From Richard Chomko, in Biodynamics:
Editor’s note [part of the original Biodynamics article] : How many full time farmers do you know that put on a Bach festival between milkings? One dedicated farmer in Ontario, Michael Schmidt, is doing just that and a lot more besides.
After a decade of successful commercial farming in Germany, Michael and his wife decided to emigrate. They purchased an old dairy farm near Durham and soon afterwards, a former apprentice of Michael’s — Dorothea Eppler — bought another farm down the road. Now it seems that two more apprentices are going to do the same thing. The man must have quite a lot of magnetism!
Michael and Dorothea decided to run both farms as one 500 acre unit. About half their acreage is planted with grains for bread, as well as corn, oats and barley. Most is sold locally or through health food wholesalers. This article combines both their success in naturalizing the dairy herd as well as their creation of an innovative cultural environment.
Peasant Plays and a Bach Festival
A surprising dimension to the farm is the yearly preparation and performance of the Oberufer Christmas plays in German dialect. This is done together with the Hacks, another biodynamic farm family within driving distance. The play was first performed in a local church, but in 1984, the play was put on in a large room in the local feed mill for an audience of about 80 people. The cast even included three Canadians, who had learned their parts in the traditional German dialect.
This year Michael and another local farmer, Herman Maes, inaugurated the Saugeen Bach Festival. The festival consisted of a series of seven concerts held over the course of a week in local churches. Performers from as far away as Germany took part, although many local artists were also featured. The highlight was the final concert, given by the Bach Festival Choir, an amateur group founded by Michael a year ago. The choir swelled from from twenty to sixty in the weeks preceding the festival as enthusiasm mounted and favourable publicity was received in the local papers. This final concert was received by an audience of about 700 in the largest church in the area. Tickets were sold out a week ahead of time. The festival was not only enthusiastically received by area residents and local arts groups, but it also broke even financially! Plans are now afoot for a followup series of concerts next year as well as a European tour and the founding of a Saugeen Symphony Orchestra. Michael feels that things like the Bach festival are necessary. “People have to do cultural things themselves to feel what they mean in life”.
Michael and Herman Maes are also working together to establish a Waldorf School. They have already engaged a teacher to start in the fall of 1985 with grade one. They plan to start small, with just a few children in the class, until they see how things develop.
Michael claims his twelve years as a Waldorf student in Germany is the background for all his work. He started very early to learn flute and violin. After finishing high school he knew right away that he wanted to go into farming. He took a government training which is a five year apprenticeship involving a total of two years study and three years practicum. He earned a master’s certificate and is qualified to train apprentices. Michael has been a farmer now for over twelve years.
Michael and his wife are both third generation biodynamic farmers. His grandfather attended Steiner’s “Agriculture” course and did subsequent work following Steiner’s indications, in the regeneration of the rye plant — bringing it back into connection with the cosmic forces. Michael’s father has extended this work to the regeneration of wheat, barley, oats, and most recently, trees. Michael has several test plots on his farm in which he is continuing his father’s research and propogating new strains for field scale production. Michael’s wife is trained in home economics and is also qualified to train apprentices.
Naturalizing a conventional dairy herd
Michael is convinced that grain and corn silage lead the cow away from its true nature. He aims to get sufficient milk production from his 48 Holsteins just from feeding grass and hay. According to Dorothea, the cows initially didn’t like the reduced grain rations, but are now used to it. Milk production first declined with the change, then rose to a yearly production of 4,900 liters per cow. The last farmer got over 6,000 liters.
Horns are essential to a Biodynamic herd. Though the 45 Holsteins had gone hornless for 40 years, none of the horns were crippled when they grew in. Dorothea attributes this to the new feeding program. Another herd she knows grew horns up, down and even turning back into the eye of the cow. She said there were no social problems because of the horns.
Calves are reared outdoors in plywood hutches even in winter. They receive no milk replacer, only milk from the cow, as well as hay from the borders of fields and some rolled oats at weaning time. After the first year they have to learn to digest hay.
In their second year the heifers are turned loose to browse for months at a time in a fenced-in wild area of trees, shrubs and grasses, in order to connect themselves more intimately to nature. “We don’t see much of them when they are out in the bush.” says Dorothea, “but we hear the cowbell every now and again.” After having spent so much time out in the wild, the heifers are happy to come inside the barn and have feed brought to them when they have their calves.
Glencolton Farms always has three bulls. They keep one — a smaller, younger bull — to breed the heifers and another bull — too young to breed — in waiting for when the full size bull becomes too dangerous to be with the dairy herd. Then he’s replaced.
Michael has started a company to process grain. With financing from friends in Germany, he bought an unused feed mill in the town of Durham and is using it to mill flour. The company, Ontar Bio Inc. began operations in January 1985, and is now employing one person full time and milling about a ton of grain per week. Grain from two other biodynamic farms is also milled by Ontar Bio.
At present, the milk from Glencolton Farms is sold to the Ontario Milk Marketing Board and pooled with milk from other farms. During their last two years of farming in Germany, the Schmidts were processing their milk into hard cheese. Michael looks forward to doing some cheese making here in Ontario as well. Two former apprentices of the Schmidts are planning to move to the Durham area and set up 200 acre dairy farms nearby. These farms would provide a good supply of milk for a cheese making operation.
The German friends who have financed the purchase of the farm and the mill had worked with the Schmidts already in Germany. As Michael says, “it is an ideal situation”. They said to us, “We have the money, you have the ability to run a farm. So they helped us so that we could buy this place — without any conditions — just get it and do it. They feel strongly to support Biodynamic farming and feel responsible that even more places on the earth are taken care of in this way and are saved from the usual kind of farming.”
Biodynamics was (and maybe still is) a quarterly print publication produced for members of the Biodynamic Association in the United States. Back when this article appeared, it was also being distributed to Biodynamic Society members in Ontario. At the time this article was written, Michael expressed concern that other farmers should also be similarly featured in future articles.