The Importance of Biodiversity & The Small Farm

Posted Wednesday, Feb 10, 2016

In January we held a staff education night, and were honoured to have Kris Vester of Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm provide his insight and wise words on farming, the food system, and its environmental impact. Our relationship with Blue Mountain goes all the way back to 1999 when we first began selling their produce at the store. We're grateful for the inspiration Kris and his wife Tamara have provided over the years. Here's a little bit of the information Kris shared with us that night. 

The Importance of Diversity in the Food System 

Diversity is an important survival strategy, and this applies to the food system as well. Through diversity the earth has an abundance of ecosystems that are able to evolve and adapt into a place where life can thrive. The farm itself should be thought of no differently, yet the modern agricultural system finds itself on the opposite end of diversity. The majority of food today comes from massive monocultural systems that lack the diversity necessary to produce a flourishing ecosystem. 

As Kris pointed out, in the last 100 years we've gone from having copious varieties of seeds to privileging a select few. Think of the apple: before the turn of the 20th century, there were 1000's of apple varieties actively being cultivated. Today, you'll only find four or five in most grocery stores. The downside of apple orchards existing in a monoculture is that the apple trees loose the genetic diversity they rely on to survive disease. Thus, they become prone to viruses and pests, and require more and more pesticides to survive. If you look at a list of which crops require the most pesticides, you'll find apples have been the number one offender for the last five years

This monocultural system of agriculture simply isn't sustainable. 

Small farms = Diversity.

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A variety of crops beginning to grow at Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms in the spring. Photo by Tamara Vester

Diversity on the Small Farm

The small farm occupies the other end of the spectrum - the haven for the diversity that is lacking in modern agriculture. For Kris, it's "important to have pockets of resilience" against this monolithic system. The small farm provides an area of diversity that allows for genetic exchange and a natural resilience to disease. For their part, in addition to raising chickens and pigs, Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms grows an abundance of crop varieties on their farm. It is a system that contributes positively to soil health and water health, creating an ecosystem that doesn't really on outside energy such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for production.

Their farm is Demeter Certified Biodynamic, a designation essential to Kris's on philosophy. Biodynamic farming requires diversity in crop rotation, crop species, and to address disease and insect control. When asked why he first decided to go biodynamic, he replied that it was a system that allowed productive room for energy. He see's biodynamic agriculture as "the sweet spot between scientific advancements and human spirituality."

Perhaps the most important question Kris was asked after his lecture was, "why did you get involved with food again after moving off the family farm and going to university?"

His answer: "I didn't want to contribute to the Grand Stupidity in the world."

It was an engaging and inspiring Staff Education Night. A big thank you to Kris for coming to speak to us - we know every minute is valuable for a farmer.

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Matthew Gigg Posted Feb 10, 2016