Dewane Morgan’s diverse Midheaven Farm is spread out on the sandy loam soils left by the glaciers that shaped northern Minnesota. Fields of alfalfa provide hat for the beef cows, and are also grazed by the cattle as part of a regular rotation. Native prairie grasses are also used extensively on the farm. Small fields of vegetables are tended by students in the summer months, and Dewane is starting a Community Supported Agriculture program in 2002. Dewane and his wife Anne began farming in the Park Rapids area in 1972, and have been on this farm since 1994. Anne operates a separate business on the farm called The Secret Garden, a line of soup mixes and other foods sold in gift and specialty stores.
“I have always been committed to organic,” Dewane says. “To me, it was the only right thing to do.” After purchasing their first farm in 1972, Dewane soon announced “I was going to raise vegetables, cattle, and wheat organically.” It went over like a lead balloon among his neighbors. He heard about biodynamic techniques when he started in farming with a small dairy heard. With no local examples of biodynamic farming, he researched on his own and began experimenting, learning by trial and error. Adapting the teachings of Rudolph Steiner (“Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture”), Dewane hit on a combination of biodynamic sprays, crop rotation, and tillage techniques to build topsoil and break up hardpan left by years of plowing. On many areas of the original farm and the current one, he has doubled the topsoil depth to 14″. Hay production has increased from about one ton per acre to about three tons per acre.
Dewane believes that by improving the soil and its ability to breath, along with a crop rotation that is sustainable for the farm’s soil, the system will be balanced in a way that will minimize impacts from pests. For example, he has never had a major problem with the Colorado potato beetle. “I spray once in the larva stage, with a non-GMO Bt substance. Then I let them go.” The native plants that Dewane encourages help to keep natural predators, such as wasps, on the farm.
By increasing the health of the soil, Dewane says, weeds are kept to a minimum, although he doesn’t mind seeing some weds. He’s more concerned about bare spots than weeds.
“It’s not something that’s instant. It takes time to get a balance in the soil. I have a lot of tolerance for all life on the farm, seen and unseen, and try to understand where the balances are.”
As an example of how he sees the farm as a whole, Dewane describes watching an alfalfa butterfly flutter around a plant. “The natural nature of the plant is to become free of the Earth. The alfalfa butterfly helps that plant in that expression. Just because I have some caterpillars on my alfalfa, I don’t go out and spray it.”
Dewane’s goal is to have soil balanced to its carrying capacity, with no additional need for fertilizer each year. “That’s my basic integrated pest management,” he says.
Students from around the country and world have expressed an interest in Dewan’e biodynamic methods, and trade their work on the farm for education. Most summers, six students are in the farm gleaning information from Dewane as they provide much of the farm labor.
“The methods take time to work,” Dewane adds, “and it takes time to see results.” He says farming with biodynamics takes “a very persevering nature.”
Dewane sees what he’s doing as the right thing for his land, “leaving it better than I found it,” he says. Neighbors have expressed interest and admiration, and one neighbor has placed land in a conservation trust. Dewane shares his experiences with groups and individuals through articles, farm tours and internships at the farm.
Dewane believes that his biodynamic methods help the soil to build “over the threshold of what you could do naturally.”
He also sees the farm “cleaning the air, using the soil as a carbon sink.”
This article is one in a series which can be found in “A Bountiful Harvest: Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Manage Pests,” Sept., 2002. The publication was produced by the Minnesota Department of
Agriculture (MDA) with funding provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, Chicago, IL. For the entire article please go to the MDA’s web site at: