By Patricia Frazier
Reprinted from the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Applied Biodynamics, the periodical of the Josephine Porter Institute (JPI). Visit their site to see free sample issues, subscribe, or purchase single issues.
My neighbor state, New Mexico, has always had a tender spot in my heart. Having lived and farmed in Colorado most of my adult life, New Mexico represents a refuge of beauty, spiritual renewal, and warmth in the depths of winter, found in her warmer climate south of here. Her red rock canyons, abundant hot springs, clear starry skies, and beautiful mountains are food for the soul and full of indigenous wisdom from her centuries of stewardship by Native elders. So, when the Biodynamic Association (BDA) chose Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the site for their upcoming national conference, I was happy to know the conference would be so close to home and was excited to meet fellow farmers there.
One fellow farmer, Melinda Bateman, of Morning Star Farm in Arroyo Seco, just outside of Taos, was already well known to me. Melinda has joined biodynamic workshops here in Western Colorado for a few years, making preparations at Peace and Plenty Farm and attending several Enzo Nastati seminars in Paonia, Colorado. Melinda has a small market farm and serves the Taos community from her 7,000-foot elevation. It is a challenging growing environment with a short but intense season. Melinda has created harmony with the forces of nature there with a large season-extending greenhouse, crops appropriate to the season, and well-intentioned and regular biodynamic practices on her land. Her luscious garlic is to die for and her greens have graced the tables of Taos restaurants for over twenty years. On a small but productive piece of land, Melinda farms mostly as a sole proprietor and apprentices intern in the intricacies of high desert farming biodynamically. This is a very unique skillset here in the U.S. and one that will hopefully develop more fully as a result of the influence of the Biodynamic Association’s national conference in November.
As a sole proprietor, Melinda has been active in seeking the fellowship of other biodynamic practitioners here in Colorado, but due to the distances between communities in New Mexico, she has related the difficulty in establishing real community there. Similarly, when the Biodynamic Association began its exploration of biodynamic practitioners in the surrounding community to support the conference with local knowledge, there were but a few to meet. A new opportunity for community building was born.
Community building is an activity within the biodynamic farming community that is essential to biodynamic practitioners and consumers,and reflects the origins of the movement. Unlike the sheer numbers of organic farmers in our communities these days with multitudes of web-based blogs, supportive publications, grower cooperatives, and many market farms, the growth of biodynamic agriculture in farming communities has been slower to be realized. There are a number of factors for this slow but steady increase in awareness. One factor is the high level of integrity in farming practices required of a farmer in biodynamic agriculture. A friend of mine, Brook LeVan of Sustainable Settings in Carbondale, Colorado, put it this way:
“Biodynamic agriculture is beyond organic. The standards we are adhering to for Demeter Certification of our farm are tough but fair. The standards require us to make long lasting changes in how we view and support our farm organism. But the change in me as a farmer is the most profound. I know now that we are farming with angels.”
That statement has always had a profound impact upon me as a farmer because it calls into awareness the life force beyond our fertility inputs, NPK measurements, and percent organic matter. This life force knits that of human beings with the life force of the mineral, plant, and animal world in sometimes incomprehensible, but nonetheless powerful, ways. The recognition and acknowledgement of these forces of life requires a discipline of observation and faith in the farmer developing over time and in communion with other farmers and our communities who share these insights and values. The result of developing these awareness skills is a profound respect and strong nurturing behaviors for our farms and communities. We protect our farms, plant communities, animals, air, and water so that our food can be of highest quality to support further human development of these faculties of awareness.
Another factor responsible for the slow but steady, grassroots growth of biodynamic agriculture is the difficult but necessary development of a common language between communities of knowledge. Development of a language between the conventional scientific community and the unconventional qualitative, life force-based biodynamic agricultural community that can articulate outcomes of biodynamic practices requires awareness and communication. This kind of awareness and communication happens best on the ground and within human interaction. Outlined within these two factors is the case for active community building by biodynamic practitioners who are willing to take the time to interact and educate others about the unique gifts that biodynamic agriculture offers to the healing of our earth.
To facilitate this community building exercise, an intention was set between Melinda Bateman of Morning Star Farm; Pat Frazier, Board President of Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI); and Robert Karp, Co-Director of the Biodynamic Association to lead a field day at Melinda’s farm in Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, at the beginning of this farming season. The intention of the gathering was building community and support for the creation of a local biodynamic group to further biodynamic agriculture education in the region. That region includes Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, and all surrounding communities within several hundred miles. The Biodynamic Association and the local Western Colorado BD group promoted the gathering over the three months prior. Attendance was varied and enthusiastic ranging from back yard gardeners to biodynamic farmers, and from author Steven McFadden to experienced local biodynamic compost maker Maggie Lee. Teachers from the Santa Fe Waldorf School, young farmers, biodynamic apprentices, and enthusiastic participants in agricultural advocacy and intentional communities from Santa Fe and surrounding communities rounded out the attendance.
The day was spent in many hands-on activities from compost building and inoculation with biodynamic and homeodynamic preparations, a spray of an Enzo Nastati-inspired preparation (Purifier/Harmonizer spray) over the entire farm, and group meditation circle led by Robert Karp following the sprays. In the afternoon, a discussion about next steps for solidifying the relationships and community was held, and all shared a beautiful, local meal. Solid commitments by the local group were made to continue several biodynamic community activities throughout the summer and fall leading up to the national conference. Since the gathering, there has been a meet-up and preparation making activity this summer, and another is planned for late September where BD #500 (horn manure) and barrel compost will be made and sprayed at various locations in and around Santa Fe as an intentional gesture for continued support and recognition of the awareness being cultivated for biodynamic agriculture in the Southwest region of the US.
I hope you can join us in Santa Fe for the Biodynamic Association’s National 2016 Conference, “Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth,” where the impulse to strengthen biodynamic agriculture will continue to grow. There will be many types of educational offerings from indigenous wisdom of the Americas, to social justice and policy advocacy, to practical hands-on education in applying biodynamic agriculture practices for beginners to advanced practitioners. Stop and visit us at the JPI booth. If community building is of interest to you, a workshop held by Barefoot Farmer Jeff Poppen, Pat Frazier, Nashville area activist Hilary Higginbotham, and Jim Fullmer, Co-Director of Demeter USA, will outline practical steps and experiences of building community in areas of the country where strong biodynamic communities now exist. In addition, members Lloyd Nelson, Patricia Frazier, and Brook LeVan of the Western Colorado BD group will lead a hands-on preparation making workshop as a full-day pre-conference event. Registration and description of the full conference is now available at www.biodynamics.com/conference.
Patricia Frazier is the president of the board of directors of the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics (JPI). She is a member of the Fellowship of Preparation Makers and sits on two of their committees, including chairing the conference planning for the 2014 Fellowship Conference. She is a member of the Biodynamic Educators Collaborative. Pat and her family have a small biodynamic homestead, nursery, and family dairy in Western Colorado where all of the preparation herbs are grown and used in making all of the biodynamic preparations. Permaculture design is another of her passions and its marriage with biodynamics is included in her two-week in-residence permaculture class each summer.
By Michael Joshin Thiele
Reprinted from the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC) September Newsletter
Photo by Michael Joshin Thiele
Of late, I have found myself fascinated by Goethe’s phenomenological approach and dynamic way of thinking and seeing. It seems to invoke simultaneously both curiosity and bewilderment. In my search for resources on the topic, I came across the wonderful book Taking Appearance Seriously, by Henri Bortoft.
He describes phenomenology as “taking the ground away from under our feet, whilst at the same time giving us a sense of being where we always have been — only now recognizing it for the first time”. He continues to explain that “the phenomenological approach makes us shift from what we experience into the experiencing of what is experienced”. Intrigued by the complexity and subtleness of this approach, it made me wonder how it could be applied to apiculture and honeybees.
“… one needs to study the life of bees from the standpoint of the soul.” (R. Steiner)
The nature of honeybees— which I would like to refer to from here on as the onebeeing — is complex, fluid, and appears to integrate polar opposite qualities. The surprising mammalian-like qualities in an insect body, and the singularity of the macro-organism, which consists out of thousands of individuals, are examples of the multi-dimensionality of its being. The onebeeing is a vastly dynamic form of life, exhibiting a breathtaking degree of plasticity and flexibility. Its own tissue consists out of thousands of individual bees, who are the medium for countless physiological processes ranging from metabolism, gestation, sense perception, to neurological processing. What is unique is that it functions as if it were undifferentiated tissue. No specific organ seems to appear, and yet all normal functions of inner organs are present. This tissue acts similarly to stem cell tissue without ever losing a complete open dynamic state of evolving according to current needs. Its receptivity and aliveness towards formative forces and fields in general transforms this tissue-like ‘gathering of individuals’ into a new dimension of life.
‘When we use the principles of logic we avoid contradiction, and so we cannot see reality as a whole.’ (Shohaku Okumura)
It seems that in order to understand the life gesture of the onebeeing fully, one would need an additional approach besides the linear or intellectual. Bortoft calls this “the sensuous-intuitive mode,” a contemplative act of witnessing and participating outside of our default dualistic way of being. By shifting our attention and awareness, we are able to create a space for an appearance “so that we can receive the phenomenon instead of trying to grasp it,” similar to Goethe, suggesting “to become the plant“ (onebeeing) that we are studying.
‘All life forms reflect the unknown gestalt of our soul.’ (Andreas Weber)
The onebeeing is a network of interrelations. Unlike our own default sense of self, hers is not defined as a living being separate from the world, but rather as being part of the world through intimate belonging. Her sense of self is created in dynamic and multidimensional processes, as if she were embodying a network of multiple selves. We could almost say that she “are” more other than self. The many bees appearing to our eyes “is” a time-gestalt, a language of the“great bee”. This cornucopia of levels of self comes with a change in language, as if common grammar were unable to reflect this phenomenon. The process of learning from her and studying through becoming the onebeeing not only reshapes our perception and understanding of “them,” but shifts inwardly our frame of reference. Our identity becomes more fluid, more open. Who “is” we?
‘Language shapes perception, and perception shapes language.’ (Terry Tempest Williams)
In his book Metamorphosis, Andreas Suchantke describes bees as sensory-limb beings. He demonstrates how the “bee’s inside is its surroundings, into which it completely dissolves, and from which it receives a deep formative imprint; … The border between the bodily interior and the outer world becomes blurred”— as if the onebeeing was never entering a dualistic world view.
‘The soul , in a way, is everything.’ (Aristotle)
It is a gift to be able to live with bees. The onebeeing reveals the deep truth of our life, and makes it palpable how our self is dependent on everything we call no-self. Difference and sameness are merging, as the universe views itself through our eyes. Goethe’s organic thinking and the dynamic idea of the one and the many are revealing a fluid form of life. The phenomenological approach not only opens our view and understanding of the biosphere, but it also brings a different understanding of the self. It ‘“liberates us from restrictive patterns of thinking” (Bortoft) and living our life.
‘… I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?’ (Rilke)
The onebeeing seems to speak in a similar language, inviting us to sense deeply and to listen to and follow our most significant questions. Contemplation and inwardness are not only essential when practicing phenomenology, but are keystone elements for a bio-dynamic transformation of our life.
‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.’ (Goethe)
Michael lived and practiced at San Fransisco Zen Center for eight years and received lay ordination in 2001. He is leading an innovative and multidimensional approach within the biodynamic apiculture movement and teaches in the United States and abroad. He is Founder and President of Gaia Bees and is researching wild honeybees and new dimensions of apiculture in a sociocultural, agricultural, and spiritual context. In the last decade, Michael has been involved with the creation of honeybee sanctuaries and refuges as a means of protection and education. In 2013, he worked as a biodynamic consultant for the USDA in the Dominican Republic. His work is documented in various national and international magazines, books, and film documentaries (Queen of the Sun).
Third installment in the Tierra Viva series
Excerpt from Light Root Community Farm‘s Summer Newsletter (Boulder, CO)
We are in the midst of the hazy summer dream time here on the farm — long hot days abuzz with activity. The days seem to run into one another, waking early and working late into the evenings on the farm. Our summertime schedule is a solid rhythm of early morning milking and farm chores, mid-day lunch break and siesta time to escape the heat of the day, and when the heat breaks we emerge back out for an evening session of farm chores and other various projects as the sun sets behind the foothills. Farming is not your typical 9-5 occupation. Our work day is directed by the seasonal rhythms, the needs of the animals, and of the overall needs of the farm. These rhythms are balanced with the needs of our family life, and they are very much intertwined. Farming is not an occupation, but a way of life, closely knit with the natural cycles of the Earth. And this time of year we fully experience the Earth in its summertime expression.
Amidst these long days, we had a good stretch of dry hot weather last week — a perfect window to make hay. We cut and raked about 35 acres with our two teams of draft horses, Belle and Beauty, and Dolly and Dixie. It was a week of long days for all of us, horses included, but the hay got baled and stored dry in the barn before any rain hit the ground. This is always a success for the farm, since putting up good quality dry hay ensures good feed for the dairy cows thru the winter months. The field we cut hay on is a well-traveled road, so there were many passersby waving us on and stopping to take pictures throughout the week.
Making hay with draft horses is not a common sight to see these days, especially in this part of the country, and arguably not as “efficient” as utilizing a tractor run on fossil fuels. We certainly value the role of a tractor, and while we cut and rake all the hay with horses, we do hire a custom tractor service to come and bale the hay, making it easier for us to haul it back to the main farm for winter feed. We choose to work primarily with draft horses in our farming endeavors for a variety of reasons that may not fit the modern values of conventional agriculture, but we deem to be essential to the values we hold on our farming path. As biodynamic farmers, we work with the living realm of plants and animals and the natural cycles and rhythms of the earth. We are continually striving to bring together and orchestrate these living dynamics into a harmonious dance we call the farm.
At Light Root Community Farm the draft horses are integral to our farming dance. Draft horses have been bred and worked on farms for centuries, and as human beings we have cultivated a relationship with draft horses that is mutually respectful and beneficial. The farmer strives to understand the nature and needs of the horse and thus provides a healthy living environment for the horse. The draft horse with its massive strength is a willing worker for the gentle farmer who leads the way. This relationship is a living dynamic relationship between man and beast, and when cultivated it is quite beautiful and harmonious. This working relationship is quintessential to the farming that we practice at Light Root Community Farm and keeps us closely connected to the living realm. The horse is also lighter on the land, leaving less impact than heavy farm equipment. Instead of burning fossil fuels to work the land, they work on true solar power — grass is their fuel— and their only emissions are the manure they drop to fertilize the land. Draft horses, being living creatures, have the capacity to reproduce themselves as well, so that over time you can replace an older working team of horses with younger ones raised on your farm. Breeding the farm’s draft power is another way we strive to build a self-sustaining farm organism at Light Root Community Farm.
Cameron Genter of Light Root Community Farm will share his experiences in the workshop Integrating Draft Animals into a Biodynamic Farm at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference, along with Stephen Decater, Cory Eichman, and Mac Mead.
Second installment in the Tierra Viva series
By Steven McFadden
Reprinted from Chiron Communications
As we are rocked by repeated waves of climate change, and sharp shifts in politics, economics, and society, something durable is called for — something strong, wise, rooted in the land, waiting at last to find a home in our souls.
The core native knowings that have been part of culture and agriculture on this land for 10,000 years or more can enhance our capacity to respond adroitly to the dissolving and shattering forces aroused in our era. For the sake of integrity and resilience, it’s time finally to consciously graft the variety of cultures that have come to roost on North America with the rootstock.
The rainbow array of cultural and agricultural ways that have entered onto the continent from Europe, Africa, Asia, and southern latitudes have never been grafted to the rootstock of Turtle Island (North America). Instead there has been an ongoing violent, systematic effort to annihilate rootstock ways through genocide, land theft, and treaty violations. That pattern has generated a massive energy field of karma, as yet unreckoned. Grafting refers to the process by which a plant serves as the base (rootstock) onto which cuttings from other plants are joined (the scions). Grafting ensures a strong, healthy, and productive crown, arising from a mature root system. It’s also a useful metaphor.
Now, in an era of pervasive change, it’s both an auspicious and a decisive time for the individuals, groups, states, and nations of North America to face the historic and contemporary reality by learning more deeply about, respecting actively, and engaging more constructively with the cultural and agricultural rootstock of the land we now share.
As it happens, a grafting impulse is one of the unifying themes woven into the fabric of the upcoming North American Biodynamic Conference*, Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth. The conference will draw together a multitude of the diverse cultural and agricultural wisdom streams that are part of modern life in the Americas. Come November, the conference will create time and space for fusion on the high mountain plains – the altiplano, if you will – of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The biodynamic farming and gardening movement is one of many natural scions available for grafting to North America’s cultural and agricultural rootstock. But I feel that biodynamics in particular is a propitious cultural and agricultural domain for such fusion. A forerunner of organics, biodynamics embraces metaphysical realities that organics chooses not to factor in, and strives to work intelligently with subtle forces. When biodynamics was germinating as an agricultural discipline back in the 1920s, teacher Rudolf Steiner encouraged farmers to make use of an ancient principle from the indigenous knowings native to Europe and elsewhere: “Spirit is never without matter, matter never without spirit.”
Native peoples indigenous to the Americas have likewise long appreciated this foundational truth and held it in the forefront as they refined a culture and agriculture particular to this place, North America, over 10,000 years or more. Rather than using abstract intellectual constructs such as quantum field theory or general relativity, native knowings are conveyed in elegant, tangible metaphors, such as the teaching of the Sacred Hoop (Circle of Life), or the teaching that we have a fundamental responsibility to take care of the earth, for she is indeed our mother (Tierra Madre, Pachamama).
With presenters from the four directions and a rich mix of cultures, grafting will be in the atmosphere at Tierra Viva. Among the farmers, gardeners, and grafters whose voices will sound: Larry and Deborah Littlebird of Santo Domingo Pueblo, peacemaker Patricia Ann Davis of the Navajo/Dineh Nation, Emigdio Ballon of Tesuque Pueblo, Dr. Jose Ma Anguiano Cardenas from Nayarit, México, Karen Washington from Rise and Root Farm in New York City, Helmy Abouleish from Egypt, Sally Fox of Verditas Farm, and author/chef Deborah Madison from Galisteo, New Mexico.
Cultural and Agricultural Wisdom of the Americas
The rootstock cultural and agricultural knowings of North America constitute basic understandings for long-term survival on this land. The knowings have been gained not over mere centuries, but over many thousands of years. In light of our present circumstances, these basic knowings are both relevant and essential.
For some time healthy natural grafting processes have been progressing in the array of agroecological movements toward clean, wholesome land, water and food, such as good food, slow food, organic food, food justice, food sovereignty, and a variety of First Nations initiatives. These are all positive and promising, but just a fraction of the food system.
Where grafting is acutely needed is in the industrialized, chemicalized, genetically manipulated, and patented realms of corporate culture and agriculture. They dominate our food system. And that food system has become one of the most ecologically destructive forces on our planet, a leading contributor to climate chaos. The agriculture system’s dependence on dense, lifeless minerals, and an array of poisons exists in parasitic parallel with an increasingly dense and sick culture at large.
The structure of the dominant food system has origins that extend back through history at least to genocide of native people and theft of their land, to slavery on farms and plantations, to the corporate forces which have driven hundreds of thousands of farm families off the land, to our current wholesale dependence upon, and exploitation of, farm workers. All that has to be faced, reckoned with, and resolved, or it remains toxic — toxic in a turbulent era.
But the potential is there for the dominant food system to begin intelligently and skillfully grafting its culture and agriculture to the rootstock. A good starting point would be embracing the teaching of the Seventh Generation — to take into consideration the impact that every corporate project or action will have on our children’s children’s children unto the seventh generation. When a person or a corporation is sure decisions and actions will not harm, but rather will bring benefit to, that seventh generation, then it’s time to act. What a profound difference that simple graft could make if taken sincerely.
The healing proposition of grafting has for centuries been eloquently told through the hemisphere-wide saga of The Condor and the Eagle as they are joined via the agency of the Quetzal. It’s an uplifting story, and it expresses a core understanding held by many traditional people in North, South and Central America. Simply hearing the story and paying attention to it, I feel, is a helpful factor toward healthy grafting.
In keeping with both traditional and emerging understandings, the North American Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe holds promise for further cultural and agricultural grafting progress.
*Note: I‘m a member of the Biodynamic Association, and also one of the presenters at the upcoming Tierra Viva conference. Having had years of involvement with CSA farms and food coops, as well as having had the opportunity to walk thousands miles with native wisdom keepers, I’m strongly drawn to exploration of the cultural and agricultural grafting theme. At the conference I’ll facilitate a workshop titled CSA Farms: Awakening Community Intelligence. ~ S.M.
Steven McFadden of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is director of Chiron Communications, an enterprise offering keys for the health of human beings and the earth. He has been writing about CSA farms since their inception in the U.S. in the late 1980s. With Trauger Groh he co-authored the first two books on CSA: Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. He’s the author of a dozen other nonfiction titles, including The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century, Odyssey of the 8th Fire, and Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones (2015).
2016 North American Biodynamic Conference, Nov. 16-20 in Santa Fe, NM
First installment in the Tierra Viva series
By Thea Maria Carlson
“The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.” — Joanna Macy
The understanding that the earth is alive was once widespread—and still exists in many indigenous cultures and spiritual traditions today. Yet for centuries the dominant Western culture has treated the earth as an inanimate object, a storehouse of resources for us to extract, and a sewer to absorb our wastes. Industrial agriculture arises from and perpetuates this mindset, reducing the soil to a dead substrate whose only value is in the number of pounds of grain that can be harvested from it each year.
One of the great gifts of biodynamic agriculture is that it helps modern humans to experience the earth as a living organism, one with which we can actively engage and collaborate. Biodynamic agriculture is a relational practice. Biodynamics gives us principles, philosophy, and concrete practices to work consciously with this living planet, and with each of our farms and gardens as their own living individualities within it. This November, hundreds of farmers, gardeners, entrepreneurs, and educators will gather in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the 2016 North American Biodynamic Conference, and this year’s theme speaks to this central principle of biodynamics—Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth.
The Biodynamic Conference is held in a different region of North America every two years and offers an unparalleled opportunity to delve into biodynamic and regenerative agriculture. Ten inspiring keynote speakers from within and beyond the biodynamic community will share their groundbreaking work from all over the globe. More than 50 workshops will explore topics like Biodynamic Permaculture, Collaborative Farming, Holistic Landscape Ecology, The Spirit of Healing Plants, and Water Resilience on the Farm. The conference programming also features a field day at two local farms; hands-on learning opportunities; a celebratory food, wine, and cider tasting; film screenings; a seed exchange; mixers and meetups; exhibits; artistic performances; festive music and dancing; and local, Biodynamic®, and organic foods.
Newcomers to biodynamics will find plenty of sessions to learn the fundamentals of biodynamic farming and gardening, and there will be many opportunities to learn about other regenerative approaches, including permaculture, traditional Native American and Aztec farming, holistic management, and more. Many workshops will also address the community, economic, and social justice aspects of growing a healthy food system. Families and children are welcome: there is a full schedule of workshops for children ages five to fifteen, including nature awareness, music, and art.
The Biodynamic Conference features three dynamic keynote sessions that explore different aspects of the “Tierra Viva” theme. On Friday, the diverse panelists for Regenerating Earth and Community will tell stories of sustainable development, biodynamic and regenerative farming, gardening, and ranching, and community engagement from New Mexico, New York, Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda, and across Latin America: Helmy Abouleish of SEKEM, organic and Biodynamic inspector Osiris Abrego Plata, Larry Littlebird of Hamaatsa and Tano Farm, Restoration Agriculture author Mark Shepard, Karen Washington of Rise and Root Farm, and Courtney White of A West That Works. On Saturday, biodynamic farmers Sally Fox of Viriditas Farm and Vreseis, Chris Tebbut of Filigreen Farm, and Hugh Williams of Threshold Farm will share how they build water resilience and grow fruit and fiber within diversified, living farm organisms. And to close the conference on Sunday, Dennis Klocek, founder of the Coros Institute and author of Climate: Soul of the Earth, will present on Living Earth, Living Climate.
All of us who will travel to Santa Fe from afar in November can look forward to an incredible and unique landscape, rich and diverse cultures with a long history of agriculture, and many innovations that can be applied to our home landscapes. And from the warm welcome that my Co-Director Robert Karp and I have received during pre-conference visits to Santa Fe, I get the sense that many locals are looking forward to welcoming and connecting with the hundreds of people in the biodynamic community who will bring their energy, wisdom, and curiosity to the Southwest from across North America and beyond.
Registration is now open at www.biodynamics.com/conference.
Thea Maria Carlson is Co-Director of the Biodynamic Association. She lives in the Mayacamas Mountains in Sonoma County, California, and frequently visits other parts of the world. Her diverse experience includes farming biodynamic and organic vegetables, fruit and flowers; teaching gardening, nutrition, and beekeeping; designing, building and managing urban community and educational gardens; and organizing strategic communications training programs for nonprofit leaders. Since 2011, she has played a key role in developing the Biodynamic Association’s educational offerings, planning and implementing the biennial North American Biodynamic Conference, and exploring new ways to manage and evolve the organization.
By Andrew Toothacker
Arriving within a week of one another, Victor Kubia and I came to study biodynamics at the Pfeiffer Center in September of 2015. It isn’t enough to say that we come from very contrasting life situations: Victor is a spry 57-year-old from Bamenda, Cameroon, and I am a 22-year-old from Portland, Oregon. Despite the gap of common experiences, however, Victor and I became comrades the instant we met.
It was a blue day with powerful clarity when Victor appeared in the doorway of the tiny Pfeiffer Center cabin. This man was perfectly jolly despite having just driven 27 hours straight from Oklahoma, where his six children were beginning their school year. Sitting alone in the cabin, I was the very first person he had met in New York.
Immediately he confessed two things to me. One was that he desperately needed a job, and the other was that he also needed a place to live. With one hand I pointed towards the food co-op, and with the other hand I pointed towards the dorm housing where I lived.
As he turned to leave, he confessed something else: that he is pursuing a genuine education in biodynamic agriculture for the sake of farmers oppressed by Western chemical/seed companies in Cameroon. With a face flooded by his characteristic smile, he told me a story about catching rats as a boy in Bamenda.
“When we saw the small rat enter the house, we would chase it up the wall where it had a hole to escape. Then we would grab it by the tail! Only the rat leaves the skin behind in your hand, and then you’ve got nothing.”
“When we saw the giant rat in the forest, we would eat it if we caught it. These animals dig holes underground. We would go to hunt, like a group of five boys; we would go into the forest and look for the hole. Then we have to look for the escape hole – sometimes there are two.”
“We would block the escape holes and light a fire to stuff the main hole, with smoke finally catching the rat in a net as it ran out for air!”
“We must learn how to catch biodynamics…not by the tail.”
Since then, Victor and I have shared a bathroom in the student dorms for nine months. He opened my eyes to the reality of farming in Cameroon, where 90% of farmers are women who live in great dependence on Western agricultural behemoths like Monsanto.
What is most distressing to Victor is the visible decline of the health in people, which mirrors the deterioration of their soils.
In April of 2015, Victor travelled to Cameroon armed with the DVD One Man, One Cow, One Planet, which features Peter Proctor. This movie tells the personal stories of farmers in India successfully transitioning from chemical agriculture into closed-system biodynamic farms. Peter Proctor himself had sent Victor the copy of this DVD. The response from farmers in Cameroon was monumental and telling.
Victor screened the movie to agricultural cooperatives ranging from a few hundred members to the 3,454-member organization NOWEFOR. He was asked to begin working immediately, but did not feel knowledgeable enough to lead such a movement.
Six months later, Victor began studying biodynamics through a year-long training offered by the Pfeiffer Center. Throughout the year, I watched Victor work tirelessly washing dishes to support his family in Oklahoma, often relying upon the kindness of new friends.
Fast forwarding to June of 2016, Victor has finished his studies and is now finalizing plans to move his entire family back to Cameroon in order to begin building a small education center that will teach garden-scale biodynamics through intensive handwork.
To assist this impulse for sustainable agriculture, my partner (and fellow biodynamic apprentice), Becky Sullivan, and I intend to relocate to Cameroon as well.
Currently the three of us are seeking support. We have reached out to the Section for Agriculture in Dornach, Switzerland, by applying to their Ambassadors program. They have accepted our applications and are processing them.
In addition, we have set up a modest gofundme page that shares Victor’s story in greater detail and asks for only $9,000 to support our practical needs in establishing a center for biodynamic education and food production. The money we are requesting will go towards building a small animal shelter and greenhouse. This money will allow us to buy invaluable handwork tools and small-scale irrigation hoses and will help us establish a reliable water source for our project.
If it is at all possible to provide assistance, please visit our gofundme page.
When I asked Victor how he would feel if we reached this financial goal, he responded with the following:
“I will just be too overwhelmed with joy if this happens. My thanks and appreciation will go out to anyone who is willing to help. I believe the law of sowing and reaping is a natural law that never fails. Things will begin to happen in your life too.”
Andrew Toothacker is an apprentice in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABDAP).
By Sally Voris, White Rose Farm
In 1924, Rudolf Steiner gave a series of eight lectures to farmers in what is now Poland who wanted to understand why the quality of their food was declining. Those lectures form the basis of biodynamic agriculture. Steiner framed agriculture in the context of the cosmos. He said invisible spiritual forces, acting through the stars, the planets, the sun, and the moon, were vital to life on Earth. He asked farmers to imagine their farms as individual living organisms, and he gave specific practices to build farm vitality.
After some ten years of farming using biodynamic practices, I noticed that the produce nearly popped with energy and flavor. It was easier to farm. I felt like I was now dancing with a living partner—the farm. I realized that plants don’t just grow out of the soil; they lift themselves (or are they pulled?) heavenward. When we are fed by such plants, we get that lift. To come to full flowering; however, the farm needs a farmer to mediate and balance its life processes. As the weather gets more erratic and extreme, it takes more will and skill to keep life on the farm dancing and breathing together!
In other lectures, Steiner spoke about how the Earth exists for the spiritual evolution of human beings. He outlined epochs and cycles of development in humans. Steiner foresaw that forces focused on materialism would become very strong in our time. Those forces deny spirit. It is our challenge, Steiner said, to develop our ability to balance spirit and matter through our hearts. Nutrition is essential to our spiritual development, he asserted. We need food that feeds our souls, our wills, and our spirits.
Our current industrial food system completely ignores this aspect of nutrition. The system produces commodities for consumers. It separates us from nature—the source of our most intimate and immediate connection with creation. Plants are the hands of God, said world-class gardener Alan Chadwick. When we use our hands in the garden, we touch those hands. There is something in us that goes out to meet every living thing, said theologian Thomas Berry. The inner world of man and the outer world of nature go together, he asserted. We are meant to connect with Nature and be fed by her!
There are, however, tremendous forces seeking to hide this essential truth. Government subsidies and agricultural institutions now encourage farmers to move their operations into controlled environments: hoop houses, green houses, barns, and buildings. Plants and animals have less access to fresh air and sunlight. Farmers use well water to irrigate their crops. Well water has predominantly Earth energy, whereas rain water contains vital atmospheric energy. Our food is losing its connection with the cosmic, spiritual forces in sunlight, fresh air, rain, and natural rhythms. We become less able to meet the challenges we face—less able even to see the forces that are drawing us downward.
We are the essential players here. We can awaken to that truth. Our birthright is connection, and so is our calling. We are co-creators of our world: what we imagine becomes the future. Can we hold a vision of abundance and hope? Or do we carry the images of despair and devastation that are swirling around us? Can we engage in work to restore wholeness to our lives and to our Earth?
It is not just a matter of where we get our food and how it is grown; it is also vitally important where we give to Nature, how we give to Nature, and why we give to Nature. What we do to Nature, we do to ourselves. When we dance with Nature as our partner, we reweave the web of life. We restore health.
White Rose Farm and its Circle were born out of love for life! People will give to this work because they want to cultivate their own souls, they want to honor those who have come before, and/or they want to prepare a space of love for those who are coming after. Let’s make love the foundation of the new world! There is much to celebrate and much to do….
Photos by Ingrid Cowan Hass from a Chesapeake BioDynamic Network gathering at White Rose Farm.