In late June 2015, Food and Farm Coordinator Melissa Vatterott and food and farm intern Claire Mai visited the beautiful Claverach Farm in Eureka, Missouri. Farmer Rachel Shulman led a tour of the property and explained some of the ideas behind a biodynamic farm with a soil-chemistry perspective. Farmers at Claverach work hard to balance their soil for maximum nutrients, in order to provide higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and bio-compounds.

Rachel explained how their focus on soil balance is different from the focus of the organic movement. While the “organic” paradigm is heavily restrictive towards chemicals, Rachel feels that biological methods with selective chemical applications produce the most nutrient-dense and flavorful food possible, with minimal impact on the environment. For instance, they support the use of certain fungicides with low toxicity, or the use of monoammonium phosphate (MAP) as a phosphate source. Rachel stressed that the use of chemicals shouldn’t be seen as a black-and-white issue – for example, if no chemicals are used in apple production, the skins of the organic apples may develop molds with very high toxicities. For these reasons, Claverach focuses on soil content and nutrition, while being selective with chemicals.

If you’re interested in learning more about soil, nutrition, and organics, Rachel suggested the book The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon.

Currently, Claverach is growing wine grapes, including European wine grapes with less resistance to climate but better flavor. They also grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, with 6 to 8 acres in production, and even have a mobile chicken coop on the farm! In addition to selling produce at farmers markets and to restaurants, Claverach also hosts incredible dinners at their 100-year old refurbished barn. The eloquent meals are inspired by the produce growing in their field. Learn more about the experience and make a reservation here.

Rachel is interested in creating an eco-label for farmers with bio-friendly choices in fertilizer, pest control, and herbicide use. She’s been having discussions with a number of other farmers about this topic, and hopes that a label could provide an incentive for opting in to responsible methods by offering recognition for environmentally friendly farmers. She also co-founded Confluence BioFarms, with funding from a Slow Food St. Louis biodiversity grant. Confluence BioFarms is an alliance of biological farmers. Their mission is to focus on balancing soil chemistry in order to reduce insect, weed, and disease problems in crops and allow optimal outputs with minimal chemical use.