By Brook Levin, Sustainable Settings
Earth Day! Yes, April holds the marker in our calendars to celebrate the Earth. Though like most socially sanctioned holidays in our contemporary culture we know in our hearts that we need to honor and pay homage daily to our â€śGreat Motherâ€ť the Earth and to our â€śGreat Fatherâ€ť the sky. Finding gratitude once a year is still a good reminder that we are all here by the grace of numerous things that are far greater than ourselves. As we have found in our stewardship here over the last 20 years it is that daily acknowledgment of these relationships and the expressed gratitude toward all of the life we work with that brings about deeper connections to the land and that yields the greatest benefits. It is through our work with Biodynamic agriculture that we have been encouraged to know and to appreciate the whole of life we work with on our ranch and to acknowledge all these life forms as our partners in the creation of this place, one we see as an island of health.
To help us understand the importance of these things that are greater than ourselves all we need to ask is, â€śCan you make a tomato? Can you make a lamb chop? Can you make grain form into a stout head or staple crop out of sunshine and dirt? Can you make milk and butterfat from soil, pasture grasses and fresh water? Can you make water? Can you make light?
The dynamic forces we live with, should we decide to accept it, are all around us and feed the multitude of processes that make life possible. These forces operate deep within our soils and they are streaming into our atmosphere from above. These subtle forces are all tied to and are triggering all matter of interactions in and above the soil in the plants and animals we nurture in the creation of our food. So, as stewards of the land, as farmers, we have this great opportunity. From the depths of the soil to the depths of the cosmos we can harvest Natureâ€™s intelligence to tune our farming practices and to find the cutting edge of nutrient density and flavor.
When asked about how we farm and how we are able to â€ścreateâ€ť such richness in flavor profiles in our milk, cream, butter, yogurt, veggies, meats, herbs and fruits, we share how we work in a range of ways to steward an arena of healthy relationships. Initially we focus on the physical level, the horizontal, to do all we can for our animals, plants, and all the little ones that do the real farming, the wild ones, the pollinators, earthworms, microbes, fungi, etc.. We arrange beneficial interactions by proximity. We observe the dynamics of these interactions and watch for rhythms, and differing frequencies of occurrences. We play with our human inputs, adjusting our habits, to tune the greater interactions within the whole-farm organism. Often very little is needed to shift in order to create highly beneficial outcomes.
Then once this physical or horizontal arena has been established we work on the vertical level, what some might call the unseen, sacred or spiritual levels. It is here in adding our intentions, our affection for this place, honoring all of the life that we have seen the greatest gains in health, balance and flavor. The physical foundation must be there, but it has been working humbly with all of the life forces and respecting the rhythms and cycles of Nature that has given our food the richness, the nutrient density, and flavor edge that differentiates us in the market. Chefâ€™s we collaborate with in our Aspen/ Roaring Fork Valley, that gain our food and are clamoring for more, say â€śThe flavor profiles you are getting are untouchable. Our customers are returning asking for that Sustainable Settings Biodynamic menu.â€ť
Some have difficulty understanding this additional emphasis on the sky, or the planets and stars. To help people begin to see how the cosmic soup our Earth is floating in might have an influence on all of the life we work with we start with the Sun and the Moon. Turn off the Sun. What do we have? Does the Moon affect you? Others around you? The ocean tides? The flow of sap? Does the Moon activate and accelerate growth in plants to form flower, fruit and seed? If you are a grower of any kind, from home-scale gardener to larger-scale farmer, and paying attention you know that the days and nights leading up to the Full Moon have a great effect on plant growth. As for the rest of the planets, stars, constellations, galaxies, cosmos at large, how could something so mighty not have, at least, subtle effects on what we do and on all of the life we work with to gain our sustenance?
Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave many indications in his 1924 agricultural lectures and one of those overarching concepts that guides us today is his direction to see our farms as individualities. Others have said it differently. H.D. Thoreau said it simply, â€śFertility is underfoot.â€ť Here in lies the idea of regeneration, of finding all we need in our fertility cycles right where we are and letting Nature work her magic. This indication to aim for a regenerative farm organism encourages us to host a diverse balance of elements, animals and plants, to make stewardship decisions and to implement practices that lead to a cohesive working whole. Everything matters and the relationships between elements at optimum times in the calendar are crucial to the potentials of harmony we can encourage in our farm systems. This is Natureâ€™s model and it is based in Natureâ€™s economy.
We moved onto this 244-acre ranch at 6,500 ft elevation in 2003. We began immediately to rebuild the severed relationships with all of the life here. By 2005 the diverse organs of the whole ranch were falling into place. Our compost heaps were inoculated with Biodynamic compost preparations, and we were making and using our own BD 500 Horn Manure and BD 501 Horn Silica. Through the early years we had worked through all of what Permaculture and good sound organic methodologies had to offer. We implemented numerous beneficial land forms, gained the first Yeomanâ€™s plow in the region and keylined our 90-acres of pasture and hay fields. We implemented the first management intensive grazing systems in our region. We did all the physical we could to begin to pull this land out of its tired, toxic and abusive past. But after a few years it was obvious that all the physical or horizontal intention wasnâ€™t enough. The life was improving but not to what we knew was possible. It wasnâ€™t until we began to build on and further implement with greater frequency and higher potencies our Biodynamic applications that we began to rebuild our relationships within the ranch. This shift in our intentions opened doors to build more intimate relationships with all of the life we collaborate with. And this has produced a wealth and abundance we have found no other way.
We know from experience that these Biodynamic preparations and our attention to these details benefits the whole; from the animals we host and our CSA vegetable crops on the small scale to broad scale applications in our pastures, orchard, perennial guilds, and medicinal herb crops. Our educational outreach is based on this practical experience and includes a series of workshops on Biodynamics. These offerings range from the making and using of the Biodynamic preparations in compost heaps to utilizing these treatments or therapies to bring balance and optimum dynamic relationships across the ranch.
In our teaching we sometimes hear from farmers that this all sounds like a lot of â€śextra work.â€ť We have found quite the opposite. In tuning our intentions and building these deeper relationships we find that we have a whole host of other â€śstaffâ€ť assisting us. This additional help in the fields we could never buy or afford. In building this island of health, this whole-farm individuality, we now know that the increases in populations of microbes, earthworms, fungi, and beneficial insects that have come to assist us cannot be matched by any newfangled machine or industrial laboratory concoction. We have stimulated an on-ranch staff of billions of organisms to help us maintain the balance of the whole ranch organism. This is the foundation of a farm or ranch individuality that is regenerative and that yields a bounty of quality food for people.
At Sustainable Settings we celebrate the Earth, the soil, All of the Life and our relationship to the heavens. We run on gratitude, acknowledging the life and all the forces that are doing the real work, from the herd underground, the microbes and fungi to the unseen trillions of little ones that are building soil and rebuilding and regenerating health. We have given up the search for responding to challenges by treating the symptoms of poor stewardship. We now understand the deep and multiple benefits of establishing sound and functioning methods and practices that bring balance back to correct the causes. Given our cultural pre-disposition of instant gratification this may seem like its take longer to demonstrate. Time and again, however, we have proven that patience with All of the Life gains their trust and then we have more help in the fields and with our animals and plant crops than we ever imagined.
Sustainable Settings is a Demeter certified Biodynamic working ranch and Whole Systems Learning Center on 244-acres at 6,500 feet elevation in the heart of the Rocky Mountains near Carbondale, Colorado. Sustainable Settings is an experiment, a continuation of the 10,000 year old experiment called Agriculture. The ranch also hosts a home for Biodynamic Source, a new Demeter certified Biodynamic preparation making and distributing company, and Biodynamic Botanicals providing optimum expression in medicinal herbs for the apothecary market.
"From the depths of the soil to the depths of the cosmos we can harvest Natureâ€™s intelligence to tune our farming practices and to find the cutting edge of nutrient density and flavor."