Biodynamic farming rises in southern Oregon

APPLEGATE VALLEY, Ore.– Farming but without the pesticides. It’s what many consumers want and what many farmers are trying to do. Now, a winery in the Applegate Valley has taken organic farming one step further by using a method that is gaining popularity in the United States.

“There’s always a long story of how I got here and I like to say there’s a short story of how I got here and the short story is two words, ‘Yes Dear,'” said Bill Steele, co-owner of Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden.

Nestled away in a nook of the Applegate Valley, Cowhorn Winery is doing things a little differently. The idea, biodynamics, is an ecological and ethical approach to farming.

“Biodynamic farming is a mindset,” said Steele. “So if you can appreciate not using synthetic chemicals and not mono-cropping, it’s easy. It’s just a mindset.”

Bill and his wife Barbara started Cowhorn back in 2002 with an idea. As Bill puts it, his wife found a passion for it after working with several farms and wineries in California. When they found a plot of land in southern Oregon, they started from nothing.

“It was a blank canvas. There was nothing here day one but weed’s and rocks,” he said.

They chose their name based on actual cow horns, a natural mechanism used for composting. As Bill explained, biodynamic farmers stuff the horns with dairy manure and bury them underground through the winter creating a composted “tea” that is then spread across the farm. This method lines up with one of three steps Bills says are key to being biodynamic.

The first is no chemicals are used at all. The second, being a self-sustaining farm. Finally, a focus on diversity and growing a multitude of crops.

“We do obviously grapes, we also do asparagus, seven to eight thousand pounds a year of asparagus,” said Bill. “We have 1,000 lavender plants and we have about 30 oak and hazelnut trees that we’re trying to grow the Périgord truffle.”

It’s still a full-time job but Bill says the work pays off in the product. With the occasional pruning and tidying up, the idea is a biodynamic farm can take care of itself.

“It’s an immune system and we’re trying to create as strong of an immune system as possible and part of that is diversification, not mono-cropping,” said Bill.

Cowhorn’s tasting room can also take care of itself. In line with their values of being as green as possible, it’s considered one of the greenest tasting rooms in the world.

The building met rigorous standards and was ultimately recognized by the International Living Future Institute.

“It’s a testament to what southern Oregon is capable of,” said Bill.

It’s now been 17 years since the owners set their eyes on developing a biodynamic vineyard and it hasn’t gone unrecognized. Bill says other wineries are starting to consider becoming biodynamic as well. According to him, Troon Vineyard and several others are making a move to the method.

The process may take time but Bill is hopeful for what’s to come.

“Each day we’re just trying to take one step forward and if you take one step forward each day after a year, look how far you’ve gone,” he said.

There are over 80 wineries in the United States that are considered biodynamic by Demeter USA – the only certifier for biodynamic farms.

However, there is still some skepticism around the farming method as some scientists consider it more a philosophy than a science.

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