My favorite Greek myth was always the story of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone.
Many versions of this famous myth exist. The tale I remember goes as follows: Demeter, the goddess of harvest and fertility, had a daughter, Persephone. Essentially, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld, and taken underground. Demeter was so upset and heartbroken that she refused to fulfill her duties as soul of the earth, thus letting all living things die. This soon came to be called winter. Persephone would return home, but only for months at a time, those being spring through fall.
The poetic language of Greek myths gives us insight into human nature and the cosmic organism – viewing the universe as a living, breathing entity, with all its parts working together.
Proponents of biodynamic farming have an affinity for this myth in particular. In fact, Demeter USA is one of the key national biodynamic organizations to help serve the biodynamic movement. It reflects the symbolism of Demeter nourishing the earth and soil in order to further sustain all living organisms.
So, what is exactly is biodynamic farming? To the layman, it’s most easily understood as a souped-up version of organic farming. Biodynamics is a concept, not merely an agricultural system. It is a philosophy or worldview, which influences agricultural practices in myriad ways.
Among the tenets of biodynamic farming is considering the farm as a living system; more important, a self-sustaining system. In line with a holistic approach, biodynamics sees the farm in a wider context, subject to the patterns of lunar and cosmic cycles. The soil itself is not seen as a mere vessel for plant growth, but rather a unique organism. Biodynamic practitioners do not use chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In place of traditional chemicals, a series of special preparations from natural sources are used to enhance the life of the soil. These are applied at certain times, in keeping with the rhythms of nature.
Instead of disease being viewed as a problem to be tackled head-on, biodynamic farmers view disease as a symptom of a deeper problem within the farm organism. Essentially, biodynamics practitioners believe that through the use of biodynamics, disease does not exist, so it does not pose the same level of threat as it does to conventional farmers.
At a grassroots level soil health is of utmost importance to biodynamic practitioners, whether cultivating produce for the market or grapes for wine. Like the foundation of a house, the base is where it’s at. Composting helps achieve this, as well as a healthy soil microbial population.
Are there any biodynamic farms in Ohio? Although it’s not the easiest way to farm, Ohio biodynamic farmers are passionate about their endeavors, especially considering the state’s unique climate challenges.
Dawn and Carson Combs, the bio-friendly duo behind Mockingbird Meadows in Marysville, Ohio, believe wholeheartedly in biodynamic concepts. To hear Dawn explain it, biodynamic principles seem logical – much more so than the methods of typical farms.
“We treat the soil as though it is another farm animal, and feed it just as much as the animals,” says Dawn, whose background includes studies in science and herbalism. She explains that as with humans, one person (or component – in this case, soil) can’t be doing all the giving in a relationship. The practices obviously pay off for Mockingbird Meadows, which offers its coffee-infused honey to the local community as well as more glamorous locales, such as Cube restaurant in Hollywood, California.
Achieving biodynamic standards can take time, a lot of expense and can vary among farmers. Dawn encourages people to contact farms directly, explaining that most farmers are very friendly and welcome visitors to walk through their gardens and fields to learn how a farm is managed. Mockingbird Meadows hosts two to three classes per month on topics ranging from herbal skin care to natural first aid methods, women’s health issues and more. They also offer farm tours.
Another farmer, Jake Ciofalo, more commonly known as Farmer Jake, owns a biodynamic farm in Copley, Ohio, outside of Akron. Ciofalo became interested in biodynamic farming during a workshop in Michigan many years ago – so much so that he left his teaching position to tackle the issue of sustainability for himself and the 40 other families he helps feed using his one acre of land. (There would be many more, but they are on Ciofalo’s waiting list.)
Ciofalo claims that he’s “seen with his own eyes the beauty of this type of farming. Think of the tomato plant. Made mostly of water, the lunar aspect of biodynamics has to have an effect on that plant.” He’s even happy for winter. “It’s in the winter that the Earth wakes up to prepare itself for plants, and it is most alive at this time,” he says.
Ciofalo encourages people to spend time at his Lavender Lane farm to watch and help with the cycle of life that he supports there. There are pro-active farmers around us willing to keep this long-held tradition of farming around, but they can only continue their practice with community support, and the first step is understanding.