By Jeff Schreiber, Three Sisters Community Farm
Plenty of artists create works of art about farms, and there are surely many farmers who are also painters, poets or musicians. Many farms, even, offer artist-in-residency programs so that artists can create and be inspired in a beautiful and simple environment, away from the cares of the real world. But what about the act of farming as art, or the farm itself as an actual work of art?
We’re not accustomed to thinking of farming in this way. Farming is about the production of foodstuffs — it’s business (agribusiness), not art, right? A farmer/artist, like Wendell Berry, does his or her farming and then — after the work is done — sets about writing beautiful poems.
We’re also not accustomed to thinking of art like this. A work of art, to most, is something static — something fixed on a page or hung on a wall in a museum. Some contemporary art, however, points in different directions. Today, writes art historian Diether Rudloff, “Everything can be art. Everything is worthy of representation — to the extent that every form and every content is an adequate expression of the individual creative power of an artist.” Still, some principles have arisen. Rudloff continues:
The material result, the finished artifact as such, is no longer the goal. The essential factor is increasingly the path that leads to it, the creative act. The emphasis then shifts from the stationary work to the active process. But the final result of this is the end of art in the traditional sense.
If we shift our focus from the foodstuffs of agribusiness — the carrots, the cuts of meat— to the process or the activity of farming, we can begin to glimpse just how farming can be art — and the farmer, artist— in this emerging, contemporary sense.
Like the poet who confines herself to the form and structure of the sonnet, the farmer creates within the physical boundaries of the farm itself, to be sure. But more generally, the creative act of farming plays out largely between the laws of the natural world, on the one hand (things like soil type and hail storms and animal breeds), and the results of human interactions and relationships on the other (social things like property boundaries and taxes and farm labor). The farmer brings their own unique individual capacities and creativity to the realm between these two poles, the realm of the economy. By economy, I mean something a bit different from typical usage. As fellow biodynamic farmer Henning Sehmsdorf reminds us, the term economy comes from the Greek work oikonomos, meaning “household steward.” To be economic, then, comes closer to the modern notion of building natural or social capital, as opposed to the pursuit of profit or money for their own sake (chrematistica).
On the economic canvas, the household of the farm, the farmer stewards and orchestrates the complex and dynamic forces at work in the fields and trees, in the crops and livestock. In the compost pile, for instance, the farmer might sense a subtle shift in the dance of materials within— it’s becoming too cold and wet, perhaps. The farmer intervenes, turning the pile to bring in the forces of air and warmth, these tones heightened, maybe, by the addition of a little hot, nitrogenous manure from his chickens.
A farmer’s day is filled with countless such artistic moments and happenings, processes within processes, each one different than the last, changing with each passing season and year. There are many failures, many flops, which — thankfully — often the farmer alone witnesses. As she hones her art, the farm becomes more and more a model of economy, more economic. Often, then, the farmer is the only witness to the masterpieces, the triumphs of her art: the sheen of a healthy animal’s flank, the seamless crop rotation, the perfect taste of a carrot pulled fresh from the soil.
Such things are satisfying, to be sure, and the material end result of the creative process is of course important — we do need, after all, to eat! Perhaps, though, we are really sustained, at a deeper level, by just how much art goes into the production of our food.
Farmers Kelly and Jeff met while working at Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee, WI. Not long after they began working together 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. They currently grow six acres of vegetables, raise chickens and ducks, and keep honey bees.
Originally printed in the Three Sisters CSA newsletter.
The Biodynamic Winter Intensives were held at the Nature Institute and Hawthorne Valley Farm during the weeks of February 8-12 and 15-19. Jonathan Code from Crossfields Institute International, based in Stroud in England, joined the faculty for the second of the two weeks. Jonathan co-directs a distance-learning, postgraduate course called Researching Holistic Approaches to Agroecology, which supports research and inquiry into a variety of approaches to land stewardship and social development related to agroecological initiatives. The course currently supports students in Canada, the US, England, Malawi, and Denmark and is enrolling now for the autumn 2016. Biodynamics features as one of the strands of the course.
By Jonathan Code
I landed back in the UK from the recent Hawthorne Valley winter intensives to find a real buzz in the UK biodynamic world sparked by a royal endorsement for biodynamics. HRH Prince Charles recorded a ten-minute video that was shown at an Italian biodynamic conference in mid-February, and links to that video were landing in my inbox from all directions. It is clearly significant when a public figure of this standing speaks openly for biodynamics and acknowledges the importance of Rudolf Steiner’s impetus for a new agriculture and also the current developments in this realm. This is good news.
It will, however, also be interesting to see what follows from this short video. It has clearly given great encouragement for those working with biodynamics, at least from what I can see here in the UK. It will, of course – due to the speaker’s public profile – also stimulate questions for many people unfamiliar with biodynamics, who may be hearing about it for the first time from this prominent public figure.
What is this thing called biodynamics? Is it a method? A movement? A worldview?
Questions such as these – and many others – arose during the winter intensive from a very dynamic and diverse group of participants, some new to biodynamics and some deeply steeped in its study and practice. Our approach to these questions in the brief week we had together was to allow them to be distilled through facilitated social process, where they were cultivated and nurtured in dialogue and in silent reflection. We pondered the realm of the stars, soils, and plants and their mutual interactions through presentations. We also explored experiential approaches to engaging these subjects through “trying on” different lenses, or ways of knowing, as availed by the alchemical worldview and contemporary holistic perspectives on science.
I hope we were able to cultivate these questions, to allow them to grow further, and I know that I came back with deeper ones myself.
A really precious gift for me from this week at Hawthorne Valley, alongside the meetings and new connections made, was to experience deeply something that I just don’t get here in the UK. Bitter cold, wind chill, crunch of snow underfoot, deep blue sky, and sunlight amplified by the crystalline carpet underfoot. An experience that went deeply into my bones. Though this was followed promptly by a spike in temperature, which dissolved everything in the space of a day – what better way to engage the polarities inherent in the agriculture course then this?
Jonathan Code is a lecturer with Crossfields Institute International. He helps run the MA Researching Holistic Approaches to Agroecology and the BA Philosophy, Arts, and Social Entrepreneurship. Jonathan has a deep interest in consciousness studies, western esotericism, the natural sciences, and education. These interests informed both his bachelor’s degree (Intregral Studies, CIIS, California) and his M. Ed (Social and Environmental Education, RSUC Oslo). Jonathan has taught practical chemistry, phenomenology, and nature study to learners of all ages for many years, and he continues to contribute to adult and higher education initiatives both in the UK and abroad. Jonathan teaches in biodynamic education programs in the UK and abroad. Jonathan’s book Muck and Mind: Encountering Biodynamic Agriculture is published by Lindisfarne Press.
Originally published by RSF Social Finance in the Winter 2016 RSF Quarterly
Abbot Hill in Wilton, New Hampshire, is home to High Mowing School, a Waldorf boarding high school, and Temple-Wilton Community Farm, one of the first biodynamic community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the U.S. Also nearby is the Yggdrasil Land Foundation, an agricultural land trust committed to protecting biodynamic farmland. The result of such close proximity has been an extraordinarily collaborative project between High Mowing, which purchased farmland adjacent to its campus, and Yggdrasil, which purchased the conservation easement rights. The protected land is now used by the school, and is also leased to Temple-Wilton to support its grazing and feed needs.
In the midst of all this activity, Brad Miller, a biodynamic farmer turned teacher at High Mowing, developed an innovative horticulture program that engages students in the many facets of stewarding land while learning life lessons from it. Katrina Steffek, RSF’s chief operating officer, spoke with Mr. Miller about what his students gained in their study of diversified and balanced farm ecosystems.
Katrina Steffek: Tell us a little bit about High Mowing School.
Brad Miller: We’re in our 73rd year since the founder, Beulah Emmet, started this school. She chose this place, which was originally her summer farm home, to provide young people with something she realized was needed: fresh air, trees and granite. A fire here in 1970 destroyed the majority of the old school building. All of Mrs. Emmet’s personal possessions were destroyed; however, nothing of the students or the new school was damaged. There’s an interesting metaphor in there: that this is really a place for students.
How did you first get involved?
Miller: I have been involved with the school since 2009. I was running a CSA program on the property and renting land, and I started volunteering with students. In 2010, I offered two horticulture classes. Within two years, I was full time at the school, and we had integrated horticulture and garden work across the science curriculum and more. Now the program is a signature one for the school.
How has the horticulture program affected students?
Miller: For those freshmen who went through it four years ago, when we broke ground together and erected the greenhouses, they have a sense of accomplishment. The students that arrive now often can’t tell that the garden hasn’t always been there, so it’s different. Now they are maintaining or nurturing something that’s not for them but for the future, which is very hard for an adolescent to grasp. When that happens, it becomes more than just taking care of the carrots or the beets. It’s about soil microbiology. It’s about resource management. It’s about fair and equitable distribution of resources. That’s what they are actually more concerned about.
So it’s eliciting additional lines of though around resource allocation and environmental stewardship?
Miller: You just hit on it there, Katrina. That’s what I hear from them: environmental stewardship. How do I participate in that? How can I be an advocate for that?
But I sense a real difference in your program, where it’s not so much a lesson plan just outlining best practices. It’s more of a conversation that starts with the ground and soil, and then spurs students to deeper learnings.
Miller: A colleague and I have researched and discussed how so many land grant universities and alternative farming programs teach the mechanics of farming, and so few teach about one’s heart connection to the land. That’s conversation and language that I have with the sophomores, juniors, and especially the seniors. As they mature, we go from direct planting, seeding, compost management, and the alchemy of that to conversations about how we know whether a practice is right. How can I assess what’s best for this place? How would I know in my own life if this is the right choice? It becomes a metaphor for how these students are going to ground themselves and move on in their lives.
Other than the connection to Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, why is the biodynamic aspect important to the horticulture program?
Miller: It’s necessary to know the science and the basis for how to grow food. But if one doesn’t meditate and have a self-development practice, one is going to miss the very subtle influences that farming, weather, and nature unfold. It isn’t a linear exercise. So often when I was first farming, 16 or 17 years ago, I would say, “I grew that.” If something was in the way, I took it out. It was very self-centered. As I became more exposed to people practicing biodynamics for 10, 20 or 30 years, I would hear, “I don’t know, let’s wait and see.” This was a completely different approach.
With the kids, rather than say, “I’m the expert,” I now say, “I’m learning, too.” And when we look at a situation closely, we sometimes see it in a different light. A pest may not be a problem because it ate four plants; we still have 600. If we wait, is it going to be a problem next year? My experience is now that things come and go. And so with biodynamic prep, it seems to be less of the application of the physical and more of the time spent preparing, thinking about it, and being in the right space to apply it—those quiet moments when you step out of the doing and you start being in your garden.
What’s changed in the garden since transitioning to biodynamics?
Miller: It’s now a place for living things. There is a multitude of species that are in balance with each other. I haven’t had disease pressure. I haven’t had pest pressure or predation where it harms the garden. Things are in check. Our bird life is up. Our insect life is healthy. It isn’t wilderness, but there is wildness. On this property, we’ve had bear, coyotes, owls, foxes, weasels, groundhogs, a mountain lion, wild turkeys, deer, and a whole range of arthropods and insects.
We’re now looking at the microbial life underneath, and the kids are starting to realize that the soil is alive. Where before, one of the most common things out of their mouths was, “Oh, that’s dirt, and you just put a seed in dirt and it’ll grow.” Just like their own thoughts and their own dreams, not every seed grows. It takes some nurturing. It takes some maintenance to get it to grow and to bear fruit.
How do these lessons translate into your conversations with students?
Miller: They are less conversations than observations of what students are experiencing in the garden. I have students who would never want to farm or garden—and yet the garden has provided them a platform for place. They now understand that you have to care for something and that it goes through cycles. In a very subtle but profound way, I think it plays very well to the adolescents’ own sense of time.
Teenagers are known for having an inward-looking lens. Does the horticulture program aim to bring them out of this mode?
Miller: We don’t want to take that away from them because it is their time to be inward. One of my past mentors told me it was more important that the young people see that I care for the garden deeply as a teacher here. They’re not going to remember the lessons. They’re going to remember me and the effect of how I treat the land or vegetables or even a tool.
Miller: That’s been probably the biggest lesson: whether I pick the tool up and put it away even though it’s wet, we’re tired, and the bell rang. Do we take the time to finish what we started or do we walk away? I had to point out to students that when you leave, you also leave the chickens, pigs and plants that still need your help. You can’t just walk away. Rarely do teenagers, young people—and we should even say adults now—recognize or sense where they’re needed. As soon as somebody is needed, their life is validated. So then it’s not just a rake, but our rake and the next year’s students’ rake. It’s not disposable.
What do you see as the future of the horticulture program?
Miller: It’s really an exciting time because the program has more to give. If we look back to Mrs. Emmet’s original impulse to provide adolescents and young adults with an opportunity to be educated in and amongst nature, we are perfectly positioned at High Mowing. We allow young people a rapidly disappearing opportunity to cultivate their education while immersed in nature. We’re now looking at starting a fifth-year program for people out of high school who want to do a semester or a year here. We have people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who want to come here to work. So we’re trying to create a program that can enriched their lives as well.
by Rosemary Tayler
Calendar 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.
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.
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:
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! 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!
Stewart 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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
2015 Colorado Biodynamic Workshop Series
By Cache Stone Hunter
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.
By Delmar McComb
Originally published in the Fall 2015 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC)
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.