September 19, 2023

Learn about biodynamic farming with Michigan’s oldest community-supported agricultural farm

By Andy Nixon

A handful of Ann Arbor families started organic farming 34 years ago, before it was all the rage

Set on 12 acres in Chelsea, the Ann Arbor Community Farm has been producing “food with a face” for more than three decades. Michigan’s oldest CSA (community supported agriculture) farm also happens to be a biodynamic farm, referred to by many as the “Cadillac of organic.” In a CSA, members share the risk of the farming season but are rewarded weekly with fresh, healthy produce. This can include vegetables such as potatoes, squash, garlic, beans, etc. With fruit trees and beehives on site, the benefits go beyond vegetables.

Parking next to the mid-1800s barn, I was greeted by Margarete Orlik-Walsh and Dan Gannon, or Farmer Dan as most call him. The couple explained what a CSA is, the number of families the farm produces for and the emotion behind preparing, growing and consuming the produce. Margarete expressed her passion and mentioned “how much better produce tastes, how saliva reacts to something you’ve grown on such a different scale” than something bought from a store. “There’s something magical about eating something you helped create,” she added.

Organic describes foods with no GMOs, no synthetic fertilizers, and no synthetic pesticides used in the growing process. The Ann Arbor Community Farm is not only organic but also biodynamic. Biodynamic agriculture began in 1924, thanks to the writings of scientist and philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner. By definition, biodynamics is a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to agriculture, gardening, food and nutrition. The farm does not use outside fertilizers, seedlings or other products when tending the land in simple terms. This method is quickly noticed while touring the land with Farmer Dan. No-till fields rid the soil of weed and pest cycles by not disturbing underlying soil levels. It also helps create rich topsoil that is used elsewhere on the farm.

Guernsey cows, sheep and goats provide natural landscaping and nutrient-rich manure to fertilize the many fields. Although the cows are not milked at this time, the breeder has created a purebred cow that has become less dependent on humans. Benefits include grazing on grass instead of grain, resistance to disease and disease, and easier childbirth that is done with little human interaction. Animals roaming together in the same fenced pasture, each has a specific job. Watching the goats devour poison ivy and buckthorn, it became clear that I needed them on my property.

The distance traveled by some testifies to the importance of a healthy life. Starr Yacoub and his family have been members for two years. “My husband and children come with me almost every weekend to help out on the farm. Each of us has a certain job that we can help with. She adds, “Even though we live in Northville, we don’t mind wanting the quality of produce and community provided by the farm as a whole.

Farmer Dan gave an overview of the CSA model and why it is a win-win situation for the farm and its members. “By collecting membership dues in the spring, we are able to start preparing and cultivating without having to go to the bank for a loan.” adding “This allows the farmer to produce a balanced and nutritious range of produce instead of what sells best in the market or generates the highest margin”.

With beehives for fresh honey, a greenhouse to start crops, and a homemade wood-fired pizza oven to entertain members and guests, this land has several unique things for a family to learn about and participate in. As droughts, inflation and other unexpected events creep into our daily lives, the CSA model could prove to be a great way to hedge against risk when it comes to healthy and fresh produce.

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