About SunHawk Farms
SunHawk Farms is a small family-owned biodynamic farm located above Hopland in Mendocino County, California. I’m John Schaeffer, and my wife Nantzy Hensley and I have lived on and worked the farm since 2001. Our biodynamic farm and homestead is a microcosm of the image of life.
Surrounding our farm is the wild and untouched forest; as the fertility, pest control, and water dynamics that a healthy forest needs to thrive lie within the forest’s ecosystem itself. Abundant with life, our farm breathes in the untamed forest that surrounds us and breathes out a unique vitality through our lavender, fruit and nut orchards, grapes olives, and vegetable gardens.
SunHawk Farms is rooted in holistic observations of life itself. When we look at nature holistically, it becomes evident that numerous forces are at work, molding matter into an infinite myriad of delicate and pristine forms, colors, and aromas that defy the laws of gravity. If you observe closely the growing tips and resulting morphology of most green plants, you will see an expression of grasping at sunlight, spiraling, enveloping – a pulling of a plant species into form.
The critical point for biodynamic agriculture at SunHawk Farms is that even the tiniest aspect of our farming system – a seed or a bud for instance – contains the archetypal imprint of life. The result is good agronomy practices, which we’ve developed as homesteaders and organic gardeners in Mendocino County since the 1970s.
Biodynamic Farming Standards
Biodynamic farming is defined by the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard. Sections of the Farm Standard include necessary elements of the farm organism, soil fertility management, crop protection, greenhouse management, animal welfare, and the use of the preparations. Biological diversity within the farm landscape is emphasized, and requires that a minimum of ten percent of the total farm acreage be set-aside as a biodiversity preserve. That may include but is not limited to forests, wetlands, riparian corridors, and intentionally planted insectaries. Diversity in crop rotation and perennial planting is required: no crop can be planted in the same field for more than two years in succession. Bare tillage year round is prohibited so land needs to maintain adequate green cover.
The Farm Standard instructs that the foundation of the fertility system, and strategies for disease, insect, and weed control, must originate from the farm itself. Fertility is generated via the integration of livestock, compost and green manure, nutrient catch crops, and careful crop rotation. Disease and insect control are addressed through botanical species diversity, predator habitat, balanced crop nutrition, and attention to light penetration and airflow. Weed control emphasizes prevention, including timing of planting, mulching, and identifying and avoiding the spread of invasive weed species.
The use of the preparations is a requirement of the Farm Standard. There are nine in all, made from herbs, mineral substances and animal manures, that are utilized in field sprays and compost inoculants applied in minute doses, much like homeopathic remedies are for humans. Timely applications revitalize the soil and stimulate root growth, enhance the development of microorganisms and humus formation, and aid in photosynthetic activity.
Animals are a crucial element of a biodynamic farm, and in addition to their obvious contribution to a farm’s fertility, their care and welfare are given extensive consideration. Housing must allow animals to move freely and protect them from heat, dust, excess humidity, and harmful gasses such as ammonia. Poultry cages are prohibited, every animal must be given a dry, soft and insulated spot where it can lie down and rest, and access to free range forage and the outdoors is required. De-horning, de-beaking, and wing clipping of poultry are prohibited, as is tail cutting of piglets and docking of lambs. Homeopathic remedies in place of vaccines are strongly recommended, and the use of antibiotics is prohibited. If an animal is being raised for the sale of meat, eggs or milk, a minimum of one-half of its feed must come from the farm, and the remainder must be Demeter certified (minimum of 80% of the total ration) or NOP certified organic (no more than 20% of the ration).
Spirit of the Sun: The Making of John and Nantzy’s Eco-Home
John Schaeffer and Nantzy Hensley filled their lives with green building research, off-the-grid living and permaculture. John founded Real Goods – the nation’s first solar retail business – in 1978 in Hopland, California. The couple have realized their dream of employing their collective wisdom to create an energy-independent, nontoxic, environmentally gentle home that promotes sustainability – while also being tastefully beautiful and soul-soothing.
They were right on track with that vision as construction on their 2,900-square-foot roundhouse – oriented to the cardinal directions and patterned after a Red-Tailed Hawk ready to take flight – began in early 2001. The home is set on 320 acres overlooking the Hopland valley that are richly landscaped with gardens, orchards, ponds, and a grotto with a waterfall. In 2002 John and Nantzy began watching their plans come to life. That summer, they noticed several large ravens pecking at the windows. How cute, they thought, until they realized that weeks later the Ravens continued to attack the home’s many windows with a vengeance.
“We went into major raven research mode,” Nantzy says. “We talked to biologists, ornithologists and shamans. We eventually learned that when the birds are nesting, they’re very territorial. They saw their reflections and tried to scare off those ‘other ravens.'”
John and Nantzy’s attitude was that the birds had inhabited this piece of land first and that they, as the human “intruders,” should strive to live in harmony with the ravens.
That open-mindedness translated into every step of building their ecologically friendly home.
Better Living Through Technology
Built from Rastra blocks, which are made from 85% recycled polystyrene beads and 15% cement, SunHawk is a masterful example of sustainability. Nantzy spent months researching building materials and appliances. Her finds include recycled-tire roof shingles and repurposed granite countertops from a Berkeley café. Roof decking, fascia, barge rafters and beams were made from reclaimed redwood, Douglas fir and walnut from an area winery, vinegar plant, warehouse and converted orchard.
John and Nantzy’s house is, of course, entirely off the grid. (Who would expect less from a renewable energy pioneer?) A 17-kilowatt solar system — recycled from a Real Goods installation in Belize that was blown down in a hurricane — provides ample power in summer months, and a hydroelectric turbine produces 1.5 kilowatts per hour from a seasonal creek that runs through the property from December through May. “Our hydro system provides 36 kilowatt hours per day — almost twice the national average for electricity use,” John points out. “And it cost only $1,500 — it’s way more cost effective than the electric company or any other source of electricity. It’s a powerful feeling knowing we’ll never have to pay an electric bill for the rest of our lives.”
John is most proud of the home’s innovative heating and cooling systems, which work so well largely because of the passive heating and cooling design. Cooling the house without air conditioning is no small feat in Hopland, where summer temperatures consistently rise to three digits. In SunHawk’s central core, rocks are buried nine feet into the earth, where the temperature is a consistent 67° Fahrenheit. Two solar-powered fans pull this cool air up culverts and into the central core, where it travels by convection to the rest of the house. Even on the hottest day, the home’s interior has never exceeded 76° Fahrenheit. The home is heated primarily by radiant floor tubing powered by rooftop solar hot water panels and water heated by the excess voltage from the solar and hydroelectric systems.
Now This is Permaculture
After John and Nantzy bought the land in 1998, they spent numerous nights camping in various places around their property to find the ideal spot for their house. After watching the path of the sun and the effect of the seasons, they placed the house exactly in the location where Nantzy’s intuition had initially told her it should be.
Building the Real Goods Solar Living Center in Hopland had taught the couple the importance of landscaping as an integral part of designing a homestead, so they made that a priority — even before finding a designer for the house. “We knew early on that this would become much more than just a house-building project,” John says.
Their first major project after repairing the bridge was to dig a 10-acre-foot lake flanked by a 30-foot-wide grotto overflowing with waterfalls from the property’s three natural springs. Three-and-a-half acres of lush permaculture landscaping include native grasses, a coastal redwood grove, Mediterranean foliage, lavender, and a corridor of swamp cypress by the pond that attracts a variety of wildlife including otters, herons, egrets, ducks, coots, and native frogs. The couple added fruit and nut trees and Italian olive trees from which they make their biodynamic extra virgin olive oil. The orchards and the pond are key to the home’s comfort; prevailing winds from the northwest flow across them and bring evaporative cooling inside.
The grounds continue to be a work in progress. Four Rastra window boxes on the home’s south side provide enough growing area to keep the couple well fed. Vegetable beds are located six feet from the kitchen door so John and Nantzy can step outside in any kind of weather to harvest arugula, cilantro, herbs, and heirloom lettuces and tomatoes. More recently, as part of a Real Goods Solar Living Center permaculture workshop, students spent four days building an herb spiral on the home’s north side and installing a composting system, worm bin, and drip watering systems.
Letting the Hawk Soar
With the major landscaping in place, John and Nantzy faced the task — and privilege — of creating a house that could live up to their ideals. “A home is far more than a shelter,” John says. “It’s an expression of our values and commitment, and it enables us to put our convictions into action. We wanted ours to promote not just the principles of sustainability, but to engender restoration and regeneration of the environment, while also nourishing the spirit.”
They searched until they found architect Craig Henritzy of Berkeley, who understood that vision. However, they were taken aback when he showed them a set of plans for a Rastra house based loosely on the California Native American roundhouse (in the style of the indigenous Pomo Indians) and symbolic of the hawk — which he declared John and Nantzy’s ‘house totem.’ “We thought it was visionary and unique, but a real challenge to pull off in a practical sense,” John admits. Being open-minded, John and Nantzy visited another roundhouse Henritzy had designed in Napa, and they knew they’d found their architect. “That house was unlike any other we’d ever seen,” John says. “It felt Native American yet 22nd century — both ancient and futuristic.”
“For Native Americans, the hawk symbolizes vision, which has been important in John and Nantzy’s work,” Henritzy explains. “Also, in the green architecture field we often use just shed-type designs, which I feel has limited the progress of alternative designs being accepted in the housing market. This design explores passive solar with a geometry that celebrates the sun’s cycles and playfully and beautifully assumes a hawk shape.”
Because Rastra’s Styrofoam beads give it a fluid quality, it’s easily cut and sculpted, making the hawk shape and orientation with the cardinal directions possible. Sunlight falling on a solar calendar running from north to south on the living room floor marks the passing seasons. On the winter solstice, sunbeams stream through a stained-glass hawk above the south-facing French doors, causing the bird to “fly” across the floor from west to east. At exactly solar noon, the sun illuminates a slate hawk in the floor in front of the living room wood stove.
“I appreciate always knowing the position of the sun,” John says. And that, Nantzy adds, is really just a fringe benefit of a good passive solar design. “The very basic, most important thing is good southern exposure — taking advantage of sun and light,” she points out. “What I love most is that the sun comes into the house during the winter months – the right time for warmth, and doesn’t come in during the summer months.”
The Lavender Labyrinth
“Lose yourself to find yourself.” – Rudolf Steiner
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world.
Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools. A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.”
The “walls” that separate the path of our labyrinth are of biodynamic lavender planted and designed by Tom Brower atop a beautiful hilltop overlooking the Hopland Valley. The design is modeled after a 14th century labyrinth from San Quentin, France. You can see our labyrinth at the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, where you can call and reserve a time for a visit.
Each morning Nantzy and I get up at 6:00 and walk the labyrinth. It takes seven minutes to walk the center from the outside and 700 steps to get around the 700 plants. It puts you on another planet.
This serves humans and bees alike as our honey bees enjoy the lavender blossoms creating lavender honey.
The Widsom of Bees
“The honeybee feeds upon just those parts of the plants which are also wholly pervaded by love. Hence, one must say that the life of the bees must be studied by making use of the soul.” – Rudolf Steiner
Today, more than eighty years after Rudolf Steiner presented his lectures on bees, our bees are situated in the middle of our fruit orchard replete with apples, pears, figs, nectarines, cherries, pluots, and walnuts. We present our honey bees to a mélange of fruit trees, wild flowers, and 700 lavender plants in our labyrinth.
We maintain a healthy hive that grows with each year even while periodically allowing some to separate into a swarm and follow their queen into the oak forest around us. And in return, the bees bring us sweet, aromatic honey that enriches our soul.
SunHawk Farms Today
John and Nantzy are gratified with the progress they’ve made. The fruit, nut, and olive trees they planted early on are now fully mature. The Rhone varietal wine from their biodynamic vineyard is being served in restaurants in Northern California that appreciate hand-crafted biodynamic wines. Their energy-efficient solar home functions beyond their expectations and has served as an inspiration to the many who have visited. Their dream of providing high-quality, consciously-grown food as a small contribution to their community has been manifested and John and Nantzy look forward to continuing and expanding the vision in the future.