Transformation Inside and Out
Studying Biodynamics at Evergreen State College – Part 2
By Karen Davis-Brown
Part 1, “An Agricultural Odyssey into the Future,” described the year-long course offered at Evergreen State College on biodynamics and the students’ ten-day journey to EcoFarm and a whole host of alternative agriculture destinations on the West Coast.
“So gladly, from the songs of modern speech
[We]* turn, and see the stars, and feel the free
Shrill wind beyond the close of heavy flowers,
And through the music of the languid hours,
[We]* hear like ocean on a western beach
The surge and thunder of the Odyssey.”
— Andrew Lang
Every odyssey involves transformation for its participants, in the way they perceive the world and other people, and in the new experiences and relationships that are part of their journey. The Evergreen State College students who journeyed to the EcoFarm Conference on the central California coast in January were no exception. And, as many of them were in the last semester of their senior year, the conference also provided a new doorway into how to think about and approach the future.
Though the lenses through which they viewed their shared experiences were unique, their essays and journal entries reflected a common creativity, enthusiasm, and awe that in themselves are awe-inspiring and give one great hope for the future of biodynamics on this continent. There were also common themes regarding what they sought, and accomplished, on this weeklong trek they made with each other, farmers, viviculturalists, food-related activists, and several other students.
The Places and the People
So many people, so many places, in such a short time! It is no wonder that student notes and reflections are in themselves a collage of thoughts, feelings, and intentions. As Rukha Fuerst (who had visited many of the farms previously, on her own personal journey) so aptly put it:
The image of the vortex or the spiral has been particularly potent for me. I felt like I was reaching the center of a spiral during the field trip. Over 10 days I revisited the majority of the people, places, emotional states, and body experiences in totally new ways. I saw lessons that had come to me about patience, compassionate communication, presence, and consideration, resurface.
While the journey south may have been a whirlwind of experiences, the time at EcoFarm seemed to be a focused center of centrifugal and centripetal forces. At this organic conference with a strong biodynamic component, the Evergreen students were able to get a concentrated dose of diverse biodynamic concepts and applications in the pre-conference event “The Farm as a Living Organism,” as well as to see the wide world of organic agriculture in its many manifestations in the larger conference. Their capacity to be simultaneously inspired and to reflect critically on what they heard and experienced stood them in good stead as they moved from workshop to keynote to World Café and less formal conversations, and to the beautiful ceremonies in which they took part.
Visits to the many farms, gardens, and projects up and down the coast complemented the conference with intense and fast-moving “snapshots” of current efforts and future possibilities. Educational, social, environmental, and artistic initiatives blended at most stops in ways that both enthralled and challenged the travelers. These experiences ranged from the social commitment of John Jeavons and the Golden Rule Community to the diversified family “compound” of Frey Vineyards; and from the pioneering efforts of Camphill California and the Allen Chadwick Garden at the University of California at Santa Cruz (spiritual birthplace of many a biodynamic practitioner!) to the courses and trainings offered by Rudolf Steiner College in the Sacramento Valley. From small family farms to the meaningful Sufi ceremony shared with them by Wali Via at Wintergreen Farm, their trip home through Oregon came to a weary but satisfying end.
Despite the diversity of people and places that the class visited while sojourning up and down the coast from Washington to Central California, they were presented with an impressive consistency and agreement regarding the basic principles of biodynamic agriculture. This was the case (no surprise, really) even where the operation was not explicitly biodynamic, confirming the observation that most of what Steiner gave us as indications we now know to be sustainable farming practice.
The primary biodynamic principle that was reiterated at almost every stop was the same one that Steiner used as the foundation for the Agriculture lectures – the importance of relating to any agricultural entity as an individual and whole organism. The connection was then consistently made, both at farms and at the conference, between this basic principal and others – the importance of diversity and rhythm, building soil and compost, applying biodynamic preparations, having animals, minimal inputs from outside the farm, the relationship between Earth and Heaven, and the lemniscates of the farmer’s inner and outer work.
Rudolf Steiner often said that we should not take anything he said at face value, but to observe, examine, and be open to others and to the spiritual world in our Search. The students who shared this odyssey not only gathered information, they generated eternally living questions and participated in endlessly nourishing conversations that will stimulate and guide them for a lifetime. Ruekha followed up her comparison of the journey as a vortex with this observation:
I see the vortex shape in the cosmos, clouds, trees, animals, algae, people, skin, and DNA. Do our movements in the world follow the archetype of this shape? What about emotions? – Do emotions form the shape of a vortex? What about thoughts? Is consciousness itself a spiral? And what happens when we reach the center?
Future plans for this amazing group of students range from the eminently practical to the ideal, from deeply internal work to external expressions of lifelong commitment to the Greater Good:
“I was able to make contacts with perspective employers and make real my ambition of compeleting a biodynamic apprenticeship upon my graduation.” — Dianne Dotzler
“… “Biodynamic Principles and the Inner Path of the Farmer”…was a very interesting workshop to me because I’d just been studying the inner transformations of alchemy and then realized that everything that was being discussed about the inner path of the farmer was directly related to alchemy…. This workshop helped reinforce my understanding of biodynamics in relation to alchemy and the importance of working internally as well as externally.” — Ian Dix
“This was my first encounter with a flowform; it is exciting to finally see one. I plan to do more research on them because I am fascinated with the vortex and spiraling concept of biodynamics, and ‘enlivening the water.'” — Joelle Friend
“I find Henning to be an extremely charismatic and passionate individual. If I could figure out a way to obtain seed money, I would challenge myself to do exactly what Henning has already accomplished. A self-sustaining farm, living within his own means, and doing it biodynamically to boot!! He shared a few words with us — one of them, Oekonomia, meaning the stewardship of the farm and household based on natural principals. Those principles are in place to build natural and social capital. On the other hand, he shared the word Chrematistica, meaning the depletion of natural and social capital to build financial capital. These two words, one with the outcome of sustainability and the other of money really made me step back and think. If I am to pursue farming, who am I doing it for? Why am I farming to begin with? What do I want the outcome to be? These questions will be taken into sleep. ” — Caitlin Spencer
“The trip was something I will cherish forever and I can’t wait to find a home for myself somewhere sunny, with beaches and cute conventions that create community and serve really good, burning hot food. Oh, and surround myself with people who love dirt.” — Ruekha Fuerst
“…in your mind you are a warrior. Work out of the power of your mind, heart, soul, and body and use the talents you possess to mimic and adjust slightly to the Omnipresent, looming influence of nature.” — Dianna Schilling
Thank you, Sarah Williams and Evergreen State College, for making this course and this journey possible. You have changed lives in an exponential way! As more and more corporations and communities understand and accept the contribution that biodynamics can make to agriculture and society, parallel educational initiatives need to be developed across the continent. With the North American Biodynamic Apprentice Program (NABDAP) and other shared efforts, we can rest assured that they will blossom and grow!
* Lang said “Men” and “They,” so this is a bit of author’s license. — KDB