Farm & Garden: Biodynamic farming catches on in WNC

FEET FIRST: Jeff Poppen, the "Barefoot Farmer," returns to Asheville July 9-10 to lead an intensive workshop on biodynamic principles at Living Web Farms in Mills River. Photo courtesy of Living Web Farms

First introduced in a series of lectures by Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner in 1924, biodynamic farming has been both celebrated and viewed with skepticism. While its detractors point to Steiner’s lack of agricultural experience and the unscientific nature of his claims, other farmers embrace biodynamic principles that combine holistic management practices with spiritual components. In a March 18 article on natural food trends, the New York Times reported that biodynamics is “a hot topic” in the food industry, with consumers increasingly regarding products grown using biodynamic methods as exemplifying the highest standards of sustainability, health and purity.

In June, herb grower Pangaea Plants announced that it had become the first farm in Western North Carolina to be certified by the Demeter Association, an international biodynamic trademark recognized in 50 countries. Pangaea Plants, which grows, dries, packages and sells herbs, is also certified as an organic and Good Agricultural Practices farm.

Gabriel Noard started Pangaea in 2015, but his interest in sustainable agriculture techniques first emerged 20 years ago as he traveled through Europe, working with organic and biodynamic growers along the way.

Area growers interested in exploring biodynamic practices can learn from Jeff Poppen — also known as the “Barefoot Farmer” — at a two-day workshop at Living Web Farms July 9-10. Poppen is a Tennessee farmer who has cultivated his land according to Steiner’s principles for 30 years.

“Dr. Steiner’s agricultural lectures have provided me with entertainment, education and success in farming,” Poppen says. “I get more out of the course every time I read it. I also work to inspire an interest in others, to look deeper into how people grew plants and animals before the advent of industrial agriculture.”

Poppen previously visited Asheville in March to teach at the Organic Growers School. This time around, he will delve even deeper into biodynamic practices, such as planting by astrological signs and making herbal sprays and preparations, as well as holistic soil-building. The second day of the event will explore spiritual aspects of biodynamic theories, while also featuring the practical experiences of local growers, including Craig Siska of the Black Mountain Community Garden and Amy Hamilton of Appalachian Seeds Farm & Nursery.

“Whether or not you subscribe to the sublime or spiritual components of biodynamic agriculture,” says Living Web Farms’ education and outreach coordinator Meredith Leigh, “there are a lot of principles that any farmer can use.” Leigh cites the experiences of Hamilton, who has been successfully growing organic heirloom tomatoes outdoors using biodynamic techniques. Hamilton worked in agricultural research settings before becoming her own boss, and she has never seen anything work as effectively against late blight as the biodynamic techniques and preparations she is using now, Leigh says.

“Biodynamics sees each farm as a unique organism. The goal is to use fewer inputs and to create a closed-loop system,” Leigh explains. “Along with being highly sustainable, the approach also uses fewer production dollars. That’s something a lot of farmers are interested in.”

Registration for the weekend is by donation; $30 is suggested for full attendance, or $20 for one day. Visit www.livingwebfarms.org to sign up.

 

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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