March 2013: Biodynamic Composting with Jack McAndrew

Our March potluck dinner meeting took place at my home in Sierra Madre.  With about 25 guests in attendance, we learned how to make biodynamic compost from local expert Jack McAndrew.  Jack was formally introduced by one of his students and protégés, fellow WAPF member, Susan Hardman.  Susan gave us some helpful background information during a brief slide show about the history of biodynamic composting in the tradition of philosopher and Waldorf School founder, Rudolph Steiner.  Another one of Jack’s protégés, Stefan Hagopian of Skyline Organic Farms shared some of his fine wines grown in Topanga using this esteemed agricultural tradition.  Steven Wynbrandt, a third biodynamic gardener known for his urban farm in LA attended the meeting as well.


After Susan’s informative introduction, Jack showed us how to build a compost pile using a variety of different layers, each sprayed with just enough water to reach the consistency of a “wet sponge.”   Layers included most importantly cow manure, as well as hay, vegetable scraps, and a special mixture of herbs meant to provide the appropriate balance of minerals and other special properties.   This layering, ideally set in a shady spot, should reach the suggested critical mass of 15’ x 6’ x several feet high, and then be covered with mesh and left undisturbed for 6 months.  Once done brewing, the resulting compost is purported among agriculturalists to be the richest, most coveted growing material for plant cultivation.  For more information about his methods, see Jack’s handouts where you will also find his contact information.


At the end of his talk, as a special treat, Jack shared about 10 specially mixed pots of lettuces and baby greens, all grown in his rich compost.  Finally, with a bunch of new fans on board, Jack announced that Skyline Organic Farms, the only Demeter Certified Biodyamic farm in Southern California, owned and operated by his protégé in attendance, Stefan Hagopian, is currently under orders by the California Coastal Commission to be destroyed due to a “disturbance of the natural ecosystem.”  This, in spite of the fact that the property is not only agriculturally zoned, but also consists of 75% wilderness, preserves and grows topsoil, stores rain water, has significantly increased earthworm and bee populations, and feeds its own animals and community.

I think most people at the meeting were both saddened and angered to come face to face with yet another small sustainable family farm’s misfortune, due simply to some misconceptions created by a single hostile neighbor.  This sounds like another case for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund.   True to form, hardly a meeting goes by without the mention of some sort of governmental resistance to the cultivation and distribution of naturally-grown and traditionally-prepared nutrient-dense foods.   That is why we continue to hold our meetings not only for cameraderie, but also as a way to educate the local population and create a greater demand for traditionally grown and prepared foods.


For further reading on the subject of Biodynamics, Susan Hardman recommends:
Agriculture by Rudolf Steiner

Culture and Horticulture: A Philosophy of Gardening by Wolf-Dieter Storl
A Biodynamic Farm for Growing Wholesome Food by Hugh Lovel

Thanks again to Jack, Susan, Stefan, and Steven for all they do to live the biodynamic lifestyle and share it with others!  


And don’t forget to mark your calendar for our next two events coming up in April:  

1) On Sunday, April 28th, we’ll be going on a field trip to Koreatown in LA for a traditional Korean dinner.  For more information or to register for the event, go to our Special Events page.

2) On Tuesday, April 30th, we’ll have our next monthly potluck dinner meeting featuring a great film, American Meat, which will teach us all about the growing movement across the USA to rebuild a vast network of small, traditional, sustainable farms that provide the freshest and healthiest foods possible to our local populations.


See you in April!


Your Chapter Leader,


~ Karen



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