For a story in the Mid May issue, I had the chance to talk with Dawn Combs who farms a little differently than most farmers in the state. She has a very small herb and honey farm that adheres to the principles of biodynamics that combine old-school herbal knowledge, folklore and science. She admits that some of the components of this type of closed-loop farming system may sound a bit kooky. The phase of the moon, constellations, old wives tales and strange crop inputs all come into play in biodynamics, but there is a sound dose of science and common sense mixed in as well. Companion planting, soil science, chemistry and biology are all part of the farming practices.
The bottom line is that it seems to be working for Combs and, a result, is garnering some attention from local agriculturalists that are likely baffled by some of her practices. But, no matter how conventional they may be, I think any farmer would admit that there are just some things that we still do not quite understand in the annual struggle with Mother Nature on the farm.
According to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, “In the early 1920s, a group of practicing farmers, concerned with the decline in the health of soils, plants and animals, sought the advice of Rudolf Steiner, founder of anthroposophy, who had spent all his life researching and investigating the subtle forces within nature. From a series of lectures and conversations held at Koberwitz, Germany, in June 1924, there emerged the fundamental principles of biodynamic farming and gardening, a unified approach to agriculture that relates the ecology of the farm-organism to that of the entire cosmos. This approach has been under development in many parts of the world ever since. Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who worked with Dr. Steiner during the formative period, brought biodynamic concepts to the United States in the 1930s. It was during this period that the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association was founded in 1938.”
The founder of biodynamics, Steiner, grew up among peasants in the mountains in the late 1800s on the border of Hungary and Croatia. At that time, the peasant culture and farming practices were largely unchanged since Medieval times and Steiner grew closely acquainted with the ancient ways of farming at a time when much of the world had become vastly more modernized.
Of course, in today’s world of biotechnology, satellite precision and other unprecedented technology, such thoughts of planting by the phase of the moon in accordance with subtle heavenly forces seems rather silly. Those Medieval peasants with their nuggets of agricultural wisdom passed down from generations before couldn’t possibly know anything beneficial to today’s agriculture, or could they?
I do know that as powerful, precision machines (that are well beyond anything those peasants could ever imagine) sat idle in their massive storage sheds through the abundant April and May showers, Dawn Combs was at work in her gardens. She was daunted by the rains, no doubt, but her small scale, closed-loop farming system based on the ancient oddities of biodynamics allowed her the flexibility to continue working through the inclement weather conditions that halted most every other farmer in Ohio.
In addition, in my visit for the story, Combs did not one time mention anything negative whatsoever about modern agricultural practices, as many small scale, niche farmers are inclined to do. Though the area farmers surely scoff at her very unconventional ideas about agriculture, she told me nary a word of criticism about the way her neighbors farm. I am guessing that many of us would not extend the same courtesy to her.
Agriculture is as diverse as the soils and the people who farm them, but ultimately, with a hungry world waiting, we’re all in this together. With that to consider, an agrarian spirit, a mountain peasant’s intuition and the willingness to consider the ideas of others should all be principles of a biodynamic agriculture that we can all agree upon.
Stay safe during this very challenging planting season.
Also, Combs was part of last year’s OEFFA Tour. There is another interesting line up this year. Here it is.
The tours are:
· Saturday, June 4: Full service sustainable dairy—Snowville Creamery, Pomeroy, Ohio (Meigs Co.)
· Saturday, June 18: Grain production and cleaning, organic vegetables, and season extension—Hirzel Farms, Luckey, Ohio (Wood Co.)
· Thursday, June 30: Family-owned poultry hatchery—Ridgway Hatcheries, LaRue, Ohio (Marion Co.)
· Saturday, July 9: Organic dairy and herdshare—Double J Farm, Hamilton, Ohio (Butler Co.)
· Tuesday, July 12: Heirloom vegetables, buffalo, and season extension—Heritage Lane Farms, Salem, Ohio (Columbiana Co.)
· Tuesday, July 19: Farming with horses—Turner Farm, Cincinnati, Ohio (Hamilton Co.)
· Saturday, July 23: Rain and butterfly gardens and native seed production—Ohio Prairie Nursery, Hiram, Ohio (Portage Co.)
· Saturday, July 30: Women in agriculture—Blue Rock Station, Log Cabin Weaving, and Butternut Farms; Philo, Zanesville, and Glenford, Ohio (Muskingum and Licking Co.)
· Saturday, July 30: Year-round organic farm and market—Trinity Farms Market and Meadow Rise Farm, Bellville, Ohio (Richland Co.)
· Thursday, August 11: Value-added fiber and fabric—Morning Star Fiber, Apple Creek, Ohio (Wayne Co.)
· Saturday, August 20: Farmstead cheese and diversified livestock—Canal Junction Farmstead Cheese, Defiance, Ohio (Paulding Co.)
· Saturday, August 27: Organic pork, grain, and livestock feed mill—Curly Tail Organic Farm, Fredericktown, Ohio (Knox Co.)
· Saturday, September 10: Grass-fed marketing and NRCS EQIP demonstration—Marshy Meadows Farm, Windsor, Ohio (Ashtabula Co.)
· Saturday, September 17: All-in-one organic farm—Mile Creek Farm and CSA, New Lebanon, Ohio (Montgomery Co.)
· Saturday, September 24: Organic family dairy—Pleasantview Farm, Circleville, Ohio (Pickaway Co.)
· Saturday, October 1: Year-round growers’ market—Local Roots Market and South Market Bistro, Wooster, Ohio (Wayne Co.)
· Sunday, October 9: Living off the land—Carriage House Farm, North Bend, Ohio (Hamilton Co.)
In addition, the series features the following workshops sponsored by OEFFA:
· Friday, October 14: Advanced Sustainable Tomato Production—This interactive workshop is designed for experienced growers looking to improve tomato production and management. Cost: $85 OEFFA members, $100 nonmembers. Lunch included.
· Saturday, November 5-Tuesday, November 8: Raising the Salad Bar: Advanced Techniques and Season Extension for the Established Specialty Crop Grower—Geared toward advancing the earning potential of seasoned growers, this multi-day, two-part workshop will equip specialty crop producers with the tools needed to improve efficiency, utilize season extension, engage in sophisticated business planning, and improve growing practices.
Co-sponsored by the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy. The Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau 30 Mile Meal Project, Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, Innovative Farmers of Ohio, the Ohio State University Sustainable Agriculture Team, and the Tecumseh Land Trust are also sponsoring tours as part of this series. For a complete list of all farm tours, including dates, times, farm descriptions, directions, and maps, go to www.oeffa.org/farmtour/.