When farmer Angus McIntosh invited me to visit his biodynamic farm at Spier on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, I was chuffed. I’d heard about this barefoot agri-warrior and was eager to meet him. Coming from a conventional agricultural background, I was keen to be exposed to a different way of farming.
Conventional farming relies heavily on chemicals. Large areas are planted under a single crop (monoculture) which creates an insular environment conducive to specific weeds, pests and diseases. The only way to ensure an economically viable yield is to bombard the lands with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. These chemicals are expensive and extremely damaging to the environment (and our health). Once they’ve destroyed the natural goodness within the soil, chemical fertilisers are required in ever increasing quantities to bolster any growth. All these toxins deplete the soil of any natural goodness, damaging the environment and resulting in food with less and less nutritional value. We eat more because so-called fresh food is no longer as nourishing as it should be. The more food we grow in monocultures, the less it can sustain us.
Angus does things differently. He is one of an emerging breed of farmers who believes in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. In order to farm effectively, you need to farm sustainably. You need to create a natural balance within the environment where all living things are linked and interdependent. Where nature takes care of its own, naturally.
It starts with the soil which contains minerals essential to the health and nutrition of all living things. Our only real access to these vital nutrients is via the food we eat. Take care of the soil, encourage the life within and it will transfer nature’s goodness to whatever feeds from it. No supplements required.
No antibiotics or growth hormones either. Cattle are evolved to eat grass, not maize or animal by-products as found in commercial cattle feed. In order to raise healthy cattle producing nutritious beef and dairy, you need to grow good grass. To this end Angus has planted a multitude of perennial grasses on his pastures leaving the animals spoilt for choice. The cattle are moved frequently in accordance with their natural herding instincts allowing pastures to heal. Natural, toxin-free manure is left behind which aids in fertilisation, enriching the soil organically. No chemicals here, only nature’s way.
As healthy as cow dung may be for the soil, it needs to be scattered. Bring in the chickens! Just as birds follow the herds in the wild – feeding, fertilising and sowing seeds for future seasons – so do Angus’s chickens. The ‘egg mobiles’ resemble large gypsy caravans, with laying hens as their jovial inhabitants. Their natural instinct is to scratch in the dung in search of insect larvae and seeds. This action spreads the cow manure while their excrement adds its own nutritious layer to the earth. These are happy workers and in return they each lay one perfect egg per day before being moved on to the next pasture to repeat their instinctive role in this nomadic cycle.
Broilers start their biodynamic journey in the nursery to the strains of classical music (more for Angus’s enjoyment than the birds). At 3 weeks they’re moved to the portable, floor-less shelters in the pastures where they too follow in the footsteps of the herd. The shorter grass, having been grazed down by the cattle, provides the broilers with sweet, emerging shoots on which to munch. It’s only after six weeks of fresh air and nature’s bounty that they’re slaughtered in the farm’s humane facility.
All farm waste is organic and is composted on the farm, after which it’s used to fertilize the vegetables and vines. The nutritional cycle is complete leaving no waste and enriching the soil and all that has fed from it.
Nature in harmony, that’s biodynamic farming, that is true farming.
I may be a new convert but I’m not knocking the many farmers who continue to use conventional methods. They are as much victims of the system as the consumers are. They are kept economic prisoner by the retailers and chemical industry as well as by government legislation and subsidies. They would only have the choice to remove themselves from this ecologically destructive system should each and every consumer place as much importance on their health and their immediate environment as Angus and his ilk.
Support ethical farmers, demand real food from your supermarkets and help restore the balance. Our future lies in the soil.
Follow him on Twitter @FarmerAngus
To learn more about biodynamic farming and the effects of industrialised monocultures:
Products from Angus’s farm are available at the following retail outlets in Cape Town & surrounds:
Spier (hotel, staff etc)
Spar, Lions Square, Somerset West
Spar, Opp Paul Roos, Stellenbosch
Go Natural, Somerset West
Wellness Warehouse Cavendish
Wellness Warehouse Kloof Street
Organic Zone, Lakeside