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my morning commute

December 18, 2013

on the best winter days, i really have a lovely commute from home to office. snow boots snug, i walk one block south, uphill, to the entrance to reservoir park, which at its top offers a panoramic view of downtown and the lake.

reservoir park

i follow the trail (hidden on this mid-december day by a foot of snow) that skirts around the park’s peak, sunshine streaming between the pine trees and glistening on the snow.

then i carefully cross north avenue and walk past 50+ dormant community garden boxes and a quant bavarian bathroom hut, up and down another hill where collected drifts reach to the faux fir trim on my boots.

as the steep slope heads down toward the river, i follow switchbacks right, left and right again, and then reach the holton street marsupial bridge. when i bike or drive to work, i’m on the top level, but as a pedestrian i get to traverse this lovely wooden (albeit icy) level below.

marsupial bridge

from the center of the bridge, i can see up and down the milwaukee river. upstream blue skies, condos and smokestacks;


downstream a wooded bank, the lakefront brewery, my office building and the high rises downtown.


after crossing the bridge, it’s a quick jaunt down water street to my former tannery office building, where all day i can glance out the window and the river continues to soothe me. i’m looking forward to the days getting long enough that i can walk home in the light too.


good morning, milwaukee river

September 10, 2013

five blocks east of my house is a riparian wonderland. another wonderful discovery in this new city.





the brief history of my nano farm

September 6, 2013

working with the biodynamic association full-time has put quite a dent in my growing activities this season, especially since the “nano farm” (aka community garden plot) i signed up for was a good 15 minute walk from my apartment in chicago, and for the first month had no running water, and i went to europe for 2.5 weeks in july…

despite those impediments, i did plant a lot of seeds and my little seedlings grew and thrived into a diverse mini ecosystem.

first peas coming up, early may

first peas coming up, early may

mid may seedlings and windowsill transplants

mid may seedlings and windowsill transplants

since june i have harvested and eaten salad greens, snap peas, chervil, cress, arugula, chard, kale, broccoli, beets, borage, green beans, ground cherries, summer savory and dill.

june garden

june garden

salad green harvest, early june

salad green harvest, early june

i picked marigolds and bachelor buttons to brighten the apartment, and watched native bees visiting the blooms.

mid july

mid july

at the end of august my mother came for a visit to help me pack up to move to milwaukee, and together we visited the plot for her first and my last time, snacking on beans and groundcherries and giving the thirsty plants water.




two friends in the neighborhood will be tending the garden for the remainder of the season. meanwhile, i just cleared one of the raised beds in my new yard to plant winter greens!

“Here for the Biodynamics”: Spring Dandelion and Preparation Day at Zinniker Farm

May 22, 2013

i’ve spent the past two saturdays outside in wisconsin, first picking dandelions and digging up biodynamic preparations, then learning all about farm-scale hot fermentation biodynamic composting. i shared my photos from the first event on the biodynamics blog today.

Biodynamics Blog

As spring warms the soil and the grass gets greener, the golden splashes that appear across pastures and lawns tell us it’s time to begin the yearly cycle of making the biodynamic preparations. Each spring at the Zinniker Farm, the oldest biodynamic farm in the United States, community members come together to pick dandelions, dig up the biodynamic preparations that were buried in the fall, and share a meal. The event is also a field day for the Upper Midwest CRAFT, and every year more young and beginning farmers join in the activities.

This year, the scheduled date of May 11 was just about right — the dandelions had just begun to bloom. For the biodynamic dandelion preparation, the ideal stage of development for the flowers is the “button” or “bulls-eye” stage, where the flower has opened, but some of the petals (which, botanically speaking, are actually florets

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my new nano farm

April 28, 2013

one morning at the midwest organic farming conference this winter, i was sitting at breakfast with my friend rachel, catching up about the past season and our plans for the upcoming year. with more than 3,000 farmers passing through the dining hall to get their oatmeal and yogurt, each table is constantly gaining and losing diners, and soon a man sat down to join us. we struck up the usual conversation — where are you from? what’s your involvement with farming? — and he told us he had a “micro farm” in canada. rachel, who had just finished telling me that she and her partner were downsizing from running a several-acre vegetable csa to growing seedlings in their backyard hoophouse, asked him, “so how small is your ‘micro farm’?” and he replied, “oh, about 140 acres.”

both of us burst out laughing — the difference in our perspectives was so dramatic. but though it seems absurd that 140 acres could be considered “micro,” in the current context of agriculture in north america, his farm is actually on the small side. his would have been an average size farm around 1920, but over the past 90 years, and especially the past 40, former agriculture secretary earl butz‘ famous motto, “get big or get out,” has largely become reality. as of the latest agriculture census, the average farm in the united states is 418 acres, and in canada it’s 778. rachel’s sweet home organics, and the two farms where i’ve spent the past 3 seasons, are tiny by comparison. but this year, as i’ve transitioned to working full-time with the biodynamic association, my farming is moving to a vastly different scale: a 4 ft by 8 ft box in my local community garden. we’re certainly down to “nano” now.


the community garden is managed by the peterson garden project, a chicago volunteer-run organization inspired by the victory gardens movement to get urbanites to grow their own food. they built the punnily named vedgewater garden (our neighborhood is called edgewater) last year, on a concrete vacant lot with a two-year lease. unless the landowner continues to see little possibility of renting or selling to a higher bidder and extends the lease, the garden will be dismantled after the end of this season, boxes and soil and tools and hoses moved to the next vacant lot sitting in purgatory. in the meantime, a host of my enthusiastic neighbors will get to partake in the joys and frustrations of coaxing vegetables out of the soil.

vedgewater plot #89 is by far the most urban gardening experience i’ve had. in my old chicago and san francisco backyards, at angelic organics learning center’s demonstration garden, and the various school and community gardens i helped to build and manage, there was always some bit of nature to start with. a tree, some shrubs, a patch of grass or weeds. we might have built raised bed boxes, but there was soil underneath the box. there was the possibility of earthworms migrating in. this garden is pure city. concrete, a brick wall, a fence, and 175 wooden boxes filled with soil and compost.

on monday afternoon, the day they emailed us the combo to the gate lock, i walked to the garden to inspect my newly assigned plot. i found that the previous tenant had mulched the bed with wood chips, not a practice i’m fond of, so my project for that visit was to rake them off, gathering them into a paper grocery bag until i find another use for them. i also brought some worm castings from my long-neglected bin (no longer housing live worms) and added them to the crusty, winter-worn soil, gently incorporating them into the surface with my fingers.


yesterday, hearing rumors of a recent compost delivery, i returned on my bicycle with some soaked peas, a padded envelope of seed packets, and a gallon of water in my messenger bag. the city hasn’t turned on the water source yet, so it’s plant at your own risk until they do. i arrived to find one mostly empty sling sack of compost, and another full one, and set about filling a wheelbarrow to bring some to my plot. nearby, a fellow new gardener jesse was methodically stretching strings across his bed, clearly planning to use the popular square foot gardening method that the peterson garden project promotes. i admire its simplicity and easy-to-follow guidelines, but the four boards bordering my box are enough squareness for me. i’m freestyling my plot, starting with 2 rows of peas, a swath of salad mix and a band of beets.


i took my time planting, creating a trough for the seeds, carefully spreading them evenly across the width of the bed, tamping down the soil with the palm of my hand and gently watering each row in. by the time i finished watering the beets, i had almost emptied my one gallon jug, so i packed up my seeds and headed home, saving the arugula, spinach, kale, chard and mâche seeds for another day. as i biked home, i wondered whether i could carry 2 gallons in my messenger bag. it’s almost may and i want to make full use of my 32 square feet! i hope the city finds a moment to come turn on our water soon.

More on the Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation from Switzerland

March 4, 2013

While I was at the Goetheanum, Tom Boyden of Organic and Urban interviewed me about the Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING), what we’ve been doing in North America and now internationally. The momentum continues with plans for meetups in Norway, California and Peru in the coming months.

Alliances for the Next Generation: Reflections from the 2013 International Biodynamic Conference, Part Two

February 26, 2013

By Thea Maria Carlson, Laura Klemme, and Clemens Gabriel

Participants in the BING Global Meeting

Participants in the BING Global Meeting

On the last day of the 2013 International Biodynamic Agriculture Conference in Dornach, the newly formed BING global invited participants to a “meeting of the young biodynamic movement.”

The Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING) concept was first developed by the North American Biodynamic Association and was launched at the Youth Gathering at the 2010 Biodynamic Conference. BING’s goal is to create opportunities for the next generation of farmers, apprentices, educators, activists, and others inspired by biodynamics to connect, share, and learn from one another. Inspired by this initiative, four young women started the Biodynamic Initiative for the New Generation Nordic (bingn) in February of 2012.

In June, bingn organizer Laura Klemme began conversations with Thea Maria Carlson, coordinator of BING in North America, and Clemens Gabriel, a member of the German group “young and biodynamic,” about collaborating to create a global initiative, which we have called BING global. (See Thea’s blog post from December 2012 for more on these conversations.) The vision of BING global is to build a network of people engaging in biodynamic agriculture all over the world. We want to create spaces for encounter, exchange, and inspiration, to explore the big questions facing the new generation of the biodynamic movement: What is the future asking of us? How can we prepare biodynamic agriculture for the future? The meeting at the 2013 conference was the first event organized by BING global.

Forty-five participants from all over the world followed the invitation and met on Saturday afternoon at the Goetheaum’s Schreinerei. We began with one-on-one conversations, sharing our burning issues and needs with regard to the biodynamic impulse. Then each person wrote down one burning issue and one need and posted them on the wall, clustering similar needs and issues together.


Burning issues



An emerging thread seemed to appear in three parts:

  1. A movement from the outer into biodynamics: Is biodynamics “my” thing at all? What do I want? What is my “mission”?
  2. A struggle inside biodynamics: What kind of thinking lives in biodynamic agriculture that brings us closer to it? How to adapt biodynamics and take it to everyone?
  3. And the step from the inside of biodynamics out in the world again: How can biodynamic farms be in community/society? How to bring producer/farmer and consumer together? How to raise awareness of biodynamic agriculture?

The wish to work on individual development as well as working/sharing with people outside the farm was also strongly present in the participants.

From the nearly 100 ideas gathered on the wall, we identified several themes for conversation: training/networking/organization, economy and society, South and Central America, farm and society, and individual development. Working in open space groups, participants were asked to clarify a need and then identify a first step toward a solution.

Open Space Groups

Open space groups

Farm and society group

Farm and society group

Latin America Group

Economy and society group

Before closing the meeting, each group shared from their conversation, summarized here:


Theme Needs Solutions/First steps

Training, networking, organizations


Opening the biodynamic movement

Share practical experience

What content to share?

Network, public relationships to share with outside

Criticism to the inside

Go deeper within movement

Responsibility for deepening the spiritual work

Economy and society

Economic and social forms based on the farm to support society

Need more time, but working toward cooperative economy based on the farm

South and Central America

Professional training in Latin America

Create structure

Farm and Society (Group I)

People need to care about what they put in their body – interest in where food comes from

Farmers need to go out into society

Non-farmers meeting farmers

Farmers cultivate interest in the “urban” issues

Consumers and children come to the farm

Farmers as teachers

Build relationships between farms and schools

Non judgment

Farm and Society (Group II)

Find our identity

Discover who we are as a farmer and farm individuality

Go outside and show it


Enthusiasm fades

Insecurity about organizing live

Still looking for solutions

However, with only 75 minutes for the entire meeting (and about 15 for these conversations), the most important need of the participants in the closing plenary was “More time!!”

So: Where will the next generation of biodynamic farmers and enthusiasts meet and get the chance to raise and work on these existential questions? BING global will try to find solutions and work on this task: to create spaces where inspired individuals can meet and work together to encounter the future of biodynamics.

Want to get involved with BING global? Please get in touch with Thea, Laura or Clemens!

This piece is also posted on the Biodynamics Blog, as the second of two reflections from Thea on the 2013 International Biodynamic Agriculture Conference. Read the first post here.

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