Hawthorne Valley Farm, New York

Spencer Fenniman of Hawthorne Valley Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley talks about real organic farming and biodynamic practices.

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Know Your Farmer | Hawthorne Valley Farm, New York

Spencer Fenniman: So Hawthorne Valley has been a part of the organic farming movement for about 25 years, especially with the dairy farming. The recent trend in really what seems to be a watered-down organic standard, of hydroponic production, and large CAFO dairies, and confinement animal production, it really runs contrary to our principles.

And we have invested a lot into the organic name over the years. We want it to be something that really continues to mean what it intends to be.

Hawthorne Valley Farm New York Dairy Barn

So, I think that’s something that drew us to the Real Organic Project. Because we like to support a farmer- driven effort, to kind of take back what organic means in the public’s eye.

I’m Spencer Fenniman and this is Hawthorne Valley Farm. We are organic; a Demeter-certified biodynamic farm, in Columbia County, New York.

The farm was founded in 1972 by the Hawthorne Valley Association in an attempt to bring kids in Waldorf schools out to a working biodynamic farm.

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Spencer Fenniman in the Hawthorne Valley Farm pasture with dairy herd

The farm originally comprised of a dairy herd, and that’s about it. And over the years, we’ve added vegetable production and a meat operation that includes beef cows and chickens.

We’re only producing chickens – we buy in our first batch in mid-March if we’re feeling a bit risky. And the last batch goes before Thanksgiving, and then we’re done.

We’re not going to produce chickens in the winter inside because we feel they need to be out on pasture.

chickens on pasture at Hawthorne Valley Farm New York

The Farm As An Organism

The current dairy climate is very unsettled and it’s been a very difficult patch for other organic dairy producers. Lots of the milk that’s being produced is not quite in line with what most consumers think of as organic practices.

The cows really are a bit of the linchpin for the whole farm system and in biodynamics we have this concept called the farm organism, and what we’re looking to do is balance the farm. So, not swing in too many directions and not have too many vegetables where we don’t have enough fertility to supply those vegetables (with nutrients to grow).

Our cow herd provides the compost and the manure for all of our fields and we compost it and spread it on our vegetables, on hay fields, and sometimes pastures as well.

Field crops grown in soil at biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm

So it’s important for us to keep the right amount of cows for our acreage.

What I appreciate about long term biodynamic management is that there is a certain attention to the land. But I don’t think that’s unique to biodynamics, I think it’s a method by which that attention is promoted, but I think that farmers of the same mindset have that same attention to their fields and it’s usually shown.

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