By Melissa Greer, D.O.
In medical school I learned very little about the role of nutrition in health. Much of what I did learn in conventional nutrition teachings I have found has little actual meaning in wellness. No one ever spoke in medical school about the role of the farmer in health or illness. As a medical student I was taught of the helping role of the physical therapist, the nurse, the masseuse, the diabetes educator… but no mention was made of the local farmer.
Yet the role of the farmer is an extraordinarily influential one on local community health. Farmers have the potential to be our frontline of wellbeing. As a physician my daily work focuses on the health of individuals. The farmer can, through biodynamics, act as a therapist for the collective human body of the community. We speak much in fact about the karma of the physician in his/her therapeutic work. What of the karma of the farmer? Certainly each local farmer reaches more people each year through his/her work on the earth, benefits or harms to the soil and water table, example of worldview in his/her relationship to the earth. This is the same for all farmers whether conventional, organic, or biodynamic. However, not all work therapeutically. What wonder it would be if they did.
This November a group of interested people met in Louisville at the North American Biodynamic Conference to look more closely at this relationship between healthcare and agriculture. Robert Karp, Matias Baker, Steven Johnson, D.O. and David Gershan, M.D. organized a “Bridging Biodynamic Agriculture and Anthroposophic Medicine” pre-conference workshop. The purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to this health partnership as well as to consider how to move forward in local initiatives. A few closing themes discussed were:
- Awareness of partnership: The need to recognize who our therapeutic partners are at home in our communities. The question was asked: If you work with your hands in the soil, who are your nearby partners in healthcare working in your community? If you are working in healthcare, who are the individuals working with the land in your community?
- Study: Start conversations with these partners and establish regular studies on what this agrarian healthcare implies for our communities. It is recognized that sustaining initiatives in spiritual science need a foundation of study from which creative new impulses can spring.
- Education: Consider the needs of each community and look for what initiatives can arise, such as education in the form of public talks/discussions, high school outreach, art exhibits, or new therapeutic approaches.
- Economic considerations: Be open to discussions on our economic health. Consider also the long term earth benefits of land trusts and their future role in biodynamic agriculture.
- Networking: Keep in touch with one another for encouragement, inspiration, and sharing initiative progress.
With conscious intent we are beginning to form a wellness alliance. Now this word “alliance” may conjure up images of formal agreements between nations in a time of war. And maybe that in some sense could apply to our work as well. But more than this, alliance means “union,” “a relationship in working together,” an active coming together in service to the world. We might do well just to go about our own work independently while touching the lives of those who come to us. However, we now recognize that we can locally co-create much more with a unified light.
I’d like to suggest that each reader of this article take close consideration of the above and listen to whether it lights your heart and will. With this light may we work together with the natural world to aid in building the spiritual body of man and earth.
1 Corithians 15: 46-49
“Bridging Biodynamic Agriculture and Anthroposophic Medicine” is one of three new online interest groups and learning communities hosted by the Biodynamic Association. Anyone who has experience in agriculture or medicine and is interested in exploring bridges between the two is invited to join this group and continue the conversation.
By David E. Gumpert
I know I’m not the only supporter of food choice who is frustrated because much of the news in the mainstream media about raw milk seems to be negative and often inaccurate. I know I’m not the only one who is tired of complaining and wants to do something about it.
But do what? There is clearly a dearth of accurate information being presented by the media about raw milk. Many of the articles that are written are confusing and inaccurate.
For example, in December Time Magazine reported on a CDC study that said outbreaks involving raw milk had quadrupled over the most recent six years. “This Is One Health Trend You Don’t Want to Try,” headlined the Time article.
The Time report conveniently avoided explaining that outbreaks aren’t the same as illnesses, and that the CDC’s report had inexplicably neglected to include the number of annual illnesses in the data it disclosed. And rather than note that the CDC’s own report indicated that more than 80% of illnesses were of the mild variety, from Campylobacter, Time instead pointed readers to a CDC website where they could find “a raw milk horror story from a mother who fed it to her son, then saw him go into kidney failure and be placed on a ventilator.”
The December Time article was only the latest such questionable report on raw milk. For the last decade or more, we have seen deeply flawed reports from the CDC and FDA on raw milk illnesses and the supposed dangers of raw milk cheeses.
I don’t pretend to have a magic fix for the abundance of inaccurate information about raw milk, but I have developed an idea for beginning to counter the problem. My idea is two-fold:
- Counter misleading information with accurate information. In other words, package truthful and honest information about raw milk—the good, the bad, and the ugly—into an engaging format that people can quickly and easily absorb.
- Get lots of people who care about food accessibility to join in supporting the dissemination of this information, as a way to bypass the mainstream media.
I have been a journalist for more than 40 years, and thus have considerable experience communicating information. My idea has been simple: write a book that explains in clear non-inflammatory language the realities of what has been happening—the pros and cons of raw milk. Then, get that book into the hands of as many people as possible who are interested in learning more about raw milk.
In order to fulfill that last goal of getting the book out to as many interested people as possible, I decided to do something different—not go the conventional-commercial-publisher route, but instead publish the book myself. My reasoning was to be able to offer the book at a more reasonable price than commercial publishers are inclined to do. I also wanted to be able to donate proceeds to organizations that share the same goal. Most importantly, I wanted people who are as frustrated by the government-industry misinformation campaign as I am to help get the book out into the marketplace, directly to people who desperately want accurate and truthful information about raw milk.
I recently completed writing the book, The Raw Milk Answer Book, and the initial response from a diverse group of reviewers, including farmers, researchers, academics, and medical people, has been very enthusiastic. Virginia farmer Joel Salatin said the book “churns out every answer to every conceivable question in the raw milk controversy,” and he called it “a must-read.”
Robert Karp, Co-Director Biodynamic Association said, “Being an idealistic, savvy, health-conscious consumer these days can be a lot of work. Thanks to David Gumpert, making the hard decision whether to include raw milk as part of your family’s diet just got a little easier. David has sorted through the data—good and bad, for and against—to create this thorough, balanced, easy-to-read guide to raw milk for the thoughtful consumer. I hope many people will find their way to this long overdue book!”
So how do we get the book’s important message out to the people who want it and need it? By offering it to individuals who care about getting accurate information about raw milk disseminated as widely as possible.
We have an opportunity to reverse the misinformation campaign. Let’s change things in this especially challenging area.
David E. Gumpert is author of The Raw Milk Answer Book, along with two previous books about food rights: The Raw Milk Revolution and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights. He writes the popular blog, www.thecompletepatient.com, which has for years highlighted government harassment of raw dairy farmers and misinformation about raw milk.
Originally printed in the Three Sisters Community Farm newsletter.
By Jeff Schreiber
Farmers are, perhaps foremost, workers in the sphere of the economy. They turn the stuff of nature into goods which meet people’s material needs. They run farm businesses. In their work they are economical and efficient; the inefficient farmer won’t last long.
But the farmer can also be, if they choose, a craftsman or artist. He or she then becomes a worker in the cultural sphere. In this sphere one works out of the needs of one’s own soul, out of a sense of their own unique individuality, morality, and creativity. This is the inner impulse that brings many to farming in the first place — an unexplained calling arises in someone, a desire to work with and co-create with the natural world, or to fix what is a broken but fundamental part of society.
Increasingly, there is the feeling that the products of cultural workers — different from the products of economic workers — should be free, that a price tag on an expression of soul is somehow incongruent. So, a musician like Amanda Palmer (who believes all music should be “unlocked… shared and spread”) offers her musical creations free for the taking. She also asks those who feel compelled for monetary help so she can meet her needs and go on making music. When she asked for $100,000 of help for a new album and tour in 2012 on Kickstarter, her supporters raised 12 times that amount.
In so far as they are cultural workers, farmers are, I think, free to ask for such support as well. But crowdfunding sites can conceal the most important role of the cultural worker: in exchange for freedom to create, the artist must listen to and address in their work the needs of soul of the community as a whole. This is the great responsibility of cultural workers. The best of them can grasp the needs of a time and place and create expressions that touch us deeply on a collective level.
So, what are the cultural needs of our time that farms and farmers can address? Each farm community is different, but there are still some general trends: the fancy webpage, the smiling farm family on the package. Most people are not satisfied by such greenwashing. They crave the real. They want a direct connection — an actual relationship — with the farmers and the farm from where their food comes. A small, community-based farm can offer those relationships, and through them some of the anxieties of modern eaters can be addressed: Am I, in my food choices, complicit in environmental harm? Am I a supporter of unjust farm labor practices? Is this food safe for my children? The very notion of food consumerism — passive, unconscious and soul-deadening — can be changed on a farm that strives to meet the cultural needs of its supporters into something active and alive. Together, on a farm, people can move from mere consumers to creators, working together to create something positive, relevant, and enduring in their community.
There’s been much handwringing of late about the economic status of small farmers. The solution from most is to increase one’s focus on the economic and material: get more efficient, make more profit. But what happens if the farmer becomes, foremost, a worker in the sphere of culture? What if, in getting the culture right, the economy rights itself?
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.
By Gayle Loiselle
For prior posts on the Zinniker Farm case, see “Wisconsin Judge Denies Basic Property Rights and Food Choice” (Oct. 4, 2011) and “Wholly Without Merit: No Right to Food Choice” (Oct. 20, 2011).
Three Wisconsin farms now have petitions for review before the state’s Supreme Court—all challenging the legality and constitutionality of contracts between farmers, private citizens and private food groups to acquire or provide fresh unpasteurized milk. The appeals are admittedly long shots, but all concerned decided that the underlying Constitutional principles made the cases worth pursuing before the state’s highest court.
Two of the cases, the Zinniker and Grassway petitions, were filed on Monday, October 6, 2014. The Vernon Hershberger petition was filed in August, 2014. All three cases are represented by the attorneys of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth Rich and David Cox.
Grassway Organics Farm Store, owned by Wayne and Kay Craig from New Holstein, Wisconsin, filed for Declaratory Judgment against the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), maintaining they had all the necessary licensing to provide raw milk to members of their private farm store. However, over the years DATCP has repeatedly changed its interpretation of state statutes and licensing stipulations, ultimately making it impossible for Grassway plaintiffs to comply. Then-Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, agreed with DATCP that they were in violation of licensing requirements and ruled against Grassway plaintiffs, as did the Court of Appeals.
Vernon Hershberger’s case was tried before a jury, which found nothing wrong with Vernon providing raw milk for members of his private food club. He was found not guilty on three counts of license violations, but was found guilty on a fourth count of violating a DATCP holding order. Because the jury was kept from seeing and hearing all of the facts, Hershberger appealed the guilty count, which was denied.
The Zinniker Plaintiffs, farmers Mark and Petra Zinniker, represent a third model of direct farm-to-consumer business whereby an LLC (limited liability company) purchased the Zinnikers’ entire herd of cows at market value and paid the Zinnikers to board and manage them. Zinniker shareholders, who are among the plaintiffs, then filed for Declaratory Judgment against DATCP, asking a judge to uphold their rights and declare their business arrangement legal. The motion was denied by the circuit court and the appellate court refused to rule on the constitutionality of their rights, and diverted the issue to license violations. In siding with DATCP, the judges claimed the business contracts were void because the Zinnikers did not have a milk producers license.
Thousands of Wisconsin citizens disagree with the rulings in all three cases. The U.S. Constitution’s Ninth Amendment reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” It does not say you can sell food from a farm directly to neighbors and community members only so long as you have a license! These citizens maintain they have a constitutional right to choose what they eat, and to choose where that food comes from. And that farmers and citizens have the right to exchange money or work for food, without government interference, and without a middleman, such as food processors or distributors.
In 2010, an unprecedented 800-plus people voiced their opinion at a public hearing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in support of legislation that allowed for on-farm sales of raw milk, which later comfortably passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Doyle.
How can something like that happen, where many thousands of people and their legislative representatives are for something very straightforward like the right to obtain a food of their choosing, and it is denied? It bears drawing on the Declaration of Independence, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it”. That veto clearly shows the disconnect between the rights and freedoms of the people and our political system.
Part of the problem is we live in an advocacy-based society that on some level is sincerely concerned about public safety. We have regulators educated by industry-sponsored textbooks that teach nonsense like “bacteria are bad” and “GMOs will feed the world.” Moreover, some of these misguided regulators honestly believe they are protecting people. And unfortunately, we also have legislative and judicial systems that are heavily influenced by campaign contributions and personal career goals.
All those factors together have created overreaching government agencies directed by overly emboldened politicians and bureaucrats who use overly dependent populations to support an overly entitled industry. Which translates into industry dictating policy, that in turn becomes administrative law, and is then blindly enforced by agencies led by political appointees.
Just to go back in time…
Three weeks before ex-judge Patrick J. Fiedler started his new career as a trial attorney at a law firm that represents Monsanto in patent infringement cases, he responded to the Zinniker Plaintiffs’ motion for clarification saying:
- no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;
- no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
- no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;no, the Zinniker Plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the State’s police powers;
- no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.
According to this absurd ruling, we can only eat what the government tells us we can, and farmers can only grow or raise government-regulated food. So, because a judge with an over inflated idea of his own power said it is so, the authorities are ready and willing to enforce it. To the point of armed raids on peaceful farms.
This acting out of self-imposed power among judges is not uncommon. I’ll never forget the shock I felt while sitting in the courtroom during Vernon Hershberger’s trial listening to Judge Guy Reynolds admonish the attorneys and witnesses (after the jury was sent from the room) that the words “liberty and raw milk” were not to be spoken in his court room. According to DATCP and Reynolds, the law required prosecuting Vernon on license violations, and it just didn’t matter that facts of the case were specifically about raw milk and liberty.
I have children whose lives I am responsible for, with futures I’m deeply concerned about. And I fear for the health of our planet and its ability to provide for us all. To take away people’s right to self-reliance, to live sustainably, to look after their own health; to take away people’s right to be responsible for themselves and their families to feed themselves…is wrong on many levels, and will inevitably result in a weak, sick, ignorant, dependent and easily manipulated population.
So for now, the question of food rights is in the hands of the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The way I see it, the Justices have a choice; cave in to political pressure and deflect the issue as the lower courts have done, or agree to review these three cases on the merits of constitutionality that pits food profit against food freedom.
By Beth Waitkus
All photos from the flower and vegetable gardens at San Quentin Prison
The power of gardens to transform lives could be no more evident than in a place as desolate as a prison. In colorless, environmentally and culturally harsh environments, prison gardens cultivate a sacred oasis of hope and the possibility of change.
More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, with a national recidivism rate of 76%. According to Attorney General Eric Holder: “…although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ‘ineffective and unsustainable.’ It imposes a significant economic tax burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”
Although serving just a tiny percentage of the overall prison population, the Insight Garden Program (IGP) has worked with more than 1,000 people in two California prisons (with plans to expand nationally) — restoring lives through connection to nature.
Combining outdoor whole systems gardening with an in-depth, ecological and systems-based curriculum, IGP has seen a deep drop in recidivism of its participants to 10% — compared to California’s 70%. It has also helped to seed a national prison garden movement from the ground up.
Recent research, featuring two control groups as well as IGP participants at San Quentin Prison, demonstrated that prison gardens and associated programming can profoundly contribute to transformative values re-identification, which is integral to a rehabilitative experience that inspires lasting change.
Nature’s impact on the human spirit is magical. At San Quentin, men tend to a 1,200-square-foot organic flower garden, as well as a raised bed organic vegetable garden, with great care —nurturing plants, petting the bees, and naming the bugs. Diverse teams of people work together in an open flower garden on the prison yard with no fear of retribution from others, because the prison garden there is considered “neutral” territory and, indeed, sacred space.
When people in prison “tend” to the garden, they also start to tend to themselves and each other. They collectively become a community of care. As their sense of interconnectedness with all living things grows (by design), people shift from an egoistic “me” to a more interdependent “we,” reconnecting with family, community, and the natural world.
In the ecosystem of a garden, people learn what strategies do and don’t support life and how their behavior can affect larger, living systems. Insights from the garden can then be transferred into a deeper understanding of one’s own internal systems and how one shows up in the world — a first step in shifting deeply rooted patterns of behavior from reaction to response.
Prison gardens can also have unintended, positive outcomes on a larger scale. When building the raised bed organic vegetable garden at San Quentin, everyone from administration to custody officers got involved. Prison officers proudly named it the “Victory Garden” because it was finally built after a long five-year approval process. Progress was only possible because of the program’s collaborative approach to change with all stakeholders. Indeed, prisoners aren’t the only ones benefiting from growing living systems inside prison walls.
Beyond California, a significant movement to “green prisons” is also sprouting…from Washington to Indiana and Ohio and the East Coast. The magic of bringing whole garden systems, composting, and green trades to prisons is that administrators begin to understand the economic, social, and environmental benefits of sustainable, holistic practices. And people living in prison can learn the life and work skills necessary to become leaders in their communities, productive members of society, and stewards of the environment.
And in prisons, restoration of lives through gardening is gaining support from the ground up! As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Show me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Beth Waitkus is the Founder and Director of the Insight Garden Program, which is currently planning for national expansion. IGP is a sponsor of the 2014 Biodynamic Conference.
Learn more in person at the IGP’s exhibit November 14 and 15 at the 2014 Biodynamic Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
By Jeremy Tackett
Agriculture Arts Instructor, Mountain Song Community School
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.
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.
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.
By Rebecca Briggs
Communications Coordinator, Biodynamic Association
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.”
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.