Thank you to all of you who posted a comment or emailed me in response to yesterday’s post. I’m mailing your corkscrews next week. Yesterday I asked you a few questions about what the differences are between organic and biodynamic farming and what sustainable farming means. A lot of you had good comments, but I gather that there is some confusion about what it all means. I’m going to try to clear up that confusion and expand your knowledge (and mine! – I’m not an expert myself, but, I have an open dialogue going with our production staff and they’re more than willing to help me out.)
So, from yesterday:
1. What is the difference between Organic and Biodynamic farming?
Although organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides, pesticides and herbicides can still be used when farming organically as long as they’re not created synthetically. According to the USDA's definition, organic farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources and conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. (For more information on organic farming, check out the California Certified Organic Farmers website.)
Biodynamic farming takes things a step further and looks at the farm in relationship to the environment as a whole. Biodynamic farmers use special teas to give the plants the nutrients they need. Predatory animals and beneficial insects are used to control pests instead of pesticides. (Organic farmers may also utilize predatory animals and beneficial insects to control pests.) Additionally, in biodynamic farming, the focus is on looking at the farm as part of the ecosystem, and considering forces outside the realm of the fence line. As such, everything that is done in the vineyard (picking, pruning, weeding, etc.) coincides with the lunar cycle. For a more expansive definition of biodynamic farming, please browse the Demeter website. Demeter is the only Biodynamic certification agent in the Unites States.
2. What does Sustainable farming mean?
I’m giving you the definition and standards set forth by the Central Coast Vineyard Team (CCVT). We’re currently in the process of applying for the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Vineyard Certification offered by the CCVT.
Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Sustainable farming systems are biologically-based and designed to be productive in both the short- and long-term.
Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity. Because it is more a philosophical approach to agriculture than a set of farming practices, the specific practices that can be called sustainable vary depending on the crop and the specific environmental and social issues important to a region. Therefore, it is important that all those interested in making agriculture more sustainable—consumers, growers, environmentalists, farm workers, processors, retailers—educate themselves on the related issues.
(This definition was taken in its entirety from the Central Coast Vineyard Team’s website. I highly encourage you to browse their site for additional information.)
At JUSTIN, we are always striving to find new ways to improve the quality of our wines, and farming biodynamically started out as an experiment in five vineyard blocks totaling 7 acres. We’ve been monitoring the progress of those blocks and we like what we see, so we’ve expanded the program to 4 additional blocks for a total of 20 acres. Additionally, we encourage our growers to incorporate biodynamic farming practices into the management of their vineyards as well.
Farming biodynamically is a labor-intensive process and we’re converting vineyard blocks gradually. We expect to eventually extend the program to the rest of the estate vineyard in the upcoming years, assuming it continues to produce high quality fruit.
As part of our biodynamic/sustainable program, we’ve added bird boxes to encourage predatory birds such as Barn owls, Hawks, Eagles, and a Kestrel Falcon to nest on property to help control our squirrel, gopher, mice, and small bird (Starlings and Sparrows) populations. You can read more about our predatory birds in Paul’s article in the current issue of the JUSTIN Times.
Yesterday, during our vineyard tour, Paul showed us a variety of teas that we use in the biodynamic blocks of the vineyard. Some of the teas are less exotic, like Chamomile (just like what you’d make at home!) and other teas such as Horseweed, Nettle, and Yarrow. Some of the other more offensive sounding preparations include cow stomach and horn manure (horn manure is cow manure stuffed into a hollowed out cow's horn and buried in the vineyard until it is ready to be made into a tea and sprayed into the vineyard).
Yesterday, Paul also taught us about predatory insects…predatory mites to be exact! And we all happily assisted in releasing them into the vineyard. Bad (spider) mites cause dead spots to form on the leaves and high populations of spider mites can render the leaves nonfunctional. To ensure we maintain healthy, functioning leaves, we released two different types of mites, the Cali Predatory Mite and the Western Predatory Mite to eat the spider mites. The mites arrived in a brown bag on bean stalks which we distributed by placing a stalk on every sixth vine throughout the affected block. The mites are barely visible to the human eye, and will crawl off the bean stalks and make their way through the vineyard, eating the spider mites as they move along. Once these predatory mites consume all of the spider mites, they will move on to the rest of the vineyard to find more food or die off.
Check out the following video of Grower Relations Manager Paul Kaselionis talking about the mite release.
Did you find this interesting? Confusing? Do you have any questions? Do you want to learn more about our biodynamic program?