The rolling emerald hills hug level ground of a 70-acre farm in the town of Dorena, OR, named Ruby & Amber’s Organic Oasis for the great draft horse pair that has powered this biodynamic farm for the last 14 years. Driving along the winding backroads to get to the farm, we tried to be as positive as possible. Two of the four ladies have not had the best introduction to biodynamics, but we were all very excited to see their operation.
Although an anesthesiologist and avid scientific researcher, within the last 10 years Walt and his wife Kris have converted their farm to using biodynamic practices, a method established by Rudolf Steiner (also the founder of Waldorf schooling techniques) in the early 1900’s. Some would consider biodynamics “woo-woo” agriculture, and Kris admits she did, too, in the beginning. “I stay away from cults,” she stresses, “But I started practicing one aspect [of biodynamics] and eventually it spread to other aspects of the farm. You can really see the results; colors, storage quality. I think our customers notice it, too.” Together, Kris and Walt make a beautiful team, pulling the best aspects of spirituality, cosmology, and science.
As we were first introduced to the horses, we realized we were meeting the most important creatures on the farm. It only took about 15 minutes of hanging out with the horses before Walt hopped on the back of the largest in the heard. Walt’s eyes sparkle when he talks about his main work force and obvious companions. He describes working with the animals as being “like poetry. You have to observe them and respond to what they do. See them fully, and then react. It develops a different kind of holistic practice.”
Rhuka, a recent Evergreen grad and new employee of the Oasis, welcomed us with gracious hospitality and gave us a place to camp and eat. Both Walt and Chris were exceedingly busy, yet agreed to have dinner with us and possibly show us around in the morning if time allowed. We made a fruit salad, Shepard’s pie, and fennel salad with Rhuka for dinner up at the main house. All we can say is that we have a new appreciation for biodynamics. Walt addressed every discomfort we had ever felt about biodynamics.
The farm thrives with only cultivating 1.5 acres of vegetables, the rest of the land dedicated to haying fields, infrastructure, and animal pasture. They grow mostly for the market in Eugene, as well as having a small CSA and training draft horses for on-farm labor. The owners, Walt and Kris, do not come from farming families, and had made careers for themselves before beginning to cultivate any land. Chris studied agriculture through UCSC’s farm/garden and was hooked.
“My brother’s a very good conventional farmer out in Missouri,” Walt points out, “And it’s all the same stuff. Observation is key.” He goes on to explain how his faith in biodynamics comes from his experience with observing his own systems on his farm, but also with his experience with his horses. For Walt, this is what biodynamics is truly about; understanding the inter-workings of your farm so intimately that the rhythm of live power pulses through every facet.
Walt describes in detail what he perceives as a responsibility we all have to one another in doing thorough research before making statements on how things “should” be done, especially in farming. “People are changing the ways they are doing things because of the things you say, you know?” Walt will not call himself a numbers man, but he wants to see the facts. Both him and Kris started faming biodynamically because they saw tangible results for themselves, Walt’s mental note taking confirming what he was seeing. Extensive research goes in to every talk Walt gives on anything from biodynamics to economics. Even over our casual dinner, he pulled out resource after resource on data debunking common fallacies of draft power, and supporting the positive aspects of tractor farming vs. “live” power, such as soil health.
When talking about farming practices, the idea of practicality vs. ideals is a common theme. Both Kris and Walt stress practical advice. They attribute this to the responsibility they each have has seasoned farmers to advising the next farming generation. A lesson personally learned, Kris emphasizes the importance of water rights when choosing a piece of land. As the winding river cuts their current property in half, water is no longer an issue. “We had to move from the Bay Area because we had no water. Here, we have irrigation rights, but they can still be taken away from us at any point.” She also suggests a level piece of property and knowing your community will support you. “We visited the market [in Eugene] long before we bought the property. We were really able to see the community involvement and support for the farmers in the area first hand before we committed.”
Walt adds, “The more you give, the more you receive. One time Chris and I went out for dinner, and half the restaurant was filled with our customers. When we went to pay at the end of the evening, the bill had already been covered. So we felt good about turning around and paying someone else’s tab. But no other career — including medicine — sets you up to be that appreciated within your community. It really makes it mean something more.”