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Farm Out!

Issue: 36 Section: Agriculture Geography: West British Columbia Topics: food security

April 23, 2006

Farm Out!

Biodynamics will change the way you think about agriculture

by Cammie Harbottle

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Animals are an essential part of a biodynamic farm.
Nestled in the Kootenay Mountains of South central British Columbia, George and Bridget Baumann's farm comprises 60 acres of fields, meadows, gardens, fruit trees, greenhouses, barns, dwellings and a dynamic mix of animals and people – typical of a biodynamic farm.

While visiting the farm during Easter, snow still capped the mountains surrounding Lofstedt Farm, but the wood-fired greenhouse was filled with seedlings and George said the fields were almost ready to plow.

George's experience with biodynamic farming reaches back to the mid-1930s when his family started the first biodynamic farm in France. Now, as one of the larger biodynamic farms in B.C., Lofstedt Farm runs a community-supported agriculture program that provides 60 families with food for 10 months of the year.

Biodynamics was developed in 1924 by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner in response to the impact of artificial chemical fertilizers on soil, crop and livestock health. Biodynamics seeks to recognize natural forces at work in the universe: it is based on the philosophy that "we don't just have a physical world, we also have a spiritual world," explains George. "We are using forces that come from outside the earth, from the planets and so on. It is these forces that are influencing the growth of plants." As much as possible, sowing and planting at Lofstedt farm is based on the phases of the moon and other cosmic influences.

Sowing and planting according to "cosmic forces" may raise the eyebrows of more traditional farmers, but George insists it produces "the utmost" quality of produce. Biodynamic practices are based upon high levels of biological, chemical and astrological understanding and have been subject to scientific research around the world. Biodynamic preparations have been scientifically verified to enhance soil and plant growth processes, including germination, root growth, and soil pH balance. According to George, biodynamics "goes beyond science. Science only sees one half of it. The other half [spirituality or "cosmic forces"] it ignores because it can't measure it."

Biodynamic agriculture regards the farm as an ecological entity, or organism, of which humans as well as plants and animals play an integral role. The holistic "systems" approach of biodynamics requires integrated management practices – such as crop-rotation, composting, incorporation of animals, soil management and the application of biodynamic preparations – to promote and maintain soil health.

Animals are fundamental in maintaining both the diversity and self-sufficiency of Lofstedt – two cornerstones of a healthy biodynamic farm. According to George, this is "because of the shit!" Lofstedt Farm is home to four dairy cows and their calves, four sheep, eight to 10 beehives, four Norwegian Fjord horses and a number of free-range chickens, as well as cats and dogs.

Their manure is a vital component of both compost and the biodynamic preparations used to fertilize the soil and promote plant growth. Various other animal parts including cow horns, bladders and intestines provide important energetic components of the preparations.

The nature of Lofstedt Farm means that George and Bridget make all of their own biodynamic preparations, occasionally seeking outside sources for key ingredients such as cow horns. However, regulations are making this increasingly difficult for the Baumanns and for biodynamic farmers around the world. Cows are being dehorned at an early age and "in Europe now, making biodynamic preparations is impossible because of mad cow disease. You can't get horns. And not just horns, but intestines, cow bladders, cow skulls. You no longer are allowed to use those things."

In addition to the introduction of legislation restricting the use of animal parts, regulations are also being passed to control the use of plant material. "They [Big Business] are doing everything they can to stop the use of plants for healing and things like that." Effectively, farmers such as George and Bridget, who are trying to use traditional and organic methods, are being pressured to adopt chemical practices.

The National Farmers Union reports that agribusiness in Canada is enjoying record profits this year at the expense of farmers who are in the midst of an economic crisis. One of the advantages to biodynamic farming, reports Bridget, is that one isn't at the mercy of agribusiness greed. "Biodynamic farmers are self-sufficient. That means that they don't buy anything [like pesticides and fertilizers]. There are no inputs so there is no industry behind pushing." This renders them independent of chemical companies and other industry.

Small farmers whose profits are being consumed by chemical inputs should consider biodynamics for reasons other than its self-sufficiency, says George. "It produces the highest quality vegetables, so it is an ideal that people work towards . . . it is the ultimate." But Bridget adds, "It is also a lot of work."

There are currently more then 40 biodynamic farms in Canada and there are now biodynamic agricultural societies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Each year Lofstedt Farm is host to several WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) and apprentices; George and Bridget's wish is to spread the word about biodynamic farming. "It has changed many, many people's lives," George says. "It just changes their whole outlook on life; what to do, where to go from here. It's an important thing."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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