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Small details, big picture: CSA looks for a better way to grow food

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Catherine W. Idzerda
April 6, 2014

TOWN OF RICHMOND—Turtle Creek Gardens is the kind of farm where the small details come into focus.

The smell of the ground thawing after a long winter is a subtle aroma.

The snorting puffs of the cattle sound like an invitation to conversation.

The expanse of sprouts in the greenhouse seems like a botanical wonder rather than the beginning of commonplace greens.

It feels like magic, but it's not. It's just a farm in rural Walworth County where the quiet allows visitors to refocus their senses—and reconsider how they live. 

Turtle Creek Gardens, located just northwest of Delavan, is among a dozen or so community-supported agriculture ventures in south-central Wisconsin.

Usually referred to as CSAs, such ventures allow people to buy a share in the farm's produce from the late spring to fall.

Most farms offer just produce, but some include shares for flowers, cheese, honey, meat and eggs.

Many people are part of CSAs because the farms offer vegetables that are fresh from a local field, not shipped across the country from large-scale growing operations.

This year local CSAs and farmer's markets might see an uptick in business as vegetables and other goods from drought-stricken California become significantly more expensive.

Like many other CSAs, Turtle Creek is certified organic, but the farm also is committed to the biodynamic approach to raising food. Biodynamic farming is a set of principles developed by German philosopher and scientist Rudoph Steiner. 

Jim Stute, research director for the Michael Field's Institute, described it as “organic plus.”

Stute said many of the products labeled for organic use would be “off the table” for biodynamic farms. First because they weren't generated on the farm, and second because of their impact on other parts of the ecosystem. 

For example, copper sulfate, which is labeled organic, has been linked to serious medical conditions and is toxic to fish and other aquatic species, according to Cornell University's Extension Toxicology Network.

In biodynamics, the farm is more of a closed system, generating its own fertilizer and plant protectants from livestock, herbs and other items already available on the farm.

“Basically, the philosophy behind it is that the whole farm is a self-contained entity,” Stute said.

Fertilizers might come from simple compost mixes, and plant protectants might come from plants such as oak bark, valerian flowers and horsetail.

An herb mixture might be mixed with water and sprayed on plants as an anti-fungal to help prevent blight.

Soil life is at the center of biodynamic farming, as is the notion that the farm itself is a living entity that needs to be nourished, said Janet Gamble, Turtle Creek co-owner and manager.

It's similar to the way a human body functions, one part reliant on another and all dependent on the quality of inputs—diet, sleep and exercise.

Along with the general practices, biodynamic farming is a philosophy, a way of life that doesn't allow shortcuts for expediency's sake.

That means biodynamic farmers have to have a deeper, more “thoughtful relationship” with the work they're doing, Gamble said.

“What we do as humans becomes part of the system,” Gamble said.

It's difficult to explain to outsiders, she said. A word such as “holistic” might work, but it's been used so often—and used to described everything from laundry soap to business plans—that it's lost its meaning.

“Everything is interconnected,” she said. “The challenge is creating the right language so people can understand. One thing is related to the next and to the next and to the next.”

For more information about Turtle Creek Gardens go to http://turtlecreekgardenscsa.com/



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