof when he stepped outside and closed the door. His passing left a hole in the skiing community and one in my heart.
Some of us who were close to him started a telemark skiing festival to raise money for avalanche awareness to the general public and to help us heal. We had a lot of fun and some tears over the eight years the festival was held. It fizzled away due to attrition, friends moved away, knees protested the tele-turn and we had healed. The avalanche center still exists, we kept it funded long enough for it to get a life of its own.
I really hope a similar thing happens with HON. I didn't know Michael well, but when we met, I wanted to know him and his family better. He, and all of you who are active on HON, are an inspiration to the future of ethical orcharding. I'll do my part with regular dues for website upkeep and related costs as well as regularly reading and chiming in when I have knowledge that adds to the forum. Maybe the HON will get that life of its own. Maybe it'll fizzle after eight years, but think of how many new or new to holistic fruit farmers will be affected by then.
It is with shock and sadness that I hear of the sad passing of my apple picking buddy. Many years ago (41) we met in New Zealand at the Tucker Orchards, where we spent a season. Michael often commented how he travelled all that way to end up picking apples with a then 18 year old Aussie girl. We developed a friendship that lasted . . . after New Zealand he travelled to Australia and stayed for a time at my family's farm. I visited him and Nancy at his US orchard home, it was lovely to finally see the destination of the letters I'd sent over the years. Our correspondence dwindled a bit as years went by. His chatty, humorous letters became FB updates. Over the years though I watched his family and his passion for apples grow and flourish. I regret not being able to catch up with him on his last visit to Australia. I won't forget the gentle, wise, happy man who in his own way mentored me.
My sincere condolences to Nancy and Grace. Rest easy Michael.
He was truly an inspiration.
As an aspiring orchardist in Rhode Island hoping to grow apples without many chemicals, I naturally came across Micheal Phillips's books. I poured through them in that first season and it was so incredibly helpful to have a guy like Michael explaining how to do something that would've taken me years and years to figure out, if at all! I quickly grew fond of his teachings and began to understand what a monumental importance Michael was to the orcharding community.
When I excitedly discovered that Michael's orchard was only a few miles up the road from the camp that my family stay at every year on columbus day weekend, we of course planned a visit. What a joy it was to drink some mulled cider and listen to Michael talk about apples. He could speak to their lore with the best of them.
From then on, we made an annual effort to visit Michael at his orchard. I always had a nervous excitement as we approached the gate to be in the presence of someone I admired so. Kind of like a bushy eyed teenager around their favorite pop singer. But Michael always gave me a few minutes to stumble through my questions about orchard this and apple that. I like to think the last few years he even remembered who I was, but I don't know.
One of my favorite things to ask Michael when visiting was about the speak-easy cider parlor he was planning in the basement of his barn. The vision was magnificent. It saddens me that he's no longer here to continue work on that.
My condolences to Michael's family and friends.
So sad indeed!
I am a modest homeowner with a few orchard trees. I attended one of Michael’s workshops and his book is my go to text for anything that has to do with fruit trees. My small 10 tree orchard has done so well with his advice. I have ordered a Calville Blanc d’Hiver cutting to start the new orchard when we move this Spring, and it will be my tree for Michael Phillips, my own small contribution to honor his memory, speak his name, and carry on his good work. The queen of apples for the king of orchardists. Thank you Michael, for making the world a better place doing what you loved to do.
The first time I met Michael was in June of 2013 when I took his Orchard Intensive course. We lived in eastern New York at the time, and I had grand designs to plant a small family sized orchard of organically grown trees. I was instantly enthralled by Michael’s speaking ability. He was able to convey complex biological details in a way that was easy to connect with and he was patient with the numerous questions I had. I left the class with a deeper knowledge of how to use the four holistic sprays care for apple trees in a way that would provide a harvest of nutrient dense, great tasting fruit, memories of the fun conversation we had at dinner time and camping under apple trees, and a plan to increase our orchard to include a multitude of varieties that I had never heard of before. Time passed and good intentions of driving the long distance with a young family to enjoy Michael’s apples never turned into an actual trip at harvest time. Life plans also changed, taking us many miles away from our rural New York home and settling us in a suburban Missouri town where I relied on Michael's meticulously written newsletters, carefully crafted books and DVD, and numerous YouTube videos of his speaking events to tie me to my goal of having an orchard. Michael had a passion for all things organic and his intensity and care were easily felt in his distinctive writing and speaking style.
Last October, I made plans to visit a couple of orchards in the northeast so I could experience a variety of heirloom apples that just are not available in my part of the country. After more than 8 years, I was finally going to make it back to Lost Nation Orchard. With great excitement, I turned down the lane heading down to the farmstead. It was a beautiful sight, much better than any memory. After walking up to the apple barn, Michael greeted me and somehow remembered my name even after so many years. We talked between customers, and he took time to show me the work he was close to wrapping up on the cooler in the barn. He shared a couple of his quickly dwindling stash of a new apple variety that he was working on naming and took more time to answer questions that I had after walking around the orchard. In short, he went out of his way to help an almost complete stranger to take more steps on my organic orchard journey. This is who Michael was. I have met him only twice, but he has been one of the most influential people in my life. His signature in my copy of The Apple Grower says – “Blake, you can do this!” . . . With his endorsement, I know I can.
Rest in peace Michael. May heaven include a barn floor full of beautiful organic apples!
About 9 years ago, I decided I wanted to add a small organic orchard to our property. I had no idea how to do so and went online in search of information. It was there I found, Michael's book, The Holistic Orchard. I was able to read part of the 1st chapter online and figured he had to be located in Washington State or somewhere similar. NO! He was located 3 hours north of me in northern New Hampshire! Ever since then, I have followed his guidance, attended several of his lectures and have grown based on his love for the earth, apples, and sharing. I will give thanks to him every day I enjoy the peacefulness and bounty of our orchard. Blessings to his family and friends. Let us continue his work and sharing.
Michael Phillips has gifted the world a future for healthy, sustainable fruit. We are ambling down this path he made with our own little orchard enjoying all the sites and rising to all the challenges. We take comfort in the wisdom he so eloquently offered up in his phenomenal writings. Although we never got to know Michael well, we were lucky enough to have met him enough times to observe the genius of a true orchard wizard in person. He will be missed, but a piece of him will live on through ours and, we suspect, a great many other orchards.
I am saddened to hear of Michael's passing. I picked apples with Michael from 1982 through 1987 for the Allen Brothers in Vermont and New Hampshire. Michael was a serious fellow but had a fine sense of humor, something that came in handy out in the orchards. We could get goofy. Nancy came one fall to pick and the rest was history. Fellow apple picker Armando Morales and I visited Michael and family in the fall of 2008, sadly the only time I had seen him since apple camp. He was a good man. RIP.
Antone G. Holmquist
(Rufus T. Firefly)
Michael was truly an enlightened man and observant orchard agronomist. Over the last six years I have sat in on a number of his presentations. It was always a tremendous learning experience. Always with little jewels of tips that I applied to our orchard.
On one of his pre-Covid trips to Michigan, to teach a workshop, he was a guest at our house. A beautiful evening of conversation and laughter.
We will miss your wisdom greatly. Clear skies and gentle winds. God loves farmers.
The bright light through all of this has been thinking about how Michaels work shaped so many lives and landscapes. I still remember discovering his books as I was designing and implementing our Permaculture homestead. Then we met and he graciously shared his knowledge with many of my students. In classes, in the orchard, and even via Zoom . . . his excitement and deep understanding was inspiring. He was so accessible, and always learning and sharing. He was a wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend. So sad to lose him so soon.
My relationship with Michael began shortly after he graduated from Penn State. He returned to the Salem Children’s Home to donate two weeks of his summer vacation. Unexpectedly I found myself taking over the running of the home. I could not have done it without Michael. At the end of Michael’s two weeks he decided he needed to stay because the list of things that needed to be done was too long, and he saw how much his presence, willingness, and commitment to the children was needed. For numerous years Michael’s contribution to the Children's home was invaluable. Michael created large organic gardens, planted apple trees, ran the maple sugaring operation, built numerous much needed structures – often covering the cost himself. He mentored many children, and was always an exemplary role model. I have been blessed to witness Michael apply himself in the same way to HeartSong Farm, to his wonderful wife, Nancy, and their precious daughter, Gracie, to his apple orchard, his writing, and to his organic farming over the years. Michael has left a grand legacy and he will be greatly missed by many. My most sincerest condolences. We have lost a very good man.
I attended college with Mike at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania from 1975 through 1979. Mike, and the entire group of friends shown in the picture continued to remain in touch through subsequent years, however sporadically. Many of us attended the marriage of Mike and Nancy at the New England Salem Children's Village in Rumney, NH.
The group shown in the picture at left was made in the 1980s when we were in State College for a group golfing outing. It was made at the Nittany Lion Statue on the Penn State Campus.
Many may not be aware of it, but Michael majored in Mechanical Engineering at Penn State. After a few years pursuing a career in Mechanical Engineering in the Washington, DC area, Michael heard a different calling. I like to think that he saw two roads diverging in a wood, and he took the road that led to an organic apple orchard. And, that made all the difference! I am certain that all of our group of college friends join me in extending our deepest sympathies to Nancy and Grace. And, to the entire organic apple orcharding community as a whole.
Michael will be missed, yet we will all carry on better for having known him.
I didn’t know Michael well, but I knew him well enough. We met several times over the past 20 years. A few times at conferences, mostly at the Berkshire Roundtable each March. I never made it to one of his intensives or visited him at Lost Nation Orchard, and I hadn’t seen him at the Roundtable since March 2020 because of covid. And we were mere days away from another vigorous “hang,” talking apples, cider, and other true gems of the natural world. We were emailing regularly and feeling energized for the year ahead. But, alas, it wasn’t to be.
I heard about his passing Sunday evening when Alan Suprenant, Michael’s long-time friend and confidant, notified the attendees of the upcoming Roundtable that Michael has died of a heart attack in his orchard while chasing down a rogue deer. I haven’t had many people close to me die too young, so the news hit me like a gunshot. I was stunned and saddened as many of us were. The Berkshire group endeavored to forge forward with the meeting since it was what Michael would have wanted. There was more than a tinge of somberness and sadness at the gathering with sentiments of “where do we go from here” wrapped in love, passion, and honor.
Michael’s legacy is solid, and the mission moves forward. At the meeting, I recalled how I initially came to know Michael, as many of us did, through his book The Apple Grower. My holistic journey to that point had started a decade before as I was embarking on my apple growing career. Though he first few years of my career were without context – what did I know about farming? – as a lover of the wild nature I’ve always had a bone to pick with conventional ag. I didn’t know what sustainable agricultural was – it wasn’t even really a term until the late 80s – and I barely knew what growing apples was all about. Organic farming was a still a hippie, back-to-the-land “thing” that had no place for “real” farmers. By the early 90s things had started to change. The USDA – for better or worse – had established an organic certification, Alar had hit the news and consumers started to become more aware about how their food was grown; there was more focus on how our industrialized food system was killing the planet – and us – in dramatic fashion. But Michael, not single-handedly yet with an intense focus on growing apples, cast a new light on what it meant to be an enlightened farmer and fellow human. He expanded on the work of Rodale, Nearing, Steiner, and too many others to recount.
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.
I did not hear about Michael’s passing until this past Sunday night. My first feeling was of disbelief, and second was how sorry I was (and am) for his family’s unexpected and monumental loss. It has been my pleasure to host Michael on several visits/consultations to my backyard orchard. Since before planting tree number one, I sought out the best help and advice, which turned out to be Michael. Those visits were something I looked forward to. It was great to spend time with someone who was so knowledgeable about growing fruit, had a great teaching style, and was just a good man. I was proud to show Michael that his “holistic” approach was working so well in my location. I think one of his pleasures was to see his influence on potential growers.
I exchanged emails with Michael only a short time ago. I forwarded an article about the benefits of mushrooms in the orchard. He commented that it reminded him that he had put something out on this years ago and he wanted to revisit that idea.
To Nancy and Grace, I am so sorry for your loss. Michael will live on through his books, videos, and memories from all of us that benefited from knowing him!
Are there never enough days in the life of a Horticulturist to know the magic of nature? Michael certainly had a sense of the awe, the science of this beautiful art we call orcharding. It occurs to me, front, center – life is precious and it is our vitality that supports us contributing to a legacy. Authoring is a great piece to this tapestry of knowledge summoning the community through its ideals. It’s our fruits, our environs collecting our attentions, piecing the threads together. I want all of us to hold this passion dear. It behooves me to stay fit, write something down, and prepare a will. Long live his forum. Thank you Michael for being a leader.
Michael's writing and advocacy changed my life. A slow-growing (as it were) interest in growing my own fruit was kindled into an unbridled passion by his books, which were simultaneously simple and easy to understand, but also clearly well-researched, practiced, and incredibly thorough. I went from someone who thought about yardwork as a chore, to thinking about nothing but gathering organic material and holistic sprays. I was looking forward to meeting him and I was so sad to learn of his passing. I hope that as his physical form contributes its essence to rich, fungal soil, that his soul knows for certain how many others he touched.
Michael's death is a loss to us all. He gave much of himself to many. I knew him through the New England herbal community, and am quite sad to learn of his passing. He will always be loved and remembered by all those he touched, in life and through his books and teachings. I offer up this drawing of mine in tribute to Michael, it is my illumination of the medicinal plants of the Rosaceae, which will be a part of my forthcoming book... With respect and loving memory,
So I can literally say the basis for my orcharding endeavors started with reading Michael’s books. We have now been in that world for over a decade and each year when I need to re-ground myself for guidance I will pull out The Apple Grower, The Holistic Orchard or Mycorrhizal Planet. I only met Michael one time in my life and I feel grateful for that. While I did not know him personally, based on what he wrote I believe he would say that the Earth has life and it has death, and we are also part of that – but the life you lead on this Earth may ring eternal and live for many generations. So here’s to Michael – I will be thinking of you every spring when my comfrey pops up under the apple trees.
His love of life and our planet even then was inspiring. Thank you, Michael, from all of us who have had the good fortune to have been drawn into your orbit from time to time.
I’m deeply saddened to learn that one of our great herbalists and organic orchardists Michael Phillips has entered the spirit realm. My heart goes out to Nancy Phillips and their daughter Gracie. Nancy and Michael were my first formal herbal teachers back in 2003 when I took their foundations herbal program in northern NH. My first herb school, my first time on an herb farm, my first time camping. What a fantastic introduction to the *lifestyle* of herbalism! The whole family is dear, kind, thoughtful, and deeply living a life centered on the plants and ecosystem wellbeing. I always enjoyed chatting with Michael both in and out of class about plants, apples, candid conversations about book publishing, and the world of herbalism, and I consider him a friend, teacher, and colleague.
His writings on apples and organic orcharding are not only informative but also fun to read - I love his slightly sarcastic wit alongside a deep appreciation of the complexities of nature and ecosystems. Here in the northeast, he was one of the very few that considered organic apple growing possible, and then showed us how to do it. His book The Holistic Orchard still sits near my breakfast table.
I remember referring to “good and bad” insects and him checking me in that “good and bad” are a matter of perspective and an oversimplified (and perhaps self centered?) way of thinking about insects and the ecosystem at large. I remember him showing our class his pin-pricked hands after harvesting hawthorn (to which he and Nancy applied yarrow) and us helping him set up a fresh garlic harvest to cure (after which we were blessed to enjoy some of his homemade hard cider as a reward). I always enjoyed running into him in places like D Acres and the NOFA conference circuit and taking his classes.
His impact on my life, the world of herbalism, and backyard fruit growers has been tremendous and positive. He will be missed. My sympathies to Nancy and Gracie as they grieve this loss.
My heart goes out to Nancy and thank you for letting me know. He was a national treasure and his passing was too damn soon. The world has lost a beautiful teacher, observer, and creator who will continue to be a great inspiration to me and my apple journey. I am grateful for his books and videos. I was looking forward to reconnecting with Michael. It is a deep reminder to live life now, now, now! There is no guarantee that there will be another day to go. On the other hand, I keep planting (and pruning!) trees for the future, whether I am here to see the results or not.
I first got to know Michael Phillips through his excellent teaching in his book, The Holistic Orchard. As a new orchardist myself supporting urban community orchard groups, we used the book as a bit of gospel teaching as we trained others to manage their fruit trees holistically. Michael was always very supportive of The Giving Grove and generously offered his expertise to our organization. I feel very grateful that I was able to attend one of his intensive trainings on his farm a few years ago and I’ll never forget the wisdom and beauty he imparted to me from his orchard. I know I still don’t understand the depth of what he taught but I’m grateful for his teachings and the way he shared them so fully and honestly. I appreciate his passion for the craft and science of holistic orcharding and only hope that I can continue to learn and share the passion for healthy and delicious fruits with others.
Peace be with you all
I am so sorry to hear of the passing of the great Michael Phillips. He had been a big influence on my work at Wild Craft Permaculture. You wouldn't believe how giddy I was when I met him in person at the EFAO conference in London Ontario a few years ago and got to take my picture with him. Brad Pitt wouldn't have given me flutters like that! I admired his lifelong learning and willingness to try new things. I will keep sharing the knowledge I gained from him with others and share his name with every person I teach about growing healthy fruit trees.
1975 was a great year. My first year at Penn State where lifelong friendships were about to be forged. One of the first guys I met was a big guy named Mike. Little did I know then that we would become great friends and ultimately roommates at school.
A brilliant student, determined to be a great engineer, it became obvious that Michael was conflicted as to the path he was on. I’d come home many times to his terrible sing along to Jimmy Buffett songs. It was there in that living room that I know he dreamed of the life of adventure instead of a life of 9-5 servitude.
It came as little surprise when he left his engineering career to follow his heart. I believe he initially wanted to tend to sheep in Australia but found instead a passion to tend to the land instead.
None of his adventures would have been complete however without his finding the love of his life, Nancy. All his Penn State buddies, attended their beautiful wedding. No way that we were going to miss our old buddy in his sweat tent ceremony, wearing handmade clothes being married by an Indian chief!
Mike had a big heart and it was filled with joy when Gracie entered his life. His dreams had been achieved – how very proud he was of his beautifull family and his love of community and of his beloved apples.
So sad to have his life on earth end when it did, but knowing Mike, his adventure isn’t over.it’s only just begun!
I can still hear Mike sitting in our living room singing these words out of tune from Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s Been A Lovely Cruise”.
Drink it up
This ones for you
It’s been a lovely cruise
I’m sorry it’s ended
It’s sad but it’s true
Honey it’s been a lovely cruise
These moments we’re left with
May you always remember
These moments are shared by few
There’s wind in our hair
And there’s water in our shoes
Honey, it’s been a lovely cruise
These moments we’re left with
May you always remember
These moments are shared by few
And those harbor lights
Aw they’re coming into view
We bid our farewell much too soon
So drink it up
This one’s for you
Honey, it’s been a lovely cruise
Yea baby, it’s been a lovely cruise
Oh darlin’ it’s been a lovely cruise
John and Michael
Rest In Peace my old friend. It sure was “lovely” to cruise a bit with you! You will be missed!
Michael’s passing, like for many in the NE orcharding community, hit me like a shot. I’ve known him for near 30 years. He’s danced a merry wassail in our orchard. I’ve used a lot of his approach to orcharding for decades; laughed with him at conferences and orchard gatherings. We were just beginning what would have been a closer collaboration with sap testing and his recommendations. About his same age, with the same sized orchard, and the same passion for organic and the imitation of nature, we were on the same page nearly always. Both of us even had daughters, Grace. We had just visited friends in Alabama and stopped on the way to visit the Kordick HON orchard in North Carolina. Brittany was on her way to New England and the Stump Roots gathering. We gave her a bottle of daughter, Maria’s, hard cider to share. On the way back Maria texted Michael had passed away. Shock! A gentle, generous, kind soul and friend gone!
As I’m about that age when one thinks about what one will leave behind when one passes from this life. I read this psalm last week.
. . . I will open my mouth in a parable
And utter hidden lessons of the past.
The things we have heard and understood,
The things our parents have told us,
These we will not hide from our children
But will tell them to the next generation:
The glories and might of the Lord,
And the marvelous deeds that have been done.
. . . To make it known to their children,
That the next generation might know it,
The children yet to be born.
What are these things? Aren’t these those most precious things--the yearnings, the longings, the joys of our heart? Those most intimate, particular, and satisfying moments and experiences we have had in our lives? “. . . will not hide . . . but will tell them . . .”
Michael clearly loved and cared for his little piece of Gaia for near 50 years. He’d seen its idiosycracies, its foibles, its strengths, its weaknesses, its beauties, its shames. He’s sweated, frozen, hungered, glutted, drowned, and been parched.
This intimate experience, this spiritual connection and orientation he most wanted to share and has passed on to us all. It’s not simply the technical production methods and practices, the barns and equipment, the soil, that he wanted us to know about, but how to love. He clearly didn’t want us or the next generation to settle for mere dirt, for mere belly-fill. He didn’t hide those most important things.
Thank you, Michael, for loving us all. This we will remember.
Deepest condolences to Nancy and Grace.
I have so many great memories of time spent with Michael and his family over the years . We were fellow dreamers, plant lovers, and family friends, and while I already miss him greatly, I have such wonderful memories to fill my heart. I have been thinking which of the many stories I wish to share about Michael and what pops up at this moment are those wonderful surprise birthday parties that Michael planned several years in a row for Nancy. Michael was very clever and obviously took great pleasure in planning these surprise parties for Nancy. These were not your ordinary ‘hide in another room and surprise the birthday girl’ kind of parties. No, Michael planned these elaborate parties that involved us all driving to Quebec city, or Montreal, or Lake Placid in the middle of winter (Nancy was a December baby) . . . and, of course, through all of the planning, it all had to be kept a big secret. Michael had code words and secret names for each of us. He was Boris, I was Natasha . . . and so on. There always a small group of close friends, and once we had done the ‘surprise’ part of the party and surprised Nancy again for another year (one does wonder how Nancy could be surprised anew each year, but she always was), the rest of the time we usually just sat around, ate, drank tea and wine, telling stories, philosophizing. Michael was brilliant and his conversations often wafted over me . . . but he was also an apple-pie-kind-of-guy, heartful, filling and sweet.
Another of my favorite memories was of Michael’s winter Wassail parties. Friends from far and near would gather in their comfortable old farmhouse with the wood stove burning merrily and the honey lights twinkling with a golden glow in the snowy night. After an evening of cider and wine, and Nancy’s incredibly good food, we’d head out in the cold winter night to the orchard to the oldest grandest tree where little Gracie would be sitting perched high in the branches. Michael would salute the tree with his home made cider, and he’d lead us all with his deep resounding voice in the Wassail Song, and we’d all give cheers to another year of harvest, friendship and fellowship. And then, much to Nancy’s chagrin, he'd fire off the rifle in a symbolic gesture to warn the deer away and protect his orchard.
Such a brilliant, gifted, deep and passionate individual, Michael touched all of our lives in so many different but related ways, as can be seen by the many tributes and stories being shared about him. Like many farmers, Michael dedicated his life to serving the Earth and to making it a better place for all living beings. I’m honored to have known him, to have called him a dear friend, to have spent such quality time with he and his beloved family. While he will be missed greatly by all of us who knew and loved him, he left such an amazing legacy, a legacy that will live on through his books, his writings, and teachings and the many apple trees he’s planted in his rich and abundantly full life.
Some people are soulmates. You both realize that the minute you meet and look into each others eyes. And then 30 some odd years go by enjoying that soulmate, enjoying each others families, and each others apple friends we had in common. Rest in Peace and Rest in Power Michael. Staring to really feel your passing two weeks later.
Michael was such a warm, thoughtful and funny person. I’ll miss him and his encouragement. We would exchange emails every year throughout the season. He was genuinely interested in what we were doing on our orchard in SW Michigan and so generous with his knowledge. He inspired me in many ways. But mostly it was his warmth and humor. Whether we were chatting about putting in Guava trees as a response to global warming or working on a project that he and I talked about for many years and never pulled off, his comments often started with a barb and ended with a smile.
Such a great ambassador for organic apple growers – he was our rock star, or maybe tick-tock star to make that more modern. He had such a talent for making you feel that he had a special spot for you in his community. Maybe that was his actual super-power – so many people feel connected to Micchael in some special way, myself included. I am saddened by his passing and will miss his devious wit, his friendship, and his deep knowledge of apple growing and apple lore. While his loss is felt by the community he created, my heartfelt condolences go to his family, whom I’m sure miss him so much more dearly and are experiencing indescribable pangs of sorrow.
Michael was one of the nicest, smartest, and most genuine people I have known. While our paths did not cross frequently enough, he was and is both a good friend and an inspiration. We met as floor mates and became friends at Penn State. I remember many games of Mongo Soccer in the dorm lobby when we should have been studying.
Michael’s passion took him to New Zealand, the world of organic orchards, New Hampshire, Nancy, Gracie, Lost Nation Orchard, and a life of growing, learning, and teaching Most of our fellow PSU alumni went off to the world of corporations and companies. Hearing of Michael’s adventures, most of us were envious, yet not brave enough to follow in his footsteps.
My most memorable Michael experience was while on a hiking trip in Maine and Michael wasn’t even there. We had a guide who was explaining the local fungi. I told him I had a friend who had written a book on fungi and had an organic orchard. I told him Michael’s name and before I could finish, he exclaimed “Michael Phillips!! OF COURSE . . . Michael is the god of fungi.”
Another . . . A friend’s Junior High aged son was interested in growing organic apples. I gave him my copies of Michael’s books and told him I knew Michael. Apparently, he contacted Michael. My friend told me that his son and Michael had an ongoing dialog where Michael provided guidance and patiently answered questions. No surprise to me!
We should all strive to be more like Michael.
Michael, you have had an impact on a lot of lives, you will be missed.
Thank you so much for taking time to share your heartfelt memories and stories of Michael. The stories have brought tears, laughter, gratitude and love to our hearts. Your kindness means a lot to us. We know Michael lives on with Divine Spirit and in all our memories, hearts, and in the lives he touched.
I have so many fond memories of Michael that I will always cherish. We have had a good life together these past 37 plus years. We were kind of like a pair of strong draft horses, well yoked in many ways, holding the same values, dreams, and visions. Yet at times, he would want to “gee” and I would want to “haw”. Then there would be a tussle. But when we got rolling together, we made a strong team and accomplished a lot. We had a blessed journey together.
Some of my favorite memories are of Michael coming to get me while I was cooking or digging in my herb gardens saying he had something to show me. He would take me by the hand and lead me to some spot on the farm where he had found a white throated sparrow sitting on her nest, a fawn frozen in the high grass, or two baby bear cubs clinging to the top of a tree. He would bring me to watch the bumble bees going in and out of their home in the ground, or to say hi to some sweet baby bluebirds in their nest with their mama chatting nearby. Every year he would fetch Gracie and me to smell the plum blossoms and watch the multitude of pollinators buzzing ecstatically in the orchard landscape. He cultivated the gift of becoming one with the land and shared this with us.
I don’t know what made me call Michael as we usually communicated by email – but I did. On February 28th. Gracie answered the phone – told me her father had died the day before from a heart attaack. Still in shock & denial, like it’s a bad dream. And so very sad. Michael was my friend in Neem. When he first reached out to me many years ago with an order and for information on this magical, versatile oil, I remember wondering where he was coming from – soo many questions that I dutifully took the time to check with the manufacturer, do some research and answer. And benefitted so much, from the new insights and depth of information that he then provided. Such a brilliant, humorous, curious mind! And then, all the great orchard orders from his referrals.
I had the blessing of meeting him twice, both times at MOSES in LaCrosse, WI, where he was a presenter. I remember a young man came to my booth at the trade show and said “there’s a guy out there who is talking about your product and asking people to go over and meet you.” So wonderful.
The second time was in February 2020. Just before Covid-19 paralyzed the US. We were heading to dinner with Jacquelyn Zita of WEI & he asked me how I liked his book he had sent me, Mycorrhizal Planet. I think I said, “um, haven’t read it.” He threw his hands up in the air & walked away! I literally had to run after him and said “No, no, I did! Just a bit.., about garlic mustard killing the beneficial fungi in it’s non native habitat. I’ve been pulling it out!” (Garlic mustard grows wild in our woods). He stopped striding away and we had a nice dinner. Oof! So glad I had read that!
Michael, when you check in to your memorials, dear friend, know that I will miss you! And thank you for all the knowledge, of the life our air, flora, fauna, soils harbor. For opening up my mind, eyes, nose and taste buds! To the various kinds of apples, so many! And garlic! Who knew so many potent varieties were in existence? Not I! And now, I will not settle for less. When you left this earth, our Mother Earth (Amma Earth to me) lost a great soul, a great friend, a great teacher and a great husband to Nancy and father to Gracie.
Seems fitting you crossed over under an apple and pear tree. May you be at peace and one with the cosmos.
It was shocking and devastating to hear of Michael’s passing. He has been an inspiring distant mentor to me through his books, talks, and then an informative phone call last summer. When I was tending apple orchards at a Waldorf school years ago, we used his Holistic Orchard book to guide our middle schoolers in polyculture plantings. Then when his book Mycorrhizal Planet came out, I read it a few times with great excitement that so much of what radical mycology mentors had suggested was indeed being applied on farms. A crew of us carpooled to hear him speak at Sterling College on his book tour. It was clear that not only were all in the room riveted during the talk but the long line after to ask Michael questions indicated he was offering innovative instructions that so many of us land tenders sought. Last summer after watching a brief presentation he offered through NOFA, I reached out on fb messenger to see if he was open to learning about some of my research with Mycorrhizae and offering his perspective. After phone tag we caught each other and I remember being on the phone with him, walking on the grass and my porch barefoot feeling so grateful for the opportunity to hear his questions, asking about intricacies of my research, and his careful affirmations of the approach I was taking. He understood the bridge between science and the permaculture/regenerative paradigms and we laughed about the intricate dance of finding the balance between them. He was so kind, patient, funny, encouraging, and gentle in his offerings. I felt so honored and grateful to have had the chance to learn and hear from him directly. In his humble nature, he felt like such a kindred spirit. Yet I am also keenly aware he was a giant, inspiring so many through his intelligence, alchemical orientation, and commitment to how we can live on earth in community. Thank you Michael. I will do all I can to keep learning from you as well as to try to emulate your stellar character. We are sad to lose you so young. May you be free and in peace.
What comes to mind when thinking of Michael? A big strong man with a seemingly peaceful demeanor. I would not want to be on his bad side. The quiet presence that feels like the most solid protective essence emitting from those eyes and smile and his “Jamie from Outlander” drop-dead gorgeous handsomeness. Imagine a Scot’s accent… Come tu-h meh! Then I remember he did drop dead. Inconceivable. Stories… Being with the family in a bar after an Organic Apple keynote lecture. Getting into a riff on Dracula with he and I alternating “I vaaant to suck your bllllllood” with Gracie giggling, and us all totally cracking up. Being in a party crowd at one of Rosemary’s birthdays. Seeing the twinkle in his eyes after imbibing a bit of some brewed substance. Enjoying the beauties dancing ‘round. Red haired, round muscled and fiery. All man. The softness of his tone when talking of Gracie, seeing the wonder of his chosen child. Or the passion when speaking of responsibilities of we humans for land, animals, trees, and plants. And Nancy, I cannot conceive of the earth-connection gone. My heart. Their hearts. I think of the shift in space at the farm, the walls wondering where his massive presence has gone. The spirits all having witnessed his flash of departure. The knowing that he taught others well, who will carry on his ethics and skills. That Nancy and Gracie were loved, and they loved him. A good life. I will miss you Michael, I already do.
Michael was an original, a brilliant contrarian, a dedicated innovator. We will have to step up to continue his important work. He rightly identified the growing of apples within Nature's system – without heroic but toxic chemistry, with attention to the whole orchard and its surrounding community – as a global necessity, and thoughtfully devised ways to record and test his thinking, and share his successes with a needful world. While we are surely less without him, the times demand that we respond to the challenge, even though we know that working together without him will be less. His death leaves a big hole in my heart.