ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: RIGHT LIVELIHOOD AT AURORA FARM
[as published in ACRES USA February, 2000
“Steiner was himself asked about size of farms and so on
and said clearly that if he were a farmer, he would farm the smallest
possible acreage so as to get it right, do the most good, etc.”
—from a BDNOW! posting by Andrew Lorand.
Scale is like timing—sometimes timing is everything and sometimes scale is everything.
I’m not advocating necessarily for small scale here, rather for right scale.
People like Gene Logsden and Wendell Berry can wax philosophical about abstractions like right scale much better than I. My way is to talk of direct experience, to present examples showing how right scale translates to right livelihood for us at Aurora farm. If it’s small scale too, then we’re in the same camp as the Amish farmer Berry writes about, who, when asked why he didn’t farm more land since he was so prosperous, said, “I guess I’m just not smart enough to farm more land than this…not and do it well.”
These slices of our life are not meant to be instructive. Farms and farmers are too individual to admit of direct transfer of one farmer’s methods—much less of feelings and understandings—to another’s farm. The examples and experiences I recount are meant to be evocative—the word means “to summon or to call forth; to call to mind or memory; to create anew, especially by means of the imagination.” Evocative, perhaps of what the reader already knows.
OUR FARM IS SO SMALL…
That I spent part of a morning today hand-cleaning milk thistle seed, putting it up for drying and packaging. It took maybe an hour of prickly work to garner enough seed to fill, probably, this year’s demand—a dozen or two packages. That’s how small this operation is. Now, milk thistle is a comparatively low-demand item.
On the other hand, it took maybe 100 person-hours to grow the plants and harvest and process the tomato seed we need for sale this year—1,000 packets of eight different varieties. Not much by Burpee or Seeds of Change standards, but plenty for us. We don’t want to get much bigger or richer, we just want to do it right.
OUR FARM IS SO SMALL…
That our first chore this morning was finally to get Danny Boy II into his halter, the blue one with bells. He’d fought us horn and hoof and wildly twisting contortions when we’d tried to get his mom’s old halter on him. It was only when we decided to take Venus’s halter and put it on him that he accepted the idea. But that first time the buckle was twisted and it had to come off again. That was a chance to glue holiday bells on it. And Venus’s new halter has bells too.
Venus and DB II have been together for most of a month now and they’re so sweet with each other. Weaned at the same time, they comfort each other over loss of their mom’s teats. It’s precious to see them lying side by side, hips touching, chewing their cuds, half-sleepy, half-watchful, ready to jump up and investigate any change in the surroundings—a leaf blowing, the herd dog Lotus passing by on some errand, the outside door closing up at the house.
They’re like bookends, those two, born 10 days apart in late summer. DB II, half Dexter and half Kerry, is black as the gates of hell. Venus is sorrel, going darker as she approaches heiferhood. They’re never more than a yard apart, it seems, awake or asleep. We’ve lavished a lot of time on these calves during the past four months and expect to expand on that considerably, because we like to do it, because we’ll add value to calves and farm thereby. But does it make economic sense to have spent this many hours dealing with these calves? And to contemplate spending even more? Not if you count the time and figure that time equals money. But why would we count the time if our aim is right livelihood [support…substance…subsistence…vocation”] We don’t raise cows for money, we raise them for fertility. The Biodynamic compost we make with cow manure is like black gold.
OUR FARM IS SO SMALL…
That, by hand I grind the grain for the 30 Aracuana chicks we have brooding in the workshop. They get barley, rice, wheat, buckwheat, rye, corn and some eggshells, and a bit of Azomite in there. I was grinding, just cracking the kernels, not grinding to flour, using the Molina hand grinder set up at the end of the storage area. It’s a bit strenuous, and my body gets into the rhythm of the thing, smelling the warm meal, and I become aware of a memory evoked here. I’d done just this same thing before, or something very much like it , in a peasant lifetime. I had the same sensation, the same feelings. In Bohemia? Or Alsace? I had forefathers, great-great grandmothers in both those places. Ancestors. I began to be able to tap the instinctive wisdom, coming down from them. I think from my mother’s side.
Rudolf Steiner says, “Before any science of these things existed, everything people did was guided by instinct, and those instincts were often quite specific and reliable…Remarkable wisdom they expressed in clear and simple terms.”
After 35 years of taking care of chickens, I have figured out the feed formula for baby chicks; whatever you’ve got on hand in the way of grains, assuming your pantry is well equipped, ground to suit the birds’ age. Minerals in the form of clay, garden soil and compost. Celtic salt, Azomite, alfalfa flakes hand screened from the cow’s hay, fresh clover. Equisetum tea [for feather-promoting silica] chamomile tea [to mellow them out], some suet and fat scraps from time to time. Lots of variety. Don’t let them get bored or they’re liable to start pecking each other.
I didn’t get that formula from an extension handbook or from Joel Salatin. It got it from my ancestors.
“It’s about our D and A. Descendants and ancestors. We are the descendants and we are the ancestors. D and A, our DNA, our blood,
our flesh and our bone. We are the earth. Any relationship we will ever
have to real power is our relationship to the earth.” –John Trudell
Another memory evoked in recent weeks: I was milking Bessie, saying those soft soothing things I say to relax the scene and encourage her to let down her milk: “So Bess, easy girl, that’s good, now Bess, let go. Whoa now, moveyourdamnfoot, this is good, now Darlin’, easy, almost done…” and Bessie’s response comes in soft groans as she snuffs the hay and licks up the last of her grain ration. There are soft groans and rumen rumbles and gassy sounds at my right ear. My hands seek out the rhythm that’s there in the milk flow, and my body rocks in time with feel and sound of spurts into the steel bucket. There’s the heady, warm smell of milk in my nostrils. Here we go again, a certain rhythm, a certain balanced effort, a particular fragrance, together calling out a remembrance of having done this before, said these things, felt this comfort hunkered against the cow, and pleading with her, pleasing her, courting and cajoling her to get the milk to come freely and with ease. What a warm knowing it is, how to care for a cow and be cared for by her—and the knowing is there underneath, in my cells.
Similar memories arise again and again in the daily work, always when the rhythm, the effort and an aroma of some sort set off something deep inside; in digging a bed or stirring Biodynamic preparations or hoeing a long row. Not just a deju vu feeling, but a knowing too, a confidence, a connectedness.
OUR FARM IS SO SMALL…
We are the customer-service people, the seed acquirers, the CEO, the CIO, the CFO, the growers, harvesters, manure shovelers, bed diggers, long-range planners, soothsayers, herdspersons, firewood rustlers, egg gatherers, chroniclers, chefs, errand runners and apprentices–the same two people, with a bit of help here and there.
By the day and by the season, we dance through these and other roles, with each other, by ourselves, on the telephone, with visitors, over the Internet, in the kitchen, the seed room, at the barn, in the woods. There are a hundred decisions to be made in a day, domestically, agriculturally, business-wise. Much of the time—when we are most in the flow of things and operating harmoniously—our work is guided by memories, intuition from outside our ego-selves. If we can get out of our own way, solutions appear, questions are answered, and the way to do what needs to be done becomes clearer. I claim no special status in this regard, since a century or two ago most human lives were led along these lines, the unbroken, unspoken memory of the ancestors informing the actions of the descendants. It was the commonest of things, this feeling that you already know how to do something, or how to be, in your heart, toward the land, the soil, the other creatures. We sought and seek our power from the Earth, not from culture. Sometimes we ask outright for guidance; sometimes the guidance is there unbidden, in our hands. The juice of our peasant heritage flows most freely there, in our hands.
Regard Steiner’s wistful evocations of the peasant intelligence. You know he already has seen, in grief-stricken moments of clairvoyance, how the capitalist dollar mindset debases ancestral knowledge and crams modern ideas into its place; how corporate propaganda supplants ancient and true values with gadgets, rape of spirit and wage slavery; how slogans like “economy of scale,” “the bottom line,” bigger is better,” and “time is money,” become unexamined axioms underlying the industrialization of agriculture, the despoiling of land, the bureaucratization of experience, and the perversion of education.
But memory remains. We operate under what Andrew Lorand calls “a metaphor and encouragement for thoroughness, depth and presence of personal, spiritual involvement over the more industrialized version of more is better…” Our ancestors were pretty much ignorant of affairs outside their own village or region, but within the circumference of their attention they were all “depth and presence.” Depth and presence and faithfulness and devotion and reverence for all life. More and more, at Aurora Farm, in our daily routine of observation, attention to detail, care for rooted brothers and four-footed sisters and the soil that nourishes us all, we are gifted to live by light of memory, shedding some of the baggage of the present.
“Bigger is better” becomes “enough is enough.”
Woody Wodraska and Barbara Mary Victoria Scott operate Aurora Farm in southeastern British Columbia, where they grow Biodynamic seeds for family gardens and produce a line of herbal health alternatives, tinctures and oils. Woody was introduced to Biodynamics in 1975 and has been involved in 16 garden and farm projects in the United States and Canada, many of them Biodynamic start-ups.