By Anthony Mecca
Originally published in Great Song Farm's CSA Newsletter
This past weekend I was at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference in Amherst, MA, exhibiting for and connecting folks to the Biodynamic Association, whose farmer training and apprenticeship program I coordinate alongside my work at Great Song Farm. Over 1,000 people attend each year, younger and older, those just starting out and seasoned veterans, gardeners, homesteaders, farmers, policy folks, and "just eaters."
One of the "hot topics" this year was "corporate organics" and the larger corporations stretching the organic standards to include hydroponically grown produce (grown in a soil-less nutrient solution), chickens that live their whole lives shoulder to shoulder and wing to wing, and cows that never see a blade of grass and live in "organic" CAFOs (Concentrated/Confined Animal Feeding Operation). All of these products are available at your grocery store simply lumped together and labeled as organic, making it difficult to know what their sources are and how they were actually raised.
Beside the fervor around the "co-opting" of organics, it was fascinating to see what connection folks have to biodynamic agriculture, what they’ve heard, and what they think of it. I wonder how many of you are aware that we practice biodynamic agriculture, or have heard of it otherwise? What do you think?
One of the most challenging and frequently asked questions was “what is the difference between biodynamic and organic?” Being amidst organic supporters, I had to be careful not to demean, even unintentionally. There are also many "organic" farmers who have never heard of biodynamics, but who incorporate many of the principles and practices in their farming, so to distinguish between them cleanly and clearly is quite a task.
Biodynamics views the earth, the farm, the soil, plants, animals, and human beings all as living, breathing, developing organisms. All of these beings are intimately connected to each other, as well as being part of an even larger whole consisting of other cosmic beings such as the sun, moon, and the other planets, which themselves are embedded in the the zodiac, and beyond. The human being's (farmer or gardener) task is to build strong individual relationships with them all to the best of our abilities; to converse deeply with them; and to befriend and care for them in such a way that we help them to unfold and grow towards their highest potential. Doing so brings about great nutrition and health to all involved, including you, the eaters!
The Demeter Biodynamic® certification standard is health positive for the entire farm and the larger ecosystems of which it is a part. This includes higher standards for animal welfare and care; guidelines for soil and fertility which build their resilience using resources from within the farm to the greatest extent possible; the integration of livestock in a way that brings healing to the land; as well as the allocation of space for wildlife to flourish in a balanced manner. (For more, see this sheet from the Biodynamic certifying agency, Demeter USA). Here is a nice little video from them that gives a simple picture of biodynamics. Note that although we are not currently certified Demeter Biodynamic, we adhere to the standards and are looking into being certified soon through their farmer-to-farmer certifying process for those who market locally, Demeter Local.
We are in one of a handful of communities in the USA that has a strong presence of biodynamic farms. The fruit in the fruit shares is also grown biodynamically at Threshold Farm in Philmont, and the potatoes in the share this week are from our friends at Lineage farm in Copake (Jen helped begin Great Song), who grow biodynamically. Many of the products in our farm store, such as those from Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, are also grown biodynamically.
While commonplace in central Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland (you can find Demeter Biodynamic bread, milk, and eggs even in some convenience stores!), it is just now starting to take off in the USA, particularly as some farms and organizations see organics being taken over by corporate interests and are interested in consciously supporting health and healing. There are more and more Biodynamic products showing up in local stores, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.
I’m passionate about biodynamics and what it can mean for the health of our farms, our communities, and the earth. If you have any questions, I’m happy to talk!
Anthony Mecca began farming 10 years ago, in search of a place to wonder, explore, and serve. In farming, he found hot sun, hard physical work, and community to be potent medicine. After five years learning from a diversity of farms, Anthony was called to the Hudson Valley of New York to begin Great Song Farm in 2010. Here he found his kin and began deepening his work with biodynamic farming, anthroposophy, inner work, and community life. Fostering direct and meaningful relationships between nature, agriculture, and community is central to his work. Anthony brings experiences as a student, WWOOFer, apprentice, farm-worker, farmer, and mentor to his work coordinating Farmer Training at the BDA. He also enjoys cooking, reading, and sitting quietly in the grass with the cows.