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Sacred Farming, a Collaboration with the Earth

February 8, 2017

By Jessie Crow Mermel

Originally posted on the Angelic Organics Learning Center Blog (Jan. 18, 2017)

21299076662_26da188b03_z“Farms are the places where we negotiate our relationship with nature,” explained Tom Spaulding, Angelic Organics Learning Center’s co-founder and Executive Director at the Midwestern Ecology Symposium at the Janesville Muslim Dawa Circle. Tom accompanied other distinguished speakers at the symposium, including his wife and Learning Center co-founder, Dr. Neddy Astudillo. Tom addressed the topic of biodynamic farming at the symposium.

Biodynamic agriculture found its genesis in a series of agriculture lectures by the Austrian spiritual scientist Rudolf Steiner, who also founded Waldorf education. The lectures were addressing farmers lamenting that food had lost quality with the more mechanical and reductionist ways of farming — this was in the 1920’s! This sacred agriculture dubbed biodynamics was the precursor to organic farming.

Biodynamics is a combination of the terms biological, referring to the seen forces in nature (like a seed) and dynamic, referring to the unseen forces in nature (the forces that compel the seed upward to the light) that combine to animate life. There is a recognition of the whole of cosmos in the shaping of every plant, every animal, every human being. These are the forces that continually build us up again, regenerating our cells, opening our hearts, evolving our spirits.

In biodynamics, the farm is seen as an organism, with the whole being greater than a sum of its parts. Tom used the example of dissecting a frog. Through dissection, we can see the different organs and gain an understanding of how they work together to create the frog organism. However, looking at a dismembered frog body, one cannot appreciate the magnificence of listening to a frog’s song on a late spring evening or watching the beauty of the creature transform from a swimming tadpole to a mature, leaping frog.

A healthy farm organism is also composed of many parts— the microbes in the soil, the ruminants bowing their heads to the earth as they graze on the grasses, the compost that is created from their digestion, the wild spaces welcoming biodiversity, the flowers and the bees that are attracted to them. When composed all together, these elements create an unique symphony. Each farm possessing its own beingness and personality. The job of the biodynamic farmer is to learn from that being and nurture the personality and expression of the farm organism.

In recognition of our connection to the living land, biodynamics offers the simultaneous healing of the body of the land and the body of the human. Tom discussed the homeopathic preparations that are an integral role of biodynamic farming to restore balance to the land. The farmer distills a combination of the kingdoms of nature: plant, animal, and mineral aspects of the farm and creates a remedy for balance in the subtle, dynamic forces of the farm. He swirled his arm to illustrate the ritual of the mixing of the elements into the water creating a mesmerizing vortex before it is applied to the fields. He described “the voices as the farm come to speak” as the preparations are sprayed on the fields. The birds fly in and out of the spray and the insects emerge and enter the dance. He mused that perhaps part of the reason that Steiner called for the creation and use of the preparations was to give the farmer the time and space for the stillness to reflect. Applying the preparations, Tom declared, “feels like a prayer.”

Tom and Neddy attended the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in November in Sante Fe, New Mexico. There were nearly 800 in attendance at the conference. This year’s theme was “Tierra Viva: Farming the Living Earth” and included wisdom from indigenous elders as well as biodynamic students and farmers from across North America and beyond. Tom wished he could have brought the whole staff to the conference, but he at least brought home the breath of fresh inspiration to fuel our flames.

Tom ended by saying that Steiner taught that the next stage of human evolution is to think from the heart, a message that has been coming to me relentlessly for the last couple of months. I believe that Angelic Organics Farm inspires people to do just that — through experiences that touch the head, heart, and hands. As Farmer John Peterson, founder of Angelic Organics CSA, explains, “Everyone needs a farm in their heart.” If more people carry a farm in their heart, we can truly change the food system.

Connect with the local, living land at Angelic Organics through a CSA share or by attending a workshop or camp at Angelic Organics Learning Center.

To learn more about biodynamics, click here.

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity – then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” – David Suzuki

Building a Local Network of Biodynamic Practitioners: KY-TN DemeterLOCAL

October 25, 2016

By Hilary Higginbotham

8th installment in the Tierra Viva series, the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.

Just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, 8,000 beautiful acres of rich bottomland cradled by the Cumberland River make up an area called Bells Bend. A few years ago, community members saved this rural, agricultural land from a huge development. Bells Bend is a place where community members of all ages welcome Nashville friends and enjoy weekly potlucks, square dances, harvest festivals, and farm harvest days. Most everyone you meet in Nashville smiles broadly when you mention the farm community in Bells Bend. It’s known for sharing, dancing, amazing food, creative partnerships, and rich community history intermingling with energized young folks drawn to traditional ways and food you can feel great about.


When Jeff Poppen, the biodynamic farming “father figure” here in the Southeast, helped get several new farms started here back in 2009, a small but growing network of small CSA farms established themselves in response to the threat of development. Jeff got the fields off to a great start with huge amounts of compost and spray preparations. These farms’ recent successes have given this area a name for providing amazing food, emphasizing and expanding on the agricultural heritage of Bells Bend. Under Jeff Poppen’s mentorship, the young farmers running them have used biodynamic practices to enliven their soil, and Nashville has enthusiastically supported them.

Just as this group of farmers — who, over the last seven years, have gathered solid farm experience, encouraged their interns and farm assistants to start their own farms in the area, and begun to make their own preparations — began to envision their next stage of growth, a perfect framework came into view.

Demeter USA’s DemeterLOCAL program seemed just the thing to get these farms certified Biodynamic® and to tell Nashville why holistic, regenerative practices are vitally important. DemeterLOCAL keeps certification cost low through a peer inspection model, with Demeter USA’s supervision and final sign-off. The low cost and community aspect of the DemeterLOCAL program can support these farmers in achieving full compliance with the Demeter Standard while encouraging local support, education, and farmer bonds.

In September of 2015, Karen Davis Brown, an experienced regenerative farmer and organic inspector with connections to Demeter USA, was asked by Jim Fullmer, co-director of Demeter USA, to talk about the DemeterLOCAL program at Jeff Poppen’s Southeast Biodynamic Conference in Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee. Wet weather and other factors didn’t lead to a group discussion, but the conversation got started.

In October, Karen and I attended Laura Riccardi Lyvers’ prepmaking activities at Foxhollow Farm, an established Biodynamic farm north of Louisville, Kentucky. As we made the chamomile preparation sitting under the trees, Laura mentioned that several Foxhollow farmers might be interested in forming a combined TN-KY group. Foxhollow’s pastures and hayfields are Demeter certified, but their vegetable farmers can certify with this model. Laura’s interest was just the nudge we needed. The involvement of Laura and Foxhollow members would add diversity of experience, resources, and prepmaking expertise to the strength of our group.

We announced the DemeterLOCAL training in November and scheduled the first training session in December at Old School Farm in Bells Bend. Karen facilitated the sessions using the DemeterLOCAL powerpoint modules created by Demeter USA. Fifteen to twenty Nashville and Foxhollow Farm folks attended this and another three sessions that ran through March 2016. We were off!

Attendees were a combination of: core members of a Nashville preparation making group who met regularly for a few years at Six Boots Collective in Bells Bend; Foxhollow owners, farmers, and prepmakers; and several other supportive Nashville community members — a beekeeper, herb growers, landowners planning for future certification, and community-focused growers with enthusiasm for biodynamic agriculture. This model emphasizes education and welcomes anyone wanting to be involved in supporting Biodynamic agriculture in the area.

We reviewed the Demeter USA powerpoint modules quickly and gathered specific questions for Jim Fullmer. The modules cover biodiversity; generating fertility; disease, insect, and weed control; the biodynamic preparations; integrating livestock; water and waterway conservation; and gentle post harvest handling. Farmers at the training were clearly interested in certification and wanted to understand the requirements. We also began to discuss group decision-making and how to develop as a group. We decided to establish the peer certification framework for certifying farms first, and then consider more education and community involvement.

Resource and information sharing was considered a valuable part of the peer model. Farmers liked the accountability that the group could offer, as well as having a framework for compliance. We planned to create subcommittees for specific focus areas in the fall of 2016, and to continue to make preps together.

We also began to look for grant funding for the group’s startup costs, especially to help us communicate with the public about the value of Demeter certification, and to pay a coordinator to organize inspections, trainings, and to be the main contact with Demeter USA.

We wrote a basic business plan and coordinator job description, and began a conversation with a local nonprofit Beaman to Bells Bend Conservation Corridor (BBBCC), to explore a partnership based on our common goals. We sent them an abbreviated business plan, and their board responded that they would be open to sponsoring us with their nonprofit status for grant purposes.

Jim Fullmer visited our group in April 2016 to discuss questions, walk through a mock inspection on a local farm, and to get to know our group. We sat outside on a beautiful, chilly, and windy day at Bells Bend Park until we had to ask park staff to allow us to have our potluck lunch inside! Of course, fabulous food and camaraderie fueled us for our farm inspection afterwards.


Jim led us through the Demeter-required farm inspection reports as we examined the fields, greenhouse, and livestock grazing areas. He advised us on specifics and answered questions with sensible, approachable explanations. The requirements seemed manageable to these farmers; they’d been farming this way for years, to a large extent.

To formalize a framework of accountability, I began to put together an advisory board in May, built primarily of a few core group members. However, this has been put on hold until we clarify our partnership with BBBCC, and decide what kind of accountability structure is appropriate.

Several of our participating farms plan to apply for certification in the next year or two, but timing didn’t allow any of them to feel ready to apply for the 2016 season. During the 2016 growing season, I stayed in touch through farm visits and mock inspections, but in the end we didn’t do much connecting until fall.

Currently, we are planning to discuss whether being a program funded by Beaman to Bells Bend Conservation Corridor makes more sense than being nonprofit of our own. Meanwhile, we’re planning shared fall prepmaking tasks; a Michaelmas horn-stuffing celebration with Jeff Poppen, Waldorf educators, and the Nashville anthroposophical community; and a more dynamic way of rotating on-farm trainings for the winter 2016-2017.

hilary_0-2Join Hilary Higginbotham, along with Jim Fullmer, Patricia Frazier, and Jeff Poppen, at Building Regional Biodynamic Communities, Saturday, November 19 at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference.

Hilary is a co-founder and organizer for the TN-KY DemeterLOCAL Chapter. She also organizes community prepmaking in Nashville, based at Six Boots Collective. These two overlapping groups are the core of a growing community of biodynamic farms in Bells Bend, just outside of Nashville, that serve as a practical resource and collaborative space while encouraging people to learn about the Biodynamic preparations through hands-on immersion in the whole process: growing the herbs used in the preps, making all nine preps on site, applying them on the land, and sharing them with community members who want to be involved in the process. Hilary has been involved in the Nashville farm community through cooperative growing projects and garden education—most recently of the biodynamic prep plants and medicinal herbs, foraging, and experiential garden education gatherings.

Growing Seed in the Heartland

October 18, 2016

By Beth Corymb, Meadowlark Hearth Biodynamic Seed Initiative, Scottsbluff, NE

7th installment in the Tierra Viva series, the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.

It is another beautiful day on the high plains of Nebraska. The air is clear and the surrounding hills white. Their sandstone shines out to us as we harvest our vegetables and vegetable seed crops. Out here on the Nebraska plateau we are picking seed from our biennial crops of carrot, beet, and onion seed, then letting them dry until they crackle under our threshing feet.


Processing carrot seed


Pea seed stomp

The horned cows of our micro raw milk dairy come running when I call them. They know that yodel means rotten cantaloupe, their favorite snack. We humans get the best melons, and we save the seed from those we eat. The children dance with delight to see the cows smack their lips noisily as they slurp the melons.

The members of our year-round vegetable CSA arrive carrying many bags, since we offer them 12-20 types of vegetables and melons every year. Harvesting these crops for the CSA helps us to keep on top of how a variety performs, since we are always looking for those “workhorse” vegetable varieties which do well in various climates and seasons. Over 120 vegetable varieties are listed on our website. We offer varieties we have found to do well in our northern climate. Along with our garlic seed, these hardy vegetable seed varieties listed at the Meadowlark Hearth website are also chosen for their flavor. Come visit us, and we can tell you more!


Carrots flowering for seed

We hope to meet you at the Biodynamic Conference this year in Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 16-20.  There will be many great workshops with presenters from all over the world, and we will be sharing our work of growing seed by “Farming the Living Earth.” Join us!

Join Beth and Nathan Corymb at their workshop, Growing and Selling Biodynamic Seed, on Saturday, Nov. 19.

Beth and Nathan Corymb trained in biodynamic agriculture at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. Nathan trained in biodynamic seed growing at Sativa Seed in Switzerland and Bingenheim Seed in Germany. They founded the Turtle Tree Biodynamic Seed Initiative and developed it as a sheltered workshop for people with special needs, where it continues at Camphill Village USA in Copake, New York. In 2010 they moved to Nebraska and began Meadowlark Hearth Farm, where they developed wholesale Biodynamic seed production along with a CSA, dairy, beef, pork, poultry, and market vegetable production. At Meadowlark Hearth, they integrate the farming and seed work into education and therapeutic work under the auspices of the Living Environment Foundation, a non-profit with a two-fold focus on biodiversity and serving vulnerable populations. As well as having their own online seed sales, each year they grow contract certified organic and Biodynamic seed for a number of U.S. seed companies.

The Story of Carbon

October 5, 2016

By Courtney White

Excerpt from “The Story of Carbon.” Sixth installment in the Tierra Viva series, the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.

connectingsacred-1The (boring) Carbon Cycle

Carbon is the most important element on Earth and the best way to begin explaining its significance is with the terribly important carbon cycle. The trouble is whenever I see the word ‘cycle’ my eyes start to glaze over. It doesn’t matter if it is the water, mineral, energy, nutrient, or some other cycle critical to our existence, for some reason my attention begins to wander the instant I see the word. I remember attending a conference years ago where a speaker displayed an image of the nitrogen cycle on a farm he was studying. It had something like sixty-four separate arrows flowing in every possible direction, including in circles. I took one look at the image and immediately put my pen down. No amount of notetaking was going to make sense of this cycle when I tried to explain it later.

Maybe it’s something we pick up as children. When my daughter did a homework assignment on the hydrological cycle for a science project both of us struggled to stay focused. It was good stuff – don’t get me wrong – and she enjoyed drawing clouds and rain and squiggly lines flowing upward from the ocean into the sky. When it came time to explain it all, however, the fun disappeared as fast as water on a hot sidewalk. Let’s be honest, ‘evapotranspiration’ is hard to say much less describe in simple terms. Making circles in the air with my finger was the best I could do.

The problem is there’s usually no story to go with these big ideas. Take this image of the carbon cycle produced by the Quivira Coalition for one of our publications:


As a depiction of the never-ending cycle by which carbon dioxide (CO2) flows out of the atmosphere into the soil as carbon via photosynthesis and green plants and then back out again via decomposition and respiration, round and round, sustaining nearly all life on the planet, the image does a great job. I especially like the way it distinguishes nature from industry. The fossil-fuelled factory sits off to the side, outside the circle, pumping three hundred million year-old carbon, previously buried in the ground as coal, oil or natural gas, directly into the atmosphere as CO2. No cycle there – just a straight line up.

I like this image of the carbon cycle, but it’s boring. That’s because it doesn’t tell a story. What’s up with the cow, for instance? What is it doing there? Does it belong to someone? Did a visitor leave a gate open someplace allowing the animal to wander in? And what about that factory? What’s it making? Electricity? Cement? Artificial fertilizer? Is it Chinese? American? Brazilian? Does its owner hire undocumented workers? Is up to code? Has it been busted for improper disposal of byproducts?

I’m being facetious, sort of. Carbon is essential to life but it’s also rather abstract which is one reason why we’re having a hard time getting our minds around CO2 pollution, carbon credits, soil organic matter, carbon sinks, carbon farming, even global warming. Carbon needs a story. Or rather, lots of stories. It isn’t enough to wave our hands in the air and say “if we damage the carbon cycle all sorts of bad things will happen!” Instead, I look at this image and think “Will someone get that lost cow back into the pasture with its herd!” That’s the rub – how do we get important concepts across without the eyes-glazed-over effect? It ain’t easy. But it’s important to try because the issues involved are increasingly critical. I’ll see what I can do. …

Read the rest of “The Story of Carbon” here, and hear more from Courtney White in his keynote presentation during Regenerating Earth and Community on Friday, November 18, at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference.

courtney-white-2A former archaeologist and Sierra Club activist, Courtney White dropped out of the ‘conflict industry’ in 1997 to cofound the Quivira Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between ranchers, conservationists, and others around practices that improve economic and ecological resilience in western working landscapes. He is the author of Revolution on the Range (Island Press), Grass, Soil, Hope (Chelsea Green), The Age of Consequences (Counterpoint Press), and 2% Solutions for the Planet (Chelsea Green). Courtney’s writing can be found on A West That Works. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his family, two dogs, and four chickens.

Reflections on Biodynamic Community Building in New Mexico

September 27, 2016

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.

Fifth installment in the Tierra Viva series,
the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20.

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.


View over Santa Fe

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.


Morning Star Farm

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.




Field day at Morning Star Farm

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

patfrazier-and-golden_0-1Patricia 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.

Goethe and Honeybees

September 13, 2016

 Fourth installment in the Tierra Viva series,
the theme of the 2016 Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, November 16-20

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-joshin-thieleMichael Joshin Thiele will share more about the world of the onebeeing in his workshop The Alchemy of Bee-ing at the 2016 Biodynamic Conference on Saturday, November 19.

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).

Working with the Living Realm: Draft Horses and the Farm Organism

August 9, 2016

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.

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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.

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