The Threshold Farm

Hugh Williams and Hanna Bail are the proprietors of Threshold Farms, a 45 acre spread in Upper Hudson Valley, New York. Hugh started farming in 1961 on the family farm in Australia where his mother, a devotee of anthroposophy and biodynamic gardening, had quietly been using the preparations on her home garden while Hugh was growing up.

After college and some time spent traveling, Hugh discovered Steiner’s Agricultural Lectures in a bookstore in New York City. His mother was able to put him in touch with Bob Williams in Australia who became his real teacher of Biodynamics. He’s been employing Steiner’s farming methodology since 1973.

Hugh and Hanna grow vegetables, fruit (peaches, pears and apples) and keep a small herd of cows with their calves. The cows on Threshold Farm are a crossbreed of Ayrshire and Shorthorn. The first heifer born on the farm is now milking and her brother, who Hugh describes in glowing terms, will sire the herd this year. The cows are grass-fed, which Hugh says is “becoming a big thing,” and the calves are not separated from their mothers. “They are simply a part of the herd; they run with the herd,” as Hugh puts it. We even saw Hugh milking from one side of a cow while a calf was nursing from the other side. Their farm animal population also includes two cats to keep the chipmunks out of the greenhouse and a dog “for the woodchucks.”

Hugh and Hanna make all of their own biodynamic preparations on the farm and, as of this spring are 100% self-sufficient in compost. Hugh estimates that, after mucking out the barn, they found themselves with about 70 tons
of “beautiful biodynamic compost” from their cows and their hay and grass. The only aid they are not presently self-producing is an organic potting mix. “This is going to be our next task,” Hugh states, “to make our own.”

Threshold Farm is the sole source of support for Hugh and Hanna and their two children. Except for cheeses, eggs grains, pasta and some other things, it also produces almost 100% of what they eat. This spring they started a small cheese production, about 4 lbs. a day.

Although the weather has presented some challenges of late, Hugh accounts this to the Devic world being “very confused by human intentions.” Hugh and Hanna deal with this by trying to be very clear in their own intentions.

Orchardry is where Hugh Williams has had both his biggest challenges and his greatest successes as a farmer. An obvious love for his work (“ I will farm for as long as God wills it.”) has und
oubtedly helped him to persevere and, after thirty years of working with the Steiner methodology, he has successfully developed a totally non-toxic method for growing fruit. “You have to know what you’re doing,” Hugh states, “and not many people know, partly because so much of it [the fruit we now eat] was developed on a pesticide intensive regime. I had to create new guidelines.”

When asked what is the most amazing thing that he has experienced in his farming career, Hugh states, “Every harvest! And Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual-scientific insights into farming and their revelation in the nitty gritty.” He is gratified to see that a peer group of like-minded farmers are developing and encourages SFNM to continue their supportive activities.

Our final question to Hugh was, “What is the most beautiful thing on your farm right now?”

His answer: “The young heifers just about to have their first calves. Also our new baby’s wonder at it all and my wife Hanna’s abilities – without her, the farm, as it is, would hardly be possible. We’re both very hard workers and we have complimentary abilities. Hanna has strong organizational skills; she’s good socially, a good marketer. She also has great ability with biodynamics. I guess she has a great underlying anxiety about what we’re doing to the earth. She loves farming, animals, the earth.”