CULTURE

Biodynamics down on the farm

Biodynamic and homeodynamic agriculture, discussed in this column two weeks ago, is catching on among Greek farmers, and not only with the young and idealistic. Kathimerini English Edition talked to three farmers in different parts of the country, some of them with earlier experience in conventional agriculture. All of them emphasized the personal satisfaction and self-knowledge that comes from growing food biodynamically. «You need to have a different approach to life and to farming. We follow biodynamics because we accept it as a principle. It has given us a very good relationship with the land, a different interest in and understanding of farming. This comes over time,» says olive grower Vangelis Kaltsas. «Although it might sound hackneyed, by farming in this way we also cultivate ourselves as people.» «It is a very exciting experience to cultivate crops this way. It is something that creates great interest and joy,» said Nikos Carras, who comes from a long line of farmers in Arcadia. »Naturally as it is something new, it calls for a lot of will on the part of the farmer, and above all, energy.» «From the theoretical point of view, biodynamics presupposes an equal relationship between the farmer and the crop,» said vintner Dimitris Georgas. »Both parties are equally important. You come to understand the plant’s cycles. It presupposes an ethos, a respect for the plant’s cycles like all other organisms. We try to coordinate with those cycles. We mustn’t forget that biodynamics was Rudolf Steiner’s original idea and that organic farming is a simplified version of it.» Thasos olive groves Vangelis Kaltsas, 29, left Athens five years ago to cultivate his grandfather’s olive grove on the island of Thasos. Over the past two years he has been using homeodynamic methods in his groves after having visited farms abroad and attending seminars in Italy and Greece. «I had always had it in mind to try to live in country. After working on a documentary on olive trees, I decided to try it out,» he said. Kaltsas has 1,450 olive trees on 7.7 hectares of land. Apart from selling his own olive oil, he also buys olives from other farmers to process oil and table olives. Last year Kaltsas decided to carry out an experiment to test the efficacy of biodynamic methods and the use of homeodynamic preparations on the trees as a way of boosting yield and resisting disease. He divided 4 hectares of his groves into three sections. In the first he used homeodynamic methods. The second was left as a control group, with no intervention at all, although it was subdivided as part of it was affected by the homeodynamic methods used on trees alongside, where the preparations have a range of effects over several meters. In the third section he used ordinary organic methods. «The biggest surprise was the oil yield, percentages which the olive press employees had never seen before,» he said. Oil yield from harvests from the purely homeodynamically farmed groves was 29.63 percent (from a pressing on December 12, 2004) and 28.17 percent (December 28). In the control homeodynamic group the yield was 23.29 percent and 24.20 percent (January 7 and 15, 2005), from the organically farmed groves 15.88 percent (December 12) and 21.69 percent from the control group (December 17). Attic vineyards Dimitris Georgas’s family have been making wine for many generations at their vineyards outside Spata, Attica. «In 1998 we switched over to organic methods and in 2000 we began using biodynamic and homeodynamic methods. As a family we have been consulting homeopaths for years and we wanted to take the same approach to treating our crops.» «We have had good results in both cultivation and wine-making, and with the grape juice that we also manufacture,» said Georgas, who has degrees in geology, oceanography and environmental management, and also teaches earth sciences. »We have not conducted scientific experiments, but we are convinced by the experiental results. The plants’ defense systems are improved, they are far more resistant to disease and generally peform much better.» ‘Postgraduate’ farming Nikos Carras comes from a farming family, but rejected conventional in favor of organic methods 10 years ago along with another group of concerned farmers in his part of Arcadia. «Back when we used chemicals, the realization that we were damaging both the ecosystem and our own health led me to reconsider. Those of use around here who switched to biodynamic agriculture about two years ago see it as a development of organic farming – something like the comparison with school and higher education,» said Carras. This year he took part in the first nationwide experiment in the biodynamic cultivation of potatoes «Initial results have been encouraging,» reports Carras. «Compared to organic farming there was a 40 percent reduction in damage from worms. Some improvements are needed; after all it is a new field for us.» He is also applying the methods to his vines and cherry trees. «It is important to take it slowly, to give the soil the strength it needs to produce what we want. These products are of high nutritional value». As for the attitudes of conventional farmers, Carras says: «If we go back to when we started organic farming, people thought we were quaint, or even crazy. Now, 10 years on, lots of people have become involved as producers and consumers. So biodynamics is something very, very new and people don’t really know about it yet. We are a small group, and we have to be sure of what we are doing and get more experience in order to be able to persuade others. We need to do experiments so that we have results to show people. «Unfortunately over the next few years, the food issue will become very serious. The first artificial meat has been produced – this should shock us. I believe that those of us involved in producing better quality food are small oases of hope. We can show future generations that food from the earth is worth eating and can give us strength, vitality and a clear mind. People should look around to find these products and will see for themselves how they feel after eating them.» Excursions to organic farms Vintner Dimitris Georgas (see above) will be receiving visitors to his vineyard near Spata, Attica, on Sunday, October 1, to mark World Environment Week. For details call 210.663.345, e-mail [email protected], or visit www.geowines.gr. The following Sunday, October 8, the organic certification organization DIO is holding two separate group excursions to a number of farms in the Peloponnese (Klenia and Nemea in Corinthia and Tegea, Arcadia) or central Greece (Neohori in Thebes, Orhomenos in Viotia and Elatia in Lokrida). Both trips include a lunch of organic produce at one of the farms. The total cost of the excursion, including lunch, is 35 euros per person (children under 12 half price). To book places on either of the trips call DIO at 210.822.4384 or e-mail them at [email protected]