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.
By Megan Durney, Pfeiffer Center
There is a special quality about the mid-winter time of year, between January 15th and February 15th. Here on the East Coast, we try our best to imagine the next season’s beauty and bounty during the winter when we are more inside and inward. As winter shrouds us with snow and cold temperatures, a mid-winter festival where the mysteries and questions inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture are gathered around and warmed by human hearts seems appropriate to light our way into the depths of the darkness and winter’s cold. For eight years the Pfeiffer Center has been hosting an annual mid-winter gathering with the Agriculture Course as the central theme, but each year stemming in a particular direction from the complex topic of earthly and cosmic nutrition to the horn manure and silica preparations.
During this year’s winter intensive, we chose to focus on the dandelion and yarrow as healing plants both agriculturally and medicinally. The classroom was surrounded with a sea of green dandelion and yarrow plants as well as artistic renderings, tinctures, and the biodynamic preparations. As a group of about 50 participants, led by our guides, we began our path of approaching the plant by asking, “Who are you?” Intimately, through small group facilitated plant observations, we gave our attention to first, yarrow, then dandelion, and lastly both plants. To truly witness a plant’s presence and allow it tell its story, we learned some helpful hints. First and foremost, approach the plant as if you have never seen it before; what do you notice? Perhaps you look at the plant with a soft gaze and allow images to appear. Maybe you recall the specifics of the first encounter you were aware of with this plant. In moving towards the plant’s uniqueness, how would you describe its physical properties as you move your eyes up from the ground to the tips of the leaves? After tasting and smelling a root, leaf, or blossom, what more speaks to you from the plant? Is it bitter, sweet? What is it like to just sit in a plant’s presence for 15 minutes? These questions and more were explored in the various small group observations leading us as a community closer to a truer meeting of both yarrow and dandelion.
Accompanying our observation journey was artistic work in drawing the leaves of the plant, first filling in the positive space from the inside of the leaf out to its edges with a soft, even tone. Then, from the outside in, we allowed the negative space to form the shape of the leaf. In this challenging artistic pursuit, many felt that the act of drawing the leaves of each the dandelion and yarrow created a further intimacy and space the plant could speak in to.
Continuing to inform our discoveries of these two plants, four individuals artistically weaved presentations about the dandelion and yarrow as healing plants and as compost preparations. How do the plants relate to the health of the human being and the health of our Earth? We couldn’t speak about the plant without bringing that which is behind the activity and manifestation of the plant: Life. There is something unseen that works on matter, a healing impulse that fills and moves the physical. The invisible world is threaded through the visible, yet how do we create personal relationships with such statements and clairvoyant discoveries gifted to us from beings like Rudolf Steiner? We are all on individual paths in life and in our experiences of nature; however, how do we come together and try to cultivate a relationship with the world of plants for the sake of our future? During this winter festival, it felt as if we were making such high statements more real. There was a strong sense of waking up to the secrets of plants and learning how to foster nature’s life while also knowing that we can look to nature for healing. It’s truly a reciprocal relationship.
At the fore of the conference planning team’s hopes were that participants would be called upon to be creative and active, that they would fully be engaged in the dandelion and yarrow’s becoming. This atmosphere was present and accompanying us deeper into the ethereal realm of the plants were various musical contributions and an evening eurythmy performance. Each day participants could chose between watercolor, clay work, or eurythmy to deepen our experiences of the forces that craft matter and live within the visible. The substance created between us and the artistic environment encouraged an ability to acknowledge the world of nature spirits and their influence within the elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. In our pure attention towards plants and nature there lives the possibility of a relationship to these elemental beings.
This article is dedicated to Harald Hoven, Deb Soule, Jean-David Derreumaux, and Mac Mead for being our guides into deeper encounters with yarrow, dandelion, and the living realm of “the plant.” May we always give them our purest attention and in gratitude, look upon the plants of our Earth with awe and wonder.
Speaking on behalf of many, we are grateful for the generous financial support from the Biodynamic Association’s Scholarship Fund. This made it possible for many individuals to participate in this very special midwinter festival.
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.