In the second in our series from Amy Lance – on sabbatical from her role as a Waitrose buyer – she finds out first hand about biomimicry and soil metagenomics
For the first stop on my year-long journey to really get under the skin of agriculture and fresh produce production, I’ve based myself in a small spot of paradise just outside of Los Angeles.
Apricot Lane Farms is a family farm located 40 miles north of LA in Moorpark, California.
An exciting on-going challenge has been set by the farmers John and Molly for the team of farm workers, scientists and volunteers to create a well-balanced ecosystem with rich soils that produce nutrient-dense fruit and vegetables (or plants) whilst treating the environment and the animals with respect. The farm is managed with biomimicry; sustainable solutions and innovations are developed by emulating nature’s patterns and strategies.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “When nature has work to be done, she creates a genius to do it.”
This organic and biodynamic certified farm grows an amazing assortment of produce. I was tantalised by the diversity and high quality of the produce, which really gives the farm a unique position in the market, I was compelled to get involved. The incredibly wide range of produce grown includes: avocados, lemons, soft citrus, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, pomegranates, mulberries, persimmon, apples, cherimoya, kumquat, passionfruit and a selection of vegetable and salad crops. Apricot Lane also farms livestock including pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea hens and cattle.
Aside from being an innovative, beautiful and forward-thinking farming organisation, Apricot Lane Farms is also very well placed (in the movie-making capital of the world) to be a filmmaker. So well placed in fact that John and Molly have received their first Emmy this year. Of course, what did I expect, isn’t everyone in LA on TV?
Short films have been created by John and the team and aired regularly on the Oprah Winfrey show since the farm was purchased back in 2011. The films tell beautiful stories of farming life and allow increasing numbers of consumers to become connected with agricultural production, giving an insight into where their food comes from.
John and Molly aspire to be ahead of the game in biodynamic and organic agriculture; with a strong team and clear vision the farm is certainly progressive. They have adopted techniques and concepts such as soil metagenomics, rotations focusing heavily on optimal carbon sequestration, closely managed intensive grazing whilst understanding the crop cycles in detail and critical impact of each animals grazing on the perennial, annual and biennial species over the course of the rotation. Minimal tillage is carried out and the promotion of perennial ecosystems is a key focus. Soil health is rich and continuously monitored. Carbon, nutrient and mineral availability analysis is regularly carried out.
When I arrived on the farm, biodynamics was a mystery to me, so I was keen to understand the practical aspects and theories. A recent viticulture paper explained to me very concisely what I needed to know before I begin to understand biodynamic principles in more depth. “Biodynamics does not appear to reject the scientific analysis or process,” says Jason Tippetts in the paper. “It just believes that they may not be complete. There are many more interactions to consider. Biodynamics looks at the macroscopic view rather than just the microscopic.”
Rudolph Steiner, the father of biodynamic farming, started working with German and Swiss farmers and doctors concerned with the declining fertility and nutritive values of soils in the early 1920s. He seemed ahead of his time. The challenge of maintaining and increasing soil fertility for future generations is ever so real in 2016. Over the next 12 months, understanding how this can be achieved on organic, biodynamic and conventional farms and considering how we can look at this at scale will be fascinating.
Whilst on the farm I have really got stuck in to any job going. I’ve been feeding animals (which, with the 50lbs feed bags doubles up as weight lifting!), collecting eggs, hand pollinating crops, making compost tea, weeding, putting up fences, taking fences down (I am now an expert fencer), milking, painting, thinning stonefruit, fruit-quality testing, harvesting fruit – the works.
All of which is such a wild change from my desk in Bracknell, although a very welcome introduction to the hands-on world of farming.
See you next month!