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From Parking Lot to Urban School Farm

July 21, 2014

By Jeremy Tackett

Agriculture Arts Instructor, Mountain Song Community School


The urban farm at Mountain Song Community School (©Kirsten Young)

The urban farm at Mountain Song Community School (©Kirsten Young)

It takes a special kind of community to support a farmer who wants to take an acre-and-a-half, road-base parking lot and nurture it into an urban farm with biodynamics. At Mountain Song Community School, a public charter school that follows Waldorf methods in Colorado Springs, Colorado, such a community exists and is pulling together to raise awareness concerning a priority for all of us our food and how its grown.

Now, when you want to grow things au naturale, you need soil. And if you don’t have it, you grow it — at least that’s what this farmer thinks.

To do that, we started our first year with sixty straw bales, sprayed them with Demeter-certified nutrients from Progress Earth, and grew a small amount of produce directly in those bales. Come December, that used straw was the base for our fifteen-foot-diameter by seven-foot-tall compost windrow. The other main contributor was compost from our all-organic food program, layered with the used bedding and animal manure from our chickens, rabbits, and goats. That pile had the biodynamic preparations inserted into it this May, was turned the end of June, and will be used in September.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

We also ordered our first-year seeds from Turtle Tree Seed and started the preparation plants immediately, thinking that as much as possible should come from our farm. The preparation plants were transplanted into two circles twenty-five feet in diameter, where we slowly but surely, by hand, used a pickaxe and shovel to get down to the clay. We amended those circles with some local, organic, and free compost, and we are slowly developing the circles into our permaculture food forests.

Along with the preparation plants and asparagus, rhubarb, and horseradish, we have a variety of herbs, most of which are grown with the intent of being the herbal first-aid kit for our critters.

We grow calendula to make an udder salve, wormwood to keep the worms at bay, garlic for its antibacterial properties, and raspberry leaf for birthing and lactation, among others.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

For the time being, the food we grow is given to our weekly volunteer families, and a larger amount will find its way to our cooking arts classroom, giving the children a true “farm to table” experience. A goal this year is also to grow a small amount for our animals, which means growing amaranth, other grains, and sprouts for our chickens; keeping weeds in check with our rabbits; and having the children make the stalks from the corn, along with other plants, into silage for our goats.

Starting our second year, we are fortunate to have our valerian flowering, to have been gifted twelve horns from a local natural rancher to make preparations 500 and 501, and to have a community that is curious about biodynamics.

By the end of the year, we should be successful in burying all of our preparations, and all the plant matter (except for the oak bark) will have come from our parking lot, our paradise, our farm.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

Farmer Jeremy Tackett (©Jack Roberts)

Farmer Jeremy Tackett (©Jack Roberts)

On the Road: Alternative Economic Models in Ann Arbor

July 17, 2014

By Rebecca Briggs
Communications Coordinator, Biodynamic Association


Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Biodynamic Association Executive Director Robert Karp recently drove from the BDA’s home city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the Threefold Community in Chestnut Ridge, New York. Along the way he stopped to visit gardens and give talks on “Land, Labor, Capital and the Future of the Food Movement” at the Great Lakes Branch of the Anthroposophical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Till Dynamic Fare in Columbus, Ohio.

In a perfect complement to his presentations, Robert was able to visit two very different models of alternative economic set-ups — the Community Farm of Ann Arbor and Zingerman’s Cornman Farms — each of which, in a very different way, embodies some of Rudolf Steiner’s social-economic ideas.

Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Now in its twenty-sixth year, the Community Farm of Ann Arbor (CFA) was one of the early adopters of community supported agriculture (CSA) and is a strong proponent of biodynamic agriculture. They began down the CSA path in the mid-80s by bringing Trauger Groh (who started one of the first two CSA farms in 1985 at Temple-Wilton Community Farm) to speak, after which they started their own CSA. CFA members are not simply consumers, but rather are true supporters of the farm, sharing in “a vision and a commitment to the health of people and the land” and providing both financial and moral support. Indeed, community support was critical to the farm’s ability to secure land through a long-term lease with the Legacy Land Trust, which holds development rights to the land. Over the years they have hosted many apprentices, provided produce for nearly 200 members, and made a wide variety of improvements to the land to bring about the healthy, vibrant farm organism that exists today.

In 2011, the farm helped launch the non-profit Chrysalis Biodynamic Learning Center “to share agricultural understandings through demonstrations, lectures, and practical applications using Biodynamic farming methods” and to demonstrate “to the community at large the advantages of socially and environmentally responsible agriculture and providing a living model of a community-supported enterprise.”

community farm of ann arbor sign

Robert joins in the compost work

Robert joins in the compost work

community farm of ann arbor - work in fields

community farm of ann arbor - gropu shot

community farm of ann arbor - field rows

Biodynamics and a healthy farm

Biodynamics and a healthy farm

Zingerman’s Cornman Farms

Zingerman’s began in 1982 as a delicatessen in Ann Arbor. Over the years it has become a nationally known specialty food store famous for sourcing from local sustainable farms, published a number of books on food and business, and established a unique business model known as the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCOB). As they describe it:

In essence, and with due modesty, Zingerman’s has become an Ann Arbor institution. In building on that success, the standard model would dictate opening dozens, or even hundreds, of additional Delis all over the country. Instead we decided to pursue a more unusual plan, one which we felt would allow us to build on what we’d successfully started while establishing positive growth opportunities for people within our organization. We chose to create what we call the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses—a collection of Zingerman’s businesses, each with its own food specialty, all located in the Ann Arbor area, each working to help make the shopping and eating in every aspect of Zingerman’s more flavorful and more enjoyable than ever. In each business we’ve sought out a managing partner or partners so that there will be someone to bring the day to day passion and persistence that it takes to be really good at anything into play on a day to day basis. Paul and I are there to provide guidance, support, leadership and whatever else we need to do, which includes everything from writing this essay to lots of tasting, tracking down great food, contributing to the community, providing plenty of training classes, leadership work at all levels all the way through clearing tables and emptying the trash.

Through the ZCOB, independent businesses market under one label, meet once a week for partners’ meetings, share their books openly, and often integrate their products and services (e.g. goat milk produced at a ZCOB farm going to the ZCOB creamery and then on to ZCOB restaurants).

The newest Zingerman’s venture is Cornman Farm, which opened this May. This farm will integrate vegetables, goats, and cows and will follow all organic principles. Restored historic buildings on the farm serve as an event center, which can be rented out for weddings and other on-farm events.

Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzweig and Cornman Farms farmer Alex talk with a reporter in the greenhouse

Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig and Cornman Farms farmer Alex talk with a reporter in the greenhouse

Goats at Cornman Farms

Goats at Cornman Farms

Huge kitchen space in the event center

Huge kitchen space in the event center

 

CSA as Involvement in the “Whole Farm”: A Letter to CSA Members

June 23, 2014

By Jeff Schreiber

Originally printed in the June 19, 2014 Three Sisters Community Farm newsletter.


Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer of Three Sisters Community Farm

Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer of Three Sisters Community Farm

On our website you’ll notice a running tally of where we stand in meeting this year’s budget. To see the details of this budget – what we spend your money on, how much we pay ourselves – check out the February 2014 newsletter.

This transparency is important to us, and is in line with the kind of CSA Kelly and I try to steward. To us, CSA is not just another way to sell vegetables, but rather an exciting and radical attempt at creating an alternative food economy that works for farmers, consumers, and the land.

When you contributed toward this year’s budget, you did so not to buy vegetables. Nor does your contribution pay for our labor. Instead, your contribution supports and connects you to the farm as a whole. As intermediaries between you and the farm, we use your contributions and our skills to steward the whole farm and bring to you, as a gift, the farm’s bounty.

Why involve you in the “whole farm?” Why not just let you buy individual items – like a bunch of carrots – from us, as you would at a grocery store or farmers’ market? The reason is that a bunch of carrots – or beets, peas or carton of eggs – cannot really be disentangled from a farm that is healthy and whole any more than an organ or limb can be disentangled from your body. Everything on the farm is connected by complicated and ever-changing relationships: the carrots to the soil, to the compost that we put on the soil, to the materials we use to make the compost, to the animals that contribute to those materials, to the feed those animals eat, to our labor…and on and on. The farm, with all these complex relationships, is really more of a verb than noun – a living process that emerges from the interaction of all the parts (of which you are one!).

Your contribution gives you a stake in this whole, and together we build an economy out of it. Since we all have a stake in the stewardship of this common resource of the whole farm, it makes little sense that we would abuse it or push it beyond its capacity. Viewing the farm whole, together, is environmental activism. It is also social activism, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.

While we’re always striving to be more economical in all we do, the whole farm does have a limit, a point beyond which it cannot be pushed without breaking down into a loosely strung-together, unsustainable collection of parts. We, your farmers, determine this limit and set the yearly budget accordingly.

IMG_1610 (1280x960)You’ll notice, however, that we have not yet met our budget. And we have filled all available CSA spots; we’ve reached the limit of what we think the whole farm can handle. Our budget shows how we hope to make up the difference: after each week’s CSA harvest we sell, if available, the “buffer” harvest – the extra we plant to account for loss – at the farmers’ market or other outlet. We enter “the market.”

We’d prefer not do this, to be honest. We’d rather serve only those with a stake in the whole and give them the option of taking what they need from the farm’s full bounty. The market is cutthroat, risky, and does not recognize the whole farm. If it rains and no one shows at the farmers’ market, the produce we’ve harvested is wasted (well, it usually becomes chicken food!). If (as happened this week) a restaurant changes its order at the last minute, we haven’t “just” lost 10 lbs. of lettuce mix; the whole farm is affected. To compete in the marketplace, we’d need to focus less on the whole and more on our era’s twin values of successful business: profit and efficiency.

But profit and efficiency have not shown themselves to produce food that really nourishes people. Nor does a striving for these things seem to bring about healthy environments or communities. Given these facts, it would seem sensible to explore alternatives like the kind of CSA you’re a part of. Trying to make this alternative work is an exciting, messy experiment that we’ll keep working on, together. We’re glad you’ve decided to join the ride this season!


Farmers Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer met while working at Wellspring, a Milwaukee-area farm-based educational organization. In 2011 they started Three Sisters Community Farm on Kelly’s family’s land in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, a community-oriented farm serving the greater Milwaukee area. Through their community supported agriculture (CSA) program, farmers’ markets, and other direct-to-consumer sales, they meet the needs of those who seek quality, organically-grown food, and a connection with the source of this food, while also treading lightly on the earth and providing for themselves a quality and balanced lifestyle.

Transformation Inside and Out

June 2, 2014

Studying Biodynamics at Evergreen State College – Part 2

By Karen Davis-Brown

Part 1, “An Agricultural Odyssey into the Future,” described the year-long course offered at Evergreen State College on biodynamics and the students’ ten-day journey to EcoFarm and a whole host of alternative agriculture destinations on the West Coast.


“So gladly, from the songs of modern speech
[We]* turn, and see the stars, and feel the free
Shrill wind beyond the close of heavy flowers,
And through the music of the languid hours,
[We]* hear like ocean on a western beach
The surge and thunder of the Odyssey.”

— Andrew Lang

(©Dianna )

(©Dianna Schilling)

Every odyssey involves transformation for its participants, in the way they perceive the world and other people, and in the new experiences and relationships that are part of their journey. The Evergreen State College students who journeyed to the EcoFarm Conference on the central California coast in January were no exception. And, as many of them were in the last semester of their senior year, the conference also provided a new doorway into how to think about and approach the future.

Though the lenses through which they viewed their shared experiences were unique, their essays and journal entries reflected a common creativity, enthusiasm, and awe that in themselves are awe-inspiring and give one great hope for the future of biodynamics on this continent. There were also common themes regarding what they sought, and accomplished, on this weeklong trek they made with each other, farmers, viviculturalists, food-related activists, and several other students.

Harald Hoven at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

Learning from Harald Hoven at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

The Places and the People

So many people, so many places, in such a short time! It is no wonder that student notes and reflections are in themselves a collage of thoughts, feelings, and intentions. As Rukha Fuerst (who had visited many of the farms previously, on her own personal journey) so aptly put it:

The image of the vortex or the spiral has been particularly potent for me. I felt like I was reaching the center of a spiral during the field trip. Over 10 days I revisited the majority of the people, places, emotional states, and body experiences in totally new ways. I saw lessons that had come to me about patience, compassionate communication, presence, and consideration, resurface.

While the journey south may have been a whirlwind of experiences, the time at EcoFarm seemed to be a focused center of centrifugal and centripetal forces. At this organic conference with a strong biodynamic component, the Evergreen students were able to get a concentrated dose of diverse biodynamic concepts and applications in the pre-conference event “The Farm as a Living Organism,” as well as to see the wide world of organic agriculture in its many manifestations in the larger conference. Their capacity to be simultaneously inspired and to reflect critically on what they heard and experienced stood them in good stead as they moved from workshop to keynote to World Café and less formal conversations, and to the beautiful ceremonies in which they took part.

Stirring the preparations during "The Farm as a Living Organism" pre-conference event (©Joelle )

Stirring the preparations during “The Farm as a Living Organism” pre-conference event (©Joelle Friend)

Visits to the many farms, gardens, and projects up and down the coast complemented the conference with intense and fast-moving “snapshots” of current efforts and future possibilities. Educational, social, environmental, and artistic initiatives blended at most stops in ways that both enthralled and challenged the travelers. These experiences ranged from the social commitment of John Jeavons and the Golden Rule Community to the diversified family “compound” of Frey Vineyards; and from the pioneering efforts of Camphill California and the Allen Chadwick Garden at the University of California at Santa Cruz (spiritual birthplace of many a biodynamic practitioner!) to the courses and trainings offered by Rudolf Steiner College in the Sacramento Valley. From small family farms to the meaningful Sufi ceremony shared with them by Wali Via at Wintergreen Farm, their trip home through Oregon came to a weary but satisfying end.

John Jeavons (©Joelle Friend)

John Jeavons (©Joelle Friend)

Sheep at the Sacramento Waldorf School (©

Sheep at the Sacramento Waldorf School (©Ian Dix)

Poking holes in the compost pile at Camphill California to insert the biodynamic preparations (©Ian Dix)

Poking holes in the compost pile at Camphill California to insert the biodynamic preparations (©Ian Dix)

The Basics

Despite the diversity of people and places that the class visited while sojourning up and down the coast from Washington to Central California, they were presented with an impressive consistency and agreement regarding the basic principles of biodynamic agriculture. This was the case (no surprise, really) even where the operation was not explicitly biodynamic, confirming the observation that most of what Steiner gave us as indications we now know to be sustainable farming practice.

The primary biodynamic principle that was reiterated at almost every stop was the same one that Steiner used as the foundation for the Agriculture lectures – the importance of relating to any agricultural entity as an individual and whole organism. The connection was then consistently made, both at farms and at the conference, between this basic principal and others – the importance of diversity and rhythm, building soil and compost, applying biodynamic preparations, having animals, minimal inputs from outside the farm, the relationship between Earth and Heaven, and the lemniscates of the farmer’s inner and outer work.

Rudolf Steiner often said that we should not take anything he said at face value, but to observe, examine, and be open to others and to the spiritual world in our Search. The students who shared this odyssey not only gathered information, they generated eternally living questions and participated in endlessly nourishing conversations that will stimulate and guide them for a lifetime. Ruekha followed up her comparison of the journey as a vortex with this observation:

I see the vortex shape in the cosmos, clouds, trees, animals, algae, people, skin, and DNA. Do our movements in the world follow the archetype of this shape? What about emotions? – Do emotions form the shape of a vortex? What about thoughts? Is consciousness itself a spiral? And what happens when we reach the center?

Good question.

Flowform at Raphael Garden (© Ian Dix)

Flowform at Raphael Garden (© Ian Dix)

Visiting with Dennis Klocek at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

Visiting with Dennis Klocek at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

The Future

Future plans for this amazing group of students range from the eminently practical to the ideal, from deeply internal work to external expressions of lifelong commitment to the Greater Good:

“I was able to make contacts with perspective employers and make real my ambition of compeleting a biodynamic apprenticeship upon my graduation.” — Dianne Dotzler

“… “Biodynamic Principles and the Inner Path of the Farmer”…was a very interesting workshop to me because I’d just been studying the inner transformations of alchemy and then realized that everything that was being discussed about the inner path of the farmer was directly related to alchemy…. This workshop helped reinforce my understanding of biodynamics in relation to alchemy and the importance of working internally as well as externally.” — Ian Dix

“This was my first encounter with a flowform; it is exciting to finally see one. I plan to do more research on them because I am fascinated with the vortex and spiraling concept of biodynamics, and ‘enlivening the water.'” — Joelle Friend

“I find Henning to be an extremely charismatic and passionate individual. If I could figure out a way to obtain seed money, I would challenge myself to do exactly what Henning has already accomplished. A self-sustaining farm, living within his own means, and doing it biodynamically to boot!! He shared a few words with us — one of them, Oekonomia, meaning the stewardship of the farm and household based on natural principals. Those principles are in place to build natural and social capital. On the other hand, he shared the word Chrematistica, meaning the depletion of natural and social capital to build financial capital. These two words, one with the outcome of sustainability and the other of money really made me step back and think. If I am to pursue farming, who am I doing it for? Why am I farming to begin with? What do I want the outcome to be? These questions will be taken into sleep. ” — Caitlin Spencer

“The trip was something I will cherish forever and I can’t wait to find a home for myself somewhere sunny, with beaches and cute conventions that create community and serve really good, burning hot food. Oh, and surround myself with people who love dirt.” — Ruekha Fuerst

“…in your mind you are a warrior. Work out of the power of your mind, heart, soul, and body and use the talents you possess to mimic and adjust slightly to the Omnipresent, looming influence of nature.” — Dianna Schilling

Thank you, Sarah Williams and Evergreen State College, for making this course and this journey possible. You have changed lives in an exponential way! As more and more corporations and communities understand and accept the contribution that biodynamics can make to agriculture and society, parallel educational initiatives need to be developed across the continent. With the North American Biodynamic Apprentice Program (NABDAP) and other shared efforts, we can rest assured that they will blossom and grow!

* Lang said “Men” and “They,” so this is a bit of author’s license. — KDB

On the History of Controlled Heat Composting

May 30, 2014

Creating Humus on the Farm: The Controlled Heat Method of Composting

By Roland Ulrich

Excerpted from a newly published English translation of Roland Ulrich’s Creating Humus on the Farm: The Controlled Heat Method of Composting (Outskirts Press 2014). The book is available through Amazon, Mercury Press, and, for quantity discount for booksellers and retailers, Outskirts Press.


creating humus - coverBecause this method is not so well known today, it can be helpful to learn how it came into being. Controlled heat composting is much older than one might think; one can trace its origins to the twelfth century. The Templars and Cistercians were ahead of their time, especially in their management of large farms and in their feeling of responsibility for the future of the earth and mankind. They knew about this method and they used it successfully. Ancient documents found in Spain and southern France testify to this.

Jean Pain was a modern pioneer of the organic movement in France; his use of this method influenced the development of permaculture. He wrote a book called Another Kind of Garden in 1979 (www.burlingtonpermaculture.weebly.com). As time went on, other people carried the development of this method, thus helping to preserve this knowledge.

Another of these outstanding personalities was Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961), an important pioneer of biodynamic agriculture. He helped to birth biodynamics in the USA. With his knowledge of the controlled heat method, he successfully converted tons of city waste from Oakland, California into compost on a large scale and in a very short time with the aid of his biodynamic compost starter (a concentration of many types of soil bacteria), thus doing his part to adapt and preserve the method for us and future generations. As a microbiologist, scientist, practical farmer, and international advisor for soil fertility and compost economy, he made a fairly elaborate method understandable (The Compost Manufacturers Manual: the Practice of Large Scale Composting, Pfeiffer Foundation, 1956).

In addition to his other accomplishments, Dr. Pfeiffer developed a specific method of qualitative analysis, chromatography, to produce a picture or chromatogram, resulting in a picture of a substance or organism. The technique is used to research areas of agriculture such as nutrition, soils, and composts (Chromatography Applied to Quality Testing: The Art and Science of Composting, Dr. E. E. Pfeiffer, Biodynamic Literature, 44 pgs, 1956).

…The author of this publication has studied the principles of the controlled heat composting method many years. He has practiced and succeeded in modifying it for large-scale barnyard use. It has proven its value over many years of practical application. Although he makes no claim to the superiority of this method with respect to other composting methods, the product speaks for itself in the resulting quality and quantity of foodstuff produced; it is a fast and efficient method, thus serving as a great aid to good farm management.


Roland Ulrich, German born and bred, was educated as a gardener, forester, environmental engineer, and biodynamic farmer. His professional experience has been gained on three continents: Europe, Africa, and the United States. Since 1982 when he began to learn biodynamic agricultural practices, he has followed in the footsteps of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who, alongside Rudolf Steiner, has been his spiritual and practical guide.

Creating Humus on the Farm: the Controlled Heat Method of Composting is a thorough and technical resource for individuals, particularly farmers, interested in how our suffering soils can be replenished and invigorated step by step in an efficient and effective manner.

Graindrops Launches in the U.S. Marketplace

May 22, 2014

By Rebecca Briggs
Communications Coordinator, Biodynamic Association


product_bottlesAs we reported on our blog back in 2010, an innovative company called Graindrops was seeking to get started in the U.S. marketplace. This month, Graindrops finally launched nationally through Whole Foods Market.

Graindrops produces a unique probiotic beverage that is both gluten- and dairy-free. It is made using a traditional Japanese fermentation process called Koji, the same process used to create soy sauce and miso. The rice Graindrops uses to make the Koji is 100% certified Biodynamic®. The company’s goal is to steadily increase its use of certified Biodynamic ingredients as the supply becomes available in the U.S. They have also committed to donating a portion of all their profits to support the work of the Biodynamic Association.

There’s a lot of exciting momentum in the Biodynamic marketplace right now, with Graindrops just one of a host of new and existing companies committed to Biodynamic agriculture. Our spring issue of Biodynamics, for example, shares the stories of several of these companies. (The issue is available to BDA members online and is arriving in mailboxes this month.) Demeter USA, the Biodynamic certification organization in the U.S., has been working actively to help grow the Biodynamic marketplace. They’ve connected with many interested national retailers and organic food companies and are now seeking farmers to grow certified Biodynamic foods. You can find out more about Demeter’s initiatives during several workshops this November at our 2014 Biodynamic Conference, “Farming for Health,” in Louisville, Kentucky, as well on their website and in their Spring Gazetteer.

And if you are a farmer growing certified Biodynamic® grains, Graindrops would love to hear from you!

Building Vibrant Land and Food Connections on Manitoulin Island, Ontario

May 19, 2014

By Heather Thoma, LoonSong Garden

Originally published in the Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario‘s May 2014 e-newsletter


Paul and I have lived on Manitoulin Island near the northern part of Lake Huron for just over 10 years, and have been cultivating connections through food, farming, gardening, and community education the whole time. We started LoonSong Garden the first spring we arrived, and we started our vegetable seedlings with Turtle Tree seeds before we even knew where we would plant them! We picked up our biodynamic preparations from Uli Hack that first spring as well, also before we knew exactly where they would go on the fields; we just knew we would be using them. We have farmed/gardened on two different farms: the first in Sheguiandah near the shores of Pike Lake, and the other where we have been for the last several years, in Little Current not far from the North Channel of Lake Huron, at the base of the Niagara Escarpment. This is where we live now as well, and which many people think of as the home of LoonSong.

Stirring biodynamic preparation 500 at the farm

Stirring biodynamic preparation 500 at the farm

While grains are a large-scale, full-time endeavor for Paul, gardening is something that can be more easily decentralized, and so I have scaled back the garden over the last couple of years. Rather than focusing on commercial growing and selling, I have instead focused my energies on education — supporting and inspiring others to grow their own gardens rather than depending on others to garden for them. Throughout the running of our CSA, attending markets, growing and milling grains, and using the biodynamic preparations and the planting calendar, education has been a key element of our work.

In the first few years after arriving, we helped to found the Manitoulin Community Food Network “to promote and support the awareness, production, and consumption of healthy locally grown foods.” For many years this was a vibrant and diverse group, tackling issues and offering educational workshops, and meeting regularly for discussions and initiatives among farmers, health care professionals, teachers, parents, business owners, and members of the public. An annual Harvest Bounty Dinner was the Network’s main event for several years, gathering up to 400 people for a local food meal along with entertainment or speakers, all organized by volunteer efforts. The Network helped to build great linkages between small-scale farmer and between farmers and eaters, weaving strong community connections.

I have worked with all of the of the seven First Nations communities on the Island (Wikwemikong, Whitefish River, Sheguiandah, Aundeck Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng, Sheshegwaning, Zhiibaahaasing) over the years, helping to coordinate island-wide spring and fall Cross Cultural Local Foods festivals, which integrated learning about traditional gathering and cooking of wild foods with First Nations elders and learning and harvesting from local farms. I offer planting workshops with several of the First Nations communities each spring, to help build on existing gardening skills, support community garden development, and more recently to help the communities who are encouraging backyard raised-bed gardens for both young families and elders. When speaking about the Stella Natura calendar and biodynamic approaches with First Nations folks, they often remark that these are the ways that their aunties and grandparents worked in their gardens.

Making soil blocks during farm visit with kids from Wikwemikong

Making soil blocks during farm visit with kids from Wikwemikong

I am currently coordinating the Manitoulin Child Poverty Nutrition Task Force, which has been an inspiring collaboration between First Nations and non-First Nations partners for over four years now. We created a community Food Security Directory, which lists food and nutrition resources across Manitoulin — farms, school breakfast programs, farmers markets, food banks, health center nutrition services, etc. (available at www.childpovertytaskforce.com).

School garden started at Central Manitoulin Public School in partnership with local food bank

School garden started at Central Manitoulin Public School in partnership with local food bank

I have initiated a Good Food Box (GFB) pilot project in the last year with local grocers, and began a fruit tree gleaning initiative to gather fruit for the GFB. The Task Force will begin working with local farmers to support them in contributing to the Box this summer, and a “Grow a Row” project is starting up for residents across Manitoulin to contribute backyard veggies to the GFB. Screenings of an inspiring film about a comprehensive school and community gardening initiative in northern Manitoba called “And This is My Garden” have ignited lots of community excitement about engaging families in gardening; this is a film you may want to see if you are interested in this sort of community work.

This month marks the seventh season I will participate as classroom farmer support for the Kids Can Grow program. In this program, teachers in six schools and community groups across the island work with kids and volunteer farmer supporters, to plant and care for 10-15 different types of vegetable and flower seedlings in classrooms or community centers, from Easter until mid-June. They then sell the seedlings at farmers markets and community events as a fundraiser, or plant them in their school gardens, which they then care for over the summer. This program is a great mix of returning students who get hooked on growing plants and keep coming back to participate each year, and new students who come into the program learning from scratch. It is especially inspiring to see the students teaching each other as they go, and to hear how they then go home and teach their parents as well!

Kids Can Grow students marketing their classroom-grown seedlings in Espanola

Kids Can Grow students marketing their classroom-grown seedlings in Espanola

To be able to do more in-depth facilitating of Goethean approaches with smaller groups, I have been teaching workshops through another organization, 4elements Living Arts, where a colleague and I have been working with local artists to initiate projects, events, education, and research that link the arts, landscape, and community. With outreach through this interdisciplinary organization, I have the opportunity to offer workshops that cultivate holistic observational skills regarding the farm landscape and integrate art and science in hands-on, creative projects.

Participant drawings from Goethean plant study workshop in Tehkummah - thistle gestures

Participant drawings from Goethean plant study workshop in Tehkummah – thistle gestures

We have grown in many directions here over the last decade, and are excited to see what new developments and deepening of knowledge will come in the next 10 years, here on Manitoulin or in our work in other parts of Ontario. Please be in touch if you would like to know more about any of these initiatives!

 

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