As a follow-up to the book “From the Field to the Plate – What really makes Food healthy”, published in German in 2021, a study of practice on the Lehenhof in the Deggenhauser Valley, in Germany, was undertaken in collaboration with Lea Spruegel, a nutritional scientist. This involved examining how the typical Lehenhof quality arises, what influence the people concerned have on it and how this quality is nurtured from cultivation via the processing right through to the house communities.
In the book “From the Field to the Plate – What really makes Food healthy” the key questions are what health is and what fosters people’s immune resistance and resilience. A leitmotifis brought out that is grounded on a way of treating the soil, the animals, plants and human beings that reflects partnership, interest and regard. How this works is shown by nutritional systems which serve health and in which, from cultivation, processing and trade right through to the plate, quality, regard and interest are in the foreground. Thereby food is produced which fosters development and all the people participating are involved in the process of it coming about. This may be seen as a contribution towards a future worth living. Such an approach is nurtured in the Lehenhof Camphill Village Community, which is therefore a suitable practical example for the book.
By means of questionnaires and in-depth interviews with the people working in the production, processing and preparation of the Lehenhof food as well as in the care side, the way the quite typical, particular Lehenhof quality, indeed its very own, comes about was investigated. Each workshop and house community has its own character, the stamp given it by the people working and living there. In open conversations the motives and heart-felt concerns of people were included and written down in the form of portraits. Here the central question was what makes the Lehenhof a healthy place for people both more and less independent. Moreover, various workshops – such as the tasting of foods of varying quality, the preparation of a meal, or else painting – served to discover and enhance the awareness of the life on the Lehenhof, especially of the quality of nutrition.
An appreciative, respectful, inner Attitude
With all the portraitsregard and respect as inner attitudes shown towards fellow human beings, but also raw materials, plants or animals on the farm were striking and in harmony. The matter of course nature of working together as partners in a community to which everyone contributes is also reflected in the house communities. The effective working together of all contributors shapes the workshops and house communities and makes them unique. “Our vision is not to be an institution, but rather a living and working community”, in the words of Rui Machado, head of council and chief executive as well as house co-ordinator in Morgenstern House, one of the 15 houses of the Lehenhof. Overall it is the nurturing of the “in-between space” that distinguishes the Lehenhof and that provides the people living there with well-being and security, making it their home. Moreover, quality is worked upon consciously right through to the plate, for example, in the form of a ritual before and after the shared meals.
Authenticity and Identification with the Lehenhof
In the in-depth interviews those asked said, independently of one another, that the authentic quality of the products and the community itself only come about through the individuality of the people involved. This is shown by the example of the cheese workshop: the differences in the milk require a sensitive awareness of the milk on a daily basis on the part of the cheese-makers. Thus, although the procedures seem the same and routine, the cheese that is made gets its own characteristics each time, which are dependent on the experience and sensory faculties of the particular person involved. The motto is “being present with all one’s senses”. Work instructions serve orientation and do not replace sensory perception. This is hugely different from industrial cheese production. “Sensory work lends meaning” – this energises and motivates people, and the joy of working can be sensed. “We do not tire of emphasising: cheese is a crafted product and we give our best every day” in the words of Ellen Baier from the cheese dairy team. The team hold regard for one another and almost all stages of the work can be taken on by everyone equally well. In this way a special team spirit is fostered. All this contributes to the quality and authenticity of the products, which in turn enable the products to continue to be recognised.
In the workshops a certain pride and identification with the Lehenhof and the special quality which also appears in the food were found and these continued to be strengthened. The identification with the Lehenhof found expression in the painting workshop: for instance, the view of the Alps was accompanied by the statement, “freedom is my Lehenhof”. Moreover, with the blind tasting of apple juice of varying quality this identification was really evident; the Lehenhof apple juice was recognised immediately by people with higher needs, “This is Lehenhof apple juice! It tastes of lovely apples”. This latter workshop as well as the workshop “My favourite food – what makes the difference?” made the participants much more aware how the quality can be sensed, when one pays attention to it.
Healthy Organism – healthy Community
The manner in which agricultural production including forestry is carried out is expressed in the landscape in each case. In a healthy organism the food crops grow and ripen on healthy soil. They further the health of the people eating them. Thus the head of the garden workshop, Stephan Bauck, knows what distinguishes Lehenhof vegetables: “A lot of attention is given to the vegetables, while they are growing here. All the work here is done by hand. (…) Elsewhere the work is taken on by machines. A lot of care is given to the vegetables, it is the effort we make. (…) Irrespective of who is handling them, it is a matter of the inner attitude of the individual, which is devoted to the vegetables”. It is exactly this individual devotion that characterises the quality of Lehenhof vegetables.
Animals also play a big part on the Lehenhof biodynamic farms and for the village community. Thus, on the one hand, manure, milk and meat are important products, on the other hand, the encounter with the animals as living creatures that have dignity is a fundamental experience which speaks to the soul.
Such an environment contributes to the health of the people living in it and with it. Moreover, it nourishes via the senses, when, for example, we think of a walk through orchards in bloom or in an autumn wood. In the Lehenhof’s nutritional system the provision described, with food produced regionally or locally, reduces dependence on EU-wide or global distribution chains and contributes to resilience. People often only become aware of this fact in times of crisis. With regard to the current situation in the world “think global, eat/act local” is an action that represents a contribution of the individual to a suitable world for future generations. Thus the result of a sustainable system of nutrition can be seen as positivity and meaning. For a healthy life healthy conditions are required, which begin with the soil on which food is produced and reach as far as the community at the meal table together, which appreciates the meal and enjoys it consciously. The Lehenhof with its organisation, the means and processes which form the system of nutrition contributes to the salutogenesis of the whole community.
In modern agriculture and food production it is a matter of “indoor farming” (cultivation of vegetables or lettuce with a nutrient solution and under artificial conditions), 3D-printers and laboratory meat, which is presented under the label of sustainability. Sustainability, considered comprehensively and extended to the question as to what conditions make for health leads to the authentic production of food with an inner attitude of devotion and working as partners. In the above-mentioned book “From the Field to the Plate” this is described as a source of vitality and immune resistance. Thus, biodynamic agriculture, gardening and caring for the landscape are an important source of health. This is mirrored in the picture of the landscape and in the community of the Lehenhof.
With all the interviews it could be observed that what was typical about the workshop or house community comes about through the inner attitude of the people involved. It is distinguished by respect and dignity. The way from the field right through to the plate and beyond is handled with interest and regard, and authentic food comes about that makes a contribution to individuals, the community and nature. The Lehenhof is a sustainable system of nutrition, organised in a rational way, which may serve as an example and stimulus for the development of other forward-looking systems of nutrition.