I spend a long weekend at Majvik biodynamic farm, just outside of Helsinki and was positively surprised by the beauty of biodynamic farming. Majvik farm is a beautiful place to be with the small patches of vegetable fields surrounded by untouched forests and close to the rocky shoreline of the Baltic sea. Talking with the farmer Atte and reading in their extensive library on biodynamic farming, I got inspired with the principles for building a healthy soil and seeing the whole farm as a microenvironment. Central to biodynamic farming is not just producing healthy, ecological food, but to care for and restore the soil and natural environment. It is Atte’s dream to have the farm carried by community in the future, rather than just him and his wife and many seasonal volunteers. I was welcomed at Majvik by Réka who is doing a six month internship at this farm for her organic agriculture studies. In this blog I explain a bit about how the farm is run, what some key aspects to biodynamic farming are and how a community supported farm could be very nice in the future.
Unlike conventional agricultural farms, Majvik feels like being in nature. Set between the forest, hills and rocks of the Finnish shoreline, the environment is stunning and rich in biodiversity. The vegetables are grown on small pieces of land scattered between natural forest. The farm is buzzing with life everywhere because of the high percentage of nature compared to vegetable fields which makes the local wildlife feel at home here. Across the land there are several small cabins where volunteers or seasonal workers have found their temporary homes. Farmer Atte lives with his family in a beautiful farmhouse overlooking the farm. The elderly couple who founded the farm decades ago are now well over their 70s but still live on the land in their own little house. The heart of the farm lies in the building where the cows also spend the winter. This is the place of the communal kitchen and dining area, where everyone’s paths cross during the day.
The farm consist of 20 hectares of production fields, 30 hectares of natural forest and another 10 hectares used for the farm buildings, houses, equipment, etc. As you see, there is more nature than production area on the farm since the nature is seen as crucial for the functioning of a biodynamic farm. Some of the main crops grown are potato’s, unions, carrots, turnip, horseradish, cabbages, salads, pumpkin, salsify and beetroot. The crops are rotated over the different patches of farming land. Atte buys most of his seeds from Germany, and I believe that for some crops he harvests them himself. He explains that he buys the seeds from Germany since the little variety of biodynamic seeds that are produced in Finland, he can harvest himself.
Crucial for the biodynamic farming practices, there live around twenty cows at Majvik. These are held solely for their manure and to graze the pastures. The cow manure is used in several ways to fertilize the soil. During the winter time the cows are inside the farm building. Here, their manure is naturally composted as it accumulates on the floor together with hey. In summer months the cows are actively guided to graze different patches of pasture and drop manure there. All cows have names and they are not milked. There are also some chicken, whose organic eggs are sold also in the small organic shop on the farmland. In this organic shop they sell their own produce, but also many other (local) organic products. A small apple orchard and some naturally occurring berry bushes provide the inhabitants with some fruits. There is one small greenhouse on the farmland which is used for sprouting some of the vegetable crops, and to grow tomatoes for home consumption.
This is a concept based on teachings of Rudolf Steiner. In biodynamic farming the whole farm is seen as a microenvironment: as a living system which interacts with the surrounding nature and in which all elements are crucial for the system to function. The aim is not just to produce nourishing, vitalising food following ecological regulations, but also to build healthy, living soil. The farmer is therefor seen as responsible not just for growing nourishing food but mostly as responsible for caring for and revitalising the land and soil by applying specific composting techniques. Natural forces and rhythms are primary guidance for farming. An important principle in biodynamic farming is observation. Every farm and surrounding is different thus following a prescribed farming plan makes little sense. Instead, a biodynamic farmer works with natural forces and rhythms, like the rhythm of the moon, the sun, the planets and constellations.
One of the thoughts behind biodynamic farming is that the answer to problems of human, animal and plant health, as well as the degradations of our environment lies in maintaining a truly fertile soil. In biodynamic farming this is strived after by practices such as crop rotation, incorporating plenty of organic material, creating a healthy micro-environment on the farm and using biodynamic composting techniques (mostly with cow manure and some herbs). Making life-giving compost out of dead material through specific preparations is central in biodynamic farming. What is meant with this, is basically to make compost which can increase the micro- and macro-organism live in the soil. As well as increase the amount of nutrients, fungi systems and the water retention capacity of the soil. This enables plants to grow healthy roots systems and provide food which is nourishing.
Enriching the soil is done primarily with the use of cow manure, making cows crucial for biodynamic farming. Their manure is seen as the most life-giving manure since the cows have such an extensive digestion system. The manure is used in several specific ways as compost preparations on the land. Other herbs like the nettle, are also used for making fertilizing preparations for the land. Over time, the depth of the topsoil and the fertility increase in the biodynamic farm.
The farm as community
Staying at Majvik farm actually already feels a bit like staying in community. During this season there are many volunteers living on the farmland in different small cabins, rooms or in their own van. Breakfast and lunch is shared together in the dining area, with people taking turns preparing the meals. In the free hours spontaneous activities are done together like holding a sauna, making bonfires, going for a swim in the sea, preparing diner and baking cakes. A lot is going on and it feels almost like a big family. I am thinking back of how farm-life in the past must have looked like, with several generation and extended families living and working on a farm. Most helpers are coming at Majvik through the platform workaway or to do an internship for their farming studies. There seems to be quite an interest amongst students to learn the biodynamic practices of farming rather than the conventional, chemical way. Atte is happy to share his knowledge and experience.
One evening, Atte and I are talking about how he envisions Majvik to be even more of a community, where several permanent inhabitants share the many responsibilities of running the farm. Currently he is the one really taking all decisions and planning the farm work, he would like to have that shared over several inhabitants and is very open to have people settle down in a permanent house on the farm land. He also sees how together they could take even better care of the lands and practice biodynamic principles more extensively. He is wondering how he can make his planning and decision-making more inclusive. And establish an organizational structure which would allow other inhabitants to play a role in the farm also.
Biodynamic farming to regenerate damaged ecosystems and heal humans
Now, I know there is a lot more theory and practices to biodynamic farming which I have yet to learn about, still this was a valuable experience to me. What was most beautiful for me to realise at Majvik farm, is that food production can be so different that just utilising a piece of land to the extreme for producing food cheaply. Food production can be a way to revitalise the land and create an incredibly pleasant environment to live and work. Food production can regenerate local ecosystems, enriching the soil and biodiversity, while growing food which nourishes deeply. This is in stark contrast with the conventional farming methods which produce crops with a just low enough dose of toxic chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides for them to be qualified as edible, while natural ecosystems are destroyed.
At the same time, it was nice to be at Majvik farm simply for the feeling of a place where the people are peaceful and respectful to nature surrounded by healthy forests buzzing with life. Sleeping in the beautiful old sauna house on the rock hill, surrounded by some patches of vegetable fields, untouched forest and some scattered farm buildings was nourishing. I am very grateful for Reka’s warm welcome and tour across the farm. I admire the path she chose in life: deciding to quit a job in the city where she was working behind a desk full days of the week. Instead, she chose to start studying organic farming to be in connection with nature and to gain the skills for growing ecological foods whilst restoring the natural environment.