Studying Biodynamics at Evergreen State College – Part 1
By Karen Davis-Brown
In Olympia, Washington, amazing things are happening by and for the students of Evergreen State College. With a student body of slightly over 4,000 and a commitment to sustainability and the development of every student’s maximum potential, it is no wonder that is where Sarah Williams is able to offer the course “Student-Originated Studies: Seeds, Beads, Bees and other Biodynamical Processes.”
“Seeds, Beads, Bees and other Biodynamical Processes”
Sarah Williams, the developer and instructor of this course, is no stranger to the ups and downs of North American agriculture. Raised on what is now a fifth-generation family farm in southern Minnesota, she reminisced about her childhood:
My fondest memories are of gardening with a great uncle, who was always competing with a neighbor for the biggest melons, earliest sweet corn, and best coon fencing techniques…. I spent many hours shucking peas while listening to stories. Family, friends, and neighbors often gathered to do things like make pickles and sauerkraut, fill silos, and stack bales to fill haymows.
Sarah also identifies childhood experiences as the root of her future interest in biodynamic agriculture:
My grandfather used to smell the air and tell me whether it was going to rain. He could walk across fields and know what the soil needed. A junior high school science project on biorhythms took me to the state competition.
She also watched it all change:
During my middle school years, all the family farms in my area either sold out or became chemical farms. Farmers took their lives with shotguns: they had worked their whole lives and mostly grown debt. Now small caterpillar-like tractors are used to work those perfect Midwestern rows of corn and soybeans. The University of Minnesota Agricultural Technical College at Waseca (near my home) was converted to a prison.
These childhood experiences stuck with her, as she grew up and went out into the world:
Since it was always understood that my brothers would inherit the farm, academia was my ticket to the future. I traveled the world studying anthropology, and then anthropologists themselves, in a PhD program called the History of Consciousness at UC-Santa Cruz.
During her graduate fieldwork, she “saw the devastating effects of book only learning and so-called development through capitalism” in Kenya, Mexico, Australia, and India. Her observation was that so-called “higher” education seemed to correlate with increased environmental devastation, and the treatment of women seemed to correlate with the treatment of the land. At the same time, she noted that “the Turkana, pastoral nomads with whom I did fieldwork in northwest Kenya could read weather and grazing patterns based on their reading of animal intestines. They could only count to three, but knew if even one cow was missing from their large herds.”
It was when she was teaching at Evergreen and her sons began to attend the Waldorf School in Olympia that “in my mind, conversations began to develop between Gregory Bateson, Susan Griffin, Luce Irigaray, and Donna Haraway (my intellectual gurus), and Rudolf Steiner and Goethe. During my yoga teacher training, I began to sense the pre-history of BD [biodynamics] in the indigenous traditions of Vedanta and Zoroastrianism.” Then, she discovered Dennis Klocek’s work.
She went on to say:
This all came full circle in my 2013-14 “Student-Originated-Study Program: Seeds, Beads, Bees and other Biodynamical Processes.” The Evergreen State College is a place where issues of social justice, ecology, art, and the politics as well as poetics of education, can be taught in interdisciplinary, year-long learning communities that include field studies. We began the year with a community-service based field trip to Moe Momtazi’s Maysara Vineyard. It was such a delight to have students read Katherine Cole’s Voodoo Vintners: Oregon’s Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers (which begins with a story about Moe and a pregnant Flora fleeing Iran on a motorcycle) while working in the Maysara Vineyards alongside crews of Hispanic and Latino professional pickers. Then, the Biodynamic Association made it possible for many Evergreen students to attend the biodynamic pre-conference during our field trip to EcoFarm [a large organic agriculture conference held every January on the central California coast].
The class’s itinerary for their journey to EcoFarm and back seems like an idyllic pilgrimage in West Coast alternative agriculture. Perhaps it was, but like all pilgrimages, it was also strenuous, challenging, and not for the rigid of mind or heart.
Tuesday, Jan. 21
- John Jeavons’ Ecology Action GROW BIOINTENSIVE Sustainable Mini-Farm, Willits, CA
- Frey Vineyards, Redwood Valley, CA
These Evergreen road warriors arrived at Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California, late Tuesday for the biodynamic pre-conference event. The pre-conference was titled “The Farm as a Living Organism” and included in-depth workshops on “Integrating Livestock and Vegetables for Sustained Fertility, Food, and Community” with Paula and Adam Gaska; “The Biodynamic Preparations and Farm-Scale Composting” with Lloyd Nelson and Colum Riley; “Biodynamic Viticulture and Winemaking” with Paul Dolan, Barbara Steele, and Matt Taylor; and “Biodynamic Principles and the Inner Path of the Farmer” with Jim Barausky and Cheryl Mulholland.
Afternoon breakout sessions addressing Demeter Biodynamic® certification and the economics of small-scale, self-sufficient farming rounded out the day. Class members were able to take part in the day-long workshops, the plenary sessions, and the World Café discussions.
Thursday, Jan. 23 – Saturday, Jan. 25
The main conference featured follow-up workshops by pre-conference presenters on the use of the preparations, integrating livestock, and the emerging Biodynamic marketplace. There was also a presentation by Biodynamic Association (BDA) Executive Director Robert Karp on cooperative models for farming as a business.
On Friday night, the BDA and Frey Vineyards sponsored a mixer with wonderful Biodynamic wines donated by the folks at Frey. Saturday morning there were more presentations and an afternoon closing circle and rain dance.
Sunday morning the Evergreen crew began the trek home. Along the way, they made stops at more farms and programs committed to agricultural health and sustainability:
Saturday, Jan. 26
Monday, Jan 27
- Rudolf Steiner College and Sacramento Waldorf School, Fair Oaks, CA (with Harold Hoven, Dennis Klocek, Keith Gelber, and Farmer Steve)
Tuesday, Jan. 28
- Chickadee Farm, Ashland, OR (with Sebastian Aquilar)
- Ruby and Amber’s Farm, Dorena, OR (with Walt Bernard and Kris Woolhouse)
Wednesday, Jan. 29
- Winter Green Farm, Noti, OR (with Wali Via)
Throughout the year, the students read texts chosen to provide complementary perspectives on various themes. For example, Dennis Klocek’s Sacred Agriculture was read along with Neil Shubin’s The Universe Within; Craig Holdrege’s Thinking Like a Plant was paired with Vandana Shiva’s Making Peace with the Earth, which students were encouraged to compare and contrast with Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation.
What a lot to take in, discuss, reflect on, and discern how to use in the future! Part 2 of this series will offer the insights of the students regarding this “incredible journey” into their thoughts, feelings, and decisions resulting from their inner and outward travels.
By Blaire Ladd and Ruby Head
Originally published in the January/February 2014 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC).
In the fall of 2012, the old Alan Chadwick Garden Project in Covelo, California changed ownership and landed in the grateful laps of an enthusiastic couple. With bright ideas and a knack for complicated projects, Ruby and Dylan took on the task of stewarding and rejuvenating the historic property. Like a hidden castle in a fairy tale, the land was forgotten, overgrown with blackberries and unkempt with a feral sense of wild. Uncovering the orchard from brambles, repairing infrastructure and increasing soil fertility were the initial tasks.
At the end of January my partner Brandon and I were blessed with the opportunity to move onto the farm with Ruby, Dylan, and their livestock guardian dog Jermuk. We are overwhelmed with excitement to make our shift from apprenticing to farming on our own. In the short time we have been here, there seems to be an endless supply of new projects that are met with joy and enthusiasm by Ruby and Dylan.
We have all agreed on biodynamics and are currently working on the first steps of becoming Demeter certified. The last day of January, after the much anticipated rain, we sprayed horn manure preparation over the land together under the vibrant stars of Round Valley. Walking the land fanning 500 with cedar branches, we felt the importance of this sacred tradition. Fortune shined on the farm and Stephen and Gloria Decater of Live Power Community Farm (former apprentices of Chadwick) gave us the prep and a barrel for the initial spraying. We look forward to the future of making the preparations on the property and in conjunction with the community of BDANC quarterly meetings.
Yet, before we can really start many of the projects, we have planned there are still a number of infrastructure issues that are in need of immediate attention:
- Restore two additional farm wells
- Install new farm irrigation
- Repair fencing
- Recover the Chadwick greenhouse
- Purchase high tunnels
- Outbuilding restorations
- Establishing a business infrastructure
With so many essential infrastructure needs, we are seeking avenues for funding and resources, which will be critical to accomplishing these tasks. We ask for your blessing and support for our new adventure and relationship with the land to breathe new life and vision into this historical farm. I’d like to thank everyone who has graciously welcomed me into the community and the biodynamic movement where I have been blessed to have excellent mentors and have made incredible friends. We look forward to giving updates on the progress of our new projects and the wonderful products we will be creating together.
Photos of the original Garden, including the greenhouse, from 1973-1978 by Richard Wilson can be seen on the Alan Chadwick website.
By Sarah Weber, Research Program Coordinator, Biodynamic Association
In January 2014, I enjoyed an intensive ten days visiting with friends and colleagues in the Mexico biodynamic community, many of whom I originally met when they attended biodynamic courses at C-Dar Lodge Farm in British Columbia, Canada. With many thanks to the hosts, who organized numerous events, I was able to learn directly about a range of biodynamic initiatives in Mexico and possibilities and desire for collaboration.
Ana Luz’s Orchard, Guadalajara
January 20: One of the first visits was to the orchard and gardens of Ana Luz Zepeda, in the municipality of El Salto, near the large city of Guadalajara. The orchard serves as an oasis in the middle of a low-income, urban-industrial zone. The land includes avocado trees, other fruit trees, vegetable gardens, bee hives, and fallow areas that may be brought into production in the future. Three people work at the orchard, with a larger group involved in learning about biodynamics. A number of group members participated in the visit — including Mariana Gimenez, Laura Mendivil, Roberto Nava, Silvia Martinez, Cesar Marino Cuevas, and Romina Barreto. The group is about one year old and had their first workshop in March 2012. They recently began making preparations, applying them at the orchard and sharing them for use in home gardens around the city. They began with spraying 500 and 501, then valerian to the avocado trees. Jose Maria Anguiano (Chema), who is based in Colima, visits every three months to provide advice on biodynamics.
Ana would like to increase their production, to provide healthy food for the people who request it at local markets. People at the market specifically seek out their produce and say that it tastes different.
El Rancho Jabali, near Colima
Jan 20-21: After a three hour bus ride from Guadalajara, I arrived in the city of Colima on the Pacific coast. Here I was greeted by Dr. Jose Manuel Palma and Dr. Jose Maria Anguiano of the University of Colima,who had arranged for a visit to El Rancho Jabali, a large ranch in the highlands above Colima. Juan Oseguera Parra (who I met at C-Dar and works at El Jabali) had written an article in the Colima newspaper about the visit. El Rancho Jabali is a diversified operation that combines ecotourism, cattle ranching, dairy, fruit tree orchards, coffee plantations, vegetable gardens, and a plant nursery. Products such as cheese and coffee are processed directly on site. The property has been managed organically for over thirty years. The owners place great importance on sustainability and quality. Ever present and ever changing in the background is the Volcan de Fuego, intermittently blowing out puffs of smoke and ash into the clear blue sky.
Dr. Palma and Dr. Anguiano are working with the managers to transition to an integrated biodynamic system and to record the changes thus observed. They have applied biodynamic preparations in some grazing pastures and orchards, are experimenting with biodynamic composts made of native plants, and are making biodynamic preparations on site. The ranch and its sister property (Cuixmala Ranch) present unique opportunities as a setting for biodynamic research.
Jornada Agroecologica y Biodinamica, in Comala and surrounding areas
January 22: Miguel Angel Rosas Urzua and colleagues organized an action-packed day of visits to agro-ecological projects, with community groups, university and government representatives involved in or interested in biodynamics. Four organizations worked together to organize the event — Agricultura de Vida A.C., Del Granjero Verde, Centro Cultural Comalli A.C., and Centro de Innovación para el Desarrollo Sustentable. A number of other organizations, including El planeta siente A.C. and Turismo Extremo Volcan de Colima, were present and shared about the work they are doing. The day included great discussion and learning among all those who attended.
Beginning with a delicious breakfast (many thanks to the chefs!), we visited the Huerto Agrobiodinamico of Grupo Eco Tenaces. The group aims to help create a community garden for each neighborhood in the city. We then walked over to visit the Waldorf school across the street.
In the nearby town of Montitlan, we toured the greenhouse of Del Granjero Verde, an enterprise that promotes the growth of home vegetable gardens and sale of ecologically produced food.
Next, in the town of Caja, we visited the site of a project that aims to create a municipal biodynamic composting system. The project is organized by the Instituto del Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Sustentable de Colima and H. Ayuntamineto de Comala. The organizers have already educated residents to separate their organic materials and have begun producing organic compost in a central location. The next stage is to make it a biodynamic compost and then use the compost in community gardens.
The event finished with a delicious comida at the Hostal Comalli house of culture, and a discussion attended by representatives of numerous groups. Common themes included the local and community production of healthy food, creating economic opportunities, and providing training in ecological and biodynamic food production. The mood of the day was one of great enthusiasm. Participants decided to form a network to support learning. They would like to stay in communication and collaborate.
Lime tree orchards and University of Colima at Tecoman
January 23: Today I went with Chema on a site visit to some of the Mexican lime tree orchards where he and Dr. Palma are working, using an integrated biodynamic approach to address Diaphorina citri and HLB disease. The two professors made a presentation about this research at the 2012 North American Biodynamic Conference. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to visit the orchards in person. This was followed by tour of the University of Colima at Tecoman.
Diplomado Agricultura Biodinamica, Huerta de Vinci, Cuernavaca
January 24: The next leg of the journey took me to Cuernavaca, a two-hour bus ride south of Mexico City. Over breakfast Berenice Escobar and Pedro Cruz discussed current and past Camino Verde projects and Pedro’s experience of applying biodynamics at his ranch. We then visited the Camino Verde office, biodynamic preparation storage area, and Cuernavaca Waldorf School.
January 24-26: It was an honour and pleasure to participate in the fourth and final session of a biodynamic `diplomado`at La Huerta de Vinci in Cuernavaca. Organized by Camino Verde, the course included a balance of activities and topics such as the esoteric background of biodynamics, practical aspects, calendar rhythms, geometry, and clay modelling of Platonic solids. Over twenty participants attended, including both newcomers and farmers with extensive biodynamic experience.
Rancho Ecoturistico Campo Real, Atotonilco
January 27: Berenice Escobar, Pedro Cruz, and myself travelled to Atotonilco, to visit the farm of Abdias Sanchez Barrera — Rancho Ecoturistico Campo Real. Abdias is five years into the process of converting his lands to biodynamic management. Prior to this they were farmed chemically for over thirty-eight years. He is doing applied research, from a practical business perspective, of how to convert to biodynamics while maintaining a viable business. He views the switch to biodynamics as a long-term investment.
At this point, Abdias has 1.4 of his fifty hectares of land in alfalfa production. Next, the alfalfa area will be converted to vegetable production. The remainder of the land is currently fallow, being given time to rest. All is being treated with biodynamic preparations. Most of the alfalfa is sold for horse feed. One of the main customers, a high-end horse trainer who competes in the United States, visited the farm with us.
Abdias would like his farm to become a demonstration research site where people in the region could learn how to change to biodynamic methods. He suggested there should be a demonstration farm like that in every region of Mexico, as the climate and ecosystems vary greatly across the country.
This post describes only a few biodynamic initiatives. There are many more across Mexico — including the first biodynamic coffee plantation, Finca Irlanda in Chiapas. Throughout this journey, it was energizing to be with people with such warmth, enthusiasm, and openness. I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped organize events, provided and prepared food, and contributed to the discussions. Gracias a todos!
For more information, see the Mexico contacts on our regional groups page and visit the Camino Verde website. If you are part of a biodynamic initiative in Mexico and would like to be added to the regional groups page, please contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Weber is the Research Program Coordinator for the Biodynamic Association. Based in Squamish, Cascadia, Sarah conducted a biodynamic apprenticeship at C-Dar Lodge Farm, has long taken part in biodynamic preparation making, and organized and helped teach biodynamic courses. In order to see how biodynamics is practiced and understood as widely as possible, she has traveled to attend an array of biodynamic workshops and conferences. She is motivated to explore applications of biodynamics in agriculture, forestry, and land restoration.
By Lily Frey, with photos by Luke Frey
Originally published in the December 2013 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC), this is the second in a series of articles relating to what Luke Frey has coined “The Agricultural Culinary Folk Arts” (www.freywine.com). See the first installment, by Christian Saretzki, here.
Welcome to the Primrose Café!
Squirrel Nut-kin crackers with dancing air bacteria, fine fruit,
aged dairy and prideful pesto
Small green leaves with finery and a lemon gowning
Oven roasted bird with yellow flower sauce and pollinators gold,
served on a bed of Irelands Favorites
Transparently rice with all finery, including plant of egg and other peter rabbit donations
Lemon basil san dia
Roasted garden pockets with goodness busting forth and pre-pickle relishing
Served with: Infused elixer of life
Dessert: Sun milk with food of the goods in a cup
Today is a special day. The Primrose Café only opens on someone’s birthday and today is someone’s birthday! I’m in the kitchen and there are five minutes until the first course will be served. Around me are chopped vegetables, fragrant fruits, ground spices, and blessed salt. Food, in all colors and states of preparation: sizzling sautéing delights, simmering bubbling sweetness, golden hot baking, and things cooling carefully. The head waiter and only waiter is a little person. He is getting the plates ready and excitedly saying, “Is it time yet?” again and again, and again.
Smells waft out the window to a group of people in a orchard sitting around a well set table. There are bright zinnias blooming, and a peach-colored rose bush looking lovely. The people about to be served have just gotten a poetry prompt, and are stretching themselves creatively, with pens, paper, and inwardness. An orchard surrounds The Primrose Café, its branches reaching and swaying, offering sweet apples to eager hands. Stretching out beyond the small orchard to one side are gardens filled with the abundance of late summer: rows of carrots, jungles of tomatoes, dark green basil, forests of kale punctuated by vibrant calendula, and borage flowers. Red beets, yellow chard, and lettuces grow eagerly with radishes, fennel, and dandelion in a hidden garden of life and vitality. Looking past the bee hives on the other side of the orchard, three Jersey cows peacefully rest, awaiting their evening hay. Beyond this, a small flock of meat chickens drink whey from those cows.
And then the young little waiter blows the horn to announce the beginning of the meal. With apron on, he proudly flourishes the first course. The food is displayed beautifully, for what is there to life if we can not experience and create beauty? Then, there is the freshness, all grown within sight of where we sit: aromatic, uplifting herbs; dark energizing greens; spry orange carrots; cheery cherry tomatoes; and cooling, crispy, cucumbers. The list is endless, and the courses are as well.
Each dish is brought separately, in carefully arranged small portions, so that it can be fully appreciated. It is exciting for the guests to guess what might be coming next. They see the menu at the beginning, but its descriptions are enigmatic enough to pique curiosity. And as the little waiter brings out the courses, the mystery is slowly revealed: Oven-roasted bird with yellow flower sauce and pollinators’ gold becomes a tangy and rich honey-mustard chicken. A nutty green salad bursting with healthful herbs and topped by a lemon vinaigrette. For an interlude to these courses we serve a lemon basil watermelon slushy, a pleasing palette cleanser. Then, roasted pockets become a roasted pepper stuffed with cheese, vegetables, and seeds with a cucumber relish. The meal is concluded by a homemade fruit ice cream, for which the waiter joins the table.
Our lives revolve around meals, and eating from the earth’s abundance that literally rests beneath our feet. At the Primrose Café, all the food is tied to the land. In this way each dish becomes a story—something beyond what we see on plates and in pots. Everything we eat is an intricate and interconnected character in a saga of sun, seasons, and spirit. But the Primrose Café is not just about food and having it come right from where we sit. It is also about striving for the best, the most beautiful. This includes how the food is grown and cooked, and it also includes how we eat it. There is always some kind of creative expression before the meal—a poetry prompt, creative writing, or music. It is about breaking out of habits and experiencing a meal in a fresh way. Every moment of our lives is a chance to be inspired and work for the best. In my mind, mealtimes and cooking are a perfect opportunity to work on ourselves as well as the food we create. After all, the kitchen is a place of alchemy and transformation.
At The Primrose Café, we strive to meet the moment of the meal with full appreciation and a wholeness of experience. We attend to all elements that became the meal. Often, when we eat a quick lunch on the go or pull together something for a late dinner, we are not fully present in gratitude and we do not recognize the miracle of the human’s relation to his environment. I realize, at some meals, that I am not actually listening to the person across from me. In fact, I am not responding to what they say, but instead I already have something in mind to say. The Primrose Café attempts to cultivate not only the relation between food and man, but also strives to enrich our interactions with each other. It is not about a particular formula or recipe to becoming awake. Rather, it is about maintaining an interest in life and never falling into the automatic. It is about questioning our actions, and measuring them against our ideal of the highest actions. And this attitude of awake interest and questioning can be brought into every aspect of life. How did I awake this morning? What were my first thoughts? First words to a family member? How did I react when I saw the weather or organized my day? And because we must eat every day, the kitchen and meals are a perfect time to really focus in on how we hold ourselves in the world. So next time you’re in the kitchen ask questions and pay attention to the answers. Where was that harvested and when? How was that harvested and by whom? Or how can I use this vegetable in a new and unfamiliar way? How does this make me feel or affect me? This is what the Primrose Café is about: slowing down, creating new things from what’s in season, and conversely creating new things and thoughts from within ourselves.
By Ambra Sedlmayr, Reto Ingold, and Ueli Hurter
Photos: taken by Melchior Pfeil at the biodynamic school in India where he spent the past year helping with hands-on teaching and with the farm work.
The decision to spend a year abroad or to host someone for a year needs to be well considered. Preparing for it and making the move takes some time. Although the set-off phase of the project is therefore longer than expected, we have verified a slow but steadily increasing interest from young biodynamic graduates. Pioneer projects were much less reserved from the start! We now have 11 accredited pioneer projects: they are based all over the world. In South America the range varies from Patagonia (Argentina) to Mexico; in Africa there are five projects; the fewest applications came from Asia; some came from the periphery of Europe. There are small family-run farms that want to get into biodynamics, rural and social development projects needing help with the extension and support work they provide for disadvantaged farmers, biodynamic training centers in their early years, and biodynamic gardens in development connected to Steiner schools or socio-therapeutic institutions.
Melchior Pfeil, our first official and fully fledged ambassador returned from his year in India. A German theosophy graduate is now studying biodynamics to be able to take up Melchior’s place in the Inba Seva Sangam project in India, starting next autumn.
The cooperation with the Friends of Waldorf Education is developing further. They are starting an incoming program for people who want to come to Germany and work on biodynamic farms. This is another way that knowledge can be transferred to pioneer projects far away. The voluntary workers on German biodynamic farms can certainly take a lot of know-how back home. To deepen that know-how, we plan to work in cooperation with German biodynamic trainings and offer some twenty days of biodynamic training to the incoming volunteers.
This year we have also been able to move the idea of “senior ambassadors” forward. We have received a number of inquiries of people with much experience in biodynamic agriculture who would like to support pioneer projects abroad with a short-term stay (up to two months). Some pioneer projects have specific questions, such as how to make good compost using biodynamic methods, but are not able to host an ambassador for an entire year. Connecting the experienced “seniors” with projects has become a further area of work of the Biodynamic Ambassadors project. Marco Brutschin, a gardening teacher in a Swiss Waldorf school, will be traveling for two months to Colombia to help an organic dairy and vegetable garden to introduce biodynamic methods. We are looking for financial support to help a senior ambassador go to Kplaimé in Togo, where they are introducing biodynamic methods as a way of fighting chemical agriculture in a community project. They found biodynamics to be a real alternative that resonates with the people’s cultural undersanding of nature. We would like to twin up this and other projects with a farm or project in Europe that is interested in continuous exchange and supporting their work.
News about the project is now communicated via the BINGN newsletter, and we have been invited to make regular contributions to the newsletter Biodynamics in the World. We have been able to help out and connect a number of people during this past year.
At the upcoming Agriculture Conference at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, we will host our second Biodynamic Ambassadors open meeting. This will be held on Thursday the 6th of February from 3.15 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. (the room will be announced in the conference reader). Anyone interested in this project is warmly welcome!
by Jeff Schreiber
The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.
– Paul Cezanne
We in the Midwest were blessed this season by the extended visit of biodynamic researcher and consultant Bruno Follador. In May, with fellow instructor Angela Curtes, Bruno gave a hands-on overview of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s farm-scale hot controlled fermentation compost process. From November 1-3, he “dwelved” (his wonderful word!) deeper into all things cosmic and compost at the workshop “More Humus, More Humanity: Insights and Practices out of Biodynamic Agriculture.” From the first night’s lecture it was clear – to the diverse group of farmers, gardeners, teachers, orchardists, and others assembled – that Bruno was not going to just come right out and give us his insights; we’d have to work for them.
Through stories, poems, exercises, a movie, and wonderful living language – through portraying rather than explaining – Bruno carefully built up a picture of the whole issue at hand. These lyrics from the Canadian singer-songwriter Feist, for example, were displayed throughout the workshop with a series of images for us to ponder:
The mountain, the mountain
Came to recognize
Its steep and rocky sides
More than realized
The issue at hand? Our thinking. One simple exercise, in which we viewed an image that first appeared to be random dots arranged in a circle, served to illustrate the complex process that plays out in our minds when observing phenomena.
Upon receiving the image, some began to rotate it to and fro, trying to catch its orientation. Most jumped into the task with zeal – curious, engrossed, excited about the challenge. Some, clearly, found it tedious; they were “above” such games, perhaps. Whispers revealed that some searched their memories for help, or sought for a sort of comparative analysis in their attempt at comprehension. Wild guesses from some, or an attempt to squint and hold the image closer or farther from one’s eyes. A few, here and there, discovered the image and appeared noticeably relieved, satisfied. Others appeared less excited, more tense, annoyed. Finally, when most seemed to have found it – or at least were too embarrassed to admit they hadn’t – the riddle was announced: “a giraffe!” Hiding in the apparently random collection of dots was the coherent image of a giraffe’s head.
Everything beckons to us to perceive it,
murmurs at every turn ‘Remember me!’
– Rainer Maria Rilke
What happened in this process, we wondered? What happened at that moment when our perception of random dots magically aligned itself into a conception of a giraffe’s head? If we just perceived (“to take the truth,” in German, the multi-lingual Bruno explained) would we ever see the giraffe? With just an organizing idea or concept of a giraffe, would we see anything at all? What is it that unites percept and concept? Bruno coaxed us to the significance of these ideas, this awareness of the process of thinking: too often we approach the world by jumping to explanations or slapping on ready-made and rigid concepts, instead of giving the things we come across time and space to speak to us as they are. Instead of going out to sensuously and empathically meet the real, living beings in the world, we instead retreat into some imagined and distanced “objective” intellect. From there, we “thing the world,” to use Craig Holdrege’s phrase. All phenomena become merely things “out there,” things to manipulate, exploit, and control. Here, in this worldview, is where the horrors of our world begin: soil becomes just an inert medium for root growth. Chickens: just cuts of meat. Water: just molecules. Land: just a commodity. People: just collections of genes.
Chances are, like me, you are probably not even conscious of the extent to which this thinking influences your worldview. Presenters like Bruno and Holdrege (who is the director of The Nature Institute, and whose new book on this subject, Thinking Like a Plant, is much recommended) can be helpful in making one aware of such “object thinking,” and in moving toward a more “living thinking” (Holdrege’s terms). Bruno, in the living way in which he speaks – gestures – about composting, models this awake, aware thinking: The pile is not merely a mechanism or thing composed of thing-like materials, it is on its way to becoming a being, a whole. It needs a proper form, a proper body, just as we do.
There is no “recipe” of a certain amount of “greens” and “browns;” one must rather pay attention and develop a personal relationship to the materials that make up the pile, and to the pile itself as it ages. (“She’s a wise one!” said Bruno of a particularly lovely and mature pile). The pile itself is the teacher, one learns by “taking the truth” and orienting oneself to the living pile and the processes and forces behind it, around it, within it. Answers can be found in the intervals and participations between parts. The four elements are “wonderful helpers” in this process, in seeing the pile as whole. “How are you formed/ing?” is the prevailing attitude, not “Why?” As Bruno describes it, the pile seems more verb than noun, really.
The whole problem is primarily a moral one.
– Ehrenfried Pfeiffer
As the workshop came to a close, we brought our burning questions to the group. What role do we play in the life of the earth? Given the atrocities we’ve committed – the species extinct, the rivers fouled, the land scorched – would not the earth be better off without us? Such a sentiment, though understandable, can only be the result of object thinking. We cannot “opt out” of our participation in nature, regardless of how hard we imagine it to be just a “bunch of things” to which we needn’t have any moral obligation. No, Bruno explained, we must take responsibility. The very act of observation is a moral act, he stressed. Most people, I think, understand this at some level. Even in our intermediated, Facebook-ed world one can still sometimes become aware of and connect with something or someone as they are (as opposed to how we would like them to be). A smile, a certain look, a touch. It becomes harder to distance ourselves once such a connection is made, harder not to feel morally committed. This sense of responsibility, as most farmers know, only increases the more you pay attention, the more you remain true to what you see, the more you become enmeshed in a place. This is why it’s important that the use of land is granted to those who exercise an alive, participatory thinking.
The revolution we so badly need won’t come through new laws or economic policies. No, it will come, in philosopher David Abram’s words, “through a rejuvenation of our carnal sensorial empathy with the living land that sustains us.” It will come through free people paying ever greater attention – little by little, day by day – to the phenomena that surrounds them: carrots, compost, other people. The element that is decisive is human consciousness, human thinking. By the end of the workshop, an image had emerged for me from Bruno’s pictures and gestures. In it, thousands of small farms blossomed across the land, like so many wildflowers in a prairie. Each was a unique, living organism, part of its place; none were the same. Each had a compost pile at its center, its heart. And around these farms myriad beings coalesced, forming through their openness and attention new, living communities, new wholes, new beings.
Jeff Schreiber received a scholarship from the Biodynamic Scholarship Fund to attend “More Humus, More Humanity.” Jeff farms at Three Sisters Community Farm in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, a community-oriented farm serving the greater Milwaukee area.
By Robert Karp
Executive Director, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Some of you may be aware of the storied history of Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, one of the first and most innovative community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in North America. I had the great pleasure to visit the farm this October and wanted to share a report of the growth and progress of this beautiful and important farm.
Started by biodynamic farmers Trauger Groh, Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and a host of community members in the mid-1980s, the farm is known for pioneering a unique (some would call it “archetypal”) form of CSA, rooted deeply in the social and economic ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
At Temple-Wilton, for example, there is not an equal, evenly distributed share price. Rather, members attend an annual meeting each year to review and discuss the farm’s total budget and decide what amount they each feel they can contribute to that budget. Each member writes down his or her proposed financial offering on a piece of paper; if those sums don’t add up to meet the annual budget, then the members go around again and offer additional sums until the budget is met. The process, in other words, is highly participatory, communal, and transparent.
This model of CSA has so many benefits. First of all, it liberates everyone, farmers and eaters alike, from the notion that they are buying and selling produce. Instead, it fosters the consciousness among the members that they are making gifts to support the continued existence of the farm as a whole and that the produce they receive in return is a gift. But it also models transparency, through the fact that the farm finances and the plans for the farm each year are made completely transparent to the members, who have a chance to give input and raise questions. A true gift economy is thus being developed that harmonizes the different interests and need of the farmers, the land, and the community.
For those who want to find out more about their unique approach to CSA, I strongly encourage you to read “A Brief History of the Farm” on their website, the seminal book Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, and Steven McFadden’s wonderful history of the CSA movement.
I was thrilled to discover on this trip that Temple-Wilton has more and more become a year-round CSA that can meet the bulk of a family’s food needs, offering their members everything from pork, beef, chicken, eggs, raw milk, and cheese to vegetables throughout the year, not to mention fruit, bread, and other products from local affiliated farms. Members can stop by the farm at any time to pick up the food they need.
And consider this: the average contribution to the farm per household of two adults is $200 a month to the farm. Friends, this is not CSA as a trendy addition to one’s lifestyle, this is CSA as a core commitment to one’s health, to the health of one’s local community, and to the health of the planet.
The farm made a strong impression on me. The animals and the fields looked extraordinarily healthy and the whole place smelled wonderful: the perfect balance of the earthly and the cosmic, like fine wine, wonderfully made compost, or fresh-baked bread. How amazing it would be, I thought, to get the majority of one’s food from one vital, self-sustaining biodynamic farm organism. Imagine the impact on one’s health after seven years of nourishing one’s body from such a farm organism and renewing all one’s cells thereby.
It was also wonderful to see how the farm has grown over the last decade. Many new parcels of land have been acquired, making the farm ever more self-sufficient in terms of fertility and feed. All this land has been purchased with gifts from the local community and is secured long term by easements and/or land trust ownership. There is a new café on the farm, which fosters a wonderful social element. The farm is also growing its commitment to farm-based education of children and youth from local schools.
New farmers have also found a home on the farm or in the surrounding community, and this younger generation appears to be playing a stronger and stronger role—starting new enterprises and holding out new visions for the future. I had wonderful meetings, for example, with Brad Miller, who works for High Mowing, a local Waldorf board high school, who is working to secure key additional parcels of land that would allow High Mowing to strengthen its farm-based education programs and provide important additional land for the growth of Temple-Wilton Community Farm.
The impression of the farm and community is thus one of growing maturity—evolving from high-integrity food production through innovative social arrangement to becoming more and more a center for community life and cultural renewal.
I am also deeply gratified to report that I spent a good deal of time with a hale and healthy Lincoln Geiger, who just a year ago had been severely injured by a bull. Lincoln reports that the accident was transformational for his inner life, and he shared deep gratitude for the many people in the biodynamic movement who supported him with their thoughts and prayers. Trauger and Alice Groh are also still intimately involved in the work, nourishing the deep spiritual foundations for the community. They are currently seeking a new farmer for their land; we hope to publish a formal announcement of this opportunity in our forums soon.
Robert Karp is the Executive Director of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and a long-time social entrepreneur in the sustainable food and farming movement. Robert has helped start numerous innovative food projects, including CSAs, farmers’ markets, institutional buying projects and farmer-buyer-consumer alliances. He is also the founder of New Spirit Farmland Partnerships, LLC, which helps organic and sustainable farmers acquire farmland by linking them with ethical investors. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two children.