On Stage & On the Farm, Jason Mraz Goes Back to the Earth
By Rhonda Price
When we heard that Jason Mraz was rolling into town for his worldwide YES! tour, we snapped up tickets and scrambled to get all the dirt—not just about the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and his “girl band” Raining Jane, but the dirt on his 5½ acre organic farm in California, where he grows avocados, citrus fruits, corn and whatever strikes his fancy.
We weren’t disappointed. The concert had delightful surprises and a glimpse of everything important to Mraz, including family, friends, music, protecting the environment, gardening and farming.
At one point, we were so entranced by the solar system light show and New Age vibes in songs such as “Shine” that we felt like we had risen above the earth—until Mraz brought us crashing down by throwing a bag of compost to a fan in the row behind us.
“I’ve got Jason’s dir t,” a lady screamed excitedly as the background visuals changed to pictures of his farm and he launched into “Back to the Earth.” The song wistfully recalls decades-ago simpler times when folks knew where their food was grown and laments that we’ve forgotten our connection to nature. We’re sick, Mother Earth is sick, and—according to Mraz—the solution is in the soil.
We met with Mraz backstage, while he relaxed with a cup of herbal tea and talked about the t our, staying healthy on the road, and what he’s learned af ter farming for more than a decade.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Your touring schedule looks insane with concer ts all over the world. What would you do if you were home?
Jason Mraz: I’d stay at home with my girlfriend, and we’d prepare a meal with as many local foods and ingredients as possible.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Who cooks?
Jason Mraz: She does all the cooking because she used t o run a restaurant, and that’s where we met. Now her restaurant is in my house, and I’m spoiled to death!
Extraordinary Health Magazine: You have jokingly said that you’ve joined a “girl band.” What’s it like touring and performing with Raining Jane?
Jason Mraz: I’ve known them for about eight years, and once or twice a y ear we’d get together and write a few songs and play music together. In 2013 we realized we had written some great music and wanted to share it, so that’s how our collaboration star ted.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Why did you choose YES! as the album title?
Jason Mraz: “Yes” is the mother of all positive words, and it describes the collaboration of Jason and Raining Jane. It’s a victory word!
Extraordinary Health Magazine: You’ve been crisscrossing the globe, including London, Hong Kong, South Africa, Russia and even Antarctica! Do you schedule any “pit stops” at home to recharge and recover?
Jason Mraz: Sometimes we get to come home and reboot after 3-to-4 weeks, but other times we’re out for several months. We barely get enough time to change our suitcases, and I have two suitcases—a “clothes” suitcase and a “kitchen” suitcase containing a juicer, blender, tea kettle, my herbs and supplements.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: What else helps keep you healthy on the road?
Jason Mraz: I look for natural markets and health food stores to stock up on greens, olive oil, nuts and lots of trail mix. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older (or healthier), but nowadays my dressing room’s stocked with fruits, veggies and a juicer instead of beer!
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Do you exercise or do anything to relieve stress?
Jason Mraz: I find yoga classes in our tour cities and go to a class whenever I can. I could do it on my own, but I prefer to go to a class and sweat on someone else’s floor! We also stay active by volunteering for community projects. Our band and crew members pitch in and get involved with schools and other organizations in the cities we visit.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: What kinds of community projects have you been working on?
Jason Mraz: I wanted to plant trees in every city to offset our carbon footprint from the tour, but then we realized we couldn’t plant trees everywhere due to different seasons and environments. We learned that some schools wanted to plant gardens, but had no money for wheelbarrows, shovels or other tools—and my foundation helped pay for those. Another school wanted to build a bird sanctuary, so we helped with that. Mostly, we’re involved with gardening projects because more and more people are curious about their food supply and interested in growing their own food.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: One of the songs we love on the YES! album is “Back to the Earth,” which talks about how people have lost their connection to the land and need to get that connection back. When did you first realize that we need to do a better job taking care of the earth and its resources?
Jason Mraz: When I was growing up, I went surfing a lot. People used to tell me never to go into the ocean immediately after it rains, but I did it a few times until I saw how much pollution there was and how much garbage and residue would be on my clothes after surfing.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Did it change your thinking about the environment?
Jason Mraz: Actually, I started thinking about it more when I became a homeowner. Prior to that, I was performing all over the country and sleeping on couches at friends’ houses, so I never gave much thought to how much we consume, throw away or waste. In 2004, when I bought my farm, it changed everything. I saw what was coming and going to the curb, so I star ted composting and recycling. I paid more attention to what we purchased and consumed, and figured out what we might be able to reuse or recycle.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Were you able to make improvements and changes?
Jason Mraz: Yes, and I got useful tips fr om a “zero waste” family who disposed of a year’s worth of accumulated garbage in one jar. My girlfriend and I are still working on that! The website is www.zerowastehome.com, if you’d like to try it.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: We might need lots of jars, but we’d love to know more about your organic avocado farm. For the last several years, Garden of Life has been supporting Certified USDA Organic family farms, so we know what a difficult process it can be to go this route. How long did it take to get your farm certified organic?
Jason Mraz: There were surrounding farms near m y property, but I took the lead and w as the first one to go organic. It was a three-year process, and we had to do a lot of things in order to get certification. We didn’t use any chemicals for three years, and built drains to avoid runoff from other farms. We re-trained our laborers because they had worked on farms that were not organic, so we had to teach them new ways of doing things. Overall, it was a significant investment of time and money.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Did any of the neighboring farms adopt your practices?
Jason Mraz: Yes; some of them did. When I first bought the farm, we invited everyone over and had a lot of discussions. I wanted to learn things fr om them, but I w as also telling them not t o let their grove workers spray Roundup® on their trees. So, we talked a lot about ho w tree roots absorb pesticides and poison—and, for some, it changed their thinking.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: How do you handle pests without pesticides?
Jason Mraz: It’s definitely bio-warfare. We’re always dealing with a microscopic “bug of the y ear,” a fungus or something. In some cases, w e find another insect or larva to eat the of fending critters. Once, we released hundreds of thousands of w asps to get rid of flies invading the compost pile. After that, the birds ate the wasps. We also learned a lot b y trial and error, such as the time we used a helicopter to spread essential oils on all the crops.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: How did that work?
Jason Mraz: It was good for a lot of things, but it killed all of our corn!
Extraordinary Health Magazine: After farming for more than a decade, you’ve learned a lot more tricks of the trade. Has anyone influenced your farming methods?
Jason Mraz: When I was growing up, my grandfather had a farm and I learned a lot from watching him. He definitely inspired me, and now I’m getting deeper into it by taking urban farming classes online through Arizona State University.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: What are some farming trends you’ve learned?
Jason Mraz: Organic farming has led to a new interest in regenerative farming. People are learning that, by supporting local organic farms, the y’re supporting regenerative farming—a practice proven to sequester carbon from the atmosphere while dramatically improving soil health. Some people are realizing that organic, regenerative farming can put an end to the current climate crisis. When you treat the soil right, you can grow things with less water and the soil captures carbon in the air, which can help reverse climate change because the solution is in the soil.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Is that why you throw bags of compost to fans when you perform “Back to the Earth”?
Jason Mraz: (laughs) When we perform “Back to the Earth,” we want to make it cool for the audience. We show pictures of my farm in the background, throw out some compost and give a shout out to support local farmers and farmers’ markets. We’ve found that people are getting a lot more interested in where their food comes from, so music is a good platform to get them thinking more about it. We want people to realize they have a right to know what’s in their food and to vote for food-labeling laws. We also want to encourage future farmers so that the next generation won’t be fed from factory farms or exposed to chemical fertilizers and GMO seeds.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: As you travel the world, do you see younger generations pursuing farming careers?
Jason Mraz: I’ve noticed a new interest in farming among younger people. That’s good because the average age of today’s farmer is between 60 and 70 years old. The older farmers will retire soon, so we need four-to-six million new farmers to replace them. We need to spread the message that there’s a future in farming.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: It’s exciting that more people are discovering the health benefits of growing and eating organic foods and healing the planet at the same time. What personal satisfaction do you get from regenerative farming and growing your own food?
Jason Mraz: At the end of the day, I know that organic makes all the difference. I look around at the farms in my area, and I see that I get earlier fruit than anyone else. Everything on my farm looks greener, richer—with more wildlife because the animals like our spot. Even the bees are happier!
Extraordinary Health Magazine: We have to assume it’s the lack of chemicals making the bees all abuzz on your farm or maybe that you’re singing to them, but we’ll ask you anyway—how can you tell the bees are happy?
Jason Mraz: They are non-aggressive bees. You can walk around and not worry about them stinging you.
Extraordinary Health Magazine: Jason, you are so positive. How do you maintain such a sunny disposition?
Jason Mraz: Like everyone else, I have my bad moments when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and I’m cranky. But music always brings me back from any melancholy, and I’m reminded that we can choose to let go of mundane things, self-doubt and fear, and choose to be positive. You can tell yourself that, no matter what the circumstances, you are okay and you are strong. You can look into the past, see where your joy lies and nurture that until it becomes your future. This is what I do for myself, to inspire others, and to hopefully leave a trail of positivity wherever I go.