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Cider Days and Biodynamic agriculture

Mike Biltonen Cider Days

During Cider DaysMike Biltonen explained to an eager audience the basics of biodynamic agriculture

The 24th Annual Franklin County Cider Days came with splashes and torrents of rain, but those who love hard cider, and sweet cider and apples too, drew visitors from far and wide. I spoke to a young man who explained he and his friends who own an apple orchard in Pennyslvania came to see what is happening in the cider world. He said Cider Days is the epicenter of all the latest news about cider and apple orchards.

I started with a stop at the Peckville Orchard store to buy apples. The first Cider Days program I attended was up on Peckville Road at the West County Cidery. Mike Biltonen, who has bachelor and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech and Cornell, spoke about The Promise of Biodynamics: The Reality and Spirit of Nature. I knew nothing about biodynamics in agriculture except for stories about the giant vegetables grown at Findhorn in Scotland decades ago, although those stories are now more accepted as myth.

Biltonen did not tell us Findhorn stories, he began with Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) an Austrian philosopher and social reformer, who sought to find a synthesis between spirituality and science. Among his projects was the founding of the Waldorf Schools and biodynamic agriculture. Biltonen admitted that biodynamic practices can sound a little ‘woo-woo’ but when you considered the efficacy of herbal medicine it was easier to think that herbal remedies could also be used on plants with good results.

The woo-woo comes from Steiner’s belief in the effect of the energies of the cosmos and the astral space beyond the planets, as well as energies around us. “Now we are moving into a biointensive era out of necessity. Over the decades since WWII agricultural systems have become more mechanical and non-organic. There is more use of chemical spraying and fertilizers. . .  It can take five to seven years of biodynamic practices to re-energize the land and make it fertile again,” Biltonen said.

Biodynamic agriculture uses specific cures. Cow manure is packed into cow horns and buried for about 18 months to compost. Yarrow, German chamomile, stinging nettles and other herbs are used in potions that will cure particular problems with insects or disease. I did not understand how you can have enough cow horns or enough herb harvests to make this system work, but Biltonen said that it was better to think of the use of biodynamic preparations is like effectively using the small doses of homeopathic medicines.

An hour talk about a subject like biodynamic agriculture gives one just a taste of a big subject. Biltonen said there were very few biodynamic orchards, but he is working to increase their healthy number. For more information about Biltonen and his work as a technical agriculture advisor check out www.usaappleleaf.com.

Cider Days

Cider Days Talks at Shelburne-Buckland Community Center

Of course, there were many other events. I stopped in Shelburne Buckland Community Center where Claude Jolicoeur gave a talk about Central Asia – Travels to the Birthplace of Apples.  And you thought apples were the original all American fruit! A bunch of cider makers gave tastings there. Sue Chadwick, who taught me how to make a really good apple pie, was selling apple pies, and John Bunker of Maine who wrote a great book Not Far From the Tree about antique apples in his town of Palermo was giving a talk at the Bear Swamp Orchard and Cidery.

Clarkdale Cider Days

Taste testing pears and apples on Cider Days at Clarkdale

Tasting events, of ciders alone, and of ciders with other delectable items sold out fast. There were workshops on making cider, cider vinegar, caring for backyard apple trees and much more. I went down to Clarkdale to taste their apples and pears. I had already bought a big bag of Clarkdale’s Pie Mix, and after tasting a few new apples, I bought a bag of crispy Gold Rush apples and was thrilled to find that it was now pear cider season. Last year I learned that I can freeze pear – or apple – cider as long as I pour out some so the container won’t burst.

Amy Traverso, senior food editor at Yankee magazine and author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which I have found very useful in all seasons, was on hand to share some apple cooking hacks at Clarkdale, too.

Oesco demonstration at Cider Days

Andy Dulude and Sukie Kindwall demonstrating OESCO fruit masher

While at Clarkdale I got to see the demonstration of OESCO’s commercial cider press. There are two parts to making cider. First you have to smash up the apples, or whatever fruit you are using, and then you have to press the juice out of the mash. OESCO manufactures the fruit masher, but the fruit press, of different sizes, is imported from France. Sukie Kindwall and Andy Dulude were on duty making cider right before our eyes, giving credit to Ben Clark for making up boxes of carefully chosen cider apple varieties.

Cider Days

Sukie and Andy enjoyed Cider Days – the rain meant nothing

Of course, coming and going to Shelburne Falls I had to go past all the excitements at Hager’s Farm Store and the annual pumpkin smash. Actually there is almost always something exciting going on at Hager’s. The Farm Store is a great example of a big farm family moving on with the times – and enjoying great success!

I am already marking my calendar for Cider Days 2019 – November 2-3!

Between the Rows  November 10, 2018

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