Skip to content

Bringing Biodynamic Agriculture to Kenya, East Africa

May 25, 2017

By Vincent Okoth Musiko


Introduction

I was brought up by my single mama after my father’s death 1964 when I was only two years old, the fifth and last born child of my dear parents Andrew Musiko and Clementina Namukuru Musiko, at Khushinoko Namulungu-Mumias, the present Kakamega County, in Kenya, East Africa.

vincenttraining

I got interested in farming as my mother farmed organically three acres of land. We never lacked food not just food, but nutritious, higher quality, and farmed organically. She was a scientist who never went to anybody’s school; if she did, she never went beyond the Kenyan class two. She had assorted crops and vegetables, cows, and poultry. It was a mixed garden, and we got all our manures and fertilizers from within the three acres of land; we never bought chemicals. We got all we needed as a family from this land. We rarely went to the hospital because we ate well.

When I went to high school, I continued studying. Agriculture and biology were my favorite subjects. After high school, I joined a Sustainable Agricultural College in Molo, Kenya before getting funding to go to the United Kingdom. There I studied biodynamic agriculture before undertaking an MSc in Sustainable Agriculture from the University of London at Imperial College.

While at Emerson, I almost gave up to come back to Kenya as the biodynamic agriculture was a bit different from the organic farming I knew. A lady by the name of Elizabeth Edmund at Emerson counseled me and gave me hope for the future of farming before she passed on. I stayed on and have never looked back.

The interest has grown for many years now in training small-scale farmers organic agriculture. We are now slowly introducing biodynamic farming, starting with preparations of horn manure and stinging nettles. We are also training the small-scale farmers on beekeeping, using both modern and traditional ways of beekeeping in rural eastern Kenya.

I am calling upon you who are reading this article to help us support farmers, particularly in training. You are also welcome to pay us a visit in Kenya where we are. A dollar or two contributed towards this course will take us a step ahead.

2015-07-13 12.29.00

The Reality of Food Security, in Kenya in Particular and Africa in General

Africa in general and Kenya in particular not only needs food for her hungry mouths, but food that is healthy, clean, and of high quality and a healthy environment in which we live and work. We need to use our natural resources sustainably without compromising our children’s. Africans must stand up, discover their own problems in food security and environmental conservation, and solve them themselves of course with the help of their sisters and brothers abroad. The answer is found within the Kenyan people in particular, and in the African people in general, particularly in the local communities.

As you may have noticed, the environment is fast getting worse each day. As I write today, people in many parts of Kenya are sleeping on hungry stomachs due to continued drought. People almost everywhere do not have clean drinking water; they have to walk for many kilometers to get water for their families and livestock. The threat of global warming, climate change, and food insecurity is real and threatens the very existence of humanity on this planet.

In very few years to come, areas that produce more food in Kenya will be rendered unproductive due to the change in climate. Change in climate requires a change in our farming systems, technologies, and our own attitudes. It is evident that our environment is being destroyed and that pollution is very high. It is indeed my responsibility, your responsibility, our responsibility, the responsibility of every one of us, to take care of the environment. No matter what your profession is, all of us need food that is of high quality and nutritious in order to perform what we do well. You must be concerned with what you eat, whether you produce it, buy down the street at the food store, or pick from roadsides sellers as you head to your home. You are what you eat, the saying goes.

The biodiversity and ecosystems are disappearing very fast, and this worries me and should worry you too. Fish stocks in waters are now collapsing, and forest cover is thinning out despite the fact that we sing of reforestation daily. Our conventional farming systems are getting out of hand, as most soils in Kenya are now exhausted and very acidic and so cannot adequately support crops, animals, and of course us ourselves and our children. We should not forget that we have borrowed land from the future generations, our children, and we must hand it back to them better than we got it. The land is a loan to us by our children, and we should return it with interest. Biodynamic sustainable farming is the answer today, as it was the answer to the few in 1924 when Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave the eight lectures on agriculture.

zawadi

DSCI0053

The urban communities are having difficulties accessing food, and many people who cannot afford escalating high prices of vegetables. The solution is to bring food in the urban centers by utilizing available empty places and training rural communities to produce food locally, especially targeting the local food and examining the local climatic conditions. We should detach ourselves from food colonialism so that when you eat amaranthus, butter flower, black nightshades, sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet, cassava, and many more that grow better in our conditions, you should not say, “I did not eat; I only ate sweet potatoes,” just because you did not eat maize meal, which is now a national staple food in Kenya. We need to change our attitude towards food production and its consumption. Plant your own.

Bring Biodynamic Agriculture to Kenya, East Africa

Biodynamic agriculture was the first formal organic agriculture. The first organic agriculture definition was given by Lord Northbourne in 1940. Northbourne was a biodynamic agriculture practitioner and the author of Look to the Land. In common with other forms of organic farming, biodynamic agriculture uses management practices that are intended to store and maintain ecological harmony. Central features include crop diversification, biodynamic preparations, the avoidance of chemical soil treatments and off-farm inputs in general, decentralization of production and distribution, and the consideration of celestial and terrestrial influences on biological organisms.

Demeter International, the body responsible for certification of biodynamic agriculture internationally, recommends that the individual design of the land by a farmer, determined by site conditions, is one of the basic tenets of biodynamic agriculture, and in Kenya we can just do that. This principle emphasizes that humans have a responsibility for the development of their ecological and social environment that goes beyond economic aims and principles of descriptive ecology. Crops, livestock, farmer, and the entire socio-economic environment form a unique interaction, a unique individual. The farmer seeks to enhance and support “forces” of nature that lead to healthy crops and animals and rejects any practice that destroys the environment.

Biodynamic agriculture differs from many forms of organic agriculture in the spiritual, mystical, and astrological orientation. Compared to non-organic agriculture, biodynamic agriculture has been found to be more resilient to environmental challenges, fostering a diverse biosphere and more energy efficiency.

Food and water security are increasingly threatened by factors such as climate, environmental change, loss of biodiversity, drying out of sources of water, and fast thinning out of our forests. This is evident to all, both academicians and lay people, without forgetting conflicts and market volatility. New knowledge, policies, and sustainable technologies are needed to develop systems that are more resilient to change and that ensure the health of our food and water supplies. This is biodynamic agriculture. Resilient systems are better able to bounce back from stresses caused by longer-term or short-term changes of events such as flooding, or human impacts such as poor farming systems that separate economy from environment, or war or water pollution.

Focus is on food, water, and people uniting once again to one another and with the land; integrating local people’s knowledge in social, agro-ecological, hydrological, and environmental processes; and the pivotal role that communities play in developing resilience.

Biodynamic agriculture aims to advance resilience science through creative work on a new generation of key issues linked to the governance of food systems, hydrological change, urban food and water, river processes, water quality, and emerging pollutants.

With the team here in Kenya under non-governmental organization, we wish to train 160 small-scale farmers in an introduction to biodynamic agriculture and beekeeping in four different local areas each group training 40 small-scale farmers. Your financial support and advice shall be appreciated.                                                             

Contact information for Vincent Okoth Musiko: vmusiko@yahoo.com or  +254 ( 0)728 146 536.

Advertisements

With Kid-Gloves

April 27, 2017

By Paul Haygood

A small, untended garden-space
Is dug, turned, fed
And planted…
I in my old holey-blue sweater
And green-net hat
Feeling quite pagan and quite priestly,
Gently setting tiny plants
Into the Earth,
Giving thanks
For sun, water and worms…
She seems receptive, this tiny patch
Of newly re-cared for earth,
And I need her love….

 

lettuce-starts.jpg

Sharing in the “Great Celebration of All Creation” at the Fellowship of Preparation Makers Conference

April 5, 2017

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.

IMG_5606 Hack Farm fields in winter

Hack Farm fields

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.  

img_5562-hugh-courtney-shares-about-looking-at-the-etheric-body-of-a-tree.jpg

Hugh Courtney shares about looking at the etheric body of a tree

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.

IMG_5603 Delicious homemade meals!

Enjoying delicious homemade meals

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.

IMG_5583 Chris Boettcher depicts feedback loops between cow calf earth and cosmos

Chris Boettcher depicts feedback loops between cow, calf, earth, and cosmos

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.

IMG_5631 Ready for the hay ride back to the Hall

IMG_5634 Rolling back to Armow Hall

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.

IMG_5625 Getting ready to evaluate samples of 500. Yes it was cold that day!

Preparing to evaluate samples of #500

IMG_5629 Evaluating samples of 500

Evaluating samples of #500

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!

img_5647-musical-chairs.jpg

Musical chairs

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How I Came to Appreciate Organic Food

March 15, 2017

By Richard Chomko
Village Market Manager, Thornhill, ON

Originally published in the Village Market and Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario newsletters



DSCF8157In 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.

DSC_0238

DSCF0190.jpg

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.

DSCF6546

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.

Sacred Farming, a Collaboration with the Earth

February 8, 2017

By Jessie Crow Mermel

Originally posted on the Angelic Organics Learning Center Blog (Jan. 18, 2017)


21299076662_26da188b03_z“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.


Connect with the local, living land at Angelic Organics through a CSA share or by attending a workshop or camp at Angelic Organics Learning Center.

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

Building a Local Network of Biodynamic Practitioners: KY-TN DemeterLOCAL

October 25, 2016

By Hilary Higginbotham

8th installment in the Tierra Viva series, the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.


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.

hh-blog-3-100416

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.

hh-blog-2-100416

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_0-2Join Hilary Higginbotham, along with Jim Fullmer, Patricia Frazier, and Jeff Poppen, at Building Regional Biodynamic Communities, Saturday, November 19 at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference.

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.

Growing Seed in the Heartland

October 18, 2016

By Beth Corymb, Meadowlark Hearth Biodynamic Seed Initiative, Scottsbluff, NE

7th installment in the Tierra Viva series, the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.


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.

2nd-processing-carrot-seed-14-resized

Processing carrot seed

13-pea-seed-stomp-rs-4

Pea seed stomp

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.

emerald-queen
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!

carrot-roots-flowering-2011-for-seed

Carrots flowering for seed

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.

%d bloggers like this: