This event was not my first exposure to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamic agricultural practices… I first became aware of biodynamics at The Culinary Institute of America. It was one of our last classes in Gastronomy. We were learning about food production methods and the coverage of biodynamics was a mere dot on a map. The only things that I took away from the description was that they bury horns in cow manure and use a special calendar. Being that I am interested in farming and agriculture, I was determined to find out more. Through my involvement with Slow Food on Campus CIA, I managed to arrange a lecture and a visit to the Pfeiffer Center in Chestnut Ridge, NY.
When I first visited the center, it was for an Intro to Organic Beekeeping course with Chris Harp and Ross Conrad. The center reminded me of a summer camp, complete with mess hall and sleeping quarters. The grounds were impressive and filled with life, but my weekend at the center still didn’t give me a clue as to what made the plants grow so well. I then arranged for Mac Mead the head of the Pfeiffer Center to speak at the CIA and explain biodynamics. The turnout for the event was low because we were competing with a host of other events including Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and author of Blood, Bones and Butter, but the smaller group made absorbing the information a bit easier.
The principal ideas of biodynamic farming make sense, it focuses on the interrelationships and holistic development of the soil, plants and animals in a self-sustaining system. The results seem like overwhelming proof in the system, but there is a lot of dispute and discord about whether or not the same results can be achieved though similar organic farming principals. In my opinion, the difference in organic farming and biodynamic farming is this sense of spiritual awareness to all the different elements in the equation, and that is the key, “different” elements. The farm needs to be a diverse ecosystem.
|Red House Cultural Center|
This weekends event was hosted by the Red House Cultural Center in Sofia and Foundation “Zaedno“. The lecture was led by Dimitar Stoyanov or “Chicho Mitko” a biodynamic farmer, whose farm House of Bamboo uses the biodynamic principals. I was fortunate to have a good understanding of the principals of biodynamics because the language barrier was a bit of a challenge, but I got the gist of the discussion. The visual slide show images helped.
The day started with a presentation from Foundation “Zaedno”, who organized an edible schoolyard in the Lozentez district of Sofia. The project turned out nice and the children in the kindergarden seemed to enjoy the extra time digging in the dirt. It all seemed very similar to what Alice Waters is doing with the Edible Schoolyard, but what I like about Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard is that the children are a bit older and better able to really participate in garden. I have a 6 & 8 year old and getting them in the garden is a difficult feat. What can you really get out of kids that are 3 – 7? It will be the adults that do most of the work, but don’t get me wrong, this sort of awareness is a step in the right direction. Maya asked if her school in Kyustendil could do something similar, which honestly, would be a perfect place for and school garden/biological teaching device. Her school goes from 1st to 8th grade, so the student’s comprehension towards a project like this would be extremely beneficial. I wouldn’t even know where to begin or who to make the suggestion to, but knowing Bulgaria…. I can already hear the laughter and head shaking… meaning are you kidding… Not that negativity would dissuade me.
The turn out was pretty good, after lunch that is… I guess people don’t like to get up for a 9:30 event on a Saturday. The crowd seemed to be a mix of young hipsters, farmers and urbanites. I think I was the only foreigner, but after lunch Maya was not to only child in attendance.
Chicho Mitko, a very passionate and dynamic speaker offered a great introduction to the principals of biodynamic farming. He delved into its history and talked about Rudolf Steiner and the Maria Thun’s calendar, which I bought. He went into detail about the interactions and relationships that exist in the garden and that effect on ecosystem. He talked about one of my favorite topics, which was compost and its necessity in not only biodynamic farming, but all natural endeavors. Then he went through and gave the steps necessary to set up your own small scale home garden using these principals. He talked about ways to germinate seedlings that was approachable and biodynamic, buying seeds and all other elements to get your ready for you agricultural adventure.
Personally, I like some of the ideas that are associated with biodynamic farming, but I can’t move past the spirituality aspect, which is vital if you are to become a disciple of biodynamics. If not for nothing else, I like the calendar and will try to plant my garden to its rhythms, when possible.
The House of Bamboo, Chicho Mitko’s farm has a room to rent if you are interested in visiting. I would love to visit during the summer or fall. It seems like a nice little weekend getaway… that is if we arent’ too busy with baby and working on our own land.