Posted by Tom Boyden in Biodynamic Farming on November 19, 2012
I was planning on writing my second post in my history of organic and sustainable agriculture blog series before the Biodynamic Conference, but I’m rereading Rudolf Steiner’s lectures. The N.A. Biodynamic Conference allowed me to speak with many amazingly open and passionate people and it has changed my whole perspective on biodynamic farming. I was really looking forward to the second workshop and I’m going to make it a two-part post, enjoy the first!
A panel of youngish farmers spoke of their trials and tribulations leading up to their success as agriculturalists. The first farmer to speak was a man named Kevin Dietzel. He is a biodynamic farmer through and through; growing up on a biodynamic farm will undoubtedly bring you down that path. Kevin’s own assertion of his life as a biodynamic farmer did not come easily, much introspection and travel brought about the realization that regenerative agriculture was the only way he wanted to farm. He put it wonderfully, “I’m here to farm without bringing harm to anything,” a distinct goal of biodynamic farming. He has a wife, a soil scientist, who supports the major ecological benefit of biodynamic farming, and they have a young child. His family anchors him, seeing as he’s the dreamer of the bunch.
The Dietzel family is renting farmland in central Iowa, where a single acre can fetch up to $10,000. Without the help of his uncle, it would not have been possible to obtain this parcel of land in the heartland of some of the most fertile soil in the world. The farm is located on a lake that was drained for agricultural use in the early 20th century. Having grown up on a biodynamic farm and worked for 3 years on biodynamic farms in Germany, Kevin knew he was more than competent and committed to running his own farm, but the issue of funding that is always in the back of his mind. Often, opportunities have come up to finance his goal to run a large-scale livestock operation, but as he said, “You can’t take every opportunity; both parties need to be happy.”
Dairy and cheese-making is the end all goal for Kevin and his family. He has drafted plans and sent a building bid in for a single building integrating a milk parlor with a cheesery. Unfortunately, with no cash, the project has been hard to find financing for. In the meantime they are custom grazing animals for other farmers, along with subleasing to an organic alfalfa grower. He has a large business plan drafted and stressed the importance of putting your dreams on paper. The point he emphasized when starting a farm, “Follow your passion and don’t ever waver from that path,” rang true throughout his energetic time behind the microphone.
Pesticides and chemicals are not foreign materials to Chris; he started off his career applying these to fields all over California. It wasn’t until his teacher at college mentioned biodynamic farming in one of his lectures that he began to think about regenerative agriculture. Mentioned is the key word there, considering his teacher was not allowed to discuss or lecture about biodynamics past a quick mention of regenerative agriculture. Chris was enthralled with the idea of very low to no inputs and a plethora of outputs coming out of a farming operation, which was quite the opposite of conventional agriculture. He had decided right there, he was going to be a farmer, but one daunting question loomed in his mind; will my family and friends support me?
As a Mexican-American, his parents were not thrilled to hear he was going to be a farmer. They didn’t want to see him work so hard like they had and their parents before them. His grandfather was a conventional stone fruit farmer and his grandmother worked closely with him; spraying chemicals more often than they may have needed. Ultimately, his grandfather stopped farming, because his wife died of cancer. Chris did not waver from his goal to become a farmer and took a job at a local native plant nursery. This wasn’t an ordinary nursery; there was vacant farmland in the back. Chris inquired to the owner about the vacant land and surprisingly, the owner enthusiastically supported Chris farming the land. He and his wife created a CSA, which ran for 7 years, and he quickly assumed a managerial role at the nursery. For seven years, he worked 12 hours, 7 days a week. It was gratifying and good work, but his family decided they needed a change.
He quit working at the nursery and his wife starting working again. Though Chris was focused on carving a future of working for himself, his goal was to create a no debt farm. With luck, the Velez family garnered a substantial inheritance, found a farm at a good price, and founded Stella Luna Farm. From the beginning, Chris committed his farm to a biodynamic agricultural focus. When asked how he found biodynamic farming, Chris answered, “I didn’t find biodynamic agriculture, it found me.” Now, the farm is successful and expanding to include a nursery. This has brought the realization to Chris that he is not meant to be a farmer, but his passion lies in horticulture. Whether its farming or horticulture, Chris Velez stressed, “It’s hard to impose will on your passion when you’re working for someone else, self-employment is key to unlocking that passion.”