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The Farmer as Cultural Worker

January 7, 2015

Originally printed in the Three Sisters Community Farm newsletter.


By Jeff Schreiber

IMG_1610 (1280x960)Farmers are, perhaps foremost, workers in the sphere of the economy. They turn the stuff of nature into goods which meet people’s material needs. They run farm businesses. In their work they are economical and efficient; the inefficient farmer won’t last long.

But the farmer can also be, if they choose, a craftsman or artist. He or she then becomes a worker in the cultural sphere. In this sphere one works out of the needs of one’s own soul, out of a sense of their own unique individuality, morality, and creativity. This is the inner impulse that brings many to farming in the first place — an unexplained calling arises in someone, a desire to work with and co-create with the natural world, or to fix what is a broken but fundamental part of society.

Increasingly, there is the feeling that the products of cultural workers — different from the products of economic workers — should be free, that a price tag on an expression of soul is somehow incongruent. So, a musician like Amanda Palmer (who believes all music should be “unlocked… shared and spread”) offers her musical creations free for the taking. She also asks those who feel compelled for monetary help so she can meet her needs and go on making music. When she asked for $100,000 of help for a new album and tour in 2012 on Kickstarter, her supporters raised 12 times that amount.

In so far as they are cultural workers, farmers are, I think, free to ask for such support as well. But crowdfunding sites can conceal the most important role of the cultural worker: in exchange for freedom to create, the artist must listen to and address in their work the needs of soul of the community as a whole. This is the great responsibility of cultural workers. The best of them can grasp the needs of a time and place and create expressions that touch us deeply on a collective level.

So, what are the cultural needs of our time that farms and farmers can address? Each farm community is different, but there are still some general trends: the fancy webpage, the smiling farm family on the package. Most people are not satisfied by such greenwashing. They crave the real. They want a direct connection — an actual relationship — with the farmers and the farm from where their food comes. A small, community-based farm can offer those relationships, and through them some of the anxieties of modern eaters can be addressed: Am I, in my food choices, complicit in environmental harm? Am I a supporter of unjust farm labor practices? Is this food safe for my children? The very notion of food consumerism — passive, unconscious and soul-deadening — can be changed on a farm that strives to meet the cultural needs of its supporters into something active and alive. Together, on a farm, people can move from mere consumers to creators, working together to create something positive, relevant, and enduring in their community.

There’s been much handwringing of late about the economic status of small farmers. The solution from most is to increase one’s focus on the economic and material: get more efficient, make more profit. But what happens if the farmer becomes, foremost, a worker in the sphere of culture? What if, in getting the culture right, the economy rights itself?


Farmers Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer met while working at Wellspring, a Milwaukee-area farm-based educational organization. In 2011 they started Three Sisters Community Farm on Kelly’s family’s land in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, a community-oriented farm serving the greater Milwaukee area. Through their community supported agriculture (CSA) program, farmers’ markets, and other direct-to-consumer sales, they meet the needs of those who seek quality, organically-grown food, and a connection with the source of this food, while also treading lightly on the earth and providing for themselves a quality and balanced lifestyle.

Will Wisconsin Supreme Court Uphold Food Freedom?

December 4, 2014

By Gayle Loiselle

Originally published by TheCompletePatient.com (Oct.15, 2014) and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (Oct. 18, 2014).

For prior posts on the Zinniker Farm case, see “Wisconsin Judge Denies Basic Property Rights and Food Choice” (Oct. 4, 2011) and “Wholly Without Merit: No Right to Food Choice” (Oct. 20, 2011).


Zinniker Farm, the oldest continually operating biodynamic farm in the U.S. and one of the three appealing farms

Zinniker Farm, the oldest continually operating biodynamic farm in the U.S. and plaintiffs in one of the the cases before the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Three Wisconsin farms now have petitions for review before the state’s Supreme Court—all challenging the legality and constitutionality of contracts between farmers, private citizens and private food groups to acquire or provide fresh unpasteurized milk. The appeals are admittedly long shots, but all concerned decided that the underlying Constitutional principles made the cases worth pursuing before the state’s highest court.

Two of the cases, the Zinniker and Grassway petitions, were filed on Monday, October 6, 2014. The Vernon Hershberger petition was filed in August, 2014. All three cases are represented by the attorneys of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth Rich and David Cox.

Grassway Organics Farm Store, owned by Wayne and Kay Craig from New Holstein, Wisconsin, filed for Declaratory Judgment against the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), maintaining they had all the necessary licensing to provide raw milk to members of their private farm store. However, over the years DATCP has repeatedly changed its interpretation of state statutes and licensing stipulations, ultimately making it impossible for Grassway plaintiffs to comply. Then-Judge Patrick J. Fiedler, agreed with DATCP that they were in violation of licensing requirements and ruled against Grassway plaintiffs, as did the Court of Appeals.

Vernon Hershberger’s case was tried before a jury, which found nothing wrong with Vernon providing raw milk for members of his private food club. He was found not guilty on three counts of license violations, but was found guilty on a fourth count of violating a DATCP holding order. Because the jury was kept from seeing and hearing all of the facts, Hershberger appealed the guilty count, which was denied.

The Zinniker Plaintiffs, farmers Mark and Petra Zinniker, represent a third model of direct farm-to-consumer business whereby an LLC (limited liability company) purchased the Zinnikers’ entire herd of cows at market value and paid the Zinnikers to board and manage them. Zinniker shareholders, who are among the plaintiffs, then filed for Declaratory Judgment against DATCP, asking a judge to uphold their rights and declare their business arrangement legal. The motion was denied by the circuit court and the appellate court refused to rule on the constitutionality of their rights, and diverted the issue to license violations. In siding with DATCP, the judges claimed the business contracts were void because the Zinnikers did not have a milk producers license.

Thousands of Wisconsin citizens disagree with the rulings in all three cases. The U.S. Constitution’s Ninth Amendment reads, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” It does not say you can sell food from a farm directly to neighbors and community members only so long as you have a license! These citizens maintain they have a constitutional right to choose what they eat, and to choose where that food comes from. And that farmers and citizens have the right to exchange money or work for food, without government interference, and without a middleman, such as food processors or distributors.

In 2010, an unprecedented 800-plus people voiced their opinion at a public hearing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in support of legislation that allowed for on-farm sales of raw milk, which later comfortably passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Doyle.

How can something like that happen, where many thousands of people and their legislative representatives are for something very straightforward like the right to obtain a food of their choosing, and it is denied? It bears drawing on the Declaration of Independence, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it”. That veto clearly shows the disconnect between the rights and freedoms of the people and our political system.

Part of the problem is we live in an advocacy-based society that on some level is sincerely concerned about public safety. We have regulators educated by industry-sponsored textbooks that teach nonsense like “bacteria are bad” and “GMOs will feed the world.” Moreover, some of these misguided regulators honestly believe they are protecting people. And unfortunately, we also have legislative and judicial systems that are heavily influenced by campaign contributions and personal career goals.

All those factors together have created overreaching government agencies directed by overly emboldened politicians and bureaucrats who use overly dependent populations to support an overly entitled industry. Which translates into industry dictating policy, that in turn becomes administrative law, and is then blindly enforced by agencies led by political appointees.

Just to go back in time…

Three weeks before ex-judge Patrick J. Fiedler started his new career as a trial attorney at a law firm that represents Monsanto in patent infringement cases, he responded to the Zinniker Plaintiffs’ motion for clarification saying:

  • no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd;
  • no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;
  • no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farmer;no, the Zinniker Plaintiffs’ private contract does not fall outside the scope of the State’s police powers;
  • no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.

According to this absurd ruling, we can only eat what the government tells us we can, and farmers can only grow or raise government-regulated food. So, because a judge with an over inflated idea of his own power said it is so, the authorities are ready and willing to enforce it. To the point of armed raids on peaceful farms.

This acting out of self-imposed power among judges is not uncommon. I’ll never forget the shock I felt while sitting in the courtroom during Vernon Hershberger’s trial listening to Judge Guy Reynolds admonish the attorneys and witnesses (after the jury was sent from the room) that the words “liberty and raw milk” were not to be spoken in his court room. According to DATCP and Reynolds, the law required prosecuting Vernon on license violations, and it just didn’t matter that facts of the case were specifically about raw milk and liberty.

I have children whose lives I am responsible for, with futures I’m deeply concerned about. And I fear for the health of our planet and its ability to provide for us all. To take away people’s right to self-reliance, to live sustainably, to look after their own health; to take away people’s right to be responsible for themselves and their families to feed themselves…is wrong on many levels, and will inevitably result in a weak, sick, ignorant, dependent and easily manipulated population.

So for now, the question of food rights is in the hands of the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The way I see it, the Justices have a choice; cave in to political pressure and deflect the issue as the lower courts have done, or agree to review these three cases on the merits of constitutionality that pits food profit against food freedom.

Prison Gardens: Systems Change from the Ground Up

November 4, 2014

By Beth Waitkus
All photos from the flower and vegetable gardens at San Quentin Prison


The power of gardens to transform lives could be no more evident than in a place as desolate as a prison. In colorless, environmentally and culturally harsh environments, prison gardens cultivate a sacred oasis of hope and the possibility of change.

Beth & Guys in Flower Garden 2013

More than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, with a national recidivism rate of 76%. According to Attorney General Eric Holder: “…although incarceration has a role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state and local levels is both ‘ineffective and unsustainable.’ It imposes a significant economic tax burden – totaling $80 billion in 2010 alone — and it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate.”

Although serving just a tiny percentage of the overall prison population, the Insight Garden Program (IGP) has worked with more than 1,000 people in two California prisons (with plans to expand nationally) — restoring lives through connection to nature.

Veggie Garden no peopleJPG

Combining outdoor whole systems gardening with an in-depth, ecological and systems-based curriculum, IGP has seen a deep drop in recidivism of its participants to 10% — compared to California’s 70%. It has also helped to seed a national prison garden movement from the ground up.

Recent research, featuring two control groups as well as IGP participants at San Quentin Prison, demonstrated that prison gardens and associated programming can profoundly contribute to transformative values re-identification, which is integral to a rehabilitative experience that inspires lasting change.

Flower Garden

Nature’s impact on the human spirit is magical. At San Quentin, men tend to a 1,200-square-foot organic flower garden, as well as a raised bed organic vegetable garden, with great care —nurturing plants, petting the bees, and naming the bugs. Diverse teams of people work together in an open flower garden on the prison yard with no fear of retribution from others, because the prison garden there is considered “neutral” territory and, indeed, sacred space.

When people in prison “tend” to the garden, they also start to tend to themselves and each other. They collectively become a community of care. As their sense of interconnectedness with all living things grows (by design), people shift from an egoistic “me” to a more interdependent “we,” reconnecting with family, community, and the natural world.

Finishing Veggie Garden Nov 2013

Charles Veggie Garden

In the ecosystem of a garden, people learn what strategies do and don’t support life and how their behavior can affect larger, living systems. Insights from the garden can then be transferred into a deeper understanding of one’s own internal systems and how one shows up in the world — a first step in shifting deeply rooted patterns of behavior from reaction to response.

Prison gardens can also have unintended, positive outcomes on a larger scale. When building the raised bed organic vegetable garden at San Quentin, everyone from administration to custody officers got involved. Prison officers proudly named it the “Victory Garden” because it was finally built after a long five-year approval process. Progress was only possible because of the program’s collaborative approach to change with all stakeholders. Indeed, prisoners aren’t the only ones benefiting from growing living systems inside prison walls.

Yarrow Mixed

Harvesting

Beyond California, a significant movement to “green prisons” is also sprouting…from Washington to Indiana and Ohio and the East Coast. The magic of bringing whole garden systems, composting, and green trades to prisons is that administrators begin to understand the economic, social, and environmental benefits of sustainable, holistic practices. And people living in prison can learn the life and work skills necessary to become leaders in their communities, productive members of society, and stewards of the environment.

And in prisons, restoration of lives through gardening is gaining support from the ground up! As Henry David Thoreau once said, “Show me you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”


Beth Waitkus is the Founder and Director of the Insight Garden Program, which is currently planning for national expansion. IGP is a sponsor of the 2014 Biodynamic Conference.

Learn more in person at the IGP’s exhibit November 14 and 15 at the 2014 Biodynamic Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

From Parking Lot to Urban School Farm

July 21, 2014

By Jeremy Tackett

Agriculture Arts Instructor, Mountain Song Community School


The urban farm at Mountain Song Community School (©Kirsten Young)

The urban farm at Mountain Song Community School (©Kirsten Young)

It takes a special kind of community to support a farmer who wants to take an acre-and-a-half, road-base parking lot and nurture it into an urban farm with biodynamics. At Mountain Song Community School, a public charter school that follows Waldorf methods in Colorado Springs, Colorado, such a community exists and is pulling together to raise awareness concerning a priority for all of us our food and how its grown.

Now, when you want to grow things au naturale, you need soil. And if you don’t have it, you grow it — at least that’s what this farmer thinks.

To do that, we started our first year with sixty straw bales, sprayed them with Demeter-certified nutrients from Progress Earth, and grew a small amount of produce directly in those bales. Come December, that used straw was the base for our fifteen-foot-diameter by seven-foot-tall compost windrow. The other main contributor was compost from our all-organic food program, layered with the used bedding and animal manure from our chickens, rabbits, and goats. That pile had the biodynamic preparations inserted into it this May, was turned the end of June, and will be used in September.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

We also ordered our first-year seeds from Turtle Tree Seed and started the preparation plants immediately, thinking that as much as possible should come from our farm. The preparation plants were transplanted into two circles twenty-five feet in diameter, where we slowly but surely, by hand, used a pickaxe and shovel to get down to the clay. We amended those circles with some local, organic, and free compost, and we are slowly developing the circles into our permaculture food forests.

Along with the preparation plants and asparagus, rhubarb, and horseradish, we have a variety of herbs, most of which are grown with the intent of being the herbal first-aid kit for our critters.

We grow calendula to make an udder salve, wormwood to keep the worms at bay, garlic for its antibacterial properties, and raspberry leaf for birthing and lactation, among others.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

For the time being, the food we grow is given to our weekly volunteer families, and a larger amount will find its way to our cooking arts classroom, giving the children a true “farm to table” experience. A goal this year is also to grow a small amount for our animals, which means growing amaranth, other grains, and sprouts for our chickens; keeping weeds in check with our rabbits; and having the children make the stalks from the corn, along with other plants, into silage for our goats.

Starting our second year, we are fortunate to have our valerian flowering, to have been gifted twelve horns from a local natural rancher to make preparations 500 and 501, and to have a community that is curious about biodynamics.

By the end of the year, we should be successful in burying all of our preparations, and all the plant matter (except for the oak bark) will have come from our parking lot, our paradise, our farm.

(©Kirsten Young)

(©Kirsten Young)

Farmer Jeremy Tackett (©Jack Roberts)

Farmer Jeremy Tackett (©Jack Roberts)

On the Road: Alternative Economic Models in Ann Arbor

July 17, 2014

By Rebecca Briggs
Communications Coordinator, Biodynamic Association


Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Biodynamic Association Executive Director Robert Karp recently drove from the BDA’s home city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the Threefold Community in Chestnut Ridge, New York. Along the way he stopped to visit gardens and give talks on “Land, Labor, Capital and the Future of the Food Movement” at the Great Lakes Branch of the Anthroposophical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Till Dynamic Fare in Columbus, Ohio.

In a perfect complement to his presentations, Robert was able to visit two very different models of alternative economic set-ups — the Community Farm of Ann Arbor and Zingerman’s Cornman Farms — each of which, in a very different way, embodies some of Rudolf Steiner’s social-economic ideas.

Community Farm of Ann Arbor

Now in its twenty-sixth year, the Community Farm of Ann Arbor (CFA) was one of the early adopters of community supported agriculture (CSA) and is a strong proponent of biodynamic agriculture. They began down the CSA path in the mid-80s by bringing Trauger Groh (who started one of the first two CSA farms in 1985 at Temple-Wilton Community Farm) to speak, after which they started their own CSA. CFA members are not simply consumers, but rather are true supporters of the farm, sharing in “a vision and a commitment to the health of people and the land” and providing both financial and moral support. Indeed, community support was critical to the farm’s ability to secure land through a long-term lease with the Legacy Land Trust, which holds development rights to the land. Over the years they have hosted many apprentices, provided produce for nearly 200 members, and made a wide variety of improvements to the land to bring about the healthy, vibrant farm organism that exists today.

In 2011, the farm helped launch the non-profit Chrysalis Biodynamic Learning Center “to share agricultural understandings through demonstrations, lectures, and practical applications using Biodynamic farming methods” and to demonstrate “to the community at large the advantages of socially and environmentally responsible agriculture and providing a living model of a community-supported enterprise.”

community farm of ann arbor sign

Robert joins in the compost work

Robert joins in the compost work

community farm of ann arbor - work in fields

community farm of ann arbor - gropu shot

community farm of ann arbor - field rows

Biodynamics and a healthy farm

Biodynamics and a healthy farm

Zingerman’s Cornman Farms

Zingerman’s began in 1982 as a delicatessen in Ann Arbor. Over the years it has become a nationally known specialty food store famous for sourcing from local sustainable farms, published a number of books on food and business, and established a unique business model known as the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCOB). As they describe it:

In essence, and with due modesty, Zingerman’s has become an Ann Arbor institution. In building on that success, the standard model would dictate opening dozens, or even hundreds, of additional Delis all over the country. Instead we decided to pursue a more unusual plan, one which we felt would allow us to build on what we’d successfully started while establishing positive growth opportunities for people within our organization. We chose to create what we call the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses—a collection of Zingerman’s businesses, each with its own food specialty, all located in the Ann Arbor area, each working to help make the shopping and eating in every aspect of Zingerman’s more flavorful and more enjoyable than ever. In each business we’ve sought out a managing partner or partners so that there will be someone to bring the day to day passion and persistence that it takes to be really good at anything into play on a day to day basis. Paul and I are there to provide guidance, support, leadership and whatever else we need to do, which includes everything from writing this essay to lots of tasting, tracking down great food, contributing to the community, providing plenty of training classes, leadership work at all levels all the way through clearing tables and emptying the trash.

Through the ZCOB, independent businesses market under one label, meet once a week for partners’ meetings, share their books openly, and often integrate their products and services (e.g. goat milk produced at a ZCOB farm going to the ZCOB creamery and then on to ZCOB restaurants).

The newest Zingerman’s venture is Cornman Farm, which opened this May. This farm will integrate vegetables, goats, and cows and will follow all organic principles. Restored historic buildings on the farm serve as an event center, which can be rented out for weddings and other on-farm events.

Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzweig and Cornman Farms farmer Alex talk with a reporter in the greenhouse

Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig and Cornman Farms farmer Alex talk with a reporter in the greenhouse

Goats at Cornman Farms

Goats at Cornman Farms

Huge kitchen space in the event center

Huge kitchen space in the event center

 

CSA as Involvement in the “Whole Farm”: A Letter to CSA Members

June 23, 2014

By Jeff Schreiber

Originally printed in the June 19, 2014 Three Sisters Community Farm newsletter.


Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer of Three Sisters Community Farm

Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer of Three Sisters Community Farm

On our website you’ll notice a running tally of where we stand in meeting this year’s budget. To see the details of this budget – what we spend your money on, how much we pay ourselves – check out the February 2014 newsletter.

This transparency is important to us, and is in line with the kind of CSA Kelly and I try to steward. To us, CSA is not just another way to sell vegetables, but rather an exciting and radical attempt at creating an alternative food economy that works for farmers, consumers, and the land.

When you contributed toward this year’s budget, you did so not to buy vegetables. Nor does your contribution pay for our labor. Instead, your contribution supports and connects you to the farm as a whole. As intermediaries between you and the farm, we use your contributions and our skills to steward the whole farm and bring to you, as a gift, the farm’s bounty.

Why involve you in the “whole farm?” Why not just let you buy individual items – like a bunch of carrots – from us, as you would at a grocery store or farmers’ market? The reason is that a bunch of carrots – or beets, peas or carton of eggs – cannot really be disentangled from a farm that is healthy and whole any more than an organ or limb can be disentangled from your body. Everything on the farm is connected by complicated and ever-changing relationships: the carrots to the soil, to the compost that we put on the soil, to the materials we use to make the compost, to the animals that contribute to those materials, to the feed those animals eat, to our labor…and on and on. The farm, with all these complex relationships, is really more of a verb than noun – a living process that emerges from the interaction of all the parts (of which you are one!).

Your contribution gives you a stake in this whole, and together we build an economy out of it. Since we all have a stake in the stewardship of this common resource of the whole farm, it makes little sense that we would abuse it or push it beyond its capacity. Viewing the farm whole, together, is environmental activism. It is also social activism, but that’s a topic for another newsletter.

While we’re always striving to be more economical in all we do, the whole farm does have a limit, a point beyond which it cannot be pushed without breaking down into a loosely strung-together, unsustainable collection of parts. We, your farmers, determine this limit and set the yearly budget accordingly.

IMG_1610 (1280x960)You’ll notice, however, that we have not yet met our budget. And we have filled all available CSA spots; we’ve reached the limit of what we think the whole farm can handle. Our budget shows how we hope to make up the difference: after each week’s CSA harvest we sell, if available, the “buffer” harvest – the extra we plant to account for loss – at the farmers’ market or other outlet. We enter “the market.”

We’d prefer not do this, to be honest. We’d rather serve only those with a stake in the whole and give them the option of taking what they need from the farm’s full bounty. The market is cutthroat, risky, and does not recognize the whole farm. If it rains and no one shows at the farmers’ market, the produce we’ve harvested is wasted (well, it usually becomes chicken food!). If (as happened this week) a restaurant changes its order at the last minute, we haven’t “just” lost 10 lbs. of lettuce mix; the whole farm is affected. To compete in the marketplace, we’d need to focus less on the whole and more on our era’s twin values of successful business: profit and efficiency.

But profit and efficiency have not shown themselves to produce food that really nourishes people. Nor does a striving for these things seem to bring about healthy environments or communities. Given these facts, it would seem sensible to explore alternatives like the kind of CSA you’re a part of. Trying to make this alternative work is an exciting, messy experiment that we’ll keep working on, together. We’re glad you’ve decided to join the ride this season!


Farmers Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer met while working at Wellspring, a Milwaukee-area farm-based educational organization. In 2011 they started Three Sisters Community Farm on Kelly’s family’s land in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, a community-oriented farm serving the greater Milwaukee area. Through their community supported agriculture (CSA) program, farmers’ markets, and other direct-to-consumer sales, they meet the needs of those who seek quality, organically-grown food, and a connection with the source of this food, while also treading lightly on the earth and providing for themselves a quality and balanced lifestyle.

Transformation Inside and Out

June 2, 2014

Studying Biodynamics at Evergreen State College – Part 2

By Karen Davis-Brown

Part 1, “An Agricultural Odyssey into the Future,” described the year-long course offered at Evergreen State College on biodynamics and the students’ ten-day journey to EcoFarm and a whole host of alternative agriculture destinations on the West Coast.


“So gladly, from the songs of modern speech
[We]* turn, and see the stars, and feel the free
Shrill wind beyond the close of heavy flowers,
And through the music of the languid hours,
[We]* hear like ocean on a western beach
The surge and thunder of the Odyssey.”

— Andrew Lang

(©Dianna )

(©Dianna Schilling)

Every odyssey involves transformation for its participants, in the way they perceive the world and other people, and in the new experiences and relationships that are part of their journey. The Evergreen State College students who journeyed to the EcoFarm Conference on the central California coast in January were no exception. And, as many of them were in the last semester of their senior year, the conference also provided a new doorway into how to think about and approach the future.

Though the lenses through which they viewed their shared experiences were unique, their essays and journal entries reflected a common creativity, enthusiasm, and awe that in themselves are awe-inspiring and give one great hope for the future of biodynamics on this continent. There were also common themes regarding what they sought, and accomplished, on this weeklong trek they made with each other, farmers, viviculturalists, food-related activists, and several other students.

Harald Hoven at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

Learning from Harald Hoven at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

The Places and the People

So many people, so many places, in such a short time! It is no wonder that student notes and reflections are in themselves a collage of thoughts, feelings, and intentions. As Rukha Fuerst (who had visited many of the farms previously, on her own personal journey) so aptly put it:

The image of the vortex or the spiral has been particularly potent for me. I felt like I was reaching the center of a spiral during the field trip. Over 10 days I revisited the majority of the people, places, emotional states, and body experiences in totally new ways. I saw lessons that had come to me about patience, compassionate communication, presence, and consideration, resurface.

While the journey south may have been a whirlwind of experiences, the time at EcoFarm seemed to be a focused center of centrifugal and centripetal forces. At this organic conference with a strong biodynamic component, the Evergreen students were able to get a concentrated dose of diverse biodynamic concepts and applications in the pre-conference event “The Farm as a Living Organism,” as well as to see the wide world of organic agriculture in its many manifestations in the larger conference. Their capacity to be simultaneously inspired and to reflect critically on what they heard and experienced stood them in good stead as they moved from workshop to keynote to World Café and less formal conversations, and to the beautiful ceremonies in which they took part.

Stirring the preparations during "The Farm as a Living Organism" pre-conference event (©Joelle )

Stirring the preparations during “The Farm as a Living Organism” pre-conference event (©Joelle Friend)

Visits to the many farms, gardens, and projects up and down the coast complemented the conference with intense and fast-moving “snapshots” of current efforts and future possibilities. Educational, social, environmental, and artistic initiatives blended at most stops in ways that both enthralled and challenged the travelers. These experiences ranged from the social commitment of John Jeavons and the Golden Rule Community to the diversified family “compound” of Frey Vineyards; and from the pioneering efforts of Camphill California and the Allen Chadwick Garden at the University of California at Santa Cruz (spiritual birthplace of many a biodynamic practitioner!) to the courses and trainings offered by Rudolf Steiner College in the Sacramento Valley. From small family farms to the meaningful Sufi ceremony shared with them by Wali Via at Wintergreen Farm, their trip home through Oregon came to a weary but satisfying end.

John Jeavons (©Joelle Friend)

John Jeavons (©Joelle Friend)

Sheep at the Sacramento Waldorf School (©

Sheep at the Sacramento Waldorf School (©Ian Dix)

Poking holes in the compost pile at Camphill California to insert the biodynamic preparations (©Ian Dix)

Poking holes in the compost pile at Camphill California to insert the biodynamic preparations (©Ian Dix)

The Basics

Despite the diversity of people and places that the class visited while sojourning up and down the coast from Washington to Central California, they were presented with an impressive consistency and agreement regarding the basic principles of biodynamic agriculture. This was the case (no surprise, really) even where the operation was not explicitly biodynamic, confirming the observation that most of what Steiner gave us as indications we now know to be sustainable farming practice.

The primary biodynamic principle that was reiterated at almost every stop was the same one that Steiner used as the foundation for the Agriculture lectures – the importance of relating to any agricultural entity as an individual and whole organism. The connection was then consistently made, both at farms and at the conference, between this basic principal and others – the importance of diversity and rhythm, building soil and compost, applying biodynamic preparations, having animals, minimal inputs from outside the farm, the relationship between Earth and Heaven, and the lemniscates of the farmer’s inner and outer work.

Rudolf Steiner often said that we should not take anything he said at face value, but to observe, examine, and be open to others and to the spiritual world in our Search. The students who shared this odyssey not only gathered information, they generated eternally living questions and participated in endlessly nourishing conversations that will stimulate and guide them for a lifetime. Ruekha followed up her comparison of the journey as a vortex with this observation:

I see the vortex shape in the cosmos, clouds, trees, animals, algae, people, skin, and DNA. Do our movements in the world follow the archetype of this shape? What about emotions? – Do emotions form the shape of a vortex? What about thoughts? Is consciousness itself a spiral? And what happens when we reach the center?

Good question.

Flowform at Raphael Garden (© Ian Dix)

Flowform at Raphael Garden (© Ian Dix)

Visiting with Dennis Klocek at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

Visiting with Dennis Klocek at Rudolf Steiner College (©Ian Dix)

The Future

Future plans for this amazing group of students range from the eminently practical to the ideal, from deeply internal work to external expressions of lifelong commitment to the Greater Good:

“I was able to make contacts with perspective employers and make real my ambition of compeleting a biodynamic apprenticeship upon my graduation.” — Dianne Dotzler

“… “Biodynamic Principles and the Inner Path of the Farmer”…was a very interesting workshop to me because I’d just been studying the inner transformations of alchemy and then realized that everything that was being discussed about the inner path of the farmer was directly related to alchemy…. This workshop helped reinforce my understanding of biodynamics in relation to alchemy and the importance of working internally as well as externally.” — Ian Dix

“This was my first encounter with a flowform; it is exciting to finally see one. I plan to do more research on them because I am fascinated with the vortex and spiraling concept of biodynamics, and ‘enlivening the water.'” — Joelle Friend

“I find Henning to be an extremely charismatic and passionate individual. If I could figure out a way to obtain seed money, I would challenge myself to do exactly what Henning has already accomplished. A self-sustaining farm, living within his own means, and doing it biodynamically to boot!! He shared a few words with us — one of them, Oekonomia, meaning the stewardship of the farm and household based on natural principals. Those principles are in place to build natural and social capital. On the other hand, he shared the word Chrematistica, meaning the depletion of natural and social capital to build financial capital. These two words, one with the outcome of sustainability and the other of money really made me step back and think. If I am to pursue farming, who am I doing it for? Why am I farming to begin with? What do I want the outcome to be? These questions will be taken into sleep. ” — Caitlin Spencer

“The trip was something I will cherish forever and I can’t wait to find a home for myself somewhere sunny, with beaches and cute conventions that create community and serve really good, burning hot food. Oh, and surround myself with people who love dirt.” — Ruekha Fuerst

“…in your mind you are a warrior. Work out of the power of your mind, heart, soul, and body and use the talents you possess to mimic and adjust slightly to the Omnipresent, looming influence of nature.” — Dianna Schilling

Thank you, Sarah Williams and Evergreen State College, for making this course and this journey possible. You have changed lives in an exponential way! As more and more corporations and communities understand and accept the contribution that biodynamics can make to agriculture and society, parallel educational initiatives need to be developed across the continent. With the North American Biodynamic Apprentice Program (NABDAP) and other shared efforts, we can rest assured that they will blossom and grow!

* Lang said “Men” and “They,” so this is a bit of author’s license. — KDB

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