Sharing in the “Great Celebration of All Creation” at the Fellowship of Preparation Makers Conference
By Coree Entwistle
With photos by Sarah Weber
When we crossed the Canadian border into Sarnia, the sky was light, and there were sparkles of snow in the air. The effect was tropical, to my southern eyes. We don’t get partly cloudy snow down in our part of the world. I was enchanted. My Canadian husband was less impressed and directed us to a store to pick up some anti-freeze windshield wiper fluid. It was a cold weekend, and we were poorly prepared, but the snow that day, and into the night, was magical.
I knew when we walked in the door, nearly at the end of Friday’s opening day session of the annual Fellowship of the Preparation Makers Conference (March 2-5, 2017), that we were in a good place. The conference was held in a historic community meeting hall. It was a singular spacious room, with a small kitchen curtained off in the back and chairs circled up in concentric rings. In the middle sat Hugh Courtney, pendulum in hand, holding onto a sizeable apple young apple tree in a pot. I have always considered Hugh a true “mensch”— a worthy and reliable member of humanity. I appreciate how he answers questions without assuming overarching authority — he is simply sharing what he has learned. He has influenced many of the people who have influenced me, and has shown a steadfastness in his dedication to the work of his life that is uncommon in our day and age. It was a pleasure to see him in this context— in a room of listeners, really absorbing the information he has to share — his life’s work, laid out for any who care to try.
Hugh’s presence is an important piece of the Fellowship of the Preparation Makers’ work. Their stated mission — to insure that there are sufficient biodynamic preparations available across the continent to meet the needs of all who want to use them — emerged from the recognition of Hugh Courtney’s work at the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics, which largely fulfilled that demand for many years. The Fellowship continues to be a collection of deeply dedicated biodynamic practitioners, intent on exploring their craft in its blood and bones, as well as its heart and soul.
After a satisfying dinner and some mingling in the warmth of strangers who were surely about to become friends, we lined up the chairs again and set out to listen to Reverend Jonah Evans, of Toronto. I’ve never heard a sermon like that before, and I would travel to hear it again. Jonah is an engaging speaker, and he challenged all of us in the room to engage our own inner world in terms of the work we do on our farms. He asked us to explore the resonant parallels between the activity of preparation making and the activity of the human soul. Consider the qualities the fresh manure gains from spending the winter underground in a horn, in deep darkness. What do we gain from passing through periods of darkness, uncertainty, hardship, ourselves? Certainly, under the right circumstances, the passage through darkness increases the creative capacity of soul, and soil. On both counts, it is a journey whose worth becomes apparent upon returning to the light. (I could spend this whole article ruminating on Rev. Jonah’s message that night. Please just take the opportunity to hear him whenever it presents itself.) Laying my travel-weary head down that night, I thought Hugh Courtney and Brother Jonah set our foots on the path for the weekend to come.
Saturday morning, snow-covered and bone chillingly cold, we met the day together in song. It was reassuring for a newcomer to the Preparation Makers Fellowship (like me) to feel that we were maintaining the strong soul-connection that was set up the night before. The rest of the morning was spent hearing perspectives from biodynamic farmers in different places. Chris Boettcher gave a carefully prepared talk about the feedback loops of farming fertility, from animal, to plant, to cosmos, and ultimately, in human farming activity. Jeff Poppen followed with a comical account of his personal and professional transformation through biodynamics. The juxtaposition of those two interesting speakers gave us plenty to think and chat about over lunch.
After lunch, we were called to open up to our own perspectives and our capacity for perception. Pat Frazier led us on a choose-your-own perceptive/creative journey which prepared us for the “meat” of the weekend: horn manure evaluation at the Hack Farm.
The cold crisp day didn’t stop most of us from jumping on a hay wagon for the short ride to the farm. We unearthed some horns and passed them around. Some of the horns were new, and others had been used before. Hugh Courtney spoke of the differences he had perceived in working with old and new horns in the past. It was an interesting exploration, but I have to admit that I was distracted by the flat expansive fields (the kind you don’t see much in middle Tennessee) and the black earth (another rarity in our parts) that Uli says goes about a foot and a half deep. As part of the afternoon tour, we entered one of the Hack Farm outbuildings, where Wali Via prepared us to encounter horn manure in a different way. On a long table, there were twelve samples of horn manure. Each was on a plate with a number on it. There were no other indications about each one. We were each given a pencil and paper and asked to circle the table and quietly mingle our senses with the samples, scoring our first impressions, and second impressions, and any other impressions as well. Some of us pulled out pendulums. Others squeezed the samples, and smelled them. I was amazed at how different twelve samples of manure packed into cow horns and buried in the ground could be. One was black, another reddish brown. Many were sandy and nearly dry. A few were moist, and one nearly spongy wet. Wali pointed out to us later that this exercise boiled down to experiencing twelve years of biodynamic work all at once, as so many of us only get to handle our own horn manure, year after year. It was a powerful exercise, and most of the remainder of our time together was spent discussing our impressions.
The crowd around the coffee and tea station was thick when we returned to the meeting hall. As we warmed up, so did the discussion. With Wali guiding us, we shared our impressions and in turned learned the “biographies” of the preparations we met at the Hack Farm. It became clear in short order, that the exploration of our experiences and what they mean coupled with the stories of the preparations themselves could have gone on all night. Thankfully, our mindful hosts turned our attention to other information, and prepared us for some fun.
Following another beautiful meal, we took a stroll through the garden inside, led by Gabi Boettcher as she played Beethoven Sonata No. 8 Op. 13 (Pathetique) for us. Eric Boettcher followed with a trumpet piece. We were then visited by a theatrical presentation of a rhyming little troll, who danced on a table and played a ukelele for our pleasure. This display of a local farming family’s artistic abilities would have been a superb ending to the day, but they weren’t done with us yet. Our chairs were stacked in the corners of the room and we partnered up for a rollicking round of social dancing (which is fun whether you can dance or not). When we were sufficiently warm from the dance, a line of chairs returned to the center of the room, an accordion was pulled from the closet, and the group played the most competitive game of musical chairs I have ever witnessed. Emerging flush-faced into the dark, cold night, I was reminded that winters are long in Canada, and by necessity, these folks have mastered a number of ways to strengthen their community and enjoy themselves in the off-season. What a treat!
Sunday morning, our curiosity was piqued, and we were ready to continue our discussion of the horn manure samples. It was interesting to note that, though our impressions of the samples differed greatly, there were some parallels that emerged. Many of the same people had a negative impression of several preparations, while many others would have a positive impression about the same group of preps. Personally, I was not able to rate any of the samples poorly, but I was more attracted to certain samples than others. Hearing different people from the group voicing their experience with each sample was a great lesson in differences, understanding, and the potential power of this kind of perceptive study in a group setting. We came away with a lot of information, and maybe as many questions as answers. In other words, a great success.
Circling the chairs one more time, we set about to close the weekend with a final sharing circle and ceremony. Pat opened the sharing circle and asked us to bring forth our questions as well as our impressions. The pouring forth that followed was lovely, and served to open our hearts for the closing ceremony, led by Wali.
I want to tell you about the closing ceremony, but I’m not going to. It’s too good to share in print. If you want to know, the best way is to show up and become a part of it. This is what I will say — it was a privilege to pour out intentions and dreams into the shared vessel of this event. It was a privilege to share in the great celebration of all creation that is at the heart of biodynamics, and at the heart of the Fellowship of the Preparation Makers.
View more photos in the slideshow below.
By Richard Chomko
Village Market Manager, Thornhill, ON
Originally published in the Village Market and Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario newsletters
In December of last year, the Grade Seven class at the Toronto Waldorf School was raising funds for their Grade Eight trip by selling cookie mixes at the Village Market. There was some debate among the parents as to whether to continue to use organic ingredients in these mixes, due to cost. One of the parents in the class asked me write something about why I thought it was important to use organic ingredients. This is what I wrote (with some subsequent editing, specifically for publication in the Ontario Biodynamic newsletter):
People often find their way to organic food because of personal health challenges. That was the case for me. As a child, I grew up on a conventional farm eating a lot of sprayed raspberries and strawberries straight out of the field. Already as a teenager I was having serious health issues such as a lot of allergies. Like many people, I didn’t get satisfaction from conventional medicine, and started looking at how I could improve my diet.
When I was 23, I studied for a year at Emerson College in England, which was attached to a biodynamic farm. In fact, the college was also home to one of the few English-language biodynamic training programs in existence at the time. Much of the food the students ate was grown on the farm. The food at Emerson College was the best I’d ever eaten. I have fond memories of going out behind the kitchen to ladle fresh cream out of the milk pails to eat with my muesli and granola in the mornings.
That experience — and hanging out with the biodynamic course students — inspired me to get involved in biodynamics here in Ontario when I returned. I helped Michael Schuster publish the newsletter for the biodynamic group here in Ontario, helped organize conferences on biodynamics with people like Trauger Groh, and eventually became one of the founding directors of the Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario. I also studied agriculture at Kemptville College near Ottawa (which has since been closed), and wrote articles on the local agricultural scene for Farm and Country newspaper as their Eastern Ontario correspondent. Years later, when I came to Toronto Waldorf School where my wife taught and our kids went to school, I joined the management committee of the then-recently-founded Village Market and later became manager of the Market.
Nowadays I eat pretty much all organic and biodynamic. And I often notice negative health effects when I eat other kinds of food. Also, within the last few months I’ve come to appreciate the importance of better quality soaps. I tried using soap made by Birgitta Adrian-Morley at the Village Market for a month or so. Then when I ran out, I went back to Jergens. And that’s when I noticed how “chemical” that soap then seemed to me. I think it’s like that with food too. If we’re used to eating conventional food, we don’t necessarily notice it right away when we eat something better. But if we’ve been eating better food for a while and then go back to what we used to eat, that’s when we can experience its lesser quality for the first time.
While even organic foods are not going to be totally free of environmental toxins, an experiment by one family in Sweden shows what a difference two weeks of eating organic food can make in pesticide levels in the body. The study measured pesticide levels in their urine before and after they went on a 100% organic diet for two weeks. There was a dramatic decrease.
Monsanto’s Roundup, the main ingredient of which is glyphosate, is one of the most widely used pesticides currently. As well as being used to control weeds, it’s also sprayed on crops before harvest, to dry them out, for easier harvesting. This means that people who eat that food, get more glyphosate. Sadly, Roundup is become widely dispersed throughout the environment.
In my view, organic farming is a more limited version of biodynamic farming. It’s a version that has been adapted for people who are not ready to consider the spiritual dimension of life. So organic is to biodynamic as wholistic education is to Waldorf.
One of the key people who developed biodynamic farming, out of the indications of Rudolf Steiner was Ehrenfried Pfeiffer. In a special 1958 issue of The Golden Blade, Dr. Pfeiffer recounts a pivotal discussion he had with Steiner on why healthy food is important. Here’s the relevant quote. Pfeiffer himself is speaking, at the start:
“How can it happen that the spiritual impulse, and especially the inner schooling, for which you are constantly providing stimulus and guidance bear so little fruit? Why do the people concerned give so little evidence of spiritual experience, in spite of all their efforts? Why, worst of all, is the will for action, for the carrying out of these spiritual impulses, so weak?” I was particularly anxious to get an answer to the question as to how one could build a bridge to active participation and the carrying out of spiritual intentions without being pulled off the right path by personal ambition, illusions and petty jealousies; for, these were the negative qualities Rudolf Steiner had named as the main inner hindrances. Then came the thought-provoking and surprising answer: “This is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is to-day does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.” (http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA327/English/BDA1958/Ag1958_preface.html)
The Village Market is a social enterprise, founded in 1991 to encourage organic and biodynamic farming and to provide a non-tuition-based income stream for the Toronto Waldorf School. Last year the Market celebrated its 25th anniversary. For the past several years the Village Market has contributed $25,000 annually to the Toronto Waldorf School.
By Jessie Crow Mermel
Originally posted on the Angelic Organics Learning Center Blog (Jan. 18, 2017)
“Farms are the places where we negotiate our relationship with nature,” explained Tom Spaulding, Angelic Organics Learning Center’s co-founder and Executive Director at the Midwestern Ecology Symposium at the Janesville Muslim Dawa Circle. Tom accompanied other distinguished speakers at the symposium, including his wife and Learning Center co-founder, Dr. Neddy Astudillo. Tom addressed the topic of biodynamic farming at the symposium.
Biodynamic agriculture found its genesis in a series of agriculture lectures by the Austrian spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner, who also founded Waldorf education. The lectures were addressing farmers lamenting that food had lost quality with the more mechanical and reductionist ways of farming — this was in the 1920’s! This sacred agriculture dubbed biodynamics was the precursor to organic farming.
Biodynamics is a combination of the terms biological, referring to the seen forces in nature (like a seed) and dynamic, referring to the unseen forces in nature (the forces that compel the seed upward to the light) that combine to animate life. There is a recognition of the whole of cosmos in the shaping of every plant, every animal, every human being. These are the forces that continually build us up again, regenerating our cells, opening our hearts, evolving our spirits.
In biodynamics, the farm is seen as an organism, with the whole being greater than a sum of its parts. Tom used the example of dissecting a frog. Through dissection, we can see the different organs and gain an understanding of how they work together to create the frog organism. However, looking at a dismembered frog body, one cannot appreciate the magnificence of listening to a frog’s song on a late spring evening or watching the beauty of the creature transform from a swimming tadpole to a mature, leaping frog.
A healthy farm organism is also composed of many parts— the microbes in the soil, the ruminants bowing their heads to the earth as they graze on the grasses, the compost that is created from their digestion, the wild spaces welcoming biodiversity, the flowers and the bees that are attracted to them. When composed all together, these elements create an unique symphony. Each farm possessing its own beingness and personality. The job of the biodynamic farmer is to learn from that being and nurture the personality and expression of the farm organism.
In recognition of our connection to the living land, biodynamics offers the simultaneous healing of the body of the land and the body of the human. Tom discussed the homeopathic preparations that are an integral role of biodynamic farming to restore balance to the land. The farmer distills a combination of the kingdoms of nature: plant, animal, and mineral aspects of the farm and creates a remedy for balance in the subtle, dynamic forces of the farm. He swirled his arm to illustrate the ritual of the mixing of the elements into the water creating a mesmerizing vortex before it is applied to the fields. He described “the voices as the farm come to speak” as the preparations are sprayed on the fields. The birds fly in and out of the spray and the insects emerge and enter the dance. He mused that perhaps part of the reason that Steiner called for the creation and use of the preparations was to give the farmer the time and space for the stillness to reflect. Applying the preparations, Tom declared, “feels like a prayer.”
Tom and Neddy attended the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in November in Sante Fe, New Mexico. There were nearly 800 in attendance at the conference. This year’s theme was “Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth” and included wisdom from indigenous elders as well as biodynamic students and farmers from across North America and beyond. Tom wished he could have brought the whole staff to the conference, but he at least brought home the breath of fresh inspiration to fuel our flames.
Tom ended by saying that Steiner taught that the next stage of human evolution is to think from the heart, a message that has been coming to me relentlessly for the last couple of months. I believe that Angelic Organics Farm inspires people to do just that — through experiences that touch the head, heart, and hands. As Farmer John Peterson, founder of Angelic Organics CSA, explains, “Everyone needs a farm in their heart.” If more people carry a farm in their heart, we can truly change the food system.
To learn more about biodynamics, click here.
“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” – David Suzuki
By Hilary Higginbotham
Just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, 8,000 beautiful acres of rich bottomland cradled by the Cumberland River make up an area called Bells Bend. A few years ago, community members saved this rural, agricultural land from a huge development. Bells Bend is a place where community members of all ages welcome Nashville friends and enjoy weekly potlucks, square dances, harvest festivals, and farm harvest days. Most everyone you meet in Nashville smiles broadly when you mention the farm community in Bells Bend. It’s known for sharing, dancing, amazing food, creative partnerships, and rich community history intermingling with energized young folks drawn to traditional ways and food you can feel great about.
When Jeff Poppen, the biodynamic farming “father figure” here in the Southeast, helped get several new farms started here back in 2009, a small but growing network of small CSA farms established themselves in response to the threat of development. Jeff got the fields off to a great start with huge amounts of compost and spray preparations. These farms’ recent successes have given this area a name for providing amazing food, emphasizing and expanding on the agricultural heritage of Bells Bend. Under Jeff Poppen’s mentorship, the young farmers running them have used biodynamic practices to enliven their soil, and Nashville has enthusiastically supported them.
Just as this group of farmers — who, over the last seven years, have gathered solid farm experience, encouraged their interns and farm assistants to start their own farms in the area, and begun to make their own preparations — began to envision their next stage of growth, a perfect framework came into view.
Demeter USA’s DemeterLOCAL program seemed just the thing to get these farms certified Biodynamic® and to tell Nashville why holistic, regenerative practices are vitally important. DemeterLOCAL keeps certification cost low through a peer inspection model, with Demeter USA’s supervision and final sign-off. The low cost and community aspect of the DemeterLOCAL program can support these farmers in achieving full compliance with the Demeter Standard while encouraging local support, education, and farmer bonds.
In September of 2015, Karen Davis Brown, an experienced regenerative farmer and organic inspector with connections to Demeter USA, was asked by Jim Fullmer, co-director of Demeter USA, to talk about the DemeterLOCAL program at Jeff Poppen’s Southeast Biodynamic Conference in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Wet weather and other factors didn’t lead to a group discussion, but the conversation got started.
In October, Karen and I attended Laura Riccardi Lyvers’ prepmaking activities at Foxhollow Farm, an established Biodynamic farm north of Louisville, Kentucky. As we made the chamomile preparation sitting under the trees, Laura mentioned that several Foxhollow farmers might be interested in forming a combined TN-KY group. Foxhollow’s pastures and hayfields are Demeter certified, but their vegetable farmers can certify with this model. Laura’s interest was just the nudge we needed. The involvement of Laura and Foxhollow members would add diversity of experience, resources, and prepmaking expertise to the strength of our group.
We announced the DemeterLOCAL training in November and scheduled the first training session in December at Old School Farm in Bells Bend. Karen facilitated the sessions using the DemeterLOCAL powerpoint modules created by Demeter USA. Fifteen to twenty Nashville and Foxhollow Farm folks attended this and another three sessions that ran through March 2016. We were off!
Attendees were a combination of: core members of a Nashville preparation making group who met regularly for a few years at Six Boots Collective in Bells Bend; Foxhollow owners, farmers, and prepmakers; and several other supportive Nashville community members — a beekeeper, herb growers, landowners planning for future certification, and community-focused growers with enthusiasm for biodynamic agriculture. This model emphasizes education and welcomes anyone wanting to be involved in supporting Biodynamic agriculture in the area.
We reviewed the Demeter USA powerpoint modules quickly and gathered specific questions for Jim Fullmer. The modules cover biodiversity; generating fertility; disease, insect, and weed control; the biodynamic preparations; integrating livestock; water and waterway conservation; and gentle post harvest handling. Farmers at the training were clearly interested in certification and wanted to understand the requirements. We also began to discuss group decision-making and how to develop as a group. We decided to establish the peer certification framework for certifying farms first, and then consider more education and community involvement.
Resource and information sharing was considered a valuable part of the peer model. Farmers liked the accountability that the group could offer, as well as having a framework for compliance. We planned to create subcommittees for specific focus areas in the fall of 2016, and to continue to make preps together.
We also began to look for grant funding for the group’s startup costs, especially to help us communicate with the public about the value of Demeter certification, and to pay a coordinator to organize inspections, trainings, and to be the main contact with Demeter USA.
We wrote a basic business plan and coordinator job description, and began a conversation with a local nonprofit Beaman to Bells Bend Conservation Corridor (BBBCC), to explore a partnership based on our common goals. We sent them an abbreviated business plan, and their board responded that they would be open to sponsoring us with their nonprofit status for grant purposes.
Jim Fullmer visited our group in April 2016 to discuss questions, walk through a mock inspection on a local farm, and to get to know our group. We sat outside on a beautiful, chilly, and windy day at Bells Bend Park until we had to ask park staff to allow us to have our potluck lunch inside! Of course, fabulous food and camaraderie fueled us for our farm inspection afterwards.
Jim led us through the Demeter-required farm inspection reports as we examined the fields, greenhouse, and livestock grazing areas. He advised us on specifics and answered questions with sensible, approachable explanations. The requirements seemed manageable to these farmers; they’d been farming this way for years, to a large extent.
To formalize a framework of accountability, I began to put together an advisory board in May, built primarily of a few core group members. However, this has been put on hold until we clarify our partnership with BBBCC, and decide what kind of accountability structure is appropriate.
Several of our participating farms plan to apply for certification in the next year or two, but timing didn’t allow any of them to feel ready to apply for the 2016 season. During the 2016 growing season, I stayed in touch through farm visits and mock inspections, but in the end we didn’t do much connecting until fall.
Currently, we are planning to discuss whether being a program funded by Beaman to Bells Bend Conservation Corridor makes more sense than being nonprofit of our own. Meanwhile, we’re planning shared fall prepmaking tasks; a Michaelmas horn-stuffing celebration with Jeff Poppen, Waldorf educators, and the Nashville anthroposophical community; and a more dynamic way of rotating on-farm trainings for the winter 2016-2017.
Hilary is a co-founder and organizer for the TN-KY DemeterLOCAL Chapter. She also organizes community prepmaking in Nashville, based at Six Boots Collective. These two overlapping groups are the core of a growing community of biodynamic farms in Bells Bend, just outside of Nashville, that serve as a practical resource and collaborative space while encouraging people to learn about the Biodynamic preparations through hands-on immersion in the whole process: growing the herbs used in the preps, making all nine preps on site, applying them on the land, and sharing them with community members who want to be involved in the process. Hilary has been involved in the Nashville farm community through cooperative growing projects and garden education—most recently of the biodynamic prep plants and medicinal herbs, foraging, and experiential garden education gatherings.
By Beth Corymb, Meadowlark Hearth Biodynamic Seed Initiative, Scottsbluff, NE
It is another beautiful day on the high plains of Nebraska. The air is clear and the surrounding hills white. Their sandstone shines out to us as we harvest our vegetables and vegetable seed crops. Out here on the Nebraska plateau we are picking seed from our biennial crops of carrot, beet, and onion seed, then letting them dry until they crackle under our threshing feet.
The horned cows of our micro raw milk dairy come running when I call them. They know that yodel means rotten cantaloupe, their favorite snack. We humans get the best melons, and we save the seed from those we eat. The children dance with delight to see the cows smack their lips noisily as they slurp the melons.
The members of our year-round vegetable CSA arrive carrying many bags, since we offer them 12-20 types of vegetables and melons every year. Harvesting these crops for the CSA helps us to keep on top of how a variety performs, since we are always looking for those “workhorse” vegetable varieties which do well in various climates and seasons. Over 120 vegetable varieties are listed on our website. We offer varieties we have found to do well in our northern climate. Along with our garlic seed, these hardy vegetable seed varieties listed at the Meadowlark Hearth website are also chosen for their flavor. Come visit us, and we can tell you more!
We hope to meet you at the Biodynamic Conference this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 16-20. There will be many great workshops with presenters from all over the world, and we will be sharing our work of growing seed by “Farming the Living Earth.” Join us!
Join Beth and Nathan Corymb at their workshop, Growing and Selling Biodynamic Seed, on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Beth and Nathan Corymb trained in biodynamic agriculture at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. Nathan trained in biodynamic seed growing at Sativa Seed in Switzerland and Bingenheim Seed in Germany. They founded the Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative and developed it as a sheltered workshop for people with special needs, where it continues at Camphill Village USA in Copake, New York. In 2010 they moved to Nebraska and began Meadowlark Hearth Farm, where they developed wholesale Biodynamic seed production along with a CSA, dairy, beef, pork, poultry, and market vegetable production. At Meadowlark Hearth, they integrate the farming and seed work into education and therapeutic work under the auspices of the Living Environment Foundation, a non-profit with a two-fold focus on biodiversity and serving vulnerable populations. As well as having their own online seed sales, each year they grow contract certified organic and Biodynamic seed for a number of U.S. seed companies.
By Courtney White
The (boring) Carbon Cycle
Carbon is the most important element on Earth and the best way to begin explaining its significance is with the terribly important carbon cycle. The trouble is whenever I see the word ‘cycle’ my eyes start to glaze over. It doesn’t matter if it is the water, mineral, energy, nutrient, or some other cycle critical to our existence, for some reason my attention begins to wander the instant I see the word. I remember attending a conference years ago where a speaker displayed an image of the nitrogen cycle on a farm he was studying. It had something like sixty-four separate arrows flowing in every possible direction, including in circles. I took one look at the image and immediately put my pen down. No amount of notetaking was going to make sense of this cycle when I tried to explain it later.
Maybe it’s something we pick up as children. When my daughter did a homework assignment on the hydrological cycle for a science project both of us struggled to stay focused. It was good stuff – don’t get me wrong – and she enjoyed drawing clouds and rain and squiggly lines flowing upward from the ocean into the sky. When it came time to explain it all, however, the fun disappeared as fast as water on a hot sidewalk. Let’s be honest, ‘evapotranspiration’ is hard to say much less describe in simple terms. Making circles in the air with my finger was the best I could do.
The problem is there’s usually no story to go with these big ideas. Take this image of the carbon cycle produced by the Quivira Coalition for one of our publications:
As a depiction of the never-ending cycle by which carbon dioxide (CO2) flows out of the atmosphere into the soil as carbon via photosynthesis and green plants and then back out again via decomposition and respiration, round and round, sustaining nearly all life on the planet, the image does a great job. I especially like the way it distinguishes nature from industry. The fossil-fuelled factory sits off to the side, outside the circle, pumping three hundred million year-old carbon, previously buried in the ground as coal, oil or natural gas, directly into the atmosphere as CO2. No cycle there – just a straight line up.
I like this image of the carbon cycle, but it’s boring. That’s because it doesn’t tell a story. What’s up with the cow, for instance? What is it doing there? Does it belong to someone? Did a visitor leave a gate open someplace allowing the animal to wander in? And what about that factory? What’s it making? Electricity? Cement? Artificial fertilizer? Is it Chinese? American? Brazilian? Does its owner hire undocumented workers? Is up to code? Has it been busted for improper disposal of byproducts?
I’m being facetious, sort of. Carbon is essential to life but it’s also rather abstract which is one reason why we’re having a hard time getting our minds around CO2 pollution, carbon credits, soil organic matter, carbon sinks, carbon farming, even global warming. Carbon needs a story. Or rather, lots of stories. It isn’t enough to wave our hands in the air and say “if we damage the carbon cycle all sorts of bad things will happen!” Instead, I look at this image and think “Will someone get that lost cow back into the pasture with its herd!” That’s the rub – how do we get important concepts across without the eyes-glazed-over effect? It ain’t easy. But it’s important to try because the issues involved are increasingly critical. I’ll see what I can do. …
Read the rest of “The Story of Carbon” here, and hear more from Courtney White in his keynote presentation during Regenerating Earth and Community on Friday, November 18, at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference.
A former archaeologist and Sierra Club activist, Courtney White dropped out of the ‘conflict industry’ in 1997 to cofound the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, and others around practices that improve economic and ecological resilience in western working landscapes. He is the author of Revolution on the Range (Island Press), Grass, Soil, Hope (Chelsea Green), The Age of Consequences (Counterpoint Press), and 2% Solutions for the Planet (Chelsea Green). Courtney’s writing can be found on A West That Works. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his family, two dogs, and four chickens.
By Patricia Frazier
Reprinted from the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Applied Biodynamics, the periodical of the Josephine Porter Institute (JPI). Visit their site to see free sample issues, subscribe, or purchase single issues.
My neighbor state, New Mexico, has always had a tender spot in my heart. Having lived and farmed in Colorado most of my adult life, New Mexico represents a refuge of beauty, spiritual renewal, and warmth in the depths of winter, found in her warmer climate south of here. Her red rock canyons, abundant hot springs, clear starry skies, and beautiful mountains are food for the soul and full of indigenous wisdom from her centuries of stewardship by Native elders. So, when the Biodynamic Association (BDA) chose Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the site for their upcoming national conference, I was happy to know the conference would be so close to home and was excited to meet fellow farmers there.
One fellow farmer, Melinda Bateman, of Morning Star Farm in Arroyo Seco, just outside of Taos, was already well known to me. Melinda has joined biodynamic workshops here in Western Colorado for a few years, making preparations at Peace and Plenty Farm and attending several Enzo Nastati seminars in Paonia, Colorado. Melinda has a small market farm and serves the Taos community from her 7,000-foot elevation. It is a challenging growing environment with a short but intense season. Melinda has created harmony with the forces of nature there with a large season-extending greenhouse, crops appropriate to the season, and well-intentioned and regular biodynamic practices on her land. Her luscious garlic is to die for and her greens have graced the tables of Taos restaurants for over twenty years. On a small but productive piece of land, Melinda farms mostly as a sole proprietor and apprentices intern in the intricacies of high desert farming biodynamically. This is a very unique skillset here in the U.S. and one that will hopefully develop more fully as a result of the influence of the Biodynamic Association’s national conference in November.
As a sole proprietor, Melinda has been active in seeking the fellowship of other biodynamic practitioners here in Colorado, but due to the distances between communities in New Mexico, she has related the difficulty in establishing real community there. Similarly, when the Biodynamic Association began its exploration of biodynamic practitioners in the surrounding community to support the conference with local knowledge, there were but a few to meet. A new opportunity for community building was born.
Community building is an activity within the biodynamic farming community that is essential to biodynamic practitioners and consumers,and reflects the origins of the movement. Unlike the sheer numbers of organic farmers in our communities these days with multitudes of web-based blogs, supportive publications, grower cooperatives, and many market farms, the growth of biodynamic agriculture in farming communities has been slower to be realized. There are a number of factors for this slow but steady increase in awareness. One factor is the high level of integrity in farming practices required of a farmer in biodynamic agriculture. A friend of mine, Brook LeVan of Sustainable Settings in Carbondale, Colorado, put it this way:
“Biodynamic agriculture is beyond organic. The standards we are adhering to for Demeter Certification of our farm are tough but fair. The standards require us to make long lasting changes in how we view and support our farm organism. But the change in me as a farmer is the most profound. I know now that we are farming with angels.”
That statement has always had a profound impact upon me as a farmer because it calls into awareness the life force beyond our fertility inputs, NPK measurements, and percent organic matter. This life force knits that of human beings with the life force of the mineral, plant, and animal world in sometimes incomprehensible, but nonetheless powerful, ways. The recognition and acknowledgement of these forces of life requires a discipline of observation and faith in the farmer developing over time and in communion with other farmers and our communities who share these insights and values. The result of developing these awareness skills is a profound respect and strong nurturing behaviors for our farms and communities. We protect our farms, plant communities, animals, air, and water so that our food can be of highest quality to support further human development of these faculties of awareness.
Another factor responsible for the slow but steady, grassroots growth of biodynamic agriculture is the difficult but necessary development of a common language between communities of knowledge. Development of a language between the conventional scientific community and the unconventional qualitative, life force-based biodynamic agricultural community that can articulate outcomes of biodynamic practices requires awareness and communication. This kind of awareness and communication happens best on the ground and within human interaction. Outlined within these two factors is the case for active community building by biodynamic practitioners who are willing to take the time to interact and educate others about the unique gifts that biodynamic agriculture offers to the healing of our earth.
To facilitate this community building exercise, an intention was set between Melinda Bateman of Morning Star Farm; Pat Frazier, Board President of Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI); and Robert Karp, Co-Director of the Biodynamic Association to lead a field day at Melinda’s farm in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, at the beginning of this farming season. The intention of the gathering was building community and support for the creation of a local biodynamic group to further biodynamic agriculture education in the region. That region includes Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, and all surrounding communities within several hundred miles. The Biodynamic Association and the local Western Colorado BD group promoted the gathering over the three months prior. Attendance was varied and enthusiastic ranging from back yard gardeners to biodynamic farmers, and from author Steven McFadden to experienced local biodynamic compost maker Maggie Lee. Teachers from the Santa Fe Waldorf School, young farmers, biodynamic apprentices, and enthusiastic participants in agricultural advocacy and intentional communities from Santa Fe and surrounding communities rounded out the attendance.
The day was spent in many hands-on activities from compost building and inoculation with biodynamic and homeodynamic preparations, a spray of an Enzo Nastati-inspired preparation (Purifier/Harmonizer spray) over the entire farm, and group meditation circle led by Robert Karp following the sprays. In the afternoon, a discussion about next steps for solidifying the relationships and community was held, and all shared a beautiful, local meal. Solid commitments by the local group were made to continue several biodynamic community activities throughout the summer and fall leading up to the national conference. Since the gathering, there has been a meet-up and preparation making activity this summer, and another is planned for late September where BD #500 (horn manure) and barrel compost will be made and sprayed at various locations in and around Santa Fe as an intentional gesture for continued support and recognition of the awareness being cultivated for biodynamic agriculture in the Southwest region of the US.
I hope you can join us in Santa Fe for the Biodynamic Association’s National 2016 Conference, “Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth,” where the impulse to strengthen biodynamic agriculture will continue to grow. There will be many types of educational offerings from indigenous wisdom of the Americas, to social justice and policy advocacy, to practical hands-on education in applying biodynamic agriculture practices for beginners to advanced practitioners. Stop and visit us at the JPI booth. If community building is of interest to you, a workshop held by Barefoot Farmer Jeff Poppen, Pat Frazier, Nashville area activist Hilary Higginbotham, and Jim Fullmer, Co-Director of Demeter USA, will outline practical steps and experiences of building community in areas of the country where strong biodynamic communities now exist. In addition, members Lloyd Nelson, Patricia Frazier, and Brook LeVan of the Western Colorado BD group will lead a hands-on preparation making workshop as a full-day pre-conference event. Registration and description of the full conference is now available at www.biodynamics.com/conference.
Patricia Frazier is the president of the board of directors of the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI). She is a member of the Fellowship of Preparation Makers and sits on two of their committees, including chairing the conference planning for the 2014 Fellowship Conference. She is a member of the Biodynamic Educators Collaborative. Pat and her family have a small biodynamic homestead, nursery, and family dairy in Western Colorado where all of the preparation herbs are grown and used in making all of the biodynamic preparations. Permaculture design is another of her passions and its marriage with biodynamics is included in her two-week in-residence permaculture class each summer.