What exactly are sustainable farming practices? Good question! There’s many certifications based on sustainable farming practices yet do they go far enough?
ConsciousWine has been on the look out for wineries following our 4 Principles (Organic, Sustainable, Vital, Quality), and came up with a list of the 12 most common sustainable farming practices of wineries following our 4 Principles.
We’ll be doing a series of 12 posts to dig a little deeper into each of those practices. As sustainable farming practices go, animals on the farm is my favorite place to start.
During 2009 and 2010, I took a year long Biodynamic Farming Course at the Rudolf Steiner College in Sacramento. With each class, we were given an opportunity to approach the topic from a new perspective. I thought of it like putting on a new pair of glasses to look at the world through, except it was a pair of glasses through which to experience the topic of each individual class.
When it came to the class on animal husbandry (animals on the farm), we were given this pair of metaphorical glasses: “What if, domesticated animals chose to become domesticated? What if, they knew that humanity had lost their way,… and through offering themselves to the farm, they could support the health and well being of the whole. By doing so, humanity’s way of being would return to a balance for the good of all.”
From that perspective, animals on the farm is quite the sustainable farming practice.
I’ve become conscious of (or aware of), that when I’m living in (or visiting), an area that welcomes animals into it (wild and domesticated), something about that just perks me up. It makes me want to be more attentive and conscious, which reminds me of why we named ConsciousWine ConsciousWine.
The idea is to bring awareness to how we taste, and to what’s happening on the farm and in the winery. That’s what our principles, practices and mission are all about. Now back to the sustainable farming practice animals on the farm…
Animals are part of nature. They are part of the balance. When removed, something is missing, and we can feel it. Do you agree? Maybe we even end up losing a very basic connection to nature and natural law.
Over and over I am reminded there’s a vitality when you go outside that all animals and all life are meant to be part of. When this natural system is whole do things just work better? Go for a walk in the woods and see how that feels. Do you know what I’m talking about?
There’s a book called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn that comes to mind as I’m writing this. It speaks a lot to the effects of agriculture onto society and the world.
I’m a believer that a farm with animals just kicks it up a notch.
What types of animals are vineyards including?
-Sheep, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, birds, horses, cats, dogs, bees…
What’s the benefit of having them there?
-From eating weeds, to helping fertilize the soil, to adding their particular personality, to supporting the natural predatory cycle. Animals on the farm bring their special unique vitality, and very importantly support biodiversity.
What are some of the individual benefits of each type of animal, and what’s the name of a few wineries with that type of animal on their farm?
-Sheep: Natural lawn mowers controlling unwanted vegetation (alternative to herbicides and mowing); can be an extra special help in wet years when farmers may not be able to get tractors easily into the vineyard. Wineries with sheep? Benziger (Sonoma, CA), Tres Sabores (Napa, CA).
-Cows: Provide manure for compost; a major piece of a biodynamic approach to farming. Wineries with cows? Ambyth Estate (Paso Robles, CA), Araujo Estate (Napa, CA).
-Goats: Goats can be a problem in that they do like to eat grape leaves and chewing on things, but they also produce whey. Once a goat gives birth, they produce milk. From the milk can come cheese, and in the course of producing curds (from which cheese is made), a large quantity of whey results. Whey is a nutrient rich liquid that when diluted becomes a potent ‘mildew-cide’ (fungicide). Wineries with goats? La Clarine Farm (Sierra Foothills, CA), Belle Pente Winery (Willamette Valley, OR).
-Chickens: Contribute to the overall biodiversity cycle supporting an harmonious interaction of soil, vegetation, insects and the whole. One example was described to me as, “the chickens keep the horses’ paddocks and stables free of ticks and mites as they love to forage for insects and will even overturn stones to find them. By keeping chickens in the vineyards, we are free of vine weevils and mealy bug activity and along with our sheep, they ensure that our vineyards are kept in tiptop shape whilst their nitrogen rich droppings fertilize the soil.” Wineries with chickens? Big Table Farm (Willamette Valley, OR), Dark Horse Ranch/Paul Dolan Wine (Mendocino, CA).
-Birds: A diverse bird population is a sign of a healthy diverse eco-system. Some birds present problems in the vineyard (Robins and Starlings), but a diverse population in the environs is a very good sign. Recently, Southern Oregon’s Cowhorn Vineyards won an award for most “Bird Friendly Vineyard” in a competition created by the Klamath Bird Observatory.
-Bees: There are 2 documentaries that spell it out far better than I could explain. “Vanishing of the Bees” and “Queen of the Sun” are 2 movies that transform perspectives. If the honey bee goes away, so probably do we. Wineries with bee hives? Michel Schlumberger (Dry Creek Valley, CA), Littorai (Russian River Valley, CA).
If your passion for animals runs deep, there’s a non-profit to know about in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley. They are a “care farm” where people, animals and the earth work together for mutual healing. In discovering the wonderful things happening at Sanctuary One at Double Oak Farm, we might start embracing that sustainable farming practices really do include animals on the farm!
Watch winemaker and co-owner of AmByth Estate, Philip Hart, speak about animals on his farm.