By Patricia Hunting
Willow Summer of Three Springs Community Farm and Anne Freiwald of Vital Cycles Permaculture kept the audience enrapt with their lively conversation in our latest Solutionaries Speak event, “Biodynamics: Beyond Organics.” They took a lofty subject and brought it down to earth — pun intended!
Willow opened with a quote by the father of biodynamic principles, Rudolph Steiner, a German farmer:
“Seek the truly practical material life, but seek it in such a way that it does not numb you to the spirit that works within it. Seek the spirit but not out of spiritual lust or spiritual egoism. Seek it rather because you wish to become selfless in the practical life of the material world. Turn to the ancient principle: spirit never without matter, matter never without spirit. And say to yourselves, we will do everything material in the light of the spirit. And we will seek the light of the spirit in such a way that it enkindles warmth within us for our practical deeds.”
How did biodynamics evolve?
At the end of World War I, Steiner had a premonition that the agriculture industry, threatened with heavily depleted soils, was leaning toward unhealthy chemical solutions (such as leftover, synthesized nitrate from the weapons industry) to replace naturally occurring nitrogen as a fertilizer. By the end of the 1800s, Europe had become increasingly materialistic and decreasingly religious. Steiner felt that people were out of touch with nature and with each other.
His theories, based on science, homeopathy, and alchemy, while complex on some levels, were also quite practical. He knew that it wasn't realistic to be 100% self-reliant on a farm and suggested that it was sufficient to feed livestock with 50% of fodder produced on the actual farm and 50% brought in from outside. He suggested that every farm devote 10% of its land to biodiversity in order to attract pollinators, birds, and even the relationships of prey and predators for natural pest and rodent control.
Applying biodynamic principles today
During Steiner’s lifetime, the idea of homesteading and being self-reliant might have worked, but this is no longer possible with our current world population. Even so, we can still apply his principles to our lives today. For example, most of us probably don’t sew our own clothing. However, we can still come together to collectively help one another.
Steiner is considered one of the first to propose the idea of community-supported agriculture (CSA). In this model, the community comes together with food producers to determine the farming budget. The members agree on how much they can contribute. If the budget isn’t reached, they renegotiate each member’s contribution, making sure that those with lesser salaries are still included. This creates a more equitable system, resulting in a healthier community.
Here are some of main tenets of biodynamics:
Willow and Anne provided a great list of books, including some co-written by Willow, and resources on biodynamics:
Check out the full recording of the Solutionaries Speak event with Willow, “Biodynamics: Beyond Organic" on our YouTube channel, where you can also watch a virtual tour of Willow's Three Springs Community Farm filmed by BAGT Lens, our video production team.. Don’t forget to subscribe! If you can make a donation to help us continue our programming, please do so here.