It’s safe to say that organic agriculture has assumed the role of poster child for alternative food production. The USDA lists it under Alternative Farming Systems and defines it as “a system [of production] that integrates cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” Organic food in the United States is associated with a national program of accreditation–The National Organic Program. The regulations that govern this process of accreditation are determined by the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) of 1990.
The Alternative Farming Systems website is extremely navigable and gives a comprehensive overview of organic production and foods, providing information for consumers and producers alike. Information is further arranged into five categories and largely sourced from University extensions and national research centers.
- Crops and Gardening
- Standards and Certification
- USDA programs
Northeast Organic Farming Association: NOFA/Mass is a community including farmers, gardeners, landscapers and consumers working to educate members and the general public about the benefits of local organic systems based on complete cycles, natural materials, and minimal waste for the health of individual beings, communities and the living planet. They offer a number of workshops in the Boston Area, like the Boston Beekeeping Workshops and Feeding a Family Gardening Series.
UMass Amherst Extension: UMass Extension addresses public concerns of high priority for the Commonwealth. Part of the national Cooperative Extension System, UMass Amherst, in collaboration with Barnstable and Plymouth counties sponsors statewide programs in Agriculture and Landscape, Natural Resources & Environmental Conservation, Nutrition Education and the Massachusetts 4-H Youth Development Program.
Organic Consumers Association, Massachusetts: The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children’s health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics. We are the only organization in the US focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation’s estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers.
Biodynamic farming goes beyond organics; it’s “a unified approach that relate[s] the ecology of the farm-organism to that of the entire cosmos,” which emerged from a series of lectures by Dr. Rudolf Steiner in Germany in June 1924. Brought to the US by Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, a colleague of Steiner, in the 1930s, biodynamics was quickly taken up by a group of farmers who formed the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association. They further defined biodynamics as,
- “An impulse for deep social change rooted in the practice of farming…”
- “A type of organic farming that incorporates an understanding of ‘dynamic’ forces in nature not yet fully understood by science…”
- “A recognition that the whole earth is a single, self-regulating, multi-dimensional ecosystem…”
Biodynamic farmers avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers, utilize compost and cover crops, and set aside a minimum of 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity – the variety of all forms of life in the ecosystem. And while most of these practices are shared with organic agriculture, there are a variety of ways in which biodynamic farming differs from the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) which include:
- Observing and farming with cosmic and planetary rhythms.
- Prohibiting the use of animal rendered products and chilean/sodium nitrate.
- Respecting the soil as a living organism.
- Applying biodynamic preparations, which are a series of biological materials that develop root growth, humus formation, soil microbial activity and light metabolism.
In the US, there is only one biodynamic certifier: Demeter USA. It’s a branch of the first label for organic produce and is a part of an international network of 45 countries. In order to be certified, a farm must first complete the same 3-year transition that is required by NOP certified organic farming. Certification from there on out is not standardized; instead Demeter USA surveys each farm as a unique entity/organism with its own baseline and inherited conditions. Finally, the entire farm, as opposed to a particular crop or field, must be certified, and inspected annually.
For additional information and inspiration on biodynamic agriculture, you may want to check out these publications:
There’s also a five-part video introduction to biodynamic agriculture on YouTube, entitled “Nature’s Mysterious Ways and Her Similarities to Us,” that was filmed at a local speaker’s series in Chatham, MA. To watch the first section, just click play.
Feel like you’re ready to start your own biodynamic garden? Start with seeds from Turtle Tree Seed, a biodynamic seed initiative in New York that offers everything from alfalfa to zinnias.
Biodynamic Farms in New England
The biodynamic movement is much more popular in England, Australia and New Zealand than in the US, but there are some notable exceptions throughout New England:
- As host of the Biodynamic Farmland Conservation Trust’s Apprenticeship Program, Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA teaches participants about running a sustainable, biodynamic farm, as well as the relationship between food, farm, and the community.
- River Valley Farm in Lenox, MA focuses on animal husbandry for food and other animal-related products (e.g. sheepskins and wool).
- Woodbridge Farm in Salem, CT has 30 acres of open fields that are used for farming and livestock, most particularly the endangered red Milking Devon cow. The farm also participates in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program.
- The slogan for The Educational Farm at Joppa Hill in Bedford, NH is “Connecting Community to Land and Agriculture,” which they do through camps, tours, fairs, animal sponsorship programs and much more.
- One of the oldest CSAs in the US, Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Wilton, NH features approximately 130 acres of pastures, hay fields and vegetables, which provide over 100 households with food.
- Powered solely by hand and horse, Hillside Springs Farm & CSA Garden in Westmoreland, NH maintains a unique extended 22-week harvest season.
- Fare Share Farm in Canton, ME is a small, 3rd generation family CSA (community supported agriculture) farm open to any interested shareholders for whatever contribution they are willing and able to pay.
- Wayback Farm CSA in Morrill, ME doesn’t have a website, but you can contact them by phone at 207-342-5052.
Biodynamic Pest Control
Similar to organic practices, biodynamic pest control requires a high level of biodiversity and eschews the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. It relies on natural predator-prey relationships and aims to improve the biological and spiritual health of the overall ecosystem. To learn more about the science behind biodynamic pest control, read or listen to this June 2009 interview with Professor Jane Memmot at the University of Bristol, who conducted a study on ecosystems services – the useful roles that different organisms fulfill – at 20 farms adhering to biodynamic principles and 20 which were not.
There are a lot of resources out there regarding how you can implement biodynamic pest control, and a good place to start is Town and Country Farmer’s three-page overview, “Managing Weeds, Pests and Insects on the Biodynamic Farm.” It includes sections on (1) weeds as messengers to determine problems with the balance of the surrounding ecosystem, (2) sugar sap levels as an indicator of health, (3) horn silica preparation 501, and (4) peppering, which is a spreading of specific ashes over problem areas at an appointed time in the lunar cycle.
So you want to grow organically, but you still have pests, what do you do?
So you’ve discovered that something is nibbling on your tomato plant, your lettuce sprouts, or your prized tarragon plant. You’ve committed yourself to not using chemicals in your plot so while you stare wistfully at a leaf littered with holes, you worry that all is lost. Well, its not! There are many organic solutions to dealing with bugs that are healthy for you, and the soil you’ve planted in.
Well, for starters you can educate yourself in the concept of Integrated Pest Management, which is not always an organic means of pest control, but is a multifaceted approach that in the words of UMass Amherst, “…incorporates mechanisms for accurate estimation of both pest and beneficial insect populations, includes both economic and environmental cost and benefit assessments, and prescribes a combination of strategies for control of pest problems”. Now it may seem a little complicated, but Cornell University offers an approach that is applicable to home gardeners.
If IPM seems a little to involved for your garden plans, there are some simple steps for addressing what’s happening in your garden. For starters you need to identify the type of bugs you are dealing with. This website offers great pictures of the different pests, and helps you to identifying what may be eating your garden on a plant-by-plant basis. Organic Gardening magazine offers a great online guide for the top ten garden pests, as well as in depth looks at how to tackle Aphids, and Slugs (which are common bugs in most gardens, and in the New England area).
In addition to identifying the bad bugs, a good way to treat an infestation organically is to figure out what other bugs would eat the bad ones, and then attract them to your garden. Organic Gardening Magazine offers good information on allies to your garden, and how to attract them through border plants, and in general what plants attract the good bugs. Fine Gardening magazine also offers an overview on the topic What’s awesome about attracting the bugs to your garden, is that they do all the work for you, and you get to add diverse plants to your garden!
Finally, you’ve followed the basic steps to keeping pests out of your garden, and getting up everyday to pick aphids off by hand has gotten, it might be time to consider a spray, or another intervention. However, there are many options that aren’t detrimental to the environment. Martha Stewart, and Organic Gardening magazine offer simple steps to making an insect spray with items common to most households. There are also some safe commercial sprays available, a favorite being Neem Oil (though make sure you get one that is a high, or pure concentration of the oil, as the sprays can sometimes have additives that are harmful to your soil or plants). Neem Oil is available at many garden supply stores and online. This website on about.com, includes an overview of the many other organic sprays available. However, you need to assess the benefits and disadvantages of each of these types of options, because even though they are organic, it doesn’t mean they don’t have any negative side effects.
Inorganic Pest Control
If you have decided against organic products of pest control, take a few extra steps before heading over the local hardware or garden store. Effective pest control typically involves proper evaluation and prevention. The United States Environmental Protection Agency advocates Integrated Pest Management (IPM Principles ), which is a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls by following this four-tiered approach:
- Set Action Thresholds: Figure out when the pest level becomes a threat.
- Monitor and Identify Pests: The National Garden Association has a great pest library.
- Prevention: Using methods such as crop rotation or planting pest-free rootstock or pest-resistant varieties.
- Control: Determine the method to control the pest, using pesticides when all else fails.
The EPA categorized the following types of pesticides: chemical pesticides , biopesticides, antimicrobials, and the type of pest they control. Pest control devices are also listed in this category, but they are not technically pesticides. They do serve the same purpose without using the substance found in pesticides. These devices include traps and tapes.
Certain Types of Pest Listed by the EPA
||Attract pests (for example, to lure an insect or rodent to a trap). (However, food is not considered a pesticide when used as an attractant.)
|Disinfectants and sanitizers
||Kill or inactivate disease-producing microorganisms on inanimate objects.
||Kill fungi (including blights, mildews, molds, and rusts).
||Produce gas or vapor intended to destroy pests in buildings or soil.
||Kill weeds and other plants that grow where they are not wanted.
||Kill insects and other arthropods.
|Miticides(also called acaricides)
||Kill mites that feed on plants and animals.
||Microorganisms that kill, inhibit, or out compete pests, including insects or other microorganisms.
||Kill snails and slugs.
||Kill nematodes (microscopic, worm-like organisms that feed on plant roots).
||Kill eggs of insects and mites.
||Biochemicals used to disrupt the mating behavior of insects.
||Repel pests, including insects (such as mosquitoes) and birds.
||Control mice and other rodents.
Inorganic pesticides are made of minerals and chemical compounds found in nature. They include silica aerogel, boric acid, borates, diatomaceous earth, cryolite, copper, and sulfur. Ones manufactured with metals such as arsenic are now rarely used. It is important to learn how the different pesticides work and the different classes and categories in existence. For example, would poisoning the insects through its stomach be preferable than simply sterilizing them? Would you administer the method in the form of dust powder with a long shelf life or a potent spray? Even though these products are widely available, there is the potential of negatively affecting other surrounding organisms. Also, pests are capable of developing resistance. However, if you decide this is the method for you, products can be found locally at Mahoney’s Garden Center.