What organic farming really means

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2014 12:30 am
By Tessa Edick
For Columbia-Greene Media


When did food become “organic” food?


It’s time to start looking at companies selling food that aren’t holding themselves to a higher standard of best practice, transparency and quality and commit to buying your food from farms that are proud to produce nutrient dense food for you to eat. Reconnect your children to resilient agriculture and better health to create strong rural to urban marketplaces in our communities.


In this country within the next 10 to 20 years, the majority of our American farmers (average age 58) will age out of their profession and millions of acres of farmland will change hands and need new farmers. Who is going to feed us?


Of course food is personal — both a choice and a lifestyle — but the reward for practicing consumption of organically grown (not only labeled) food from the farm made by people you can trust to implement best practice for production is a gift from the food gods — otherwise known as farmers.


Take a wonderful journey into the land of biodynamic organic food, sustainable practice and preservation of food justice — our human right to eat fresh local food and be well at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent.


“Good, healthy food cannot be a privilege; it has to become a basic human right,” said Steffen Schneider, director of farm operations at HVF.


Food from Hawthorne Valley Farm is exclusively GMO free, biodynamic, organic, pasture raised and as luck would have it — affordable.


People are just learning what these practices mean and that just stating it on the package is worth investigation. “It’s not obvious in peoples’ minds that organic is supposed to mean GMO-free — it’s becoming another buzz word,” explained farm marketer Lauren Wolff.


The signage at Hawthorne Valley Farm reads clearly, “our produce is bio-dynamic and organic” and what does that mean?


I read on, “Biodynamic farmers will strive to ‘root the farm in the whole household of nature’ and will include the conscious practice of working with the rhythmical influences of the ‘cosmos’ and strictly avoid synthetic inputs (fertilizers, pesticides and hormones) on a biodynamic farm.”


As a biodynamic farm, it also means that the amount of land determines the number of cows that can be fed grazing. In this case 400 acres allows a herd of 60 Brown Swiss dairy cows to supply organic milk to the HVF farmstead creamery.


It’s all about best practice really — transparency and quality — to ensure your food is packed with nutrition from land that is respected, water that is clean, animals that are well cared for, comfortable and happy to create a marketplace that brings education and economic development to the community.


Why doesn’t every package of food you eat say that?


This working farm also includes 10 acres of vegetables that support a 300-member CSA and a two-acre Corner Garden, which provides produce for the farm store open year round. Twenty pigs eat the “waste” whey from the creamery and 40 chickens provide eggs for the learning programs on the farm. “When a 3-year-old is nose to nose with a baby pig — it’s so funny and personable — it’s a way to trust food and sustainable practices,” Director of Marketing Karen Preuss said.


So this 400-acre farm and farmstead creamery work within the limits of the biodynamic scale with a ration of land available with nutrient dense pasture/grass to graze for the feeding of these 60 lovable and child-friendly Brown Swiss milking cows that produce milk used for production in the creamery and sold in many varieties including as raw milk.


Raw milk is an unpasturized nutrient rich dairy product that is both coveted and feared because the industry has taught us that milk should last a long time in your fridge and pasteurization is mandatory — unless bought directly on the farm.


If you have never tried it — try it! Hawthorne Valley Farm raw milk is available in the farm store and the taste is very different from the pasteurized version many would call “white water” in organic terms. It has a one-week expiration date and is what I call a real energy drink!


In New York state, you can only buy raw milk direct on a farm property where it is handled correctly to mitigate any risk with cleanliness and testing. It is the most nutritious milk you can buy. People come from far away and freeze it — so if you do visit the farm to buy raw milk — call ahead and bring a cooler to transport it correctly to your fridge.


Neighboring farms lend milk from Jersey cows. HVF varies the milk sources to diversify the cheese types made at the on-site farmstead creamery. There are several types of cheeses made at the creamery — Alpine is made only in the summer and takes 8 months to mature. It is crafted from raw milk and aged 60 days (by law) on property in the cheese caves. It comes in caraway and a classic flavor — all of it, of course, sourced from biodynamic organic milk from the Brown Swiss beauties on property.


“Cheddaring” is a cheese-making process from Cheddar, England — and salt is everything to cheese in this labor-intensive process.


America’s favorite cheese — cheddar is made at HVF in a “Clothbound” version that will make you swear off cheap imitations. The farm store offers many varieties all aged in caves for year-round eating based on the philosophy that they are a working farm committed to meet their community food needs and offer a variety of products in small batches to feed us well.


There is also raclette in winter (nutty, rich and fondue savvy), a brand new summer Havarti (mild and of the famed “Edamer” ilk) as well as a May Hill “camembert style” Chevre. Since the cows graze on may hill, the name reflects the terroir. Euro cup style yogurt is a favorite at HVF in plain, maple vanilla, strawberry or lemon flavors all made from whole milk from the same Brown Swiss cows. There are also “Bianca” cheese spreads much like soft goat-style cheeses, these are great for salads in many flavors: classic, smoked, olive, chive or herb choices.


Because Hawthorne Valley Farm is so invested in education — school, garden, kraut cellar, farm store, dairy herd and creamery — it not only serves the needs of the community from NYC to Columbia County but our personal food choices help them scale, build and sustain a practice we must all invest in simply by sourcing nutritious local farm fresh food.


Food is reflective at Hawthorne Valley Farm and about slowing down, connecting to the food you eat and the people who care for the plants and the animals to yield what you need for sustenance.


As Executive Director Martin Ping explained, “We rush toward progress, but progress toward what? We are in the business of growing food. Why are we on the defensive? We should trust cows more than chemists.”


HVF is funded by a diverse mix of revenue streams and has a social mission with a pedicological entrepreneurial instruction. Funding comes from the store, grants, on-site summer camp and educational programming. From pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, this Waldorf/Steiner school educated 275 students in the 2013-14 school year and is actively growing the high school boarding program with an international program hosting students from as far as Afghanistan, China and Israel to study at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, a member of Hawthorne Valley Association, a diverse nonprofit committed to social and cultural renewal through the integration of education, agriculture and the arts.


It started with the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, “There is no realm of human life that is not affected by agriculture.” Which led “a group of pioneering educators, farmers and artisans to take a courageous step into an uncertain future when they purchased the Curtis Vincent Farm in Harlemville, New York.” This deed was the culmination of a seven-year process that began in response to experiencing firsthand the immediate challenges of the loss of small family farms and the threat to childhood development posed by an increasingly materialistic and mechanistic prevailing worldview.


The idea was to buy a farm and offer children from urban centers a hands-on experience of what it means to be stewards of the land. In 1972, the first class of visiting students from the Rudolf Steiner School in New York City drove to Harlemville and renovated the farmhouse into a bunkhouse where the Visiting Students Program continues today, having hosted more than 13,000 children. Many local neighbors involved at the beginning still refer to this initiative and Hawthorne Valley as “the farm school.”


These founding impulses — sensitive land stewardship, healthy child development in connection with nature and provision of nutritious food — continue to guide the work at Hawthorne Valley Farm today.


The five full-time farmers and eight apprentices work hard year-round to tend the plants and animals in addition to monitoring the health of the whole farm and connecting people to nature and our food supply with a “renewed awareness of the fundamental importance of a regenerative, resilient agriculture for our society as a whole.”


It’s a philosophy you can invest in — especially when it comes to good food and doing good. You are what you eat. FarmOn!


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