The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, East Troy (Wisconsin)

In Wisconsin, 80 miles north west of Chicago

Last fall at Emerson College, attending the bio-dynamic agriculture training, I remember having come across Christopher Mann, an energetic and elegant senior, right at the entrance of the campus. “Come and visit our centre in

Christopher Mann and Karen his assistant

Wisconsin USA” was one of the few words we exchanged that day on a cloudy and cold morning. I remember his talkative mood and enthusiasm for this centre he was talking about: Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, north west of Chicago at the border with the state of Illinois. A centre he is the co-founder of.

The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

“The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute (MFAI) is an independent

Walter Goldstein is doing some research on maïs

educational and research organization that received its non profit status in 1984. Michael Fields was founded based on the ideals of ecologically-sound farming, bio-dynamic and resilient agriculture and food systems, enlivened cultural values, and the creation of opportunities for young people in applied agricultural sciences and food systems. Today MFAI has more than a dozen

Janet manages a 2 acres CSA which supplies vegetables for 75 families

experienced staff programming in an array of initiatives including farm and food education, public policy critique and development, farming and urban agricultural systems, and crop and soil applied research. Work is conducted on-site at several farms and at the office/laboratory/meeting facilities as well as off-site at urban and agricultural settings. MFAI is strategically located in East Troy, WI, a rich

Spacious and bright, inside the building we feel comfortable

agricultural and urban region bridging Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago cultural and economic centres. The Mission of MFAI is to cultivate the ecological, social, economic, and spiritual vitality of food and farming systems through education, research, public policy and market development.”

Yellow lillies give beauty to the garden

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm  Comments (1)  
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Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary (Virginia)

The blue ridge parkway gives view to dramatic sceneries

In the state of Virginia for some days, our road crossed one more aspect of bio-dynamic farming. Bee-keeping is a vital branch of the close organism we are looking for on a farm. We tend to forget about these little insects which

Colourful beehives

endlessly work from dawn till dusk with a sense of community and mutual support never seen anywhere else in nature. I want to stress here how important the bees are in nature. They are essentials to us.

We didn’t know until the last minute if we were going to meet up with Gunther Hauk, a bio-dynamic bee-keeper and co-founder of Spikenard farm, based originally in Illinois. At the beginning we couldn’t get an appointment with Gunther, being only for the last 6 months near Floyd in Virginia, he does have much to do to restart the farm in this part of the U.S.

With perseverance and a few more calls, we could at last arrange an appointment. We offered him some help in the garden, and while working, we could discuss more deeply about his involvement in Spikenard farm. So right after the Josephine Porter Institute, we stopped in this remote valley 12 miles east of Floyd, peaceful and so quiet, where the bees can have all the space they need to buzz around. Gunther has been practising bio-dynamic bee-keeping for the past thirty years and also has written a book: “Towards saving the honey bee”.

Gunther Hauk and the making of the silica preparation #501 in the back ground

“Honeybees are so much more than pollinators or honey producers! They are part of the complex living organism of the earth and are integral to our development as human beings. For this reason, they were considered sacred

Some of the beehives are kept in a bear-proof hut

in ancient times and honey was part of the most ancient folklore and medicine. Nearly 90 years ago, the multifaceted genius, scholar, philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner spoke of the problems we would see from the industrial and mechanical approach to beekeeping that was starting to take hold. He warned that we might lose the honeybee by the end of the 20th century unless a deeper understanding gave rise to sustainable methods. We took a long time to really listen!

Spikenard Farm Honeybee Sanctuary was founded in the certainty and hope that there can be a better future for this insect. They are committed to

With view over the valley

continuous research and collaboration with national and international organizations seeking new answers to the many questions the plight of the honeybee raises.

Their sanctuary aims to create an oasis of harmony, in which the human beings, plants, animals, and a biodynamically invigorated landscape create the necessary sheaths of protection, care and healing. Their focus is to respect the innate needs of the honeybee, and

Each beehive has a name

develop practical beekeeping methods with that in mind. These are taught in workshops, lectures and articles. Through their work they seek to promote in young and old not only interest, joy and love, but also a new understanding and awareness for the importance of the honeybee. A newly awakened awe and reverence for all beings of nature in their amazing interconnectedness opens the door for the necessary healing impulse to gain strength, now and in generations to come.

The standards reflect the highest care for these special creatures. The management of breeding and maintenance of bio-diversity is a particular concern. Natural development of the comb, including in the brood area, strict guidelines about feeding for overwintering and in emergencies are also part of the Spikenard and bio-dynamic approach.”

Different forms...

Different individuals...

Different shape...

Each one is unique

Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 9:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (Virginia)

The JPI focus is on biodynamic preparations

Howdy cowdy! I thought it would have been easier to write while on the road to the west but in fact it hasn’t been so. Well, well, well…After more than 4000 miles driven since the last post in Holy Terroir english version, we are arrived on the other side of the american continent on the west coast. California dreamin’ with its temperature above 100°F (more than 40°C). Here

In the middle of the Appalachian mountains

it is! On this side of the continent, no more Amishs to take me away from writing and no more so long distance driving until the beginning of September when I’ll be back to Toronto. Then, I’ll have to cross the american continent once again from west to east, but in Canada this time.

While on the route 66 for 10 days from Chicago to Los Angeles, I didn’t write as much as I wanted to on Holy Terroir. It’s quite something to cross the whole country overland. I believe strongly that it is the way to do it when we want to discover a new land: ride overland and immerse yourself with the

The preparations are sent all over the country

culture and the belief systems of the people you are going to meet. Many more stories to come about this famous route 66 which kept us Claire and I busy for the last ten days. I will talk about it in the appropriate post dedicated entirely to the route 66: the Mother Road as they say. Claire is now in Los Angeles doing some volunteer work in a permaculture garden very close to Hollywood. Our roads split here after 5 weeks of travelling together, while I’m heading myself towards San Francisco.

Hugh Courtney gives a brief explanation about Biodynamics in the forword he has written in the book “What is biodynamics?”, a compilation of lectures from Rudolf Steiner

So where did we leave you? Since the last post about the Finger Lakes in New York, we went south in Pennsylvania to visit the Kimberton Hills Camphill Village where amongst many other things you’ll be able to find there, the “Stella Natura” moon calendar for North America is being published.

Sherry Wildfeur publishes the North american “Stella Natura” moon calendar

Actually, an old student from Emerson college in the name of Sherry Wildfeur is publishing it now for more than 30 years. Kimberton Camphill is an other vibrant and energetic place to visit if you happen to pass in the region in the future. You’ll find pictures in Holy Terroir french version. This region drains many other project concerning sustainability, organic and biodynamic farming, Steiner schools, CSA(Community Supported Agriculture), etc…

When I talked on the phone with Philippe Armenier, a biodynamic consultant in California about my wish to meet with him this summer, he recommended vividly some places of interest where I should go in the United-States beforehand. The Josephine Porter Institute (JPI) is one of them. In Virginia in the lush and green Appalachian mountains range, the JPI sits few miles away from the scenic Blue ridge parkway which runs north-south on the edge

The horns are stuffed with grounded quartz for the silica preparation #501

of the mountains. Hugh Courtney was expecting us for two days, just enough time for Claire and I to help prepare the silica preparation #501 and the yarrow preparation #502. Jeremiah, his grandson , shown us around. The JPI focus is to make the Biodynamic preparations. To give you an idea, each year they bury no less than 8000 cow horns for the horn manure preparation #500 and stuff 70 stag bladers for the yarrow preparation #502.

“The Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the memory of Josephine Porter. With single-minded determination, Josephine Porter carried on the work of making biodynamic agricultural preparations in the United States for nearly 30 years. Many farmers and future farmers came to her Cherry Valley, Pennsylvania farm to learn about biodynamic agriculture and

The quartz is made into a paste mixed with water for the stuffing

preparation making. Hugh Courtney apprenticed with “Josie” each spring and fall season for over seven years. When she died in 1984, Hugh decided to carry on her work by creating JPI. In 1985 the Institute was established in Woolwine, Virginia and is dedicated to making biodynamic preparations, and conducting biodynamic agricultural research and education. JPI’s efforts are concentrated in the areas of biodynamic agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

The preparations are kept in a root cellar

As taught by Josephine Porter, the making of quality biodynamic preparations can only be accomplished by emphasizing the spiritual, as well as the practical, aspects of their production. Those who are new to biodynamic agriculture require a source of quality biodynamic preparations

Dried yarrow flowers

if they are to do their own research and educate themselves about biodynamic agriculture. JPI’s mission is to serve as a reliable source for biodynamic preparations for the beginning or seasoned practitioner; as an education center for all biodynamic practitioners as they begin to make their own preparations; and as a research venue which focuses specifically on the BD preparations.

Biodynamic agriculture originated out of the spiritual scientific research of the Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposphy and Waldorf education. In 1920s Europe, the use of chemicals

Stuffing the stag bladder with the yarrow flowers

in agriculture was causing great concern for a number of farmers and soil scientists; especially with regard to its effects on seed viability, deterioration of food quality, and health related problems in both livestock and crops. In 1924, Steiner presented a series of eight lectures on these issues, which are now published as Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture. During this lecture series, Steiner gave indications for producing several different preparations to be used in agriculture which are now referred to as Biodynamic Preparations (BD preparations).

Colourful blowing baloons inside the bladders, for them to dry and to  take shape

A different viewpoint is required when approaching agriculture from the biodynamic perspective. In our “conventional chemical” or “organic” approach to agriculture, we tend to think in terms of substances (or more specifically, chemical requirements that can be met by this or that substance). In chemical-based agriculture, we bring nitrogen to the soil via

The bladders are then hangged all summer outside

ammonia or urea, and in organic-based agriculture we bring nitrogen via manure. For phosphorous the substance of choice is super-phosphate or rock phosphate. We are thinking in terms of chemical substances or NPK, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. With biodynamic agriculture and biodynamic preparations, we learn to think in terms of forces in addition to substances. This does not mean discarding all knowledge of soil chemistry; it means we need to go beyond solely the chemical point of view. Just as the effects of the force of gravity or the force of magnetism can be observed without actually being able to see these forces, so too can we recognize the forces that are released though biodynamic preparations.”

Finished yarrow preparation #502

Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Finger Lakes(New York)

A pleasant discovery in the Finger Lakes wine region

When visiting foreign countries, what I am interested in is not monuments, sight-seeing tours or casinos. When I visit foreign countries, what I am interested in is more an in depth approach to the land and to the people I am going to meet. Our time is always limited when going abroad. The clock is

Schist is one of the main soil component here

ticking as soon as we get our passport stamped with the visa, leaving us a precise amount of time to go around and search for what makes this country unique. By unique, obviously, I’m not talking about fast food culture, which unfortunately we see in every corner of the world nowadays with the same brands, the same taste. By uniqueness, I want to look for character and originality. ‘Every country has its own beauty’ I was told by a friend’s grandma who travelled a lot when she was younger. The sense of beauty I’m looking for is definitely in the uniqueness of people, places and agricultural produces.

Fred showing us the 'Pandelboger' vine training from Germany

The French name terroir stands for this uniqueness and originality. We cannot translate it into another language. It is a mixture of the earth, of the climate, of Man living on the land and of all the micro-organisms which are below the soil and who are inherent to the soil. A limited amount of time in

By Seneca Lake

the USA means getting the maximum out of this visit by going straight to the essentials. The effort of asking, being misled sometimes, and rewarded often, is worth a shot. The word intensity could summarise this experience in North America: waking up at sunrise, spending an active day by driving around to different places, making the right contacts, and making research are the day-to-day routine. In what should have been a gap in activity between my work at Saugeen River CSA biodynamic farm in Ontario (Canada) and my work with biodynamic consultant Philippe Armenier in California, has been in fact filled with a road trip focussed on sustainable, organic and biodynamic farms, vineyards, and institutes linked with anthroposophy (except for the Amishs I was with this past week, that’s why I couldn’t update the blog as I wanted too).

The cellar where we feel like in a cathedral

When arriving in a region, the first thing we need are the basics: eat and sleep. Then, the reason why we are in this region has to be fulfilled. In that case, for the Finger lakes: sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards. Usually, we took the decision with Claire to visit only one winery a day and

'Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard' is also a nursery

then take the rest of time for driving, writing, researching and resting. It is a constant search for balance between these activities. We are like jugglers playing with balls and sending one in the air. In this particular day before we leave for Pennsylvania, we wanted to visit Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, a winery reknowned for its riesling and the quality of its nursery, which is also a speciality of Hermann J. Wiemer. On a simple visit which was our intention at the beginning, arriving at 4.30 pm at the winery, we ended up spending 3 hours of lively, passionate and invigorating talks about wine with Frederick T. Merwarth the winemaker taking over Hermann.

Starting the tasting with the sparkling 'cuvée brut' 06

Fred is a student of the sought-after Master Of Wine diploma which I already talked about in Holy Terroir. The first Master Of Wine student we met was James Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters Winery in Long Island whom we met 4 weeks ago. With Fred, as with Christopher, I appreciated the

Cross filtration enables only one filtration

deep knowledge and the broad vision of the wine world. Fred has taken overthe vineyard after Hermann J. Wiemer who “retired” a few years ago. Fred warmly greeted us when we arrived at the winery

and he spent 3 hours with us explaining every aspect of the process. The winery has been built in an old barn and brings rusticity and down-to-earth elements to the winery. Very precise with the words he uses, and in the technical terms he employs, Fred could give us tasting comments very accurately with the wine we tasted. My only regret in this meeting with him is not to have been able to spend more time tasting the tanks and barrels of the previous 2009 vintage.

Frederick T. Merwarth in the barrel cellar

Fred and Hermann got their inspiration in the wine-making from Germany as Hermann is originally from this country. Fred, who worked as a business consultant, changed his life radically when he switched to wine-making 10 years ago and went to work with Hermann learning about the wine-making alchemy. Very honest with the methods he uses in the field, I appreciated the

A true love-story links Fred and his wines

transparency when Fred talked with us about the only one synthetic chemical spray he uses in the field at the early season of the powdery mildew stage. They till the soil, (Fred goes himself working in the vineyards – he was putting up wires to train the vines when we arrived), they have minimal intervention in the cellar – only one filtration, low sulphur.

The renovated barn is hiding its secrets inside

About all the wines we tried, I prefered the chardonnay 07 stainless fermented, aged in barrels for 8 months. It is floral with linden flowers aromas, very mineral in the mouth, delicate, sharp, straightforward, and has an incredible length. Good ageing potential. To be honest, I’ve been seduced

From inside the barn

by almost all the wines we tried this day with Fred. The dry riesling 2008 also retained my attention too with its zesty, lemony, passion fruit, golden green apple and green pear character. Definitely, this is a domain to watch out in the coming years for its purity of style and definite expression.

I would still be there tasting, exchanging and getting inspiration from a meeting like we had with Fred if it wasn’t so late that Saturday. Two visits in a day (the first one was at Anthony Road Winery) seems not a lot when you are just touring and seeing only with your eyes. But two wineries are really a lot if you came across such characters like Fred filled with passion, energy and will to share the knowledge he has. The tour of the four wineries (the first two were Silver Thread Vineyard and Standing Stone Vineyard) in the Finger lakes ended up by a night camping in the middle of the vineyard by a warm night and under a starry sky. The day to follow will be a long drive from upstate New York to south east Pennsylvania state: the Amish country near where we’ll be spending a few days in another Camphill community (Kimberton Hills) – which we will be talking about in the French version of Holy Terroir.

Wine: between sky and earth

Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment