Report of the Agriculture Conference 2016: "Our Earth - a global garden?"

Our Earth - a global Garden?

International Agricultural Conference of the Section for Agriculture

3rd to 6th February 2016Goetheanum, Dornach (near Basel, CH)

Short conference report: Transforming the earth into a garden

Ralph Machunze

During this year's agriculture conference and annual gathering of the biodynamic movement which took place at the Goetheanum from 3rd to 6th February 2016, over 550 participants came together from all corners of the earth to explore how the earth might be transformed into a global garden. Biodynamic farmers and gardeners are already hard at work on this and a picture was given during the conference of their activity in all its diversity and global reach.

In order to develop a garden as a living organism, it is necessary to consider the spirit of place, the genius loci. This is made possible by working with the local conditions and forming relationships. Examples were taken from a mountain farm in Norway, a park in the city of Singapore and an oasis in the Tunisian desert.

What we know as farming and gardening today has its origin in the ancient Persian epoch. The archetypal nature of gardening and farming which at that time was always associated with ritual, remains as real and current as ever. This is expressed in a verse handed down to us from that time that connects with the conference theme.

Bring the sun to the earth.

You humans who live between light and darkness.

Fight for the light,

Love the earth.

Transform the plants,

Transform the animals,

Transform yourself,

Into a radiant jewel!

Work of this kind today requires a conscious knowledge of nature and an attitude of soul which presupposes a cultivation of the inner garden so that a feeling of responsibility for the earth can blossom. It is a way of meeting the needs and longings of our children and young people by engaging them in activities that connect them with the earth.

The global relationship between horti-culture and agri-culture was made visible during the conference and shone a light on the movement's further development.

Next year's conference from 1st - 4th February 2017 will have the theme: Building Soil Fertility – from Natural Foundations to Cultural Tasks


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Experiential sketches

Here you can find summaries of the experiential sketches held in English. For experiential sketches in other languages please navigate to the webiste in other languages, using the language bar (top tight corner of website).

School Gardens and School Farm Cooperation in Norway

Linda Jolly

Thank you for the invitation to tell something here today about our work in Norway. We have already heard about so many exciting projects, so what can I tell you from a rich country like Norway?

I began as a teacher at a Waldorf school many years ago. I started as a biology teacher in the upper school, but worked my way down - both down to the younger children and down to the earth, the soil. I had discovered that many of the pupils were illiterate in the world of nature outside the classroom. Biology can only be boring without first-hand experience with living organisms. We needed a school garden. I began a double life – first with main lesson in the classroom and then after a quick change of clothes, a school garden teacher. Eventually we had work in the garden(s) from the first grade to the ninth, rounded off with two weeks at the school for biodynamic farming, Skillebyholm in Järna, Sweden at the beginning of the 10th grade.

Out of our experience at the Waldorf school there emerged a national project, Living School (1996-2000). The question we asked was, “How can we help to foster hope, courage and resolve in our children so that they may participate in a productive way in shaping their surroundings?” We wanted to get children out of the classroom and into positive caretaking and cultivation of nature. One way to achieve this was through courses on school gardens and on school-farm cooperation. Now it has been almost 20 years and some 300 projects that have started through our courses. The courses (Ecological School Gardens and sustainable Learning and The Farm as a pedagogical Resource) are based on participation of teams (teacher or teacher-farmer teams) who find a common vision and begin their projects over one to two growing seasons. The participants document and reflect on the work they have done with the pupils and receive university credits at the end of the course. If the farmers want and need to go further, they can apply for our one-year program for a teaching degree at the university. This is an additional leg to stand on for small farmers.

Now I teach mostly teacher students at the University (Norwegian University of Life Sciences, formerly the agricultural university) and at the Waldorf teacher college. Both have farm/garden practice. During one whole week each spring the Waldorf students make a garden in a local park, and one week in the autumn, they work on a biodynamic farm. The university students start with a week on a mountain farm and have a winter week on a biodynamic farm. Most of the students get up at 5 AM to milk the cows – an unforgettable experience! If our future teachers do not have their own experience with farming and gardening, neither will the children!


At the university, you have the opportunity to do research. I had the possibility to investigate how the gardening and farming was experienced by pupils and former pupils. I began with the youth who had one week each year of their three years of junior high school on a neighboring farm, Hegli Farm in Nannestad. Classes of up to 30 pupils from the seventh to the ninth grade are on the farm every day. They work with the cows, chickens, geese and pigs, and also grow vegetables, flowers and herbs, which are used in the warm meals at the farm – cooked by the pupils themselves. They participate in all types of tasks, from sowing of plants in the spring, to the harvest and conservation, including cutting butchering of meat from animals slaughtered on the farm in the fall. Their last week is devoted to creating a meal and program for their grandparents. After this last week, I had the opportunity to make a written inquiry about the experience of around 150 youth. One of the questions was what they had learned. Some of them answered the following:

I learned where food comes from.”

I learned that I can talk with everyone in the class.”

I learned that I can work outside in all sorts of weather.

This is a revolutionary way to get useful information.”

One wrote with very neat handwriting, “I didn’t really learn anything, just never to give up.” Learning is for many something done in books and examinations, not something you do while working on a farm. Many wrote about skills like lighting a fire in the oven, chopping wood, baking bread, cooking or tending animals. However, one of the most common answers had to do with the social learning at the farm and the way it effected their relationship to each other.

Next, I investigated my own former pupils. The agriculture excursion had begun in 1980 and continued until 2008 at Skillebyholm, so there were many more or less young adults who had shared this experience. I conducted interviews with those I could find at the Christmas bazar and sent written questionnaires to those I could find on internet. All together there were 85 responses from ages 19 to over 40 years of age. I will try to give some impression of what they told.

I asked for their first thoughts about the agriculture period:

  • I remember what we did for the farm. Useful work!

  • What we did on the farm is what I remember best form school. I was in love with the place.

  • First-hand experience! To be able to try all these things.

  • I remember the feeling that money is not the most important thing.

What did they learn?

  • I learned about food production on natures premises.

  • I learned to work.

  • I learned about connections, understanding how things work together and effect each other.

  • I learned that there is a lot of work behind the food we buy.

  • I learned the meaning of life.

How did the weeks at the farm effect the social life of the class?

  • The experience at the farm bound the class strongly together – a feeling of responsibility toward each other.

  • We learned to trust each other.

  • We got to know each other better through working together.

  • All worked together, the cool guys became best friends with the uncool. The ones who struggled at school could show themselves from another side.

What did the farm experience mean personally?

  • It put things in perspective. Even my mother-in-law has understood what we should eat.

  • I had great problems with dyslexia at school. On the farm, I could contribute and be myself. I did not need to be afraid.

  • It gave me self-confidence.

  • I convinced my mother to keep my grandparents farm. My family will move there soon.

One young man said, when asked about the importance for other youth to be able to have farm experience:

“One has to see the connections. I believe that one of the most important things for people is recognition, to be seen. Getting good grades is one thing, but getting the recognition so strongly as from the work on the farm is something everyone needs.”

Project in Tanzania

On the basis for our experience in Norway, we have extended the work with schools and farming/gardening to Tanzania. I believe that we now have work in five schools in a remote mountain area where the children are growing food in the school garden – enough to make warm meals several times a week for several hundred pupils. They have goats, chickens and hope to start with bees. The passing scores for the national exams at the end of the 7th grade went from 32 % at the first school in 2012 before the project began, to 84 % in 2014 (and mostly Bs!). Three years of connecting the school subjects to the work with the animals and plants gave astounding results! The latest development is the planting of multipurpose trees and a composting and the establishment of a cover-plant demonstration plot. Schools with hungry children eager to learn how to produce their food become centers for dissemination of new skills and knowledge.

A story to end with

When the ninth graders came to the farm at Skillebyholm, Thomas Lüthi showed them around the farm and told them about the tasks that were waiting for them. Since the greenhouses were heated with wood from the forest at the farm, there was always work with sawing, splitting and stacking wood. One year a winter storm had taken many trees. Two days before departure, a group asked if they could continue working with the wood to finish all the logs. I went with them to look at the amount that remained and gave my honest opinion – there was too much and it was not possible to finish. This was exactly what they wanted to hear. From that moment, they hardly had time to eat. They worked continually in all of the free minutes and in the evening. When Thomas took the class around to see all work that had been done on the last afternoon, they were very proud of the many meters of stacked wood and the disappearance of all the logs. That evening we had an exam about what they had learned during the farm stay. The smallest boy in the class who had a leading role in the work with the wood wrote:

I learned an incredible amount! We learned to work effectively, eat healthy food and be happy.”

Those of us, who work with biodynamic farms and gardens, also Waldorf teachers, have an enormous gift of experience. We must make it available for the children next door and for those on the other side of the world. There is no better way to work with the current crisis climate and migration and lack of meaning!


Biodynamic tea from India

Workshop reports

Cultivating relationships with plants – developing sense perception as a foundation for a modern gardening culture

Bettina Beller, Martin Hollerbach, Ute Kirchgaesser

In the workshop entitled Cultivating relationships with plants – developing sense perception as a foundation for a modern gardening culture, Ute Kirchgaesser, Martin Hollerbach, and Betina Beller lead participants on a cumulative journey to help deepen the faculties of cognizance in relationship to plants and nature.

On the first day, Martin guided us through a series of meditative exercises with the aim of focusing and centering our awareness.  Inner attention on connections of different parts of our selves was undertaken. Imaginative pictures were also formed by participants of geometric shapes and colors. We were then asked to share any experiences and note any change in our consciousness after having completed the exercises. Many in the workshop noted a deepened presence in the aftermath of the work.  

We were then asked to walk around the room as a group with differing moods and emotions. We started with a feeling of joy. This was followed by sadness, doubt, and finally "loving interest".  Again a sharing occurred where it became clear that the "loving interest" mood heightened and expanded our awareness of others and ourselves.

On day 2, further inner work was done. Being asked to form a picture of a plate in our imagination, we were then asked to transform the plate into a cup. This brought interesting insights into how the mind deals with natural laws and how our consciousness has both a desire and a capability to understand lawful progression of natural processes. 

We then moved to phenomenological study of plants.  The plant species chosen was fennel. Observations and imaginations of the fennel were shared by the group in an attempt to arrive at a deeper understanding of the "being-ness" and gestures of the plant. 

The final day began with further study of plants. This time, broccoli plants were observed side by side with the fennel to compare the two cultivated vegetables.  The contrasts of the broad broccoli foliage with the fine fennel foliage were noted along with many other seeming polarities.

In a culminating exercise, some from the workshop volunteered to be part of an activity that included "acting" the part of a broccoli, a fennel, an insect "pest" of the broccoli, and a pest of the fennel.  Also included were the farmer and humorously, some insect protection fabric.  All attendees at the workshop, whether they were participating in this "play" or not observed the constantly changing interactions between the different "players" and took note that it is the relationship between things in nature that is most fundamental. 

With this culminating exercise, built upon all the prior work done, a new method for relating to and working with nature was given that  deepened our understanding  on how best to approach situations in the farm and garden. It was a fine ending to a wonderfully rich three days.  

By Delmar McComb,

Bettina Beller, Mathematician, training in formative forces research, runs courses and contributes to research. Director of the Society for Formative Forces Research (Gesellschaft für Bildekräfteforschung); DE

Martin Hollerbach, Agronomist, marketing manager at Dottenfelderhof. Runs courses on the formative forces in food; DE

Ute Kirchgaesser, plant breeder Bingenheim plant breeding research for 13 years; DE

Biodynamics and media

Michael Olbrich-Majer

The invitation to this working group was heading for biodynamic people, working with media from print to facebook, but we also picked up questions like presenting our farm to consumers or how to convince farmers from biodynamics. So we gathered editors of biodynamic or anthroposophic magazines, and people working in biodynamic or Demeter associations as well as farmers or people standing for biodynamics in their personal working field.

We opened our talk with a wide range of questions, from what and how we communicate biodynamics and its background to the different groups of recievers like biodynamic or conventional farmers, consumers, scientists or public media. In a further step Ellen Winkel (dynamic perspectief, Netherlands, 1200 copies for farmers and members four times a year and in addition two special issues), Richard Swann (Star & Furrow, Great Britain and Ireland, 1000 copies for famers and members, two times a year), Dayana Skov (biodynamik jordbruk, Denmark, 1200 copies for members and farmers, 6 times a year) and Michael Olbrich-Majer ( Lebendige Erde, Germany, for members as Demeter-farmers, -processers, -retailers and in free subscription, 4500 copies six times a year) introduced their magazines. Also mentioned were Newsletters as in Great Britain, France and Germany, the French magazine biodynamis (gardeners and public) an the consumers Magazine from Demeter Germany with 250.000 Copies four tines a year, distributed in whole food shops and markets.

The biodynamic magazine of Denmark showed a good example for the steps one could lead the interest towards biodynamics: In their latest issue they started with an overwiew of the world wide problems with soil, followed up with scientific report on biodynamic effects on soil, presented the BD practice in a few farmers examples an then also showed what´s behind that: anthroposophy.

Then the question was brought up: Shall we also speak about Anthroposophy, Goetheanum, Anthroposophic Society and Rudolf Steiner while we present biodynamics? Always? Or on the other hand, do we talk too little about that? Don’t put things like religion or ideology in your language, then the chance, that you´ll reach people will be higher, whatever the political or cultural system is, was one answer. So a good way to get people interested is to show the difference with and without biodynamics. We had the example of images of soil profiles where even a lay could see the positive effect of BD.

And: it is important first, to listen, what questions our counterpart has. This is the point where we then could get connected. And also provocate open-ness, raising questions, don´t give immediate answers, so that there could be a space for wondering about. Not easy to keep this in balance while presenting BD facts and instructions in print media. Being interested in what is the real question behind also could be helpful. And sometimes it is just convincing, to bring the well tasting products on the table, for example in the dining cars of the trains in Switzerland and Germany.

And, yes, we can mention Rudolf Steiner for instance as the person, who inspires us and biodynamics. But in the first step, don´t sell the whole package of etheric forces, anthroposophy and how anthroposophists explain the world. If you talk about these things, it should be an invitation from person to person to have an exchange about spirituality and what it means to me and you. And don´t give the appearance, that BD is only a set of tools with no background. The members of our group experienced, that this is not helpful for the farmers on the long run, because then they can´t find their own way, their own aspects to develop BD at their place. So don’t hold back, if you`re asked for.

Back again, how to speak about BD. Besides information and facts, what can we give farmers as well as consumers give at the hand so that they can carry on? One example was from a regional conference about organic farming and products, where the BD speaker not only explained the use of nutrition for our body but also for our soul and our mind. But Media not only deal with information, they also could give you a safe feeling in what you decided to do and show that you belong to something greater. This leads from passion for BD as a practice to compassion and to feel responsible for the development of mankind and nature. So the task of media and communication in a community like Demeter /BD is also producing identity.

Last but not least, it is always a good approach to show with a farmers portrait, how the way of personal development works: for example to guide the steps from conventional to organic and therefrom to biodynamics with the question what changes? In practical methods as well as in the way of thinking?

Explaining biodynamics very close to the daily experience of people but also showing that there is a way of developing yourself and the use of BD methods would be the best invitation for a further dialogue.

Flyer of the Agriculture Conference 2016

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