This text is an extract of the book "Agriculture for the future" (Hurter, 2014).
Taking hold of and developing the farm as a living whole is one of the most important principles of the biodynamic Impulse. In particular, Rudolf Steiner introduces three concepts, he speaks of the farm organism, of the farm as an indi- viduality and in lecture 8 of the ego organisation. These concepts can be sources of inspiration in order, time and again, to come a step further in our understanding, in our observation and in our structuring and shaping of our farms.
If we conceive of an agriculture as an organism – whether it is an individual farm, a village or a valley –, then we are speaking of an organism that has been formed through cultivation from nature underlying it. The model for example can be seen in natural organisms in the way in which they are formed, especially with mam- mals. In their case the particular organs are there to totally serve the whole. Cor- respondingly in the farm organism the particular branches of farm work become organs of the farm organism. This opens up a new view of the part that is now seen as an organ, i.e. is there to serve the whole and from this whole receives a large part of its task. The organism is self-contained, that is its principle. This is possible through great inner diversity, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, through a self-contained cycle of substances via fertilizers – soil – feed.
Steiner, by introducing the term ‘agricultural individuality’, actually introduces a cultural concept into agriculture and thus transcends the framework of classical agronomy. The human being as an individuality becomes the model for the farm as a complete entity. Thus it is taken beyond the concept of the organism.
A place that has been developed in the sense of a whole entity and has been cared for over the years – farm, garden, park or valley – develops within itself all the elements, which nature has produced so comprehensively. From this strained relationship between the particular and the universal the identity of the farm is established.
In the eight lectures on agriculture given at Koberwitz by Rudolf Steiner in June 1924, the biodynamic preparations are the main focus of lectures four and five. After 90 years the biodynamic preparations developed from Rudolf Steiner’s spir- itual research remain a core part of biodynamic farming practice, an approach based on a spiritual understanding of man’s connection to the earth and cosmos and the concept of a self contained farm individuality.
Two complementary spray preparations
The first one, “horn-manure”, also called “500” (after E. Pfeiffer’s discovery of 500 million bacteria in one gram of the finished preparation), is made from cow manure. This manure is put into a cow horn and then buried for 6 months over winter in fertile soil. It strengthens the vitality of the soil and develops root struc- ture and helps to “push plants up from below”.
The second one, “horn-silica” also called “501” is made from finely ground quartz (as fine as flour according to R. Steiner). This is put into a cow horn and buried in the soil during summer for 6 months to gather the Earth’s summer forces. This brings a 'light effect' to the plants. It is sprayed over the aerial part of the plants and “draws the plants upwards”.
Six preparations normally added to compost and manure
Four of these preparations undergo a fermentation process beneath the earth enclosed within an animal organ sheath. In one case the preparation is first hung up and exposed to the summer forces before being buried in the autumn. A stag’s bladder is used for yarrow flowers (502), for chamomile the small intestine of a cow (503), for oak bark the skull of a domestic animal (505) and dandelion flow- ers are carefully wrapped in the mesentery of a cow (506).
Two of the preparations require no such ‘cover’. Stinging nettle is buried directly in the soil for a whole year (504) and from valerian a liquid extract is obtained directly from the flowers (507).
The transformation of living substances (soil, plants, animals and food) through the use of small quantities of alchemically transformed substances – the biodynamic preparations – is an original impulse unique to biodynamic agriculture.
The effect of cosmic cycles in the practical application of biodynamic agriculture was and is taken into consideration by producers in very different ways. The approach extends from those who believe that the heavens are no longer active and that the cosmic should be sought in nature, to those who take account of cosmic cycles as exactly as they possbly can. The direct link between cosmic cycles and plants and the way it is worked out in planting calendars (especially the siderial cycle and the four element effects), touches on a great longing which many people have for a new connection with nature and the stars.
Agriculture works through the interaction of many different factors that in practice are inseparable. Each field is a fully open system. The plant grows amidst a great diversity of outer influences and responds to all these influences in a holistic way. To separate these outer influences analytically is almost impossible. Weather conditions, the local climate, the soil, the type of manuring and much else besides, all work together. Each of these conditions can affect the way a plant responds to cosmic rhythms. Another, frequently forgotten aspect, which always comes to the fore when attempting to carry out research into living processes, is the human being himself. For the cultivated plant the human being is an important part of the environment: Through his/her awareness, enthusiasm and sensitivity the human being can enhance or reduce certain influences and effects. It is interesting to look at different people on their farms or in their research gardens. Why? Because then we experience the limits to statistical research. How do we arrive at this conclusion? The natural variability and influence of human action is eliminated by statistical evaluation. We can meet farmers who work very effectively with cosmic rhythms.
Plants in their whole being are far more than what is perceived by today’s science. Reductionist thinking considers a plant to be a complicated biological mechanism. Plants are living beings which live in relation to other elements in their surroundings, form substances and develop their own contexts. They become qualitative images of their environment. One of the most important goals of biodynamic plant breeding is to enable plants to adapt to the specific conditions on a farm.
Seed is an essential commodity. Without seed there can be no harvest. Farmers and gardeners need it to grow all manner of produce. For a long time it has been common practice in industrialised countries for farmers to buy in seed and only occasionally to produce their own.
Varieties developed using conventional breeding techniques can often only achieve the claims made of them within an industrial agriculture system including all its inputs (fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides, growth regulators etc). Agriculture frequently has to adapt itself to these new industrial varieties. All forms of organic agriculture that consciously reject these inputs need plant varieties that can thrive under conditions that are mostly not ideal, are resistant to pests and diseases and yet can produce good yields of high quality.
Dr. Anet Spengler Neff
The approach taken and recommended by Rudolf Steiner in the Agriculture Course, is a process of entering into the being of the animal and taking the way it lives as a starting point in order to understand it. Whoever takes this approach cannot but create the conditions that will enable the animals to reveal their true nature and make the best possible contribution to the farm. This approach will become effective when lots of individuals start to use them, pass them on to others and implement them. Farming methods will then start to change and the keeping of livestock will become self sustaining and species appropriate in more and more places.
Sustainable livestock systems are always possible when animals are able to show and live out their special capacities and are provided with the right environmental context. Livestock farming can then always contribute towards creating an intact environment and a creatively diverse, soul filled world. The only condition is that we understand the animals correctly.
A good animal-human relationship makes the development of new capacities in both animals and humans possible. Part of the reason for keeping farm animals as well as pets could well be this common development process. It is a soul devel- opment and not only one that furthers the ecological and ethical development of the food economy.
In his introduction to the Agriculture Course, Rudolf Steiner presented a revolu- tionary approach to nutrition that stood in direct contrast to the prevailing scien- tific picture of the time. The accepted version was: We build our physical body out of the earthly food we eat. For Rudolf Steiner this was true only for the head or more precisely, the nerve-sense system. The material nourishment is mainly used to provide energy for our muscular movements and supplying the inner organs. The building up of substance in the body occurs through the uptake of substances through our sense organs, the eyes, the skin, breathing, that is, from the cosmos. Forming a picture of this is not easy. It is helpful to consider how much substance is needed for the cyclic renewal of the human body. The quantity required is actually very small. The amount taken in via our daily food is many times greater. In digesting it the forces contained within the food are released and serve to stimulate the body and in a certain sense provide a ‘model’. Therefore it is essential that the food itself is as healthy and vital as possible, so that we are able to open up its forces for ourselves. It largely dependent on the forces that we are able to take up through food, whether we are able to manifest our intentions in the world or not. Biodynamic agriculture produces food for body, soul and spirit.
Already in the early part of the last century the biodynamic movement started to develop standards and a system of Demeter labelling to enable customers to find the products grown in this way.
However, only by addressing and trying to reform the social and economic context within which the whole of agriculture is entwined, can alternative forms of agriculture succeed.
In the Economic course of 1922 Rudolf Steiner stated that the division of labour is right for our time and reflects an advance on the principle of self sufficiency. In the same course however he made clear that agriculture is an exception to this and must supply its own needs if it is to remain healthy. He then made the very strong point that these modern developments would need to be addressed through so-called ‘associations’ if his ideas for a threefold ordering of society were to be realised. The key players in the economy – he generally referred to them as representatives of production, trade and consumption – must come together and collectively find solutions to the issues that effect them for in the social realm a decision taken alone is always wrong. He continually called for these associations to bring thought and common sense into the anonymous market place.