As I write this, I have just returned home after being evacuated for nearly two weeks due to the wildfires that ripped through Northern California. I'm holding in my heart the paradox of deep gratitude that my land and home were spared from the flames, and deep sorrow for the devastation that has affected so many lives here, including several biodynamic farms and vineyards. As these fires and other recent disasters demonstrate, we urgently need to keep working to build healthy and co-creative relationships with our land and the planet.
The timing of the fires coincided with a long-planned evolution in BDA leadership, through which I have stepped into the role of Executive Director of the Biodynamic Association. I feel so blessed to have built a relationship with this amazing organization over the past seven years, and to be invited to lead it into the future.
As I become Executive Director, the farmer training work that first brought me to the BDA continues to be a high priority. One of the BDA's most essential tasks is to equip the next generation of farmers to grow the biodynamic movement and a vibrant regenerative food system in North America. We have a responsibility to help young people build practical skills for working with the land and develop capacities for perception and innovative thinking.
I'm writing today to share some exciting new changes we are making to our farmer training work, and to ask for your financial support in bringing them to reality.
Since 2009, over 100 beginning farmers have participated in our North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABDAP), learning side-by-side with exemplary biodynamic mentor farmers across the continent. We have celebrated the graduation of 37 beginning farmers, and 12 more are on track to graduate this year.
"NABDAP is an excellent foundation to begin a farming and gardening journey… There is immense value in developing the facility of listening, and learning how to be more open and receptive to what the living farm reveals… A devotion and gratitude wells up when I realize that it's the others – the grass, the cows, the pigs, the sheep, the wind etc. – that are teaching and helping me develop myself as a sensitive human being. I think this is where true stewardship and responsible farming begins."
– Brent Hayes, 2016 NABDAP graduate
Just as each farm individuality needs to grow and evolve over time, so does our work to train the next generation of farmers. In the past few years, we have identified several ways to make our hands-on training even stronger and more relevant, and we are preparing to implement the following improvements in 2018:
- NABDAP will be divided into two intensive one-year programs: the Biodynamic Farmer Foundation Year will be focused on core biodynamic principles, practices, skills, and capacities, and the Biodynamic Farmer Development Year will support second-year trainees in developing specialized skills in areas such as fruit and vegetable production, grazing and livestock management, biodynamic beekeeping, or herb production.
- To train a broader range of aspiring biodynamic farmers, both of these new offerings will be open not just to apprentices, but also to existing farmers who want to convert to biodynamics. This new accessibility is hugely important, as more and more existing farmers become interested in biodynamics and want to transition their farms.
- Each of these programs will have an annual cohort of trainees who begin together in late February and participate in a bi-weekly interactive video course for the full year, throughout their on-farm training. This course will support trainees in building meaningful relationships with their peers, program staff, and the philosophical foundations of biodynamics through practical exercises and facilitated conversations.
- Both years will also include revised and enhanced versions of the core training tools of NABDAP, including a skills development guide, journaling, independent projects, visits to other farms, and a pre-conference workshop and gathering at the North American Biodynamic Conference.
Designing these changes to our farmer training has been a labor of love, and we also need financial support to make them a reality. We need to raise $50,000 this winter, before we welcome the first cohort of the Biodynamic Farmer Foundation Year in February.
Inspired by this wonderful evolution, two lead donors have come together to offer a $25,000 challenge grant to support this work and ensure that these programs are accessible to all seeking them. These challenge grants will match every donation, dollar for dollar, until we reach our $50,000 goal. Will you give generously to help us meet this challenge?
"I live with a passion to support healing for the earth and humanity. Through my personal research and experience in this program, I am confident that biodynamics offers an opportunity to be a farmer that produces food and medicine in a way that can bring healing to the earth and consumers, unlike much of the conventional farming across the United States.”
– Joseph Haggard, 2016 NABDAP graduate
The reality is, there are not nearly enough farmers practicing biodynamics in North America. More and more people are waking up to the need for vibrant, nutritious food, and this has increased demand among consumers, retailers, and processors for Demeter certified Biodynamic® products. Twenty-five national food brands now have Biodynamic product lines, and the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association had an entire day devoted to biodynamics at their 2017 conference. The biggest challenge to developing more Biodynamic products is not lack of interest or demand, but a shortage of Biodynamic ingredients grown in the United States. Farmer training is essential to bridge this gap so we can continue to grow a vibrant biodynamic food system.
Beyond farmer training, the BDA has numerous other important and groundbreaking activities underway. To offer just a few examples:
- Our webinars and online courses have already reached more than 1,000 people this year, and we are developing exciting new interactive offerings for 2018, such as a Foundations of Biodynamic Beekeeping online course in partnership with Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary.
- We have assembled a diverse and creative advisory committee for our next North American Biodynamic Conference, which will take place November 14-18, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. I visited many local farms in July, and will return to Oregon in February to present about biodynamics at the Organic Seed Growers Conference and meet with more potential collaborators for our conference.
- We are spearheading a collaborative visioning process for the entire North American biodynamic movement with Demeter USA and other key partners, to create a vivid picture of the future we collectively hope to create, and each of our roles in bringing it into being.
- We are working on significant upgrades to our website to better share biodynamics with the world, connect people to the information and resources they’re seeking, and serve the Spanish-speaking community across the Americas.
I hope you will join in supporting the evolution of our farmer training program and all of the Biodynamic Association's important work by making a generous gift to our fall campaign. You can donate online or by phone at (262) 649-9212 x2. Any amount you give will be doubled by our challenge grant!
"To me biodynamics is more than not using pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It is a holistic process of taking care of ourselves, each other and the earth. What I love about biodynamics is that it strives to put as much into the process as it takes out, physically and spiritually as a methodology of agriculture. I want to grow highly nutrient dense food to heal people and the earth. I believe that biodynamics is the way."
– Blaire AuClair, 2015 NABDAP graduate
Now, more than ever, the world needs the innovative, grounded, and heart-centered wisdom of biodynamics. Young farmers need inspiration and practical advice from experienced biodynamic mentors. Please give generously this year, knowing that your contributions, up to $25,000, will be matched dollar for dollar.
Thank you so much for your support, and for the opportunity to serve you as a member of the biodynamic community.
Thea Maria Carlson
P.S. Our work to train the next generation of biodynamic farmers and grow the biodynamic movement depends on generous donations from individuals. Your gift today will help create a healthy and vibrant future for our land, our food, and our communities!