Nestled in the upper region of the Hood River Valley lies 55 acres of biodynamic apples and pears. Carefully tended by Brady and John Jacobson, Mt. Hood Organic Farms was first certified organic back in 1989. They were early pioneers being the first farm in Oregon to achieve that status.
Yearning to achieve a deeper meaning of organic, they began integrating the entire 200-acre property and its natural landscape and wildlife into their farming practices. It’s always been in their DNA, so it was natural to become a Demeter certified Biodynamic® farm which incorporates natural land stewardship.
Brady and John work in cooperation with nature’s rhythms producing delicious apples, pears and ciders.
I caught up with Brady in the midst of her busy season farming, packing and shipping fruit while making cider and hosting 36 weddings on the farm.
In this interview she said, “I have to emphasize that while I’ve been drawn to Biodynamics since the early 70’s, I am no ‘expert’ on the subject. I spent time at UC Santa Cruz and saw what Alan Chadwick was doing with his French Intensive gardens. He studied Steiner and incorporated a lot of Biodynamic® practices but was never strict about using the preparations.
I met my husband John in SF [San Francisco], and we both shared a love of the wild and mountains and started looking for land outside the Bay Area where we could eventually move and raise a family.
We had no intention of being farmers, although I love to grow things. He drove to Oregon to visit his sisters and came around the back side of Mt. Hood into the upper Hood River Valley, stopped his Jeep on the East Fork of the Hood River and said, ‘I’m going to live within a mile of here.’
The place where he got out of his Jeep is now on our property, so it seems as though we were fated to be stewards of this beautiful piece of land at the base of Mt Hood.”
The motivation to go the extra mile and become a Biodynamic® farm runs wild with the Jacobsons.
Brady continued, “Each piece of land is unique and dictates how you farm it. We are not here to impose our own selves on this land as much as to listen to what the land tells us it needs and how to go about fulfilling those needs.
Biodynamic® calls itself ‘spiritual agriculture,’ and I think that’s what guides many of us. It’s all very intuitive but also based on science. Ours is a wild setting next to a national forest with abundant wildlife. When we bought this piece of land all the wildlife was fenced out and people routinely shot the bears, elk, porcupines, raccoons and deer and applied copious amounts of poisons to the ground and trees.
We decided that we would have to co-exist with the creatures here and suffer some loss, but we wanted to create a refuge. So, we fenced each orchard block separately and allowed for wildlife corridors running through the property so the animals could move from the forest to the river undisturbed.
Obviously, we stopped using any synthetic chemicals; re-forested parts of the property, started composting, and planted acres of flowers and shrubs to create habitat for beneficial insects and to help counter the monoculture of the tree fruits. We also created ponds and a lake that not only help with our water management but also attract birds, amphibians and other wildlife.
These are all things we did from the beginning, and many of these things, like setting aside 10% of your land for biodiversity, are mandated by Demeter, so it was an easy next step to start using the preparations, which we did when we transitioned to being Demeter certified in 2004.”
The Jacobsons attended a presentation by Adriano Zago, an Italian professor and consultant to European Biodynamic wineries, which confirmed the power and efficacy of Biodynamic farming.
Recalling that event, Brady said, “The Europeans are much further advanced in their practices than we are, and they have collected verifiable data that the preparations actually work wonders.
In side-by-side studies with organic farms, Biodynamic® farms and conventional farms, the Biodynamic ones performed so much better.”
Brady continued, “Until that point, I felt like it was all a leap of faith on our part, but now I’m totally convinced that this is the best way to farm for so many reasons. The food we all grow is of the highest quality because we nurture our soils.”
There is building recognition of Biodynamic® in the produce industry, thanks in part to people like Scott Schultz at Pacific Coast Produce, Bu Nygrens of VV, Whole Foods, Earls Organics and other east coast distributors.
I asked Brady if they received any recognition for being a Biodynamic® farm.
She replied, “We never expected to get any kind of a premium for being Demeter certified, and it wasn’t mainly a marketing decision since we had been farming this way all along. For a while, we were the largest Demeter-certified orchard in the US. Customers comment all the time that our fruit tastes exceptional!
Recognition is a lovely benefit, but it’s not our main motivation. Creating a farm that co-exists in harmony with nature, as much as it’s possible to do that, is what motivates us. Given the constant destruction of wildlife habitat and our precious soils, how can a sentient being do anything less than farm with empathy for our planet?”
The Biodynamic® Association’s 2018 conference, Transforming the Heart of Agriculture: Soil, Justice, Regeneration, will be in Portland this year, November 14-18. The Brady’s farm is included in the tours.