Over at Sun Dog Farm things are moving at a hare's pace. The Spring crops are sprinting for the finish line while the Summer crops swell and spread utilizing the bountiful rains and heavy sunlight. I do my best to live in the moment, to smell the Mimosa blooms and gaze at the Chestnut Tassels before their notes and textures are lost to the dreamlike presence of memories.
The beginning of Summer is a beautiful time in the valley. The neotropical songbirds have all returned to the woodlot and the hummingbirds feed on the day lilies. Wild blackberries fill every gap in vegetation with ripening charcoal colored beauties. Our recently adopted feline is quickly learning what it means to be a farm cat and patrols the fields for careless voles and mice. A fat and happy woodchuck has been preying on our Spring field and he will soon meet the swift hand of veggie justice from my husband's rifle. Contemplating the ebb and flow of life, predators and prey, crops and wild spaces, has my senses keenly focused on the organs of my farm body. Just like our human bodies, the farm itself is a contained system of working parts.
The Head and Chest of the Farm Body
In biodynamic agriculture, the highest goal of cultivation is always an intricate balance of all of these systems, providing for holistically grown foods that continually build on the fertility of the landscape, as opposed to degrade and diminish it over time. With whole system awareness and observation, we are able to monitor the health of these relationships. When any of these systems experience stagnation or impurity, our first clues generally fall within the health of our crops and livestock. Modern day agriculture has us treating these plants and animals on an individualized level, usually ignoring the greater context of circumstances that has lead to the disease or pest problem. This limited perspective often times perpetuates imbalances by encouraging us to introduce chemicals or plant and animal concentrates into the situation to boost the crops up or defeat the disease or insect. Generally when we adopt such a band-aid method of problem solving, we are never necessarily touching the root of the problem and run the risk of learning lessons the hard way through crop loss and sick livestock. Healthy crops and livestock will not grow where soil is insufficient in mineral content and biology. Plants will not be able to produce healthy fruits from their flowering stages without the aid of a healthy endocrine system provided by the mobility of insects.
When we consider the farm body, we should imagine a person who is upside down with their head and chest within the realm of the soil. The surface of the soil representing the diaphragm, the mediator between the nutrient networks and passageways of the Earth and the gaseous expanse of the atmosphere. All of the circulation and respiration of the farm body is happening within the soil. This highlights the importance of air pockets and pathways that can only be constructed from living beings. Plant roots, decaying material, and macro and microbiology work within the soil to prevent stagnation and allow the farm to breathe. When there is stagnation, such as compaction or loss of biological activity, the farm body suffers from below the ground up. Crops will lose their relationships with key microorganisms that would normally provide essential minerals to the roots in exchange for root exudates and water would begin to run across the top of the soil instead of working its way down through the ecology under foot, circulating nutrients along the way. Too much stock on the pasture and over-tilling are two of the major culprits that cause damage to the chest and head of your farm body. While working the soil and raising your own animals can certainly benefit the farm organism through biodiversity, if not managed well and balanced with other ecological farming practices, it can degrade soil nutrition through loss of soil structure. This loss of structure will also ultimately lead to the inability of the farm organism to efficiently cleanse itself of toxins and impurities.
Intensive daily livestock rotation and alternative growing methods such as limited till, permaculture, no-till, mulching, double-digging, and spading facilitate more habitat, in the soil and in the atmosphere, which in turn facilitates more productivity. (Lovel, Hugh. Quantum Agriculture: Biodynamics and Beyond. Blairsville, GA: Quantum Agriculture Publishers, 2014. Print.)
The diaphragm of your farm body attracts all of the life within your farm, literally. It is the boundary of soil to atmosphere that houses all of the life below it and encourages all life above it. The more diversely populated this sliver of an organ is within your farm body, the healthier the farm will be. This means that pest organisms will occur, but they will be living in a competitive ecosystem. There will be other organisms competing for their habitat niche but also plenty of predatory insects, birds, amphibians, and small mammals to keep their populations low. The crops may experience some damage now and again from these pests, but the power of the diversified ecology will encourage vigorous, holistic growth that will have your crops thriving through it.