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The Koberwitz palace today.

What is the origin of biodynamic agriculture?

Ueli Hurter

Biodynamic agriculture did not arise gradually, rather it had an absolutely clear starting point: the agriculture course, which was held at Whitsun 1924 in Koberwitz by Rudolf Steiner. For 10 days a specialist course for agriculture was given out of the stream of anthroposophical work. It amounts essentially to eight lectures, which were taken down in shorthand and after the course published step by step as a book. We call this book as well as the historical event the ‘Agriculture Course’ even to this day. For outsiders it is surely amazing that this Agriculture Course as a historic moment as well as a text even today can be the wellspring for thousands of people and for the biodynamic movement as a whole.

Rudolf Steiner was asked to hold the course on agriculture by farmers he was connected with. These farmers sensed the necessity of a radical renewal of this area of life and work. Steiner went into the questions of the farmers, and thus in some places in the lectures there are direct references to the traditional and modernistic conditions, in which the participants found themselves. On the other hand, Steiner as a spiritual researcher dealt with a lot of issues by tackling the principles involved and opened up profound viewpoints and broad perspectives on the productive relationships between soil, plant and animal in agriculture. Moreover, Steiner introduced completely new practical measures, more than anything else, the preparations.

Already at that time in Koberwitz the Experimental Circle of anthroposophical farmers was founded. This association then co-ordinated the practical trials in the various regions, took on the production and distribution of preparations, encouraged research projects, organised conferences, a journal was founded, etc. In a similar vein right up to the present day in a lot of countries associations have arisen to foster the biodynamic impulse and they are the organisational backbone of the movement as they have always been.

The name ‘biodynamic’ (i.e. biological-dynamic) does not originate from Rudolf Steiner, but was introduced in the early years after the Course. The reports go that the one group emphasised more the biological or the laws of the living realm and the other group more working with the forces or the dynamics. The term bio(logical)-dynamic then arose as a synthesis. Demeter as a term and trademark was introduced in the early 1930s as a sign and stamp of quality for the products. In 1977 Demeter International was founded in order to coordinate the politics of trademarking in a federal manner.

The Science Section at the Goetheanum was the most important contact point for the people and the work on the farms. In the first winter after the Agriculture Course, in 1925, the first Agricultural Conference was held at the Goetheanum. Since then such a conference has taken place every year to the present day. This conference is an important event in the course of the year and also viewed from a historical perspective for people who are connected with the biodynamic impulse. Every year it has a topical theme as its focus and consists of reports of people’s experiences, reports of research, of basic anthroposophical study and artistic contributions. From its modest beginnings it has developed into an event where 700 people gather from over 30 countries.

In the biodynamic movement people are consciously aware that the principles and basic indications of the Agriculture Course are relevant for a greater period of time. Gaining an understanding of them and putting them into practice must be done anew by each generation. The question of the current development potential of the biodynamic movement depends essentially on the possibilities of the individual in the present and his or her ability to work together with others.

Complementary to this are the knowledge and the will needed to co-operate increasingly with others in alliances. This applies to the co-operation within the biodynamic movement as well as to the co-operation with the organic movement and with civil society across the world. The World Agricultural Report, which was published in April 2008, clearly showed that ecological, regional, multifunctional agriculture, based on knowledge out of experience can best master the challenges of the future. The biodynamic movement as a pioneering movement of organic cultivation and as one of its most innovative groupings, as it has been all along, wants to and is able to make its contribution to this great challenge.


The Agricultural Course 1924

The Situation of Agriculture around 1924
In the early 1920’s agriculture was gripped by clearly visible changes. The orientaton towards technolgy and science and profit-making became dominant. Already since the middle of the eighteenth century agriculture was carried out in England from a one-sided economic point of view. In 1810 Albrecht von Thaer proclaimed that agriculture is a profession for the purpose of gain. This view became more dominant during the nineteenth century, leading progressively towards a non-distinction between agriculture and ind industry. Many farmers inwardly faced this development with great concern and with growing doubts.

Paths leading to Rudolf Steiner’s lecture-course on agriculture
During the years preceding Steiner’s lecture-cycle on agriculture, he became involved in various places with farmers and their concerns. Their acquaintance with the contents of anthroposophy awoke the question what anthroposophical spiritual reseasrch could mean for their concrete professional work.

Carl Graf von Keyserlingk (1869-1928) was the important figure for the beginning of a method of working on an anthroposophical basis. He was responsible for 18 estates comprising 7,500 hectares, belonging to the sugar factory “Vom Rath, Schoeller und Skene” to the south of Breslau. In 1920, the Count with his family moved to the mansion of the Koberwitz estate. Besides this, since the beginning of the 1920s, Breslau und Koberwitz were the places where the life-paths of a number of personalities met. They were involved with the inception of Steiner’s lecture-course on agriculture, and through this stimulation their life’s work was determined.

On 22nd May, 1922, Immanuel Voegele (1897-1959) and Erhard Bartsch (1895-1960) sent an announcement to interested farmers. In a letter sent to Steiner, they wrote: “Farmers belonging to the anthroposophical movement fervently wish to work out of the recognition of the life-necessity of their profession and what anthroposophy means for the fulfilment of this, to work in their realm in a contemporary, spiritual-scientific manner. The first step to realise these aims would happen if you, most esteemed Dr Steiner, would give in a course or a sequence of lectures the general spiritual-scientific bases and the specific indications necessary to deal with agricultural questions.” The lecture-course was then prepared by a group of people. Count Keyserlingk collected both the human and professional questions and passed them to Rudolf Steiner.

A second path leading to the agricultural lecture-course was taken from the Goetheanum by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961) and Günther Wachsmuth (1893-1963). In 1922/23 various farmers approached Steiner for advice, because they saw the increasing degeneration of seeds and of many cultivated plants. In this respect, the interest of Pfeiffer and Wachsmuth was more directed to the etheric formative forces.

What is new in the lecture-course on agriculture?
In the report, already prepared during the conference, written for the News Sheet of the Anthroposophical Society, Steiner himself wrote on the aims of the lectures: “As lecture-content I placed the being of the products which are delivered by agriculture and the conditions under which these products come about. These discussions aimed to reach those practical considerations that can spiritually illuminate the decisive questions. This is then added to the practical insights and what is gained from the scientific researches of today.”

The lectures are not a normal textbook on agriculture, yet they open up new ways of understanding for the wholeness out of which agricultural products come into being. That which later developed after the lecture-course under the name “bio-dynamic” basically embraces three dimensions:

– the conditions under which the products come about in agriculture;
– the concrete measures described in the lectures;
– the elements of a continuously yielding, environmentally friendly production of food which fosters the body as well as the soul and spirit of the human being.

Even if the concept of an ecological, organic farming is not clearly defined, it does show firstly a clear direction of work. Secondly, with the concept of bio-dynamic agriculture the “conditions of production” are penetrated by knowledge as well as adding specific measures and preparations.

In an impressively coherent composition, agriculture is presented in the context of the earthly-cosmic forces. This basic motif, central to the whole concept, pervades the whole lecture-cycle. It presents a complete reversal of the mechanical-materialistic causal analysis of matter in agriculture. On these methods rest the obvious results in modern agribusiness. At the same time, however, it is also one of the cardinal causes for the questionable biological condition of the earth.


Bodo von Plato (ed.)
Anthroposophie im 20. Jahrhundert – Ein Kulturimpuls in biografischen Porträts
Dornach/Schweiz: Verlag am Goetheanum, 2003

Prof. Dr Herbert H. Koepf and Bodo von Plato
Die biologisch-dynamische Wirtschaftsweise im 20. Jahrhundert
Dornach/Schweiz: Verlag am Goetheanum, 2001

Prof. Dr. Herbert H. Koepf
Dr med. vet. Wolfgang Schaumann
Dr sc. agr. Manon Haccius
Biologisch-Dynamische Wirtschaftsweise
Stuttgart: Ulmer, 1996

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