La mitad del mundo

19 02 2010

Hola!

We are currently in Ecuador, near a small town called Malchingui. It is right next to the equator, meaning we are in the middle of the planet, or la mitad del mundo in Spanish.

We are staying at the Comuna de Rhiannon, located an hour away North of Quito in a volcanic desert. It is a very particular community since there are only two permanent members, Helen and Nicky, and all the others are volunteers that are passing by (currently there is 14 visitors). Volunteers stay between a couple of weeks and a year, making this place a living laboratory of alternative techniques.

Imagine a place where each person is free to create what he or she believes could be useful for the community and gets all the support needed to achieve the project… As a result, for the first time ever, we have witnessed a blender that is activated by a bicycle!

We would like to tell you more, but we´re in an Internet cafe in Malchingui (there is no electricity in Rhiannon) and need to go back to the community to water the plants.

Thanks for all your comments and support. We´ll write to you soon with more on the Rhiannon experience!

Much love,

lisa and juan : )





Gabeno, the dynamics of biodynamics

7 02 2010

We got back from Gabeno, the biodynamic farm we mentioned in our previous post. In this article, we did our best to put together our learnings on biodynamics, or as we call it ‘conscious farming’. Our purpose is to present the basics of the biodynamic method, and to generate curiosity about the subject. At the end of the article, readers will find several links to further their knowledge.

 

A look at space and time

Gabeno was founded 20 years ago by a German man who was deeply interested in Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy. His goal was to create a place where biodynamics could be explored, and let the project evolve on its own. Located one hour away from Bogota, near Tenjo, the weather allows all-year-long production in a wide variety of vegetables. The farm also has cattle, and produces milk, yogurt, cheese and compost!

At Gabeno, enthusiasts study and apply the principles of biodynamics. In order to share their approach with interested individuals, they welcome interns and host weekly study-groups that are open to all. We find it important to mention that the people working and living there have a sincere will to teach and learn, and their approach is so human and humble that it makes the experience at Gabeno out of the ordinary. As William says, concerning the deeper aspects of biodynamics: “We are all students”.

 

Biodynamic agriculture, the works of Rudolf Steiner

Born in Austria in the late 19th century, Rudolf Steiner influenced several aspects of society. Philosophy, spirituality, education, arts, and agriculture are all subjects in which he left a significant trace. He is best known for being the founding father of Anthroposophy, also called ‘spiritual science’ (source: click link).

At the beginning of the 20th century, Steiner was approached by a group of farmers concerned about the deterioration of the soil. As a result, he gave a series of conferences, known today as the “Agriculture course: The birth of the biodynamic method”. Through his conferences he describes the principles of biodynamics as being the balance of all forces influencing the growth and development of life.

Nowadays, the depletion of the soil as a consequence to the ‘Green Revolution‘ is obvious. Farmers from all over the world are asking for alternatives, such as organic farming, ecological agriculture, permaculture and biodynamics.

 

The farm as an organism

The farm is more than a piece of land used for growing vegetables and having cattle. Seen through the eyes of biodynamic farmers, the farm is a living organism in the sense that each farm is unique (source only in Spanish: click link). The challenge is getting to know the land and its specific qualities. Biodynamics has it clear that all aspects and areas of the farm are connected. We cannot influence one specific area without affecting the organism as a whole. The coherence and harmony in our actions will determine the quality of the crops.

 

Working with cosmic forces

Most of us are aware that plants react to several factors: weather conditions, the amounts of sunlight and water, and the nutricious quality of the soil. But  there are more subtle forces that also influence the development and growth of plants. Such forces are ‘cosmic’, meaning they depend on the position of the Sun, the phases of the Moon, and the interaction between the different planets in our system. The Biodynamic method pays attention to all forces and takes into consideration the fluctuations of the cosmos to create a balance.

Several experiments have been conducted regarding these influences. Based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Maria Thun has been studying the growth of plants for over 40 years (source: click link). One of her first experiments was to plant radishes every hour for several days observing clear differences in their development. Since all radishes were being planted in the same type of soil, getting the same amount of light and water, and being taken care of in the same ways, she concluded more subtle factors were responsible for such differences.

Her research has established specific days for specific labors, giving birth to the “Maria Thun’s Calendar“. According to her experiments, some days are appropriate for sowing, others for doing maintenance, and others for harvesting. Yet, this varies depending on what crop we grow: roots (like carrots), leaves (like spinach), fruit (like beans) or flowers (like calendula).

At Gabeno, we tried to apply the calendar as much as possible, yet it is very hard for a productive farm to be able to work exclusively according to the appropriate dates. This is mainly a consequence of the market and its pressure. Imagine going on Monday to buy our carrots, beetroots and radishes, and coming back on Sunday to pick up spinach, leek and parsley… Not yet, simply not yet!

 

The preparations

Another important aspect of biodynamic agriculture is the use of what we call ‘preparations’. Just as homeopathy uses very small amounts of plants or other extracts in order to ‘boost’ specific parts of our body, the preparations are small amounts of plants, mineral or animal compounds. Applied to crops, nearby greens or to compost, they are intended to drive natural forces and stimulate their effects. They are numbered, going from 500 to 508.

We helped spraying preparations 500 and 501. Preparation 500 is made out of cow manure fermented in cow horn and buried from September until April to absorb the energies of the Moon, strongly related to water and associated to the roots of plants. Preparation 501 is its complement, made out of powdered qwartz packed in cow horn and buried from April to September, attracting the energies of the Sun, linked to light and heat, and acting on foliage.

In order to use the preparations, we first need to ‘dynamize’ them in water. We mix a small amount of the preparation in abundant water and we stirr it for one hour. The purpose of stirring is to give life back to the water, by giving it movement. Preferably we use rainwater and we always begin the process by stirring to the left, then to the right, and then we alternate directions for one hour. Once this is done, the preparation is dynamized and ready to be sprayed.

While we were at Gabeno, they were having issues with the weather. In fact, the season has been very dry with cold temperatures in the mornings. This usually happens around February, but it seems this year it happened earlier than usual. Temperatures went down to -7 °C which is very cold for the tropics. So, preparation 500 was spayed to activate the water forces and generate a humid environment, protecting the plants from the early cold temperatures, since plants resist cold temperatures better when moist. On top of spaying the preparation, we also watered the garden everyday. As a result, we created an appropriate environment for fungal diseases to develop…

That’s why the nest morning, we applied preparation 501 on young and leafy crops. This preparations stimulates the energies of the Sun and its heat. The purpose was to eliminate the excessive humidity and control fungus on leaves. It was great to be there to understand how both preparations are used to regulate each other’s actions. Again, the principle is balance.

 

Giving back what we have taken

“The art of making compost consists in using whatever you have. The point is to give the necessary nutrients back to the Earth”, says William, as he was teaching us the art of composting. Indeed, the Earth feeds us through the fruit and vegetables we take from it. Somehow, we must give it back all the nutrients we have ‘used’. Else, we will empty its reserve and slowly but surely, we will end up having a depleted, unhealthy soil.

Composting is a natural way to close the cycle, and give the Earth the nutrients it needs to keep on feeding us. Nowadays, most of us know what composting is. But biodynamic composting is quite unique. It is made out of organic left-overs and cow manure, but it also incorporates the above mentioned preparations. On specific dates, according to the calendar, small amount of the preparations 502 to 507 are put into the pile. On our first visit, we helped with this procedure. The preparations are put into fresh manure balls, like dumplings, and then put into the compost pile, in the center of it. Following homeopathic principles, small quantities are enough, and act on the entire compost.

We do not know much about why such preparations are used, other than “to reconnect the compost with the cosmos”. What we do know, is that the result of implementing such preparations makes a difference in the quality of the compost that even skeptics can notice. As told by Oscar, one of the workers at Gabeno: “When I first arrived here, I used to laugh at the preparations and their weirdness. But I remember once we didn’t use the preparations properly and our compost was still not ready in the center. The manure was still fresh. We applied the preparations and left the pile for another month. At the end of it, the compost was of excellent quality and worked great!”. We do not have enough knowledge to determine how accurate this is. We are just able to transmit what we saw and heard. One thing is clear: he who knows, knows. And usually, farmers know best about their land and procedures.

 

Conclusion

Entering Gabenos’ everyday life was a very fulfilling experience. We had a hands-on learning process where we discovered the beauty of farming and the challenges it represents to do it naturally. We were also able to appreciate the power of the biodynamic method and see for ourselves why it can be called ‘conscious farming’. With a down-to-Earth approach, we shared with you our experience in order to present an alternative to the artificial products we are using all over the world in our farms, our crops, our food.

This situation is not only our farmers’ issue, it is our issue too, as consumers. By being aware that alternatives exist we are better prepared to make our choices. Let’s choose health for our Planet and ourselves!

If you have any comments, ideas or suggestions please do share, we appreciate it : )

 

Take it further!

To learn more about the ‘Green Revolution’ and its current consequences visit www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4-greenrev.html

To learn more about Biodynamics visit www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html

To learn more biodynamic preparation, its uses and further readings on the subject go to page 3 and 4 of this article





Off we go! / C’est parti!

19 01 2010

As of today we will be volunteering in a biodynamic permacultural farm in Colombia called ‘Gabeno’, not far from Tenjo. In a nutshell, biodynamic agriculture considers a farm as a living organism. It puts a strong emphasis in the conservation of the quality of the soil. The key is to seek a balance between all forces acting on growth and development: soil, sun, water, nutrients and more subtle factors such as the influence of the cosmos. Described as “homeopathy for agriculture”, we are very excited about learning its principles and sharing our discoveries with you!


Even though we won’t have lots of time to spend online, updating the blog is one of our priorities. Please leave us a comment (or two) and we will get back to you when possible.

Also, if you share our interests in alternative ways of living and earth-conscious techniques remember to subscribe so you get notified of further posts.

Thanks for reading, thanks for being, thank you for believing!

Write to you soon,

lisa and juan : )

 

Take it further!

To learn more about biodynamic agriculture go to: http://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html  

To learn about Rudolf Steiner, considered as the father of anthroposophy and biodynamics go to: http://www.rudolfsteinerweb.com/

 

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A partir d’aujourd’hui nous allons séjourner à ‘Gabeno’, une ferme en Colombie près de Tenjo qui travaille la permaculture avec une approche biodynamique. Pour la biodynamique, la ferme est un organisme vivant et son principe de base est de préserver, voire améliorer, la qualité des sols. Pour ce faire, il est essentiel de maintenir une harmonie entre toutes les forces qui agissent sur la croissance et le développement des êtres vivants, y compris les plantes. Nous considérons comme forces la terre, le soleil, l’eau, les nutriments, ainsi que des facteurs plus subtils tel que l’influence des astres. Décrite comme “l’homéopathie de l’agriculture”, la biodynamique nous intéresse énormément et nous sommes très heureux d’apprendre ses principes et de les partager avec vous.

Bien que nous ayons peu de temps pour être en ligne, une de nos priorités est la mise à jour de ce blog, notre fenêtre virtuelle sur le monde. Veuillez nous faire part de vos commentaires auxquels nous répondrons avec plaisir dès que possible.

Par ailleurs, si vous partagez nos intérêts, abonnez-vous pour recevoir des courriels lorsqu’un nouvel article sera publié.

Merci de nous lire, merci d’être, merci d’y croire!

A bientôt,

lisa et juan : )

 

Allez plus loin!

Pour apprendre plus sur l’agriculture biodynamique visiter : www.bio-dynamie.org/presentaion-agriculture-biodynamique/definition-agri-biodynamique.htm

Pour apprendre plus sur Rudolf Steiner, considéré le père de l’anthroposophie et de l’agriculture biodynamique vister : http://www.ecolesteiner.free.fr/bio.html