Beth Corymb is a fourth-generation farmer living in Scottsbluff. Although she grew up on her family’s farm, she was not always sure that was the life she wanted to pursue.
“I left for 37 years because I wanted to experience something different, but I told myself never to forget,” Corymb said.
She went to college to study music, but after taking an ecological course, she said her mind was opened to the reality of what was happening to the earth. She was soon introduced to the concept of biodynamics.
Biodynamic farming combines the relationship between the plants, animals and soil to use a farm’s resources instead of importing materials. It includes using herbs, minerals and cow manure to fertilize crops and growing most of the feed and bedding for the livestock.
“I found out about a couple of intentional communities where they had biodynamic training,” Corymb said.
These communities were run by a social initiative called Camphill, a worldwide organization of communities including people with and without special needs working to foster holistic wellness and growing the majority of the community’s food using biodynamic practices. It was here where she first learned the fundamentals surrounding biodynamic farming.
History of biodynamics
The early concepts of biodynamic farming were formed in 1924 by Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner. He gave a series of lectures in response to a complaint by a group of European farmers who were noticing a quick decline in soil conditions, crop quality and animal health due to the use of chemical pesticides. Steiner presented the farm as a living organism that is self-sustainable, with its crop growth, soil vitality and livestock all interconnected. In 1928, The Demeter Biodynamic® Standard for certification was established and is currently regulated by Demeter International.
In the United States, Demeter USA manages biodynamic certification.
“Farming is a significant part of the impact on the environment. Biodynamics has some tools that can bring back the vitality of the soil,” said Evrett Lunquist, director of Certification for Demeter USA and co-owner of Common Good biodynamic farm in Raymond, Nebraska. Lunquist founded Common Good in 1996 along with his wife, Ruth Chantry, who is board president of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.
Lunquist studied agronomy in college, and while doing a comparison study between two farms, he first learned about biodynamic agriculture.
“It was the piece that had been missing in my college studies,” Lunquist said.
Difference between organic and biodynamic
While organic farming mainly focuses on farming without synthetic chemicals, biodynamic agriculture takes it one step further.
“For the certification for biodynamic, you look at the whole farm,” Lunquist said.
The Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard requires that the whole farm is certified, not just a specific crop. For organic farms, one field could be organic, and another could be conventional. Biodynamic farms work to not only produce high-quality food but also improve the health of the entire farm ecosystem.
Biodynamic farms must meet all the organic requirements, as well as the additional standards laid out by Demeter. This includes dedicating at least 10% of the land as a wildland reserve, generating the farm’s fertility, and using biodynamic preparations like field sprays and composting. The goal is sustainability, where the waste of one part of the farm becomes energy for another part.
“Instead of having a huge carbon footprint, you’re actually refocusing on having a carbon negative footprint,” Lunquist said.
With minimal use of imported materials, the farm generates its own fertility instead of relying on transported fertilizers, unlike many organic farms.
Although biodynamic farms may not be as common as organic farms, the number continues to rise. According to Demeter International, biodynamic farms worldwide increased by more than 47% between 2000 and 2018. In 2019, there were 118 Biodynamic certified farms in the U.S., including the two in Nebraska.
“Right now, there are about 140 certified biodynamic farms,” Lunquist said. “We are looking forward to more sustainable growth.”
After returning to Scottsbluff in 2010, Corymb and her husband Nathan started a biodynamic seed company. Their farm, Meadowlark Hearth, received the biodynamic certification one year later. They now own 540 acres of land, with 150 acres designated as a natural reserve to encourage the biodiversity of plants and animals.
Where the produce is sold
The Corymbs sell their produce at farmer’s markets, as well as through Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, where consumers purchase produce shares at the beginning of the year. Lunquist and his wife have also used farmer’s markets and CSA; however, more recently, they have used email lists and grocery stores.
For example, Common Good offers an option to pre-order their produce, meat and eggs for farm pickup, and they also sell their eggs at Natural Grocers in Lincoln.
However, one of their long-time partners is Open Harvest, a co-op grocery store in south Lincoln. Common Good has been selling its eggs, produce, meat and plant seedlings there for more 24 years.
Open Harvest is the only co-op grocery store in Lincoln, and its mission is to provide access to nutritious, local and organic foods. They have been in business for 48 years and have sold 269,052 Common Good eggs in just the past five years.
“People go nuts. We can’t keep them on the shelf,” said Amy Tabor, general manager of Open Harvest.
Every year, Open Harvest also hosts a large plant sale with Common Good, where they bring in vegetables, herbs and flowers from the farm to sell during the spring and early summer.
“They do a fantastic job with the variety they offer, and the quality is really good,” Tabor said.
Lunquist said there is value in buying locally and when customers become acquainted with the farm’s name.
“When you eat the food, it’s nourishment. But then there’s another nourishment that comes from eating food where you have either been to the farm, or you know the farmer. It is part of the experience,” Lunquist said. Instead of being just food for the body, Lunquist said biodynamic agriculture produces food for the soul.
Changing the perspective
“It’s really kind of a grand mission. It’s about healing the earth—the plant communities, the animal communities, as well as the human community,” Lunquist said.
This is done by enabling the farm to generate its own fertility through cover crops, crop rotation, animal integration, and composting. It is about fostering the land, not using it up.
“It’s a real change in thought. In this country, we are taught that the financial position of a business is the thing that should direct everything,” Corymb said.
However, she hopes more people will come to see the earth as a living being instead of a commodity.
“I think that’s the basic thing, that the earth is in context of the whole universe,” Corymb said. “That concept of seeing the human being as the miracle it is and the earth as the miracle it is, will lead people to understand that biodynamics has a real place.”