Witchy Farmers Make the Best Produce
On the North Fork of Long Island, a woman grows some of the best tomatoes and snap peas around. Her secret? Harnessing the cosmic forces of biodynamic agriculture, of course.
It feels like it should be secret. Kathy Haspel, known as K.K. by those who frequent her famous farmstand, K.K.'s The Farm, in Southhold, NY, is showing me a chart explaining biodynamic preps—mixtures of elements that are supposed to promote growth in plants. The preps have a distinctly scientific nature to them, their elemental names shortened to their periodic initials, but there's magic hidden in the descriptions. "The dandelion flower bears a relationship to silicic acid or silicon (Si), and potassium (K)," she says. "It stimulates the relationship between Si and K so that Si can attract cosmic forces to the soil." Spread on the earth at the right times of the month, according to the moon, and the stars, theses preparations, or "preps," are the basis of biodynamics.
Cosmic forces, auras, vibes. K.K. talks a lot about vibrations, and when I visit her farm stand, I can see why: The tomatoes, even early in the season, are big and bright red—like lipstick, like they've been painted that way— just begging to be touched. (Surely that's why there is a sign warning eager visitors not to "squeeze" them.) K.K.'s snap peas live up to their name, with a sharp crunch and bright, sweet flavor. Her produce is alive, it vibrates. "You only need one bite of those tomatoes," K.K. says, "and that'll be a miracle food for you." K.K. came to biodynamics after wanting to farm organically, to ensure that the food she was growing to feed her children was safe and healthy. "I have two grandkids now that are eight and ten years old, so I'm growing food for them, for my family. It's really important to watch what you eat," she says. She trained at the Nature Lyceum School for Organic Horticulture, and, upon applying biodynamic principles to her farm, saw a difference immediately. "When you attract positive cosmic forces to the plants and to the soil you're getting a force there that's otherworldly," she says, noting that the colors of her crops were immediately brighter, their taste sweeter, "so the food has the potential to last exponentially fantastic, to last forever."
While it might seem like mysticism, pseudoscience, or whatever else you want to call it, there is also a lot of proof that planting according to the stars and engaging with the cosmic forces of the universe is a lot better than what we've been doing.
Biodynamics was invented by Rudolf Steiner, the philosopher and scientist who posited that the survival of western civilization was contingent upon a rational and objective understanding of the spiritual world, and an application of that understanding to all forms of modern life. His mystical approach has of course been applied to many fields—most notably Waldorf schools—but now, in 2014, biodynamics has perhaps the most revolutionary potential. In addition to the beautiful colors and flavors that these methods allow farmers to cultivate, biodynamic preparations have the ability remove radiation, chemicals, and other harmful pollutants from soil, and to increase its productivity. While commercial agriculture is poisoning the already-diminishing water supply through the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, biodynamics can remove those chemicals and build entirely new topsoil where there was once damaged ground. The kicker? It's cheap, so while it might seem like mysticism, pseudoscience, or whatever else you want to call it, there is also a lot of proof that planting according to the stars and engaging with the cosmic forces of the universe is a lot better than what we've been doing.
The Farm is a homey stretch of land off of the main roadway that connects all of the towns on Long Island's North Fork. Just past the quaint, ice-cream-shop-filled town of Greenport, you pull off the road to colorful tables laden with flowers, freshly jarred pickles, and garlic still attached to two-foot long, bright green stalks. There is a bright blue bicycle leaning in one corner—the whole thing is postcard-perfect. The sign for the "gourmet CSA" advertises a phone number without an area code— a throwback to the days before everything needed its location called out, to the days when you could live in your community and not constantly be reminded that there was a world outside. A weathered barn houses The Farm's CSA, and rows and rows of leafy greens stretch out behind a sprawling but still modest farmhouse. Despite being off the main road, it feels quiet. You can see what K.K. means when she says there are a lot of forces at work here.
I heard about K.K. from Heidi Michel Fokine, a yoga teacher on Shelter Island who teaches a Saturday morning class at the island historical society's barn. We were having coffee after class at Redding's, a waterfront cafe in town, and she was talking about making preps for her garden. Describing swirling the water in the bucket, she looked like a witch stirring a cauldron, making a potion. "You have to put this weird compost [a combination of organic grass fed manure, organic matter, and the preps, which are made up of minerals and herbs, and sometimes animal parts] into a bucket, and then you swirl it one direction. You stir the cosmic forces of the universe in this swirling water, so it funnels one way and then you create chaos and funnel it the other way." Her yard, she explained, was a problem. The grass would die, things were lifeless. And then her gardeners disappeared. Heidi had recently started studying at a Shaman School on Long Island, so she was feeling particularly open to these kinds of things, when she had a vision of her yard. She realized that it was hurting, and that she was its protector. She set out the next day to rectify the situation, and to heal the land that she had been given guardianship over. She went to K.K., who told her what kinds of preps she needed to apply in order to fix the damage and shared the biodynamic calendar, which uses the phases of the moon to specifically instruct farmers on what to plant on a day-to-day basis. But first she had to find out what happened to the gardeners.
"When I came back from Shaman School and talked to K.K. and all that, I said to my husband, go talk to Jerry [the gardener] and find out why his guys never came back." Heidi says. "Chris talked to Jerry and Jerry said his guys were scared of me—all the Guatemalan men who worked for Jerry—and they wouldn't come back to my house, because I had come out screaming and told them to go away and never come back." (I need to interject here that, although I've only known her for a couple of years, Heidi doesn't seem like the type to do that, and she is certain that she did nothing of the sort.)
Could it be that biodynamics is a science so simple, so natural and obvious, that in our modern thirst for technological and commercial development we have lost touch with the most basic tools at our disposal?
"I'm convinced that my yard reared up and chased them away," she says matter-of-factly. She is aware of how out-there that is, and even considered asking me to use a different name for her in this story. "I know that sounds crazy, but I'm telling you, I never ran out screaming and told them to go away, and my yard came and spoke to me and said 'take care of me.' So now I've put out three potions that K.K. gave me, and it's all quiet now, and I'm giving the yard time to restore, and building topsoil."
As K.K. says, Heidi is just giving the plants what they need to wake up. "When they wake up," she says, "you don't want to stand in their way. You're giving them the opportunity to be the best beautiful zinnias there ever was or the most beautiful tomato there ever was, and they will be because they've got everything from the whole universe coming down and giving them that little kiss."
Is it magic? Miracles? Or could it be that biodynamics is a science so simple, so natural and obvious, that in our modern thirst for technological and commercial development we have lost touch with the most basic tools at our disposal: the sun, the earth, and the stars? K.K. certainly thinks so. But she also thinks that it's not too late for us to use these principles to reverse the damage we've already done—although from where I sit, looking at the Monsantos and big Pharmas of the world, that seems like a long shot.
The things she's telling me feel like they should be secret, but the fact of it is, they should be known by everyone.