Just over 50 years ago on a story assignment, I thought I’d discovered an Illinois farmer who had the answer to farming’s toughest problems. My senior editors gently brushed the story aside. “Too radical.”
November 16, 2018 By Jerry Carlson — It was summer, 1964. My first field trip for Farm Journal led me to Illinois for a story on zoning differences between Macon and Sangamon Counties, Illinois. Cruising the rural roads near Springfield, IL, I encountered one of most beautiful farms I’d ever seen. The corn was greener and taller than in any in the neighborhood. Cattle grazed lush pastures. Beans were a dark emerald and fuller than any nearby fields. The thick windbreak of blue spruce sheltered the farmstead on the west and north. And the farmstead looked Scandanavian, like I had seen in Denmark and Sweden. The stately brick house connected with a huge cattle barn via a covered passage. The owner could do chores without pushing snow.
Curious as always, I drove up the tree-lined driveway. An English shepherd dog ambled over to greet me, its tail wagging. When I touched the doorbell, a tall, stately man about 40 invited me in without hesitation. I told him I was an associate editor for Farm Journal, and wondered why this farm appeared so different than the typical corn-soybean operation in Sangamon County.
“Biodynamic,” he said, as if I should know what that meant.
“I’ve never heard the term, but it sounds interesting,” I said.
“Let’s take a little walk around the place,” he offered. “After we have some tea and biscuits.”
Nels explained that he’d emigrated from Denmark about a dozen years earlier, and converted a 400-acre conventional corn-soybean operation to “total biodynamic principles.” First, no pesticides. Very little purchased fertilizer. Most of the corn was fed to his own cattle; only the surplus was sold at the elevator, “regretfully.”
Then he explained some of his biodynamic practices. Manure from pastured beef cows was temporarily stored, prepared with a specific recipe, packed into cattle horns — then buried during a specific phase of the moon. I stopped taking notes and glanced toward the door. Nels chuckled and said, “You’re the first person in 10 years here who has asked for details of what I do with biodynamics.”
After a specific number of months (I forgot the details), the horns are exhumed, the composted manure is extracted and mixed with water, and the slurry is stirred counterclockwise for several hours in a large stainless tank. This dark finished liquid gets sprayed over the soil, and sometimes is used as a foliar spray.
This is the first time I’ve actually written this much about my encounter with a genuine biodynamic farmer. Many years later, I met others in Australia during Pro Farmer tours. And Dr. Arden Andersen once advised me about the energy relationships which make biodynamics effective for crops.
What triggered this report today was an essay by Peter Bacchus, a biodynamic specialist, writing for the greenplanetfm website. Here’s the link to his explanation of why “After 95 years, Biodynamic Farming is now positioning for a global uptake.” I encourage you to read what Peter has to say.
I’ve found the Biodynamic theory more understandable after more than 40 years of extensive experience with the science of homeopathy. This “energy medicine” began in Germany more than two centuries ago. It’s the fastest-growing medical science and practice across many Asian countries. Most American physicians have begun simply ignoring it, which is a welcome softening from decades of stripping the medical licenses from MDs who practiced it.
In this more free and open spirit, perhaps Biodynamic farming will indeed find a niche in America — and around the world.