“Here for the Biodynamics”: Spring Dandelion and Preparation Day at Zinniker Farm
As spring warms the soil and the grass gets greener, the golden splashes that appear across pastures and lawns tell us it’s time to begin the yearly cycle of making the biodynamic preparations. Each spring at the Zinniker Farm, the oldest biodynamic farm in the United States, community members come together to pick dandelions, dig up the biodynamic preparations that were buried in the fall, and share a meal. The event is also a field day for the Upper Midwest CRAFT, and every year more young and beginning farmers join in the activities.
This year, the scheduled date of May 11 was just about right — the dandelions had just begun to bloom. For the biodynamic dandelion preparation, the ideal stage of development for the flowers is the “button” or “bulls-eye” stage, where the flower has opened, but some of the petals (which, botanically speaking, are actually florets) are still held tightly together in the center.
Despite this good seasonal timing, when we arrived at the Zinniker Farm at 9am on Saturday morning, the sky was thick with clouds and the sun-sensitive dandelions were all tightly closed. Since it’s hard to see how developed the flowers are if they are not open, the conditions were not ideal for picking. So instead of picking first, as is the custom, we began by digging the preparations, in hopes that the sun would come out as we dug.
First was the chamomile preparation, buried in a small, long-established pit at the edge of a field where snow tends to drift. For the preparation, the chamomile blossoms are stuffed into cow intestines, so they resemble sausages — and after 7 months underground, the shape is still recognizable.
Next was the dandelion preparation, buried several yards to the east of the chamomile at the edge of a pine grove. The dandelions are wrapped in pieces of a cow’s mesentery, a large membrane that surrounds the internal organs, making fist-sized pillows tied with string.
The yarrow preparation was also buried along the edge of the pine grove, a little ways further east. Last June, a small group of us helped to stuff the yarrow blossoms into stag bladders, sewing them closed when no more flowers would fit. Then we made a string carrier for each bladder, hung them inside a wire mesh cage (to protect from birds), and Petra put the cage on the south side of one of the barns. The bladders were then buried at the same time as the other preparations, in late September.
We began the day with only a handful of people, but as we moved to each new hole, a few more joined us. By the time we got to the fourth stop, around 20 people were ready to help uncover the horn manure. The horns are buried in Ruth Zinniker’s garden, next to the Biodynamic Association‘s office (first photo).
The final preparation we collected was the oak bark, which is stuffed into cow skulls and buried in a stream in the woods across the road from the farmstead. After removing the skulls from the stream, participants took turns splitting them open so that the oak bark could be gathered from inside the cavity.
Returning to the main farmstead, the sky had still not cleared, but we decided to go ahead with picking anyway, doing the best we could. Picking was a little slow-going at first, as it was hard to even see where the dandelions were among the grass when they were all closed. But soon enough the sun did peek through, and almost instantly the dandelions opened wide.
By noon we had traversed a large pasture, filled our buckets, and were ready to return to the house for a potluck lunch. As we ate, Petra Zinniker remarked that the crowd was not as big as in days gone by, when many families would arrive for the feast, lured especially by Ruth Zinniker’s famous fresh-baked rolls. But, she said, back then it was only a few people who came for the preparations, and everyone else just saw it as a party with good food. These days, the group is smaller, but “they’re here for the biodynamics,” Petra said. “And that’s a good thing, moving into the future.”
Thea Maria Carlson is the Education Program Coordinator for the Biodynamic Association. She is a farmer, organizer, educator, and artist with roots in California and the Midwest, where she currently lives.