The Inner Work of the Biodynamic Farmer Today
Part I: The scale of the problem.
As a boy during the late 1940s, I lived in a small Norfolk village where almost everyone was involved in some way with mixed farming, traditionally practised and entirely organic. There were only a very few cars, still no mains electricity or piped water and the media made little impact.
It was inevitably a close community, concerned for each other, close to the land and to nature and life for a child was in many ways an idyll.
There was excitement and curiosity when the largest farm exchanged its horses for a tractor and this, unknowingly, was to mark the beginning there of a huge and rapid time of change with undreamed-of repercus-sions. Moving away with my parents, the richness of times there maintained a hold on my imagination. Whenever I returned, however, the memory was violated by the accelerating forces that were reshaping the landscape into an arable monoculture, with only occasional pasture where a few farmers held on to favourite livestock. Chemical fertilisers and high prices for cereals brought the opportunity to be free of the ties of milking and feeding so that after the autumn ploughing and drilling it was possible to have an easier life until one could drive machinery once more on to the land in spring. What took place, consciously and unconsciously separating oneself from the daily rhythm which animals provide and then, through mechanisation, from closeness to nature, was also heedless of the few early pioneers of organic agriculture who warned that the state of our bodily health and of society itself was inextricably linked to the health of the soils that provided us with food.
This was quite distinct from the special insights of Rudolf Steiner some 30 years previously who explained how our whole consciousness, our meditative and spiritual life that might inform our perceptions and understanding was also linked to the quality of our nutrition. Here, too, he indicated how organic agriculture by itself was no longer able to provide the life forces that had at one time been carried from the soil into plants. For the future, the earth itself, the whole planet. would also need enlivening through the remedial effects of the biodynamic treatments. Then our nutrition might also feed our inner life and our thinking. Faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges from all directions we can now appreciate the paramount urgency which Rudolf Steiner attached to the adoption of his recommendations.
In the mid 1950s, living not far from the fenland, we would often come upon places where the strong easterly winds in springtime had made it necessary to bring out snow ploughs and bulldozers to clear the light drifting soil from the roads. Since that time, in just half a century. half the organic matter of arable soils in Britain has been lost and universally the water table is dropping. When I decided to go farming myself, I left behind the flat lands of East Anglia so suited to indus-trialised cropping and later designated a semi-arid region and moved to Devon, mixed farming in the rain and biodynamics.
It was not possible of course to escape the relentless forces which by the end of the century had pushed agriculture everywhere further into crisis and in so many respects we see the continuation of the attack on the senses, the nervous system and on both thinking and instinctive behaviour. For example, there is a long and continuing history of the use of derivatives from the organo-phosphate and organo-chlorine groups of chemicals which were first employed as First World War nerve gases.
Their effect is on the central nervous system of all species and so they are widely used as insecticides for crops, against blood sucking insects on the coats of domestic animals and even against head lice in human beings.
Their use with sheep and cattle was made compulsory for many years, although the animals which are dosed with them against external and internal parasites can be impaired and one usually finds at least one farmer in each locality whose health has been permanently affected. It is suspected that they are contributory, along with the feeding of meat, to mad cow disease (BSE).
The widespread de-horning of cattle, practised to facilitate more intensive housing, transforms the animals' connections with the world so profoundly that even the nature and working of their dung is altered. In Rudolf Steiner's view, the practice also makes them more susceptible to Foot & Mouth disease (F&M).
Intensive, industrialised systems of keeping pigs and poultry require that they spend long periods in darkness, partly to improve food conversion but particularly to eliminate aggression which is their instinctive response to overcrowding and the curtailment of normal social interaction. One can observe how people who work in indus-trialised forms of arable or stock farming have in some ways to de-humanise themselves, to erect shields that make them blind and deaf to suffering and destruction. They are no longer strengthened by the trusting encounter with the domestic animal and the love that flows from this. Also lost is the development of the intuitive faculties by which people became 'green fingered' or sensitive in their work with plants.
Our effect on the world about us can be to make it dull, just as much as ie ourselves are afflicted and we see that the more that people are connected with intensive and mechanised farming the less they are rewarded in their efforts to understand nature.
The domestic animals imbue the environment with a spiritual warmth when their needs are cared for. Now, in each sector of indus-trialised agriculture the curious and supportive elemental beings that previously gathered around plants and animals in the old traditional farming are dispossessed. leaving a void to be taken up by more hostile forces with different purposes for the evolution of man and the Earth.
Something similar is apparent in the genetic engineering (GE) technol-ogy. Those elemental beings which are normally active in plant reproduction and the connection of the seeds with their archetypes can no longer relate to these new seeds, amalgams of different species which have no counterpart in the healthy spiritual world. The whole approach is directly opposite to biodynamic farming which seeks to raise plants' connections with the spiritual. Rudolf Steiner warned that unless we work with a consciousness of a healthy environment for the elementals then, in fact, the plant world will die away. In the last few years, farm incomes in all sectors have collapsed.
Last year the straw of cereals was worth more than the grain, the value of milk scarcely covered the costs of its production and the prices of wool hardly met the costs of gathering and shearing the sheep. Pressure from the banks on borrowings increases, but there is little place to turn.
Farmers have traditionally invested their money in their stock, always trying to improve their breeding. so that later on the high prices that are paid for top quality animals would provide for themselves in retirement. Now, low prices mean that they cannot afford to keep going, but also they cannot afford to retire. Thus there have been long periods in which on average, two people employed in farming are leaving every day and when, every 11 days, a farmer took his life. Now less than 1.5% of the population earns a living from the land and, with few people going into farming, the average age of farmers has risen to 57. Hence the old farming skills and traditional understandings and insights into nature and the seasons are disappearing fast. The old maxim of a man and a horse for 30 acres has given way to a Ministry recommendation of a man with occasional help for 350 acres. Farming is now a lonely and anxiety-ridden occupation for many. The land-based festivals are seldom con-sidered.
By the same process 98.5% of the population have loose or nonexistent connections with what springs from their local environment. As people tend to purchase much-travelled foods from their local supermarkets so the karmic connections between people and place and local geology are also loosened. Without the perceptions which come from closeness to the land, people fail to observe the signals of ecological crisis around them.
Against the background of the diseases of BSE and F&M and a subsidy system which largely rewards high production methods and heavy stocking rates, the various government Ministries have established a hugely dictatorial and expensive bureaucracy which has further brought farming to its knees. For the farmer, it is time-consuming and tedious, its requirements so extensive and blinkered, its powers and penalties so inflexible, heartless and vicious. One only has to look at the management of the recent F&M outbreak and the burning of several million unaffected animals. For organic farmers, who manage 5% of UK farmland, only two thirds are able to make a profit. Further, the government's promotion of GE technology threatens to make unworkable the organic standards governing purity. For the organic farmers who also use biodynamics, new procedures to meet the regulations surrounding BSE now prohibit the procurement within the European Community of all the bovine sheaths of the biodynamic preparations. Also prohibited is the burial of the preparations in the soil where they are placed to winter under the creative influences of the planets.
Part II: Building the forces of renewal.
For biodynamic farmers and gardeners faced with these new regulations which strike at the heart of their farming practice it is also a picture of confrontation with opposing forces, all inter-meshed and at all levels, such that one might join with many other farmers and turn away in despair. We are all vulnerable to the economic and bureaucratic grip that tightens inexorably and can force us under. Yet within Rudolf Steiner's agriculture lectures and the related works there is a foreknowledge and guidance for this battle for the future of the Earth and with the forces which might take hold of our nutrition. For Rudolf Steiner nevertheless the outcome was far from certain. First of all it would depend very much on whether people recognised the reality behind the situation. Then, whether sufficient numbers could connect with the moral and spiritual resolve of the farmer to join in treating the land with the preparations.
When I started at this 130 acre farm in 1984, it had been heavily treated with chemical fertilisers and sprays. It was of course my first objective to treat the land with the cow-horn manure spray (500). This would awaken the soil into a sensitive connection with the creative forces from the stars and call towards the farm the beneficial elemental beings. I made careful plans, testing the tractor sprayer and making sure that everything was running smoothly but then, consistently, at some point during the stirring or spraying I would encounter difficulties that thwarted my efforts - an urgent phone call, a puncture or some technical problem. By the time I had attended to the problem it had become too late to continue and it was certainly apparent to me that this work was meeting the resistance of forces that needed first of all to be pushed back.
After two or three sprayings of the farm a new mood emerged and the land developed a warmth that almost every visitor to a bio-dynamic farm remarks upon. It was very clear to me that these first sprayings are much better carried out by a group of committed people rather than by machines. From this point of view it will be seen why Rudolf Steiner affirmed that it does indeed make a difference when the work with the spray preparations is carried out by an anthroposophist. That the same forces that are drawn into our inner life when we follow Rudolf Steiner's path of meditation can be held by the water as we stir and then can become discernible and invigorating for the elemental beings over a wide area is something that makes us realise our transforming capabilities when we work diligently to cultivate them. We can of course experience their presence around churches and in the gardens of houses where people habitually meditate and pray, but with the spray preparations we are working to heal the spiritual life of the Earth over wide areas. What is also apparent is that the whole bacterial life of the soil is increased and the earth worms, which as blind creatures are guided by the gnomes, also increase and enter parts of the soil where previously they were scarce.
The activity of stirring the spray preparations has, in itself, something creative for the inner life of people. One can relate to the listening form of the vortex, calling to mind how the ruminating cow has listened to the creative forces received by the plants, how the cow manure has listened in the horn under the earth to the winter planels, how the vortex itself is listening to the life of the zodiac and to the spiritual forces of the person stirring - and we realise that we are creating something powerful that can be heard in nature and awakens the beneficial elemental beings. It is in the discipline of making time for this spiritual work as something separate from one's normal pattern of the day, close to dawn or in the evening, in harmony with the breathing of the Earth and the Moon's passage through the zodiac, that one is drawn into a special moment which has to be planned for well in advance.
Through this, one comes to it having also prepared oneself and in a certain quietness of mind. The stirring itself, the building and collapsing of form, the raising and letting go of tension yet all the time holding the pace is something which calls for concentration and the complete engagement of the will, but it also draws one to reflect on the land for which it is intended. On completion of the spraying we find that we ourselves are enlivened by having united our whole being with the creative process. We realise how the farm or garden becomes an individuality shaped out of the spiritual faculties of the people whose heart flows into it.
This recognition of the farm as an individuality is something that rightly preoccupies the biodynamic farmer. The selection and rotation of crops and animals is done with consideration for the working of the ethers and the balancing of life forces. The working of these different aspects constantly changes according to the seasons and the weather and the farmer tries to become ever more sensitive to them as processes. developing the intuitive 'farmer's eye and meditating on the forces of expansion and contraction of growth and decay. So, with the body-namic spray preparations - the horn-silica (501) as the gatherer of light forces and the horn-manure (500) as the builder of earthly-watery activity - the farmer or gardener can alleviate the onset of stress in plants and hold each group of plants in its proper balance. This whole activity, aimed at achieving optimum health through diversity and the balancing of the etheric forces, is the polar opposite to monoculture.
Yet the creation of the farm organism goes beyond this. It is a being created out of our heart forces and one that through the use of the compost preparations is able to listen to the creative planetary processes that can guide fertility and bring spiritual forces into food. Also and highly significantly it is able to radiate spiritual forces into the landscape around it. So it is that Rudolf Steiner was able to describe those farmers using the preparations as sacraments as 'priests for the land'.
Through the uniting of local people around both a farm and its farmer (Community Supported Agriculture) this responsibility can be shared amongst many more people. Biodynamic farmers are no longer able to stand in the spiritual, social, financial and agricultural reams and carry the increasing responsibilities for each. They need help and the Earth itself calls out for many people. Only if they respond can we slow the tide of hostility that sweeps over us.
For relevant clippings from books or news papers, and for posts that are pertinent but which don't fit in the fora above