Red Thread for Growing the Next Generation of Biodynamic Farmers

I was asked to talk about what we are doing to grow the biodynamic movement in the USA and how to reach out to more farmers by running field days, special programs, etc. I would like to expand this talk by including the question - how do we attract the next generation of young people into farming and specifically into biodynamic farming? I am going to speak about how Steffen and I have approached this question where we live and work and then we can have a discussion about that.

What we are seeing in the Hudson Valley is what I am calling the "Emerging Real Food Economy".  So the first thing is to notice that a country as large as the USA has regions. Within the Northeast itself, there is another region - the Hudson Valley - with the river, certain  micro - climates, certain markets - the biggest one is obviously NYC.... the way the land has been developed.... more hill farms up north - black soils in Orange county more horse farms in Duchess... more fruit alongside the river... etc.

The first thing to recognize is that biodynamic agriculture is part of this emerging real food economy. It is actually part of something place based that is larger than itself. WE may feel that it is the ultimate of all farming methods, but the world doesn't know that yet. So we have to take our part in a larger world context.... bringing health giving nutritious food to our region, helping to connect people to the soil, by being places that are open to the soul to soil connection and working very hard WITH OTHERS to ensure a socially just food distribution system. YES, as BD farmers we have great wisdom to bring to all these questions, but we have to work with others to be able to bring it.

We started by collaborating with our fellow farmers through CRAFT and the CSA movement. As I mentioned in my other talk - having apprentices and wanting to offer them some sense of how our operations differed - our growing techniques, Together 12 farms gathered over 30-40 apprentices and then each farmer had a topic - so farmers began to become educators simply by telling the story of their farm - of what they do with a specific topic slant. Of those 12 farms 3 were BD and when the apprentices came to us, we spoke about BD and our practices but in total collaboration with the organic farmers.  12 farm visits and a pot luck a baseline data form. One meeting in the spring one at the end with apprentices and one meeting of participating farmers in the winter. There are now 3 CRAFT groups in the Hudson valley and over  ...... across the country.

From there it became clear that our young farmers needed more... Found LSP and Farm Beginnings. And this brings me to the Learning Center. The idea that farmers themselves are going to make this all happen is false. Farmers need to farm. They need to tell their story when asked and open their farms to others. They cannot grow the movement alone. The vocation of Farm Based Educator is still virtually unknown. In my opinion, every farm needs a LC with a Farm Based Educator organizing activities, programs and conferences and events for that farm or for a group of farms. 

In our case, that person was me. I found LSP and Farm Beginnings. Whole farm planning course which I am every year adapting more and more ... bringing in more concepts from BD - general ones - the farm organism, associative economics, the importance of composting and having animals - the social dimension of farming... into this course. One of the hallmarks of the emerging food economy in the Hudson Valley is the understanding of the relationship between growing the food, adding value to the food through artisanal food processing and direct marketing such as CSA... all part of the biodynamic model. Here again - coursework, field days, one on one mentoring with farmers, skills workshops, and year long mentoring sessions open that possibility to spread the word about biodynamic agriculture.

I believe you have to build a case for BD with young people.  You can approach it

by sustainable environmental practice to mindful inner practice and associative economics and then move towards the techniques from there. In a class with 35-40 students in Farm Beginnings, maybe 5 are interested in BD. The same with the CRAFT groups... but hey, 6 apprentices per year, 3-5 others in CRAFT maybe 3-5 others in Farm Beginnings and then you have something going.

At the same time - on a national level our Biodynamic Association hired a Director of Education - we formed a collaborative to speak to one another about our practices and how to explain them to folks just being interested. That is an art form. How to speak about Steiner, anthroposophy, meditation, inner practice, social forms of BD agriculture, the preps, the reason for them, all the concepts and imaginations in the AG lectures - we have to teach ourselves how to speak about them to others - not to ourselves. We started the NABDAP program - a two year apprenticeship program with real flexibility - allowing apprentices to move to different farms - one full year of BD farming, and one year of organic if wanted - a checklist of skills, a theoretical class component, an independent project and a journal. Participants can move around the country to mentor farms and get a certification.

Again, in the theoretical part you can build in the anthroposophy and draw all kinds of people to teach in it - organic, ecologists, soil scientists, compost specialists, whatever. But the people organizing this are NOT the farmers unless they want to.

There is one more way to grow the movement. Open your farms to the public and let your educator talk about what makes BD special ... Farm tours with a simple message:

The farm individuality, the connections to the planetary rhythms, and the importance of inner work. Do not begin with the preps. Do not make that the total talk. The BD preps are a living technology. Biodynamic agriculture is a methodology that employs a living technology. So enlivening the soil will grow more sensitive high quality plants that will feed both humans and animals who will grow truer to their own archetype and give rich high quality products for us to eat and to enrich the soil in the form of manure. Simple sentences. Simple truthful sentences out of your own experience.   I gave hundreds of those tours in the 10 years that I gave them. Having consumers understand BD food will push market demand. And offer introductory courses to backyard gardeners who are also consumers..... But don't be afraid to let people stir the preps. They understand them through doing them. That will make farmers interested in farming that way. Also,  if you yourselves are adding value take more milk, by more cabbage from organic farmers and see if you can get them to convert. Creating a conversion program geared especially for  mature organic farmers is the next step. That needs to be accomplished by the national BDA.

This is not an easy task - it is a challenge and an exciting one - collaboration between farmers, farm based educators and the Biodynamic Association all working strategically is what it will take. Good luck!