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At Morning Star Farm, science and spirit come together to grow healthy and vigorous crops like lettuce, tomatoes, basil, garlic, flowers and more. The farm was born in the remains of the kitchen of the Morning Star commune. Melinda Bateman and her partner agreed to repair the commune house in exchange for rent and began to grow vegetables there.More than 28 years later, Bateman continues to farm, now on her own land near Arroyo Seco. Her son Rowan has returned to the farm after graduating in plant science from Cornell University. He brought the most current small scale production farming techniques back home to join with the farm's longstanding commitment to act as caretaker for the land's living ecosystem.Growing quality food on a budgetAs a child, Bateman learned about growing strawberries, broccoli and other crops with her father in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. In Taos, she was a stay-at-home mom on a budget when she began to grow her own food. "I wanted to eat high quality organic food and I thought the best way to do that was to grow it myself," she says.The year her son was born, she grew 40 heads of lettuce and sold them to Daniel Carmona who was head of the Amigos Co-op at the time. She had a 20 x 20 x 40-foot garden bed that she eventually expanded to two acres.Lessons from farming the landGrowing in Taos for almost 29 years, Bateman has experimented with different techniques. "We have a very unique climate," she observes. "I've learned a lot: when to plant crops, what methods to use and how to extend the growing season."For example, carrots are difficult to grow here because they need uniform water for 14 days to germinate. With so much variability in the weather, consistent moisture is hard to achieve, but Bateman discovered that by draping the seeds with row cover and providing regular moisture using drip irrigation she could grow carrots, where before she had struggled.Overtime, Bateman observed she was successful growing lettuce in the spring and fall, but not during the hot summer months. Through research and trial and error, she learned how to construct micro tunnels to protect the lettuce crop in the summer using shade cloth.In the winter, she grows salad mix In her greenhouse for sale to restaurants. During the warm season, she focuses on crops to feed her family and the expanding garlic production. By this August, she plans to be at the Taos Farmers Market with garlic grown from her own seed and perhaps some other produce as well.Science as a partnerWhen son Rowan returned to the farm with the learning done for his plant science degree studies, some new practices became part of the farm's approach. "We are using more soil testing and covering the soil. Our approach has become a marriage of all of the practical years on the ground and techniques learned through science," says Bateman.She adds that her son is a skilled arborist, so they are planting an orchard and experimenting with wind breaks to protect the trees.Biodynamic farmingAt Morning Star Farm, they follow the principles of biodynamic farming. "It's really a large concept and has become a life's passion. My journey started as an organic farmer seeking to improve her soil," explains Bateman.Biodynamic farming was one of the first organic farming methods. Developed from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner in 1924, the method treats the farm as a living organism. Certain preparations made from plant, mineral and animal matter are added to the soil to improve its fertility."It is a call and response," explains Bateman. "As a living organism, the earth responds to the preparations. It is a bit like homeopathy for the earth." Biodynamics takes into account forces from the cosmos. Just as some people like to have their charts done or read their horoscopes, so too plants are influenced by the heavens, according to biodynamic philosophy.As a farmer, Bateman is less interested in theory and more interested in results. Over 20 years ago, she first tried burying cows' horns full of cow manure at the farm. After sitting for the winter months in the earth, the horns were dug up and the manure had been transformed into a biodynamic preparation that is offered to the earth. "Suddenly our compacted, clay soil was like brownie batter not adobe. I was so impressed with the results that I began to study it."Homestead gardening series, demystifying biodynamics, compost-makingBateman explains it is not necessary to understand the whole system of biodynamics to begin to use it. "If you start working with the preparations, something will unfold for you," she says.To that end, Bateman has begun teaching classes on gardening, biodynamics and compost-making. During the pandemic, she taught a Zoom class through Taos Initiative for Life Together (TILT) and 40 people attended. Now that COVID restrictions are loosening, Bateman is offering a series of classes at her farm. She's looking forward to a more personal connection with people who are interested in growing their own food.In the classes, she'll introduce a series of what she describes as simple and elegant solutions. Everything taught will be based on natural approaches using plants, minerals and animal elements that are used as an offering to the earth. "Biodynamics looks at the earth as a sacred being. It helps us get out of the materialistic view of nature and begin to honor the earth and work with it, not against it," she says. "My goal is to help everyone grow healthy food that they can bring into their house and eat."Future for Morning Star Farm and farming in TaosAs Bateman looks to the future of farming at Morning Star and in Taos generally, she says "I've always grown my own food and been passionate about what happens to the earth and humanity. I plan to pass the baton for the commercial garlic production to my son Rowan and focus on teaching about growing food."Her love for the land is evident, as she talks about nurturing the plants and caring for her chickens. She imagines a future when visitors might come stay at the farm to immerse themselves in the concepts of healthy soil and healthy crops.Seeing the earth as a great macrocosm, she notices, "there is a sacredness here. I see a correlation between everything that happens. It is one of the gifts of being a farmer, you end up noticing more things in your day-to-day life."For Taos, she hopes there can be a revival of our agricultural traditions and imagines a day when fields of thistles again produce food to create stronger local agriculture and a stronger economy.Healthy food is also a social equity issue; she dreams of a day when everyone can have healthy, vibrant food. "I wonder how we all can come together and start taking steps and see where it leads. It's time for our desires and dreams to be put into action; to start walking our talk. We need to switch our paradigms to find solutions. The big idea may come down to growing your own food in your backyard, making compost - doing things that can actually effect a change in a simple and subtle way."MORE INFORMATIONThe next class in the Homestead Gardening Series will be offered Saturday (June 6) and will focus on soil care. To find out more about upcoming classes, including schedule and cost, visit morningstarfarmoftaos.com.
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