Fall leaves littering the drive and painting the trees with rainbows, the windy road of California Highway 162 brought us to Covelo, CA, a farming community in the truly panoramic “Round Valley.” Stephen and Gloria have been farming on the 90 acres that makes up Livepower Community Farm for over 30 years. They focus on mixed plant and animal production in the biodynamic model in a way that truly defines community supported agriculture. Stressing an Associative Economics model, all of the produce they grow is distributed to their CSA members, comprised currently of 200 households. They usually meet a couple of times a year with their members, who are their funders and sole financial supporters of the farm. The CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a concept that Stephen and Gloria truly take back to the original notions on which the CSA was founded: making the consumer aware and part of the farming experience.
Livepower doesn’t wholesale or market any of their produce, so their members get every delicious morsel being grown on the property. As their shareholders, members are presented with the farm budget on a yearly basis; their membership cost is put towards transparent farm operation costs. This model is based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of Associative Economics, one of the many branches of his works. This allows for the community to both share the bounty as well as the in risk of the farm by means of communication and understanding of the farming practices, in the creation of a system that looks to establish equality within the community.
Stephen, a student of Alan Chadwick, believes strongly in the biodynamic viewpoint of the farm as an organism. He sees every aspect, from the economics to the individuals involved, as organs of a body that need to be functioning in order to farm successfully and consciously as a living system. “Every individual has their role,” Stephen elaborates, “The farmers, of course, but also the eaters.” This viewpoint of the eaters as an extension of the farm allows for an educational paradigm shift in food production in that it “teaches the eaters that they are an organ of the farm and to play that role more consciously.” He continues on to explain that using price as the criteria for what we consume is simply too narrow for us to change the downward spiral of what our food system has become. Their members know that this farm is key in providing food they feel good about eating: “[Food] marketing these days is all about decreasing the consumers commitment, an increasing their choices [or availability]. We need to switch this approach, by getting people more involved in local agriculture and easing them into the idea of eating seasonally.” He quotes Genesis: “Man is in the garden to dress it, and to keep it.”
While Stephen was studying at UC Santa Cruz, he became interested in biodynamic agriculture after apprenticing under Alan Chadwick. Eventually, he was given 15 acres of what is now Livepower, which he and his wife Gloria have come to own, expanding to 50 acres as well as 40 acres that they lease. Through the vein of biodynamics, Steven and Gloria exemplify the importance of a closed-loop farming system. With integrated crop/livestock systems, and the use of draft horse power, they are able to harvest all of their nutrients and fuel (in the form of horse labor, compost and manure) from their own land. Taking this viewpoint further in considering each part of his farm as an organ, all aspects of a truly self-sustaining farm are present on the property: animal husbandry, vegetable production, energy use, economics, and education play equally into the farm functioning as a whole organism.
Draft horses are powerful creatures; in their presence, we are taken aback by their immensity. Livepower has six, which, Stephen admits, is a few more than they really need. It seemed silly to ask about his opinion on the benefits of draft horses vs. gas-powered tools due to their obviously integral role on the property (for Stephen, it clearly isn’t even a competition), but when probed he explains: “Well, it’s hard to really put hard numbers on it because they provide and are good for so many things. Manure, obviously, but they also have very few maintenance costs if they’re well taken care of, and they replace themselves!” Livepower is now on their third generation of workhorses. Their machine yard is littered with what looks like antiques, tools built to last, and last they have.
In terms of energy use, direct sales to the local community, use of only draft animals for cultivation, and 130,000 watts of solar energy keep inputs to a minimum. Educational programs comprise about a quarter of the farms income, incorporating workshops taught by Stephen and Gloria such as Biodynamic preparation making and fieldtrips from local elementary schools.
One of the most interesting aspects of Livepower is their vision of the long term, which they are implementing by means of an agricultural easement they created for the property. This easement makes the property cost more affordable for potential new-owners, and also protects the land from any development that does not pertain to organic or biodynamic agriculture. Agricultural easements through Land Trusts are an important resource for people who wish to protect their property from development, and also may be the most financially realistic way for young farmers to acquire land. Land under agricultural easements is appraised and assessed at the current production value of the area, thus allowing for a more affordable opportunity for farmers looking at taking over the property. Stephen and Gloria are also looking into an alternative ownership model, potentially allowing for multiple owners to take over utilizing a democratic governance system that would permit young farmers to divide the responsibility of this large property while maintaining its fertility in the long term.
“If you ask a kid in the Bronx to describe the Garden of Eden, they’d describe a diversified farm,” he explains. Even if only subconsciously, people understand the cycle of life and the necessity of all types of organisms to complete the circle of soil to food; biodynamic farms emphasize this understanding. By educating the consumer population of their role in this cycle, we are able to mend the rip we have torn between us and our food systems. We must be supportive of these truly sustainable models in order for tour planet, life, and health to survive.