My name is James Smallwood and I am the founder of Natural Systems.
In 1993, a good friend “gave” me $500 and I launched Sacred Mountain Minerals, a small, home-based business in Booneville, Calif.
I met Tim Bates from The Apple Farm, in Philo, Calif. who introduced me to California Certified Organic Farmers, and I joined.
I knew nothing about agriculture, I didn’t know what N-P-K was but there we were, buying one-ton bags of minerals from Nevada, and selling them in local nurseries to local vineyards and farmers.
I was invited to vendor’s day at the Fetzer Hopland Estate where I set up my buckets of minerals and set out my brochures. I didn’t sell any minerals that day, but I met Mark Turner, from Catalyst Products, who sold organic fertilizers. He introduced me to a guy who had an invention “that could treat ocean water to grow corn.” He was selling them to farmers to improve their water.
I told him I had a small business selling minerals, and wanted to start a new company called Natural Systems, selling organic fertilizers and his water treatment device. I asked if he would he build units for me.
He explained that he originally invented the unit to be a “electronic water conditioner,” to prevent scale and calcium from building up in water pipes. He said he had a unit in a greenhouse and one day the grower called him describing how much better his plants were doing.
He told me his invention induced a negative charge to water and called it a “Radiant Energy” device. He said his scientist friends said what he was doing was impossible. But he knew better.
He said the device put energy back in “dead” water, negatively charged it to act more like rainwater so that it was beneficial for plants and the soil.
He agreed to build his “Radiant Energy” device for me.
Well, those were difficult and challenging years.
Needless to say, it presented a huge learning curve for me. Here I was with a degree in psychology selling fish fertilizer, bat guano, and this “radiant energy” box that everyone thought was simply snake oil, but I was determined to succeed.
I endorsed a healthy lifestyle. I knew the importance of organic food for health, and I wanted to support the organic farmers who put food on my table. Food was my medicine.
I made my “cold calls,” I got a few appointments here and there, and I sold my first unit to Jim Murphy at Murphy-Goode. I was excited. I found Jim to be a great person. I liked his honesty and down-to-earth presence. He was carrying on a business that his dad, Tim, started almost 20 prior.
I continued to sell units over the next 10 years or so.
My customers told me the units were working. Their plants were doing better, and that a well I put a unit in that usually scaled up every two years hadn’t, even after five or six years.
By then, I was selling three types of units. One to keep wells from scaling in homes and on commercial equipment; the “Ag unit” for farms and greenhouses; and a third unit to convert sprayers to electrostatic units to improve coverage and eliminate the drift problem.
I eventually had customers who had 10 or 12 units on their various farms.
All of this was well and good, but I still had no scientific proof. No data.
My farmers told me “the unit worked” but it was all anecdotal. I believed I possessed an extraordinary invention, one-of -kind, but to most people it was “just more snake oil, another black box.”
I knew I had a unique invention. It worked especially well on farms that had very brackish water, and I had a feeling that someday there would be a drought, that we would be running out of fresh water, lakes and reservoirs, groundwater resources would dry up and that “there would be no more water.”
I also knew I had a way to grow food without fresh water. Because I believe our future is all about water, not oil or global warming, I set out to prove that it wasn’t just snake oil, I had to have data. I had to get the unit into the field, compare “treated” vs. “untreated.”
Fortunately, over the past five years, with lots of help, we conducted a number of trials. We deliberately selected organic farmers because we wanted to provide an alternative to farmers relying on chemicals, and wanted to eliminate as many variables as possible.
We also deliberately selected sites that only had saline ground water, high in TDS (a measure of salinity), water that was difficult to grow good crops with, even water that was very brackish and fatal to plants.
We were fortunate to have a Ph. D. professor design and supervise our trials, and to get sites where the water was marginal (usually water is marginal at 1,100 TDS). The water at our sites measured 1,100 TDS, 1,500 TDS, 30,000 TDS, even 300,000 TDS.
We laid out our plots; barley, organic strawberries, corn, and bermuda grass.
We documented the grow cycles, took soil and plant samples, and sent the samples to a well-known plant lab for testing.
Typically, water has a positive charge that holds sodium in solution. Sodium that is in solution is picked up by the plant and builds up in the soil.
The idea of the negative charge is to break the hydrogen bond holding the sodium in solution, separating it from the water molecule.
What happened? In the treated plants, the sodium did not show up in the plant tissue, it did not accumulate in the soil, in fact, in the sodium-saturated soil the sodium leached out. The soil analysis from the treated soil showed the presence of manganese and magnesium that was not there when we started.
We grew barley using 1,500 TDS water. The untreated plants died. We grew corn using ocean water. We grew bermuda grass in a lab with 300,000 TDS frac water.
The invention worked.
Recently, using an ORP meter to measure the level of oxygen in the water, Jim Murphy found that the oxygen level had more than tripled in his treated water.
This led him to want to see what the unit would do to “treat” nematodes. He had always used a nematicide in his vineyard and hoped using treated water would eliminate that practice.
During the past season, in his “test block,” the nematodes were still there, but Jim said, “the vines were so healthy the nematodes couldn’t take over.”
I said, “you mean you’ve been wasting your money on chemicals all these years?” We both laughed, because we knew that he had discovered an “organic” way to control nematode.
Also, the crop production of his chardonnay fields increased from 6 to 10 tons per acre.
What does all this mean?
This is not snake oil.
With only 1 percent of the water on the planet being fresh water, we have access to, and can grow food with the other 99 percent.
Some of the units I have in the field are in remote areas, and powered by solar. My feeling is we could solve the world’s water crisis, the food crises, bring systems to villages and communities to grow food, feed families, end conflict, grow food on saline water anywhere in the world. We did it in Buckeye, Ariz. We did it in Salinas. We did it in a university lab. We can do it anywhere in the world.
That is my vision, that is my goal, and I believe that is exactly why this device was invented in the first place, why it was passed on to me, and the very thing I am here to do with my life.