Grow Your Own

How to Compost

Compost is a mixture of rich, dark, crumbly organic material that is a wonderful soil amendment and natural fertilizer for your garden.

(more…)

Farming, HomeFarm

Biodynamic Farming: Beyond Organic

In the 1920s, farmers were practicing what we today might call "organic" farming. Roundup was not yet a gleam in anyone's eye. But the Industrial Revolution was pushing from the factory floors to the fields and producers who were naturally grateful to ease their heavy workload eagerly embraced their day's modern technologies. 

But European farmers concerned with a noticeable decrease in crop yield and quality gathered in a town now within Poland's borders in June of 1924 to hear Rudolf Steiner prescribe an antidote to their ills. Steiner — perhaps best known for devising the Waldorf educational method — gave the first of several "Agriculture Lectures" that counseled farmers to look backwards, not forwards, when seeking to heal their land and increase their harvest.

Steiner proposed that the farm and all of its inhabitants — from the insects to the humans and certainly, its soil and plants — were part of a complete organism and therefore interdependent for optimal health and growth. Return to the lunar cycle for planting, he advised. Let the animals feed the soil that, in turn, feeds them. View your farm as a holistic entity.

We call that Biodynamic® farming. (Interestingly, the term "organic" was derived from Steiner's use of the word "organism.") Biodynamic is organic and then some. While both methods greatly restrict the use of additives not found in nature, Biodynamic farming goes beyond organic in seeking to use cyclical agricultural methods to heal the earth and its inhabitants.

Like organic, Biodynamic farming is subject to rigorous certification to protect both the consumer and the producer. Here in the U.S., the certification entity is Demeter USA. Its co-director, Elizabeth Candelario, is a Healdsburg resident, which closes the loop for us nicely.

Given the dangers of monocropping, wineries have been early Biodynamic adopters. In Sonoma County, Quivira, Littorai, and Benziger wineries are among those that have made the change. 

Our own HomeFarm has long practiced organic and Biodynamic principles and is in the process of becoming certified for both. So does Lou Preston's Preston Farm and Vineyard, which provides produce to SHED, as does Front Porch Farm, already certified Biodynamic. Neither our farm or the others are doing this because it's particularly easy; in fact it's a huge and ongoing challenge to know and care for a piece of land. As Lou Preston says, we do it "to protect the health of the farm and its denizens, ensure the quality and uniqueness of their food products, and provide the basis of a truly sustainable farm system".

In his first Agriculture Lecture, delivered almost exactly 90 years ago, Steiner lamented, "The more intimate influences which are at work in the whole Universe are no longer understood." But perhaps, the further we creep along in the centuries, the better the wisdom of the ages will be understood.

Farming, Foodshed, HomeFarm

HomeFarm Snapshot

Planted to wine and then to wheat, the 16 acres that HomeFarm sits on in Healdsburg's Dry Creek Valley is today a far lusher place than when SHED co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel bought it 20 years ago. A flat swathe bordered on two sides by local creeks, the land then had no trees except those bordering the water, no plants save those sheltered by the trees, and no place for people to live.

Today, the grounds are lushly planted around a handsome rammed earth masonry home that serves as the farm's anchor. Doug and Cindy wanted to reproduce the casual surprises of a garden, not plant to the rigors of a standard production farm. A garden surrounds and envelopes a home; a production farm is usually set at a distance from the house. A garden provides solace and beauty; a farm provides work. HomeFarm, it seems, provides it all.

The result is that a small personal kitchen garden leads to a formal space not unfamiliar to European homes which leads to a native grassland which leads over a swale that directs extra rainfall to the creeks which leads to an olive orchard which leads to a citrus grove and so on. HomeFarm threads and meanders over the property, planted with an eye to permaculture and Biodynamic principles that nourish and honor the land. Though the process for organic certification didn't begin until this year, HomeFarm hasn't been sprayed since 1994 and all practice upon it is organic.

There are small wine grape blocks planted with Muscat and Rhone varietals to provide the fruit for the rosé and dessert wines released under the HomeFarm label. There are traditional plowed beds for tomatoes and squash and peppers and everything else good to eat in the summer. Okra is a specialty due to Doug and Cindy's Louisiana roots. The orchard holds a library of heritage fruit trees, just a few of each type, which tower above lettuces that stay cool in their shade. Perennial flowers are interplanted with raspberries and asparagus. There is the type of ornamental oregano that Cindy used to compose her wedding bouquet and Sicilian oregano that is dried to season "Doug's Eggs", a dish served daily on SHED's menu. There is lemon grass and lemon balm and scented geranium and dahlias and roses. Lilac in the spring and melons in the summer.

Much of the produce sold at SHED and through its CSA program comes from HomeFarm, and 95% of all the produce at SHED is sourced from farms 10 miles away or less. Supporting other farmers and providing the best-quality locally-grown food available is a founding ethos of SHED. Producing the healthiest, most delicious food possible is a founding ethos for HomeFarm.

HomeFarm, it's a pretty nice place to live.

Farming, HomeFarm

Make Your Own Dirt!

As part of SHED's commitment to the land and to farming, we compost all of our kitchen scraps every day. Six days a week, we fill up large green buckets with meat- and dairy-free discarded food from our kitchen, cafe, and coffee bar and haul it back to our HomeFarm. There, SHED co-owner Doug Lipton sheet-composts it with his tractor. It's not the easy way to go, that's for sure, but it is the right way to go.

(more…)