Opening a Space for the Next Generation of Biodynamic Farmers: BING in Northern California
By Blaire Ladd
The Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING) is a project of the Biodynamic Association that creates opportunities for the next generation of farmers, apprentices, educators, activists, and others inspired by biodynamics to connect, share, and learn from one another. Visit the BING page to find out how to get involved, host a meetup, or find relevant resources.
Sitting in the dining room of a modern “farmhouse of the future” was the perfect way to kick off the summer BING meetup. Sarah King, manager of Live Power Farm, and I co-hosted the BING meetup at the summer Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC) conference at Swallow Valley Farm on Saturday, June 22nd. This was the third BING meetup that I’ve hosted this year, all in conjunction with the quarterly BDANC conferences.
BING was first conceived at the Biodynamic Youth Gathering at the 2010 North American Biodynamic Conference in Spring Valley, New York. I did not attend the event, so I cannot tell you how it went, but I did have the honor of going to the 2012 Biodynamic Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, through a scholarship from the Biodynamic Association (BDA). The conference was an amazing experience for me on many levels, and I felt strongly drawn to host meetups because of the inspiration I experienced. I wanted to bring that spirit back to our regional group and help create a pilot for regional BING meetups around the country.
The first meetup was a pilot based on the “toolkit” created by Thea Maria Carlson. Megan Durney at the Pfeiffer Center held a similar pilot meetup this spring in New York. Once we got our results back to Thea, she reviewed our reports and the toolkit was made available for anyone to host with the hope of bringing people together to discuss the ideas that matter.
Our pilot meetup was at the BDANC winter meeting at Frey Vineyards. Fortunately for BING, we were blessed with rain and so the other activity scheduled at the same time (a nature tour) turned into a nature discussion and the BING meetup was larger and more diversified than I had anticipated. Paula Manalo-Gaska from Mendocino Organics and I co-hosted the event. I was a bit nervous since it was the first time I had ever hosted something like this, but we made good use of the resources provided in the BING toolkit and it was a huge success! It has set the pace for all the meetings since. We used poster-size pieces of blank paper with which to draw, write, and sculpt ideas, forming visions of farms and communities for the future, and then shared our insights in a collective harvest. The three main things I learned from the event: talk loudly and confidently, write down a precise and exact schedule, and stick to one topic for a two-hour event.
The BING Meetup Toolkit makes hosting an event easy and straightforward. I have been using two different hosting techniques for the meetups: World Café and Open Space. These conversation “technologies” help to create a comfortable platform to discuss important and sometimes serious or touchy issues. I don’t know why it works so well, but using the World Café Method meeting in small groups of four to five creates a platform for equal participation, open listening, and lots of creativity. The World Café method “is built on the assumption that people already have within them the wisdom and creativity to confront even the most difficult challenges. Given the appropriate context and focus, it is possible to access and use this deeper knowledge about what’s important.” The conversations are “an easy-to-use method for creating a living network of collaborative dialogue around questions that matter in service of the real work.” (This description is from the free, easy guides on the World Café website, which can help you host an event of your own.)
After the first meetup and with the major kinks out of the way, I was ready to host the second meetup at our spring BDANC meeting at my home base, Raphael Garden at Rudolf Steiner College. I had received such great feedback from the previous meeting that BDANC gave BING a whole half-day itinerary with brunch and a 2.5-hour meetup. I wanted this event to try to harness the underlying impulse of our regional group and really know what their focus is in biodynamics. I heard about the topic used at the international BING meetup and knew that this had to be the theme: “What are your burning issues and needs with regard to the biodynamic impulse?” I thought it would be great to bring the international discussion topic to a regional group.
The core BDANC group also requested that BING be one of the main events at the future meetings and asked Sarah King of Live Power Farm, Jesse Pizzitola of First Light Farm, and I to be “Youth Ambassadors” for the group. I feel that BING has shined a light on the idea that the time is now, not down the road, to have the next generation of biodynamic farmers be at the forefront.
For the spring meeting I decided to use World Café and Open Space Technology to dig deep in order to allow people’s personal and important themes to emerge with regard to the biodynamic impulse. I felt this created a very strong dynamic format for developing ideas. I first used two World Café sessions (with groups of four to five people to start the fire in their minds and get the creativity going). Then I had people in groups of two to refine their one burning issue and one burning need. Then as a whole group, we used the wall to group common themes together. Finally, using Open Space Technology, people gathered to find solutions to the themes they were drawn to. (For the timeline and more detailed structure, see Reflections and Lessons Learned from the second California meetup.)
Third Meetup – Summer 2013
At the summer meeting, Sarah and I decided to use the successful format at the last meeting with a couple of small tweaks. She also had the great idea of really trying to hone in on a topic more specific to needs of the next generation of biodynamic farmers. We started the meeting by having everyone say their name and using one word to describe something that inspires them about biodynamics. With about 30 people from all ages and interests in biodynamic agriculture, it was powerful to fill the room with so many inspiring words such as rhythm, compost, cosmos, animals, vitality, etc. Our discussion topic for the meeting was: “How do we support the next generation of biodynamic farmers?” After two World Café sessions, each person came up with one main idea/concern, which were then posted in similar themes on the glass windows overlooking the land. Through that process, four main themes formed. Yet a unifying impulse was “alternative farm communities” as a model for social and economic viability.
Here are some of the ideas:
- Meeting place for health care, education, shelter, nutrition, arts, economics, elder care
- Alternative models to land access, economics, human relationships, health care, exchange of goods, leadership
- “Farm as Heart”
- “Stronger on more legs”
- Commitment to common goals has to be a linking string
- How do we bring land and people who want to create farm communities together?
- Move away from purely economic models
- Diversifying revenue streams through education, crops, therapy medicine, craft products, tourism, etc.
- Cooperative models
- Group living/shared ownership
- Producing more than just food
- Increasing connections to our food and food systems
Through these experiences I have learned that people are really eager to talk to one another, be heard, and truly practice active listening. One of the things I emphasize when explaining the guidelines for World Café or Open Space is the importance of really listening to what someone has to say, because it could be so profound they have no idea. They need you to be there listening to pull it out, write it down, and inspire each other. People are eager to make a shift toward nurturing and caring for the earth and each another. BING helps to create a platform for the next generation of farmers and those who make up their communities to work on growing a future for us all. Definitive solutions and answers have not been the goal — rather putting out the ideas, inspiration, and concerns for something new. Yearning for a connection to one another and nature that is grander and different than what we have now…all this has been was very inspiring. I’m excited for what’s to come next! BING it on!