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2016 Celestial Planting Calendar

January 28, 2016

by Rosemary Tayler

2016_BD-Journal-CPC-CoverCalendar making, by its very nature implies basic assumptions, one of which is that it conditions our way of thinking and doing. Based on the research, teachings, and constellation calculations undertaken by Maria Thun, the Celestial Planting Calendar offers an intricate yet simplified understanding of the solar, lunar, and planetary rhythms, which enables readers to develop their own understandings and awareness and facilitates their participation in this cosmic dance from an agricultural perspective.

Geared towards biodynamic and organic farmers and gardeners, this calendar is blended with breath-taking art that captures the bright, clean colors of nature, as well as the minutia of daily planetary aspects, lunar cycles, appropriate times for applying biodynamic preparations, and monthly night sky events. This information is clearly presented and includes monthly color-coded charts of the moon’s journey through the constellations. The document also has educational articles on a wide range of topics. This particular edition highlights nutrition by way of connecting with the microbial forces in the human gut. It also considers how compost builds upon the microbial forces that transform raw materials into soil. Another theme includes insights, inspirations and key lunar times for working with wood.

2016_BD-Journal-CPC-May-Top

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While the calendar is readily used by beginners, it has the added feature of taking the advanced teachings of George W. Schmidt into consideration. George Schmidt and his father, Martin Schmidt, had both devoted decades of research to optimize the production of grains such as oats, wheat, and rye, based on planetary alignments. The English translation of the report summarizing their seed regeneration research is available on our web site. These influential planetary alignments are incorporated into the monthly charts on a daily basis and are applicable to a range of agricultural practices.

The reference guide at the back includes detailed graphic and written explanations of how to work with the monthly color charts. Such subjects as moon phases, various lunar cycles, retrograde motion, and basic astronomical aspects such as conjunctions, squares, trines and oppositions are clearly described.

In designing this calendar, it is the intention of the authors and publisher to encourage readers to develop their own sense of awareness and powers of observation. Undertaking such daily activities as planting, hoeing, harvesting, and working the soil at times that have been determined as being optimal based on decades of biodynamic research, one gains a sense of attunement and connection with the cosmos.

Another form of participation is the incorporation of nature scenes that are showcased each month above the color charts. This year features the art of Marilyn Coulter who clearly portrays her passionate enthusiasm to record nature as she sees it. The publisher invites artists to submit samples of their art for inclusion in future calendars.

In summary, by blending astronomical and agricultural details with art, poetry, and wisdom from the elders, the goal is to open our hearts and minds to subtle spiritual and physical forces that are present on an ongoing basis.

Calendars can be ordered online at www.planting-calendar.com or through
http://www.amazon.com or http://www.amazon.ca.

Only What Is Fruitful Is True

December 18, 2015

By Stewart Lundy


I went to Hugh Courtney’s November, 2015 biodynamic practicum at Earth Legacy Agriculture in Floyd, Virginia, with the expectation that I would get some practical experience working with the preparations. I learned a lot — and not just what I expected.

For anyone wondering about the magic of biodynamics, it isn’t foolproof. Oddly enough, it was my first failure at making a preparation, not my first success, which convinced me all the more that there was something to these preparations. My failure meant that there were objective quality standards — ones I could perceive for myself. After a year-long wait, I discarded the contents of forty horns and set about trying again. But now I knew that success at making preparations wasn’t automatic. If success was not automatic, then there was a spectrum of successes dependent on my knowledge, experience, and innovation. That’s why I went to Hugh Courtney’s.

Courtney doesn’t believe in merely thinking or talking about biodynamics; there is nothing vague or abstract about the work of biodynamics. I cleaned intestines and filled them with chamomile. I cleaned a cow’s head. In my brief visit, we dug up the oak bark, nettle, and chamomile preparations. We selected fresh cow patties. Hugh Courtney discussed timing considerations for making the preparations and using them. He explained how to store the preparations well.

If there are specific questions about preparations, whether to make them or utilize them, Hugh Courtney is quite accommodating. He tries to meet everyone’s needs and answer as many questions as he can. If you ask him a question about something he does not know from direct experience, rather than hypothesizing, he will likely tell you, “Let me know what you find out!” He will not simply answer your questions with abstract speculations. He will put you to work answering your own questions, as any responsible teacher should. He answers from the heart and from hard school of experience.

I am confident that any participants at the November 2015 biodynamic practicum who spent a longer time were shown considerably more than I was able to see. There are few places with so much wealth of experience available so reasonably.

There’s a lot of hype about “indigenous microorganisms” (IMOs) these days, but if you look at biodynamics, that’s what it’s been doing for a long time, now. Hugh Courtney, more than most, encourages each farmer to make his or her own preparations. Even if we only think on a microbial level, preparations born on your own farm are almost certainly more “at home” on your farm. On the other hand, if your quality standards are not high enough, the elemental forces you encourage may not be so benevolent.

My first attempt at horn manure failed — all forty horns. I’d done my best to put the horns down at a good time and to source organic grass-fed local manure from a lactating cow. After waiting all winter, I dug up a couple horns only to find they were still green. My nose has always been very sensitive, so it took only a single sniff to decide: none of these were any good. I put them back into the ground and waited, but once fall arrived, they were no better. I discarded all of them.

My concrete disappointment galvanized me to visit the Courtney farm finally. I took my (failed) horn manure and presented it to Hugh. He took the horn manure, felt it in his hand, smelled it, and then asked for a glass of water. He indicated that, despite my own unfavorable assessment, it was “not without value” and wished that I had brought not the best but the worst as well to contrast the two. He pressed the manure I’d brought into a ball and dropped it in the water. Within moments, it had begun to dissolve into amorphous sludge. This wasn’t a good result.

Hugh Courtney showed us something much more interesting. He presented two samples. On the one hand, he had a jar with regular horn manure; on the other hand, he had a jar with “prepared” horn manure. The only difference between the two is that the “prepared” horn manure is regular horn manure to which several “sets” of compost preparations added — without any stirring. Within a short period of time, the “prepared” horn manure is transformed into something completely new. The idea arises from a turn of phrase Steiner used in the Agriculture Course: “The preparations we add to the manure….”

Now look at the picture I took here:

500 versus Prepared 500

On the left is regular horn manure. On the right is “prepared” horn manure. You can see that the “prepared” horn manure is holding a much better shape and it has released considerably less color. In seconds, my failed product looked far worse than either of these. The remarkable thing I haven’t even told you yet: my horn manure dissolved rapidly — within minutes. The horn manure and “prepared” horn manure in the picture above have been sitting in those jars of water for over an entire year.

If you tried your own compost at home, I doubt it would fare better. Astonished, I asked Hugh, “Why would I ever use that old one over this one?” Hugh said, with a twinkle in his eye, “Because you don’t know about this one.”

We can see with our own eyes the profoundly clayish quality of the “prepared” horn manure. Good colloidal humus behaves in many ways like a good colloidal clay. The following quote might bring home the massive importance of high quality colloidal substances:

“Some clays, such as montmorillonite and vermiculite, have a surface area as high as 800 square meters per gram, over 200,000 square feet (almost five acres) per ounce!” — Michael Astera, The Ideal Soil

And good humus usually has two to three times surface area than good clay![1] The regular horn manure is good humus, but the “prepared” horn manure appears as nearly perfected humus. If you want to learn how to have better soil, this is where you learn.

In the probable case that you, like me, need improvement, Hugh Courtney offers practical hands-on instruction for any individuals with an inner drive to develop the living organs of their own farm organism. For those unable to attend, Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC does offer a wide range of quality biodynamic preparations and consulting services.

After a few days working at the November 2015 practicum, I felt like I had accomplished a lot — and I really had. But when Hugh Courtney gave us a “checklist,” I realized that I had performed less than ten percent of what he said is the groundwork for “being on your way to becoming a master preparation maker”!

The lessons learned from Hugh Courtney are first, work, and second, work; never are we permitted to drift along in a dreamlike cloud of unworkable notions. Abstract ideas that are not translated into reality are not healthy ideas at all. Ideas are well and good, if they have a living and productive relationship with the world. As Goethe said, “Only what is fruitful is true.”

And you don’t have to understand how it works, which is one of the great things about America and its (relative) lack of superstition. Our own prosaic version of Goethe’s poetic expression might be: “If it works, it works.” And you can see it with your own eyes: it does work. It is fruitful, and therefore it is true. We can work backwards to figure out how it works — provided we have the time and inclination — but we first have to start with what works.

If we remember, Steiner said in the Agriculture Course that “[Life] does not consist in mere thought.” You will know a tree by its fruit. Ideas that lack the vital force to bring forth action in their host are not true ideas, however enchanting they may sound. You can evaluate the operation at Earth Legacy Agriculture by its generous fruit. So much of what has grown there has travelled far and wide, continuing its good mission without fanfare.

Enlivened by the activity of learning under Hugh Courtney’s guidance, back on the farm we got to work: we took our nettles and buried them. We stirred manure for an hour and buried it in horns. We made our own barrel compound pit and filled it, too. We got in touch with a local processor for bladders — we have even already acquired a sheep’s head and filled it with oak bark and buried it in a suitable location.

Imagine what I might have learned if I’d stayed the whole time!

[1] Organic colloids (humus) 200-300 meq/100 g; Montmorillonite 100 meq/100g. (Source: broome.soil.ncsu.edu/ssc012/Lecture/topic14.htm)


Stewart Lundy Perennial Roots Farm BiodynamicStewart Lundy is a biodynamic gardener and farmer on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He founded Perennial Roots Farm with his partner Natalie in 2010. It started off as a homestead, and out of the surplus grew into a farm. They first heard about biodynamics in 2010 in Italy, but it took three years before they started to incorporate biodynamics into everyday practice on the farm. Perennial Roots Farm is now firmly grounded in biodynamics and is home to rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, sheep, and pigs. Cattle are scheduled to arrive in 2016. When not out and about on the farm, Stewart can be found immersed in a pile of books. He can be reached at perennialroots@gmail.com or through his website.

Hugh and Jeremiah are already planning next year’s BD Camp/Fall Practicum tentatively scheduled for November 2 through November 12, 2016. A Farmer’s Circle during early 2016 is also contemplated for January 12, 13, 14. The JPI board decided to leave the Courtney farm in 2013 and is in the process of finalizing the purchase of their own 25-acre farm by the end of the year.

Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC was founded in 2009 by Hugh and Jeremiah as a vehicle to carry on certain aspects of the biodynamic work in the future separate from JPI, which Hugh founded in 1985. Contact Earth Legacy Agriculture at 276­-930­-1377 or e­mail grow@earthlegacyagriculture.com for further information.

Education and Wisdom at Regional Biodynamic Gatherings

November 11, 2015

2015 Colorado Biodynamic Workshop Series

By Cache Stone Hunter


Workshop at Sustainable Settings (by John Ray)

Workshop at Sustainable Settings (by John Ray)

This year I was fortunate enough to attend three in a series of four biodynamic workshops in Colorado and Nebraska as an apprentice in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program. In July we gathered at Meadowlark Hearth, where Beth and Nathan Corymb are growing and saving seeds for the future, in addition to milking, and cultivating vegetables. Here we explored the spirit of the plants, reproduction, the various gestures and roles of different plant families, and some projective geometry exercises. I also helped to milk their beautiful cows in the morning and inoculate one compost pile with all of the compost preparations.

I was unable to attend the following workshop at Pat Frazier’s home in Paonia, where they integrated biodynamics with permaculture and holistic management. In September we hosted a workshop at Sustainable Settings with Brook Levan and Lloyd Nelson where we made and buried horn manure, barrel compost, nettle, chamomile, dandelion, and oak bark compost preparations. This was my second time attending the prep-making workshop, and it was a profound experience as we honored and sacrificed our cow, Tulip, together. We came into intimate relation with these preparations as we cut, stitched, stuffed, dug, and buried them. As a group we felt the potency in our shared creation of preparations specific to our region, and the responsibility we carry to give devotion and gratitude to our farms with the help of these homeopathic remedies.

We closed this series of workshops in Boulder, at Shining Mountain Waldorf School and Lightroot Community Farm. Three other apprentices and I stayed at Lightroot during the three-day workshop, and we got to participate in the morning milking of an eclectic group of cows with Daphne Kingsley. At the farm I witnessed Cameron Genter’s honed skills as a horseman, and helped to harness and drive the draft team. We practiced Goethean observation individually and then shared our insights in small groups. At Shining Mountain there were presentations on Rudolf Steiner’s life and legacy, the threefold social order and Camphill communities, and communities stewarding agriculture with the transition of biodynamic farms from for-profit enterprises to community-supported commons. We harmonized together as Cristina Geck led us in several eurythmy offerings themed around the unfolding of the plant world and the rhythmic exchange of receiving and giving. This practice of receptivity and sharing permeated our conversations, and I believe we all felt nourished in heart and community when we left to return to our homes.

I grew up at an intentional community in Colorado and have known biodynamic practitioners including Beth and Nathan and Dennis and Bailey Stenson since I was very young. Now to be an apprentice and represent the younger generation that wishes to carry this work forward with these mentors is a true honor. There is an opportunity to focus the perspectives and lessons we encounter at broader gatherings, like the biennial Biodynamic Conference, or in our smaller regional groups. Not only does this allow for us to make preparations and collective offerings that are appropriate for the part of the Earth we call home, but it is also a recognition local wisdom carried by practiced elders and the need for this to be shared with younger farmers. From this exchange there may arise broader visions for the future that are informed by the wisdom of the experienced and sustained through the enthusiasm of the younger generation. There is a collateral education between apprentices and mentors — and a meeting of the past and the future in the present. For me this presents the possibility to work in our immediate communities and refine our practical, personal, and spiritual activities.


This workshop series was organized by Colorado farmers and educators with support from the Biodynamic Association and the Colorado Farm Development Initiative (CFDI).

Light, Warmth, Devotion

October 22, 2015

By Delmar McComb

Originally published in the Fall 2015 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC)


cf cows(1)A dear friend asks, “Will the cows be part of the business plan?” It is indeed a fine question. After all, they aren’t currently a “money maker” component of our farm, so including them in the farm business plan doesn’t make sense.

Or does it? If one looks at this question from a biodynamic farm organism perspective, an associative economic model perspective, and/or a spiritual scientific perspective, the answer would be: “Yes, why would you even ask?” The cows are invaluable — priceless even. That is, they shouldn’t be thrown into the purely economic sphere but instead should be seen for the bounty they produce on the farm in the form of fertility, land management, community milk, and the immeasurable addition of soul qualities to the farm individuality.

We all struggle with the challenges of today’s economic system and how to function in this world in a “right living” kind of way. There are no easy answers. Without careful consideration of how a cow, for example, fits into a farm business plan, then a farm can then struggle to the point of collapse because of economic pressures. So indeed, these types of questions must be considered thoroughly.

But really, if we are to ultimately break free of the predominant contemporary world view that imprisons us all in the realm of the economics sphere while eclipsing the cultural and rights spheres of society, we must be bold and learn to trust that higher forces will guide us into new ways of seeing and being. Our minds are full of factoids and words, and endless chatter that tell us nothing. We think we understand what water does when it “evaporates” just because of the word. The word stops our mind there. Or even if we go to the definition of evaporation, “the changing of a liquid into a gas, often under the influence of heat (as in the boiling of water),” it really tells us nothing of this incredible miracle. How about our neighbor the “moon”? Does the word begin to capture even a fraction of the meaning and majesty of this “being” so near to us? Of course not. Cognizing doesn’t happen in the intellect. It happens in the feeling/soul realm.

I bring these two separate subjects, the economic viability of cows and the halting limitations of words and the intellect together for a reason (and yes, I do realize the irony of writing in words to convey this; alas, it is the best we can do in these times to offer ideas). If one looks into the eyes of a cow, there is a seeming infinitude of depth, a consciousness that is not ours but is nonetheless profoundly sacrificial and wise. If we are ever to understand a “cow,” we must be with it, honor it, and love it and learn to sacrifice as it does. If we are ever to understand Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Lectures and his Social Threefolding ideas, we must also learn the arts of collaborative work and sacrifice. And this all must be done out of love. If we do this work Mary Martyr-like, without transforming our consciousness to involve “Mitgefühl” (German for “with empathy”), there is no evolution. “Mitgefühl” was what Steiner said human consciousness needs to evolve to so as to transform the cold logic of the mind. Light,
warmth, devotion in our work are foundational.

This is the task: losing ourselves to gain ourselves. And, in so doing, we assist the living being of the earth while it gives back to us. Our mutual and interlinked destinies can then be fulfilled as we aid in giving the world back to the cosmos in a higher form while we ourselves evolve. This is the heart of Steiner’s work.

Our minds can’t yet quite grasp this, but our hearts can. It is a challenge to all: what are we willing to sacrifice, with “Mitgefühl,” to sneak towards this goal? I have the sad thought that my answer may sound something like “I’ll sacrifice more if you will, but I don’t really trust you, so I’ll keep on doing the same old destructive behavior because I have to survive in this world.”

How can we begin to “heal the wounds of reason,” as the poet Novalis wrote? Are there baby steps we can do together — form co-operatives, barter, start more true CSAs, have more Goethean conversations with each other, etc…? What are your thoughts?


Delmar McComb is co-owner of Blossom’s Farm in Santa Cruz, CA and Director of Horticulture at Suncrest Nurseries.

Sharing the Loss: Embracing a New Agricultural Paradigm

August 27, 2015

By Jeff Schreiber, Three Sisters Community Farm

Three Sisters CSA boxesAs many who read our newsletter know, the philosophy of community supported agriculture (CSA) is a favorite topic of mine. So it was with great interest that I recently heard a different take on the idea while listening to a farming-related podcast. In this episode of the excellent Farmer-to-Farmer podcast, host Chris Blanchard discussed the core values of CSA with Dan Kaplan, the long-time manager of Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA – one of the first CSAs in the US. Kaplan stressed the often-heard notion that CSAs are about consumers and producers sharing risk. But then he took it further: CSA, like no other farming model, is also about consumers and producers sharing loss.

Whoa – that’s a crazy notion. Why would people want to pay money to experience loss? Kaplan explained: Modern life – modern American life especially – is about avoiding loss at all costs. We don’t want to know about it, and our culture hides it well. Death, for instance, is not typically a topic of substantive conversation in our media. And the marketplace is adept at covering it up; consider the overflowing abundance of the shelves at the local grocery store.

But on a farm – and in the natural world generally – there is loss. Guaranteed. And often this loss comes after you’ve put a lot of work into something, like when a blight kills the tomato plants you’ve nurtured for months. Or when a predator kills the chickens that were just about to start laying eggs. Such losses are nowhere to be seen in the bounty of the grocery store, a fake bounty in reality propped up by such externalities as fossil fuels, the exploitation of people’s labor, and much else.

So, CSA (or, more directly, growing your own food) can be a way to have an experience of loss, to have an experience of the reality of the natural world. That’s much different from the very controlled experience of the marketplace.

Control. To some, that notion may be the very definition of agriculture: we control the natural world to produce the things we need to survive. In the marketplace, if you don’t make it, it’s because you don’t control nature well enough. Such an impulse perhaps wasn’t such a big deal before we started using fossil fuels. But now? Well, just look around….

Perhaps it’s time for a new agricultural paradigm, one that replaces the rigid impulse of control and dominion with a more fluid impulse of expecting change, of anticipating – maybe even celebrating – loss. Perhaps if we worked with nature, rather than against it, our farms and communities might look quite different than they do now. Maybe, in the absence of relationships based on control, there might be room for relationships based on trust.

Three Sisters Jeff and KellyCan you experience this new paradigm through a CSA newsletter? Perhaps a little. But, if you’re able, it would be much better if you actually came out to the farm and experienced it with us firsthand. Visit the farm a couple times each season. Help us plant or weed a certain crop. Come back later and you’ll see that some part of that crop probably didn’t make it; it died for some reason or another. It might even be the part that you lovingly tended to while you were here. Does that mean your work was for nothing? Shall you throw in the towel, go back to buying your food from the grocery store?

No. Easing up on control and embracing change does not mean inaction. You keep weeding, keep cultivating, keep nurturing. You continue to strive – earnestly, sincerely, with humility – with no attachment to the outcome, with no attempt to control, knowing that some of what you do will not yield results, that there will be loss. And that’s OK, because then you know it’s real, that it is alive. The more alive something is, the less can it be controlled. And maybe, by trusting the wisdom of living nature, we might also then experience real abundance and bounty.

These are lessons that many a 21st century American could stand to learn, farmers included. CSA offers one way to begin to experience them.


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.

Originally printed in the August 2015 Three Sisters CSA newsletter.

Soulful Reflections

August 3, 2015

By Sally Voris, White Rose Farm

For the last five years of her husband’s life, my neighbor sat next to him reading as he dozed in his recliner. He had been a feisty, skilled farmer. Now he barely spoke. The last Christmas he was alive, she made him his favorite cake: fresh apple cake with black walnuts. He ate one piece. Perhaps she knew on some level that he was dying. That January, he had heart surgery. He died 16 days later.

white rose farm - cow and calfI relate that image to my work on the farm this year. I am attending to the health of a loved one: the farm. I focus on keeping its rhythms going in the midst of chaotic weather. I remember how my father’s vital signs became erratic as he approached death with Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, he could no longer regulate his own temperature. He died the next morning.

Imagine the farm as a living organism, said Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture. The farmer brings the farm to life and orchestrates how animals and plants work together in harmony.

white rose farm - chicken in flowersWhen I came to the farm eleven years ago, the land had been rented for years. I worked hard to improve the soil. I fixed fences, repaired buildings, and planted trees, flowers, and herbs. I tended animals. I sold produce, meat, and eggs. I kept the words beauty, bounty, and balance as touchstones for my work. Two years ago, the farm’s energy changed; it began to feel whole, to have its own unique presence, its own soul. Visitors felt it; I did too. Now this farm is one in a worldwide network of biodynamic farms that promotes a connection between forces of Heaven and Earth as erratic weather buffets the world.

This year, we have had sudden, strong storms, driving rain, and circling tornado-style winds. May was dry and hot; June the rainiest month on record. Storms came unexpectedly; predicted storms dissipated before they arrived.

In his book, Climate: Soul of the Earth, Dennis Klocek notes that the Greeks found the concepts of wind, breath, soul, air, vapor, and vital principle all had an underlying commonality—they were all related. During the Middle Ages, he writes, the human soul was known as the “air body.” Likewise, the air, or atmosphere, was considered the soul body of the Earth. World-class gardener Alan Chadwick spoke of the importance of air in maintaining health in humans and plants.

white rose farm- geese and buildingI check the weather channel often. In June, the forecasters predicted one severe storm after another. They did not reference the soul of the Earth, nor have I heard anyone connect weather as an expression of the Earth’s soul with our own soul development. As I have worked in my garden this year, I have wondered: could they be related? What is the essential commonality?

“Nature…surely takes our breath away; old breath, stale breath, leaving us full of fresh Air. Life is curved, moves in swirls. Wind and Water borne. We are children of Earth’s Weather,” writes Skye ann louise Taylor in her book, A Monk in the Beehive.

white rose farm - sally with pigsPerhaps we now can take some responsibility for the soul of the Earth. I am now tending the garden and the animals to maintain the farm’s dynamic life force. I am working harder and getting less produce, but what is more important than the underlying rhythm of life itself​​? What are we without wind, breath, soul, air, vapor, and vitality? Other farmers are using hydroponics, greenhouses, and hoop houses to grow food under controlled conditions. They are growing food that feeds us physically. I now know that our souls are nourished when we grow and eat food that has a vital connection with the flow of energy into and out of the Earth.

Are we connecting with the life force that sustains the natural world? What can we do to right the imbalances that we have created in our culture and in our world? We must find our own soulful answers. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting with some aspect of Nature every day—a bird, a tree, a flower, vital food.

As we do our own soul’s work, we may restore our climate: the soul of the Earth.


Sally Voris farms at White Rose Farm in Taneytown, MD. Sally combines gardening, storytelling and writing, teaching and organizing. She has been recognized regionally and nationally for work sharing the stories of her home community of Elkridge and the Patapsco Valley. Sally completed a year-long part-time training program in biodynamic agriculture at The Pfeiffer Center in New York in 2008, and the farm was recognized as a mentor farm for the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Training Program (NABDAP) in 2010.

The photos are from the May 2015 Chesapeake BioDynamic Network meeting at her farm, courtesy of Ingrid Cowan Hess.

Deepening Children’s Connection to Nature at Angelic Organics Learning Center

June 22, 2015

By Erin Schneider

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air is softer and the morning more fragrant than ever again. — Elizabeth Lawrence

This May I had the good fortune to accompany the third grade class from Prairie Hill Waldorf School on an overnight farm trip to Angelic Organics Learning Center in Caledonia, IL. The trip was the culmination of a year spent expanding their knowledge of the earth and the role that plants, animals, and humans serve on it. Throughout the year, third graders participated in daily chores, cared for a flock of chickens and collected their eggs, studied and built models of traditional shelters from around the world, built raised garden beds using hand tools, and planted a vegetable garden. Through these hands-on, experiential lessons, the children gained knowledge beyond that which is learned in books, deepening their connection to nature that leads to a greater sense of stewardship toward the earth.

Gardens

Group camping area with outdoor kitchen, composting toilets, and raised garden beds

caring for the chickens

Evening chicken chores

When we arrived at Angelic Organics, we were warmly welcomed and guided to a beautiful group camping area nestled among large oak trees and views of scenic pastures where cows grazed in the distance. After working together to set up camp, the children were give a bit of free time to explore the area, check out the composting toilets, and sneak a peek at the family of goats in a nearby barn.

meeting the goats

Learning about the goats and how to care for them

Once settled in, our two highly skilled farm educators introduced us to the working farm, shared the farm rules with us, and provided an organized overview of our stay. Over the two days, students (broken into groups) prepared and cooked meals for the group, worked together to clean up after meals, weeded and prepared raised garden beds and planted seeds, shoveled and hauled manure for compost, completed animal chores for the resident chickens, goats, pigs, and cattle, milked goats, and made goat milk ice cream. As both a parent and a teacher, it was impressive to watch the children give their full hearts over to the tasks at hand — they were completely absorbed in their good work. I watched as groups of children cooperatively solved problems, divided up tasks, and worked effectively as a team.

KitchenSign

The organized and thoughtful schedule allowed children to participate in multiple farm chores

enjoying ice cream

Making goat milk ice cream

In addition to participating in farm chores and tasks, students were given an opportunity to tour the farm and follow the journey of a seed — from when it is first planted in the greenhouse to the planting of vegetable starts out in the rich soil of the farm fields. It was a wonderful opportunity for the children to see the work that goes into growing vegetables.

Barn

A wonderful setting to cultivate a child’s connection to the earth

Beyond the deeper appreciation and gained knowledge of how our food is produced was the ability of students to participate in the cyclical nature of the overall farm ecosystem. From participating in the nitrogen cycle through the use of the composting toilets, to shoveling manure to create compost that will someday be used on the gardens, the children experienced firsthand how the different processes and organisms work together to create a healthy farm and healthy food. Being absorbed in the beautiful farm setting, paired with skilled and caring farm educators, provided a rich learning experience that I’m certain will remain with the children for the rest of their lives.


ErinSchneider-WiscErin Schneider holds Scholarship Fund and Education and Online Groups roles with the Biodynamic Association. She has a BS in geology and a BS in secondary science education. After graduation from college she moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where she spent eight years teaching high school geology, astronomy, environmental science, and integrated science. After returning to Wisconsin with her family, she began her MS in environmental education and interpretation through UW Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources. In addition to her background in science education, Erin is also a simplicity parenting coach. She is a mother of three children and in her free time she enjoys reading, camping, hiking, and playing in nature with her husband and children.

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