098. André Miller: Systema, farming, and philosophy

Episode summary

Andre Miller LINK (250)-01
André Miller

Farming is André Miller’s way of life, a way that connects him physically to the land that feeds him. He discusses his relationship with athletics and his introduction to Systema. André unpacks how he came to his personal philosophy, and how it led him on the path to farming. He shares his thoughts on modern farming, and recreating connection with the environment.

Andre Miller is a movement based farmer, personal trainer, and the owner of Roots Movement Farm in Oregon. He has his Masters degree in Physiology, and Bachelors degrees in both Kinesiology and Philosophy. At Roots Movement Farm, Andre combines his knowledge of movement and philosophy to create a farm where movement and nutritional medicine work together.

Highlight [0:00]

André (00:04):
Farming is something that people need to not approach lightly or thinking about, “Oh, well, I’m going to plant this on the window.” So yes, plant that thing on the window sill, but then get out in your backyard or if you live on an apartment, the side of the road, it doesn’t matter. Just start farming this whole place out as hard as we possibly can, because it really is the answer to everything right now. It’s the answer to greater health. It’s the environmental solution.

Craig (00:34):
It’s what the environment needs too.

André (00:36):
Yeah, it’s the social interaction. It’s the education that we need. It’s the physical movement that we need. So 100% percent, we run down this path, and we see how far we can get.

Introduction [0:49]

Childhood role of movement [2:03]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Sports and working in the garden; chores
  • Returning to gardening after years away, viewed as punishment as a kid
  • Originally considered physicality and nutrition as separate

Systema [4:57]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Competitive martial arts vs Systema
  • Systema as a practical “real life” martial art, can be brutal
  • Finding relaxation and peace in extreme circumstances; complete awareness
  • Non-violence and de-escalation, compassion for your attacker
  • Philosophy had been moving away from competitive martial arts
  • Mike Gonzolas in San Antonio; feeling his relaxation in physical contact
  • Efficiency in movement, but letting go and relaxing into movement and gravity

André (05:54):
Yeah, I’m incredibly fortunate to have come across Systema. It’s such a beautiful martial art. At the time, when I was exclusively in the gym community, I’ve come across boxing and Muay Thai and jujitsu and started practicing those martial arts. And those are obviously competitive martial arts, and they’re for sport. And so when I found Systema, Systema is a much more complete, holistic, real life martial arts, not for competition. It’s described as a non competitive martial art. And so it’s based on real life and it’s based on survival. So in that sense, Systema is much more brutal and much more practical. And the guys that are very good at it are some of the most-

Craig (06:50):
Efficient.

André (06:52):
Militant efficient, this is not doing what’s fair. This is survival. So anything that can be picked up in the room, anything that can be used is all fair play, because this is just life, which can give it a very brutal tone. But what sits behind that is relaxation and breath work and a deep peace. And if you can find peace in very extreme circumstances, you’ll be able to pick up on opportunities that might be missed otherwise, such as how to just leave a situation.

Craig (07:30):
Yeah, or awareness.

André (07:34):
Yeah, a more complete awareness. So it is very ironic that as the efficiency increases, so does the the peacefulness. And that’s why I say I’m very fortunate to come across it in my life, because I was looking for a martial art that I could practice that matched with my personal philosophies of non violence and deescalating conflict, versus only having the option to fight somebody, only having the option to fight force with force, rather than peacefully resolving conflicts or having compassion for the person that’s attacking you. And that really took my idea of mastery to the next level. Vladimir Vasiliev, the teacher at the school in Toronto, would say things like, “When somebody attacks me, I’m thinking about how are they going to fall? I’m thinking about their health and their safety.” And I said, “Wow, what level of mastery would you have to achieve to be concerned about the other person’s well being when somebody is attacking you?” To have your safety not even be a concern, but just to make sure that the other person can leave the situation uninjured, is really remarkable.

Philosophy [12:10]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Aha moments, enlightenment makes you love philosophy
  • Disconnect between enlightenment and action
  • Gaining understanding and translating it into action
  • Knowledge is a responsibility, can change your life
  • Knowledge vs wisdom, learning how to think; applicable to everything
  • Creating a cognitive system, guided by integrity
“ So I need to stop, I need to learn how to think about thinking before I start thinking too much, and that starts directing me too much. So I really do believe strongly that a philosophy degree or a background in philosophy should almost be a prerequisite before you do anything, because it will help you do whatever it is you're going to do better. If you're a scientist, it will help you understand your science better. If you're a writer, you'll understand your writing better. If you're a farmer, because it's training yourself to think is how to think about your thinking. And so without that metacognitive process going on, you can really get yourself into some trouble heading in a direction too strongly without really understanding what's going on. ”

André Miller
“ I started realizing, I can't just tell people to go to the farmers market. I have to be the farmers market. When I say you should be eating these greens, I have to be able to put those greens in that person's hand right then and there if I'm going to help the person because a lot of times when you tell somebody to do something, they'll come back and they'll come with the guilt. 'I didn't do what you said I was going to do,' and so I needed to cut through all of that. And so I started to have this awakening, like the farm and the gym need to be one and the same. The nutrition needs to be connected to the movement. People need to get back to this very roots oriented model where their physicality was connected with what was sustaining them. ”

André Miller
“ But I think first and foremost, the information that's stored in our nervous system is woken up by oxygenating that nervous system. And the best way to oxygenate that nervous system is to move, is to move and to breathe, move, relax. And one of my favorite phrases that I like to say is oxygen fans the flame of awareness. So the more that you can move around in an environment, the more that you can interact with an environment, the more that you'll just start to wake up your whole body, your mind, and maybe even your spirit that will help guide you to the right kinds of plants and gets you curious. (/quote) Rather than browbeating yourself with a bunch of books and information that you might not remember, go for a walk, and then see what plant really strikes you. And then maybe try to identify that plant. And through this process, you might start identifying a bunch of common nursery plants that are just common in landscaping. Those are mostly not edible, but then you'll start to run across some of the weeds, the things that we've been pushing out, the things that are actually edible. ”

André Miller

Craig (20:09):
You know where they’re got that tool of, let me say the story that you are telling there, exemplifies or shows a great deal of self awareness, self direction. Do you know where you got that from? I don’t see that in a lot of people.

André (20:26):
Yeah, I think it just comes, it comes naturally. Because that’s how we are, that’s where we came from. It’s really, really deep in us. And if you just let nature take its direction, if you just go outside on a walk, it will happen to you. Your attention will start going towards the different plants, you’ll start asking yourself, “Could I eat this?” And if you’re not thinking that, maybe you’re not hungry enough.

Continue reading…

Craig (20:58):
Most people are never hungry. I definitely do a lot with fasting. So yeah, I know exactly what you were talking about, but I don’t think most people really understand.

André (21:07):
Yeah, and really big thing for me is quote from King Solomon, excess brings enlightenment. So if you really want to know something, you just go all the way really through that process and you’ll get to know all the ins and outs of it, like a Zen monk practicing movement. It’s not 10 sets of 12. It’s thousands and thousands so they just know it in and out. And what happened with me is running. So I had a background in running. At the time that I was into performance, I was really getting into ultra running. So I was trying to figure out how far I could run, what’s the human capability with running. And so I would get running so far. And when you go that far, you get hungry. And when you get hungry, you start looking around. And this was a really big shifting point for me, I would run this trail, and it’s in Texas. So what I would end up finding at the end of this trail miles and miles then were wild persimmons. And so these little purple-

Craig (22:19):
I was reading about those the other day, sorry.

André (22:24):
And I’m almost, I’ve been running all day, I’ve been running for like 10 hours, and it’s hot. It’s like 105 degrees in San Antonio, Texas, and I’m dehydrated, my blood sugar’s low. And I just see these purple splatters all over the trail. And I’m like, “Whoa, what is this?” Like snozzberries just all over the ground. And I look up, and I see these big purple berries, and I’m like, “Oh, this has got to be edible.” And I just start snacking on them, and it’s the most delicious thing that I’ve ever had in my whole life. And that was the first of many instances in which long training runs started to transform into foraging runs, so because I would cover so much ground, I would figure out where all the plants were, and then I would go, and again, my movement led me to eating it, led me to the connection to my environment.

Path to farming and foraging [17:50]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Roundabout… began with a shift in his personal training through nutrition
  • Connecting nutrition and food to movement in order to better help people
  • Looking around your surroundings, being curious about what you can eat
  • Path to foraging, through ultra-running; Foraging while running
  • Jessi Stensland and noticing foods and foraging
  • Foraging recommendations; inherent knowledge, learning through experience and intuition
  • Starting to notice, cross check, learn, try things… Sauntering

Craig (31:47):
And I love the way, I don’t know if I read it in a blog post or if I got it off an Instagram caption, but the way you talk about in the farm that you’re running, all the plants are just its plants. That one looks nice. This one happens to attract pollinators. This one will be nice in a couple months. We can eat that, like it’s just these are seeds simply which it’s extremely complex. It’s simply an ecosystem. And how you had to first begin by rebooting the mycelium network and getting the fungi working again and then going up from there. So I was curious, what do you think is the biggest plot that you could handle as a single person like you specifically? Could you handle like an entire acre? Could you do 10 acres? At what point does it become, well Screw it, let’s just make it be 100 acres, I’m not going to touch it at all. I’m just going to wander through it and feed myself which is kind of cheating. But in the sense of cultivating this is a farm and I’m intending to feed people from this space, how big do you think you could go personally before you’re at your max?

André (32:48):
Yeah, screw it all. It’s the whole world.

Craig (32:52):
I thought you’re going to say-

André (32:55):
100%, 110%, it’s the whole world. So especially now, human beings need to expand their consciousness and their awareness into the whole world. When we act, we’re affecting the whole world. That’s what we’re learning right now. If there’s a virus out there, the whole world has it. If I do something, the whole world is affected. So when I speak, I need to speak to the whole world. When I act, I need to act for the sake of the whole world. And so it is very true, however crazy, it sounds like I’m farming the whole world right now. And it happens first and foremost within myself. So however good I feel, the change that I wish to see in the world, however I’m trying to change myself, whatever I’m being and becoming is the start of a very small rippling wave that just starts to open up.

Continue reading…

André (33:50):
And once I get myself into that correct place, once I saunter into the Holy Land of myself, it then becomes my duty to start rippling that out, and it starts to manifest itself in my body. And if my body becomes healthy, then my immediate surroundings become healthy. I clean my room, I make my bed, my kitchen is clean, or whatever the case may be. And then I start to put some window sill planters, and then once that gets done, then it’s my yard. And then it’s my neighbor’s yard. And then it’s my neighbor’s neighbor’s yard. And then it just keeps going. And it’s only limited by the degree and profoundness with which the change has happened inside of you. And it’s really exciting time for me right now, because the two acres that I have here on my own farm is getting to a point.

André (34:43):
Of course it will never be done. But it’s really getting to a point where it’s [inaudible 00:34:49] is producing a very large amount of food and certainly get a lot of attention. And because of that, I’m starting to get a lot of consulting and landscaping projects. I’ve got quite a few right now going, one of the biggest of which is a 16 acre permaculture farm that I’m working on right now. And it’s underway, their garden, their quarter acre garden next to their house has already been created. And now we’re moving out into the rest of the property. And so there’s really no limit to this. My garden’s getting built. I’m building other people’s gardens. They’re getting educated, they’re starting to start other gardens, and it’s just this beautiful virus that’s starting to take over the world.

Craig (35:35):
That’s a terrific vision. I fully support this plan. Is there anything you can just continue running down the garden path? Or is there anything that you were thinking on your way to the interview that you wanted to ask, or I want to make sure we get to any other topic before we are about 35 minutes in so like, 10 minutes to go. Is there anything else that you want to touch on? Or we can just keep talking about farming?

André (35:58):
Yeah, I was starting to talk about the way that we want to approach farming. And one of the best pieces of advice that I love to give people right now is to follow nature’s lead and to look at the model of the forest, because nothing grows vegetation quite like the forest. Even our best synthetic fertilizers and our best technologies have not-

Craig (36:26):
There is an ecosystem, right?

André (36:30):
Yeah. It hasn’t beat the Amazon as far as carbon sequestration and nitrogen growth has been going on. So what this really has to do with is it’s an inclusive versus exclusive agricultural model. So we were taught to think, “Oh well, you got to pull the weeds and you got to get those out. And then you got to keep the birds from eating everything, and then you got to get rid of the rats. And then you just keep these good things, these 100 corn plants or whatever. And don’t let anything take one of those.” The forest is not like that. It’s bigger than that. The thinking is more magnanimous. So it always says more, more is more, just keep adding.

Craig (37:16):
Feed the rabbits, and then the rabbits feed the foxes.

André (37:20):
Yeah, and all that means more poop ultimately, and poop is what farming is all about. So if I’ve got slugs, if I’ve got roly polys, if I’ve got worms, if I’ve got birds, I want all of them. And what this becomes about is the story of life, how do we cultivate more life. More life is more life. And that’s how the force works. There’s nothing so full of life compared to the force. So when you’re farming and when you’re gardening, don’t waste your time saying, “I don’t need these things. These things are not good.” It’s all good. It’s all nature.

André (37:57):
Just think about the nudges that it needs to be directed in, or the way that you can maybe expedite the system and work with the system to get to the next step. If it is a slug problem, instead of wasting your time trying to pour salt on each one of those slugs to get rid of those slugs, how about you just plant more? That way the slugs eat it, you get the slug poop for fertilizer, and everybody gets to eat, and it takes the same amount of time and same amount of resources to fight something down than what it does to just use it, use its energy, use its life force. And this brings us back around to Systema. It takes more effort from my part, to push against your punch, than to just take your punch, turn with it and then give it back to you.

André (38:54):
And so if we can do that with our agricultural system as well when things come our way, we just find a way to turn it on its head and turn it back into what it is we’re trying to produce. This is a much better way of thinking and we can stop fighting ourselves and we can stop fighting everything that is outside of us as well because I think I speak for everybody when I say are we tired of fighting? When does the peace come?

Farming [29:17]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Farming is the key, the answer to many problems when done correctly
  • AgroForestry; creating food forests
  • The world as a farm; understanding our impact globally
  • Ripple effect, slowly growing your practice; no limit
  • Following nature’s lead; inclusive agriculture system — an ecosystem
  • Working with the whole of the ecosystem; efficiency

Reconnecting to nature [39:30]

  • Chapter’s transcript…
  • Personal interaction; ripples only effect one person at at time
  • Interaction vs mass media; deeper impact, will spread
  • Re-educating and conditioning humanity to return to nature
  • Lost knowledge and physicality as the world changes
  • Process of returning to robust states of being

Contact and further info

You can follow André on instagram (@rootsfitness_portland). To learn more about André’s work at Roots Movement Farm, you can visit their website (rootsmovmentfarm.com).