Perennial Roots Farm: Living Through the Seasons on a Biodynamic Farm
Living Through the Seasons on a Biodynamic Farm
Natalie McGill and Stewart Lundy founded Perennial Roots Farm in 2010. They share a passion for animals, ecology, alternative farming methods and homesteading. Most days on the farm Natalie can be found working in the vegetable garden, checking in on the animals, or tending trees. Stewart’s enthusiasm centers around managing the pasture and soil fertility, composting and forever researching new farm methods. Natalie likes to think about this year’s yields. Stewart likes to think about next year’s yields. Together, they make a pretty good team.
Of all the seasons, it is spring that makes the grandest of entrances. This is especially true on a farm. We emerge from winter: a time of introspection and planning, and cross over into spring: a time of projection, growth, and explosion. The farm breathes out. Green grass erupts, providing fresh pasture to the animals. Seeds are sprouting in preparation for an abundant harvest later on. New life enters the farm – lambs, piglets, chicks, ducklings, goslings. What was absorbed in the winter starts pushing out of the soil as vibrant green. The greenhouse is full of seedlings, the earth gifts us with plenty of rain, and the farm is exploding with life. Spring, my favorite season of the year, has arrived.
We practice biodynamics on our farm and like to say that biodynamic agriculture is a special way of looking at the world without prejudice. We always have to be sensitive to what the farm needs and flexible to its demands. As biodynamic farmers, the lines between farming and life are continually entwined. Having a farm is a like having a child – its needs don’t take a break even if you might want to.
Biodynamics does not accept the modern superstition that you have to buy expensive chemicals every year. Like organic agriculture, we don’t use chemicals or fertilizers, but biodynamics takes it several steps further than organic farming. Instead, we labor to create a farm that has a life of its own – one able to regenerate its own fertility from its own resources. In a word, healing. Biodynamics heals the earth as well as the soul of the farmer tending the earth.
Stewart likes to say that the younger, more naive version of us would never have gotten into farming if we’d known how much work it really required. Fortunately, being young is all about getting in over your head and starting things you can’t possibly understand yet. Seven years ago we began as a small homestead, intent on reducing waste, growing our own food and trying to heal the earth through sustainable farming practices. Slowly, over time, our homestead grew into a farm. And here we are seven years later, and we are still at it.
Farming is most intense during the heat and busy rush of summer. The heat has arrived, the humidity is high. The water in the soil steams off and in its place, green stands tall and proud, welcoming the high sun. During summer we ask: how deeply did we dream in winter? That’s how far we get before the summer begins to take its toll.
Our heirloom vegetables are the stars of summer. These heirloom beauties carry an incredible history with them and have been bred over generations, carefully selected for taste, hardiness, color, and disease resistance. And I love all of their names and the stories behind them like the Garden Peach tomato, which has a slight fuzz on its skin, just like its namesake, a peach.
My favorite part of summer is embodied in our luscious heirloom tomatoes. Every year, we plant out hundreds in a whole range of colors from orange to green to purple. We also plant out Italian heirloom tomatoes, so come August and September, I am canning tomato sauce, paste, ketchup, and jam nonstop. I love the vibrant colors of heirloom tomatoes, but even more than that, I love how every different variety, even though it is still a tomato, has its own unique flavor. Summer might bring with it long hours and hot days, but a fresh, juicy, off-the-vine tomato makes it more than worth it.
As the abundance of summer begins to wind down, harvests gradually get smaller, preserves are put up for the winter, and we are especially thankful as the days slowly get shorter and the mornings and evenings welcome us with a cool breeze from the north. After the hurried rush of summer, fall creeps in and allows us to breathe once again. Before we know it, the first frost is here. We can take more time to simply be on our farm, playing a bit more with the pigs and sheep, watching the changing season, observing our pasture and the farm ecosystem: connecting in ways we weren’t able to during the rush of summer.
Every handful of dirt on our farm is its own little universe. If you pay attention, the soil has innumerable stories to share. Animals and soil health are at the heart of every biodynamic farm, playing a key role in nurturing and giving back to the earth. Animals are vital to building good soil.
As biodynamic farmers we see each of our animals as creatures brimming with living meaning and purpose. We look to the animals to tell us what they need, not forcing them to do what is convenient for us. All of our animals are kept on pasture and rotated daily to fresh green grass. We’ve specifically selected heritage breed animals who are hardy, disease resistant and excellent foragers. Over the years, through trial and error, we’ve implemented multi-species grazing: we keep the pigs, sheep, and geese together, and have a separate paddock of chickens, ducks, and turkeys that follow closely behind them. This intensive grazing system not only keeps our animals healthier, but it helps heal and enliven our soil at the same time. We named our farm Perennial Roots Farm for many reasons, one of which was to symbolize the importance of perennial pasture, deepening roots, giving back to the soil, and regenerative farming. Our animals are our greatest allies in this endeavor.
The cold is setting in here on the farm and we are settling into a winter of planning and plotting for the upcoming growing season. This is, of course, in addition to the normal day-to-day chores of caring for our animals, which entails making sure everyone is fed, watered, warm and safe, no matter what the weather. The farmers are the blood of the farm itself, circulating from one place to another. It doesn’t matter whether the farm is “asleep” or not; the blood keeps moving, taking what is needed where it needs to go. If you traced our footsteps across the farm every day, you’d see a rhythmic flow – a pulse. In the winter, the heartbeat slows a little, but not because nothing is happening. We heal at night, and our dreams give tomorrow’s actions meaning.
In the sleep of winter, the farm breathes in deeply: plants decompose on the surface and the life forces of the animal manure and compost enliven the soil. The earthworms are delighted by the delicate pictures of the heavens in humble plant remains. The earth herself inhales.
The potential for the new season is boundless, as are all of our plans for the coming year. We pour over seed catalogues, write to-do lists and plot out exciting new rotational grazing systems, garden plans, new projects as well as old. Each and every wintertime idea wants to grow, but we have learned that we can’t do it all. We tend the ideas that show the most promise and the farm emerges. Winter might be the season of sleep, but for us it is a time of daydreaming for even greater things yet to come.
We have watched the seasons come and go, observed cycles of birth and death, and feel honored to have participated in the natural course of our farm’s ecosystem. As farmers we have learned that it is most important to listen to what the land, our animals and the cosmos are trying to tell us, and then adapt to that. We use each winter to digest all the experiences that the farm has thrown at us and before we know it, spring appears again, bringing us full circle. We have arrived.