Live Power Community Farm

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Live Power Community Farm

Post by Cuttings » ... arm-covelo

By Karen Rifkin

Guided by the principles of Alan Chadwick's biodynamic intensive farming methods and Rudolph Steiner's spiritual, ethical and ecological approach to food production, Stephen and Gloria Decater provide 200 member families with a weekly, seasonal supply of fresh, organic vegetables harvested from their Live Power Community Farm in Covelo.

"It started with me going to UC Santa Cruz in 1967 as part of the first undergraduate program to work with Alan Chadwick in the garden project," says Stephen. "I attended college, like most freshman, not knowing what I was going to do, but meeting Alan made me realize there was a whole world of beauty, skill and knowledge in a man growing plants and raising gardens. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life."

Chadwick left the university in the early 1970s when Richard Wilson, a local rancher and environmentalist, invited him to help start the Covelo Village Garden. Then Chadwick asked Stephen to come and help. "I wanted to see what he was trying to do, creating community gardens, and I wanted to learn about the beauty of agriculture and horticulture."

At about the same time, Gloria was completing her Waldorf Teacher Training Program in Los Angeles and a friend of hers, who was substitute teaching at the Waldorf School of Mendocino, had heard Chadwick speaking and told her she had to check him out.

Gloria was accepted as an apprentice at the Covelo project where she met her soon-to-be-husband, Stephen, and where he, and then she, moved onto Wilson's 100-acre property as caretakers.

"We have been through quite an evolution; originally Wilson was farming 85 acres and I took care of the rest. I subsistence-farmed for quite a few years and then Gloria joined me. Our garden was one-tenth of an acre and we cultivated it by hand, double digging. We grazed a milk cow and some sheep."

Eventually they got some donkeys and started working with them pulling cultivators, wagons, a really small plow; Stephen was self-taught, learning from a magazine.

In the early 1980s they founded a farmer's market with other families in Covelo and began growing produce for it. In the late '80s, they started hearing about community-based farms and began their own serving 15 members in San Francisco. Bay Area Waldorf School classes would visit their land providing students an opportunity to experience a biodynamic farm first-hand. The Decaters established relationships with these families, created their nascent farm community and began weekly runs to San Francisco. After 28 years they are still doing it and now provide members with farm, fresh vegetables in Willits, Ukiah, and Covelo, as well.

Their three, four-acre parcels are rotated regularly. The garden parcel is divided into blocks, 50 by 90 feet, and the spring vegetables snap and snow peas, stir fry and salad greens, string beans, lettuces, turnips and spinach are planted intensively, very closely. There are the summer crops squashes, tomatoes, melons, corn, sweet peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, onions, garlic, cucumbers some of which are planted further apart allowing for a team of Belgian draft horses to move between the rows.

They succession plant, every two weeks, moving seedlings from the green house into the soil; they hand plant 400 lettuce plants every week. They harvest twice a week, early in the morning, and clean, in the early afternoon, every Tuesday for the afternoon deliveries to Willits and Ukiah and every Friday for the deliveries to San Francisco.

While one parcel is planted in vegetables, another is planted with forage, clover and alfalfa, to feed the animals and to add nitrogen to build the soil. Another is planted in a cover crop, mostly legume plants, grasses and greens that fix nitrogen in the soil and eventually tilled directly into the soil to feed and control weeds or put into the compost.

"We don't have serious bug problems. Bugs are attracted to unhealthy plants. If your soil is really alive and healthy and has the nutrients and is balanced, your plants will be healthy. There are some flea beetles, cucumber beetles and corn caterpillars; we protect those plants affected with netting or floating covers," says Stephen.

They are on their third generation of workhorses, their only source of energy for working the land. After Stephen taught himself to manage the donkeys, he used small farm journals to learn how to work with draft horses. "A donkey weighs 400 pounds and a draft horse weighs 1,600; that's quite a difference," he says.

There are 12 different pieces of equipment that the horses pull, all of which date to the early 1900s: a disc that chops up the soil and loosens it for planting; a roller that compresses and creates a finer texture; a harrow, like a big rake, eight feet wide; a compost spreader; four or five cultivator tools; one with a blade for digging up potatoes; a couple that have wider blades that make the ground into mound shapes; and others with marker blades for creating rows.

As a Mentor Farm for the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program, they have helping hands who get a wide range of experience and farm competence training using a skills set check list, keeping a farming journal, participating in classroom study courses and carrying out an independent project to create a transcript for a two-year program.

On their 50 acres they raise ten herd cows and their calves, six horses, two feeder pigs, 30 chickens for eggs, and seven ewes. Animal manure is part of the 40 tons of compost they produce yearly and all of it comes from the farm organism.

"The soil is one major organ, the plants another, the animals a third and humans the fourth. In a whole farm organism you have all of these components; a modern community farm might have only livestock or plants. This is a biodynamic farm and one main concept is that we strive to create all of its needs for farming out of its own organism. We use the compost to maintain the soil organ creating fertility; we grow the feed for our livestock instead of buying it from the outside; we use the energy of our horses for the fields; and our 28 kilowatt photovoltaic grid tied solar system provides much of our water pumping and electrical needs. These are our choices.

"Our goal with the farm is to be able to produce food from a solar energy base in so far as possible rather than use a fossil energy base; that creates a much lower carbon footprint and helps heal rather than destroy the climate," he says.

They pay attention to what is occurring in the cosmic environment in terms of moon cycles and planetary influences, doing most of their seed sowing prior to the full and new moon, their two week succession cropping. They watch the star constellation the moon is standing in front of in the sky.

"The constellations from time immemorial have been recognized as being connected with the earth and with the four elements of fire, air, earth, and water."

Maria Thun, after 40 years of research in creating the Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar, determined that if radishes are sown when the moon is in front of an earth constellation, they make for the best roots; while those plants such as corn or tomatoes sown while the moon is in front of a fire constellation make for excellent seed development.

"They are subtle influences and we plant that way as much as possible.

If you can harmonize your growth on the farm with the cosmic environment, it creates a healthier, more balanced, higher quality crop," Stephen says.

Rudolph Steiner created compost preparations and soil and plant sprays combining totally natural materials under proper cosmic conditions allowing for fermentation into new materials. One of those preparations used by the Decaters is a soil amendment created by placing fresh cow manure into a cow's horn and burying it during the fall and winter when the earth's reproductive forces are being drawn back into the earth. The horn is dug up in the spring and the contents are heavily diluted with water, mixed rhythmically for an hour and added to the soil to improve texture, quality and ability to retain water. Another formula is created by putting pulverized crystal into a cow's horn and burying it for the winter; it is unearthed and prepared in the spring and sprayed on the surface of leaves aiding in metabolic and ripening processes.

Stinging nettle, dandelion, oak bark, chamomile, valerian and yarrow are added to the compost, medicinally, to help balance the fermentation process.

The farm is 100 per cent community based; i.e., a group of people recognizing the need for food partnering with a farmer covering the operational budget; all the food is grown for distribution to meet the needs of the group.

Gloria is at the distribution points in Willits and Ukiah, May through November, with the farm's seasonal rotation of vegetables; the most recent array includes baby bok choy, white spring turnips, radishes, spinach, red and green lettuce, snow and snap peas, arugula, totsoi, mustard, cilantro.

"I like being able to provide high quality, nutritious, biodynamic produce; knowing the families that are receiving the food; being in direct communication with them and their children; and watching, as the children, who have been raised on this food over the years, maintain their interest in high quality produce and their desire to have a direct relationship with the farmer who grew that food," she says. "I love to connect with the members and to connect the members with each other."

Stephen concludes, "There is an opportunity for everybody who is eating to connect with their food system. In our case they have a direct relationship with the land on which their food is grown. People need to understand what can be done to grow food in a way that is healthy for the environment and for those who are eating the food. They need to realize that through their food choices, they can choose the type and quality of agriculture that exists in the world.

"This farm has a very low carbon footprint. If we want to address some of the problems like global warming, start with our food systems, a real place to create change. We are providing an opportunity for people to make more conscious choices, to make a difference. The people eating have this power; they spend money for the food production systems we have on the planet. If we choose the kind of agriculture we want and support it, then that is the kind we will have. If we want a more suitable, better quality of food, then we can create that."

If you are interested in information about Live Power Community Farm, call Gloria at 707 983 8196 or email to