There is nothing quite like the late afternoon light on a summer day in the Finger Lakes. As I pulled up the gravel road to Remembrance Farms in Trumansburg, New York, even the dust kicked up from my tires seemed to shimmer. This was my first visit to a certified biodynamic farm and I was curious and excited to learn more about this unique way of farming.
Remembrance Farm offered a fascinating view of how the philosophy behind biodynamic farming turns into something we can see, touch, and taste. As we followed farmer Nathaniel Thompson down the farm path, the fields of greens rolled out in waves ahead of us, all in various states of maturity depending on when they were planted. The Golden Cornet hens squawked and ran and the geese honked a warning from their pasture as we walked by. A row of mustard trials waved their yellow flowers in the breeze, and on the other side of the hedge row, varieties of onions and other root crops stood their ground despite the recent downpours.
Remembrance Farm is the only Demeter-certified Biodynamic farm in the Finger Lakes region, where Nathaniel and his wife Emily specialize in baby salad greens and stored root crops for wholesale markets throughout New York State and a collaborative CSA in the Ithaca area, the Full Plate Farm Collective. Grains are used on-farm to feed the laying flock, and the eggs are sold to primarily to CSA members.
As the crowd gathered, Nathaniel gave us a brief overview of the history and philosophy of biodynamic farming. Biodynamic agriculture is a holistic method of farming which emphasizes sensitivity to subtle processes in Nature, with the goal of producing food that truly nourishes the body and spirit. While the fundamental principles of present day organic farming (the exclusion of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in crop production) are included in biodynamic agriculture (and to be certified biodynamic one must first be certified organic according to NOP standards), its breadth and depth extend beyond the technical definition of organic farming. A biodynamic farm is understood to be a living, breathing organism, so farming practices strive to balance the overall health of the farm in order to produce the very highest quality food. The role of the farmer in biodynamic farming is to understand and nurture, in very intentional way, the health of the farming organism.
On the farm something was always being planted, germinated, growing, and harvested. Nathaniel explained and showed how through trial and experimentation he used biodynamic principles to learn what worked best on this particular farm. In some cases he was partnering with other farmers, such as Fruition Seeds located outside of Naples, to discover which plant varieties had the best germination and production levels in the unique climate of Upstate New York. Certainly the winter of 2014 helped all of us discover truly winter hardy varieties!
Nathaniel also showed how organic and biodynamic farming can also be quite mechanized and efficient in its production. Nathaniel has invested heavily in buildings and equipment and pays close attention to cleanliness and safety in his salad green packing area.
Remembrance Farm was an amazing combination of beautiful, practical, and mystical. As we closed the day and the evening light turned gold, I felt the experience could not really be described fully in the two hours I spent there. For more information, you can check out their website at http://www.remembrancefarm.org.