Secular Biodynamics: Scientific Agriculture Beyond the Organic
By Paul Sansone, Here and Now Garden
We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity! — Pogo
In Biodynamics we are guilty of the old saying that if you ‘Make any project big enough, it will never happen.’ We complicate and obfuscate. We couch our thoughts in the archaic language of 19th century Goethean science and mystical Christianity. The Biodynamic method can be practiced without intimate knowledge of Anthroposophy or Goethean science. The worldview of Biodynamics is compatible with a diverse universe of belief systems including those of Buddhists, Jains, Sufis, mystical Christians, and a multitude of native cultures.
The benefit of Biodynamic methods is documentable with traditional materialistic science. Modern microbiological and ecological scientific language can be used to describe and implement the Biodynamic method. At the end of this paper I include a simple outline with the seven essential elements of the Biodynamic method. It really is much easier than chemical agriculture. Things get better the longer you use the method. The benefits of Biodynamics have been scientifically proven to be sustainable, economically productive, and not dependent on toxic or synthetic imputs.
Biodynamics seeks the enhancement of the etheric life forces that fuel agricultural systems. The soil and plants are bound together in a complex biological matrix. The boundaries blur of where soil starts and plant begins. The interrelationships of plants, soil, bacteria, fungi, and the plethora of other microorganisms with the greater ecological environment; and even the cosmos as a whole, are considered and worked with. In addition the farmer serves as a conscious steward of the farm organism, which brings the innovation and inspiration of the human spirit to the farm.
When we began to grow cut flowers Biodynamically we were told that it was not economically feasible or technically possible to produce premium quality required by the market. After all, one imperfection on a flower and its value moves from gold to garbage. We chose to grow flowers because we needed to earn a living from our agriculture. The math told us that intensively grown cut flowers were capable of yielding the highest dollar value per acre of almost any crop. We knew we could grow high quality flowers because as apprentices to Alan Chadwick at the U.C.S.C. Farm Project, we had been forced to grow flowers. We came to learn how to grow food without chemicals, and were taught the importance of diverse polyculture to the health of the farm and the need for beauty.
In the course of giving the agricultural lectures that form the basis of Biodynamics, Dr. Steiner was asked why the world was in so much turmoil and why people didn’t seem able to make moral and productive decisions necessary for positive change. He responded that our food lacked the etheric life forces to support our will.
Steiner believed that the quality of the food needed to improve for people to have enough will to be capable of making the choices that would lead to a harmonious relationship with nature. And so the emphasis has been on food production.
But elsewhere in his lectures and discourses on related subjects, Dr. Steiner spoke extensively about the human need for beauty and art and how they strengthen the will. The application of Biodynamics should not be limited to the production of food. Surely we have matured to the point where we can see the damaging effects of materialistic science on the entire environment. Whether or not we personally eat a product is not really important. We are still connected and affected by all our society’s actions.
Our landscapes and parks, our forests and roadsides, all of our interactions with the environment should be guided by the same awareness that we bring to our food. Our society is increasingly electronic and virtual. We are continuously moving away from interaction with the natural environment. Humans are changing. A ‘cyber human’ is replacing Homo sapiens. More and more of our time is spent in cyberspace and artificial environments. Television, Internet, cell phones, and fully conditioned built environments fill our days. We are in real danger of losing touch with the natural world that has supported us. The application of Biodynamic culture to the entire landscape and our living environments is necessary to maintain our balance with the natural world.
What is lacking in modern ecological sciences and organic farming methods is a worldview that goes beyond materialistic science. At its worst, Organic agriculture is the materialistic chemical agricultural system with organic inputs substituted for synthetic chemical inputs. Biodynamics differs from chemical and early American organic agriculture in its worldview. Biodynamics views the world as interrelated sentient organisms with a spiritual dimension. The farm is a living organism. The farmer is a conscious part of the organism, guiding its development as a steward intent on maintaining an ecological balance. The farmer is in intimate communication with the life forces that create the farm.
Current organic agricultural systems need to evolve to recognize the living systems involved in agriculture and work with stimulating their etheric life forces. In Biodynamic farming there could never be a farm based on ‘Organic Hydroponics’ In the Biodynamic view, the plant can not be cultured as a separate materialistic entity sustained in a bath of organic nutrients. Hydroponics is akin to a medical patient in a hospital intensive care unit. The patient’s life is maintained by artificial support systems. The patient may be alive; but vitality, vigor, and disease resistance are not possible without lots of expensive and complicated inputs. True health can not be maintained. ‘ Organic hydroponics’ is just the substitution of natural inputs for synthetic ones. It may be an improvement on chemical agriculture, but it is still based on an incomplete view of natural systems. It is an unstable artificial environment.
The practice of Biodynamics doesn’t require belief or understanding of the theology or philosophies from which is has arisen. It doesn’t even require an understanding of the language used to describe it. Chemical farmers don’t make their herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. Most farmers are not trained in chemistry or the materialistic science upon which the method is based. They still can practice the method without this knowledge, as long as they follow the system. 2,4,D will still kill the weeds. Urea will still give the plants nitrogen.
The same is possible with Biodynamics. Traditional organic farmers can evolve to utilize the more ecological and holistic elements of Biodynamics without learning about the philosophical foundations of the method.
In fact Biodynamics would enjoy much wider acceptance if it were promoted to be practiced as such. Modern biological science now recognizes the existence of complex living ecologies, with complex interdependencies and living changing systems. The Gaia hypothesis even postulates the planet as a single sentient organism. That is Gaia with a capital “G”. Microbiologists are slowly identifying specific beneficial organisms responsible for fungal resistance in soils. Companies are even beginning to market specific organisms.
I find all these things positive, but somewhat amusing. William F. Brinton of Woods End Research Laboratory has written that the micro-biological life of a Biodynamic compost pile is composed of tens of thousands of genera of bacteria and fungi moving in sequential waves through the life cycle of a compost pile. Researchers write of residual substances that are signposts of multiple complex processes. The scope of these living forces is immense. And yet there are now commercial enterprises selling single species of organisms as biological Band-Aids for specific diseases.
Implementation of the Biodynamic method utilizes a huge diversity of microorganisms, biological and chemical processes, and life-force stimulators and enhancers. Not just a single organism for a single symptom. So while we may be able to apply the Biodynamic system without believing or understanding the underlying theology or philosophy. We must not use science with an arrogance that disregards the spiritual or etheric life force aspects of the method.
The following letter and response were first published in the New York Sun in 1897.
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says if you see it in the Sun, it’s so. Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?
Signed, Virginia O’Hanlon.
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they can see. They ink that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little.
In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in
his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.
There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, and no romance to make tolerable their existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world and not the strongest man, not even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could push aside that curtain and view or picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10 thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Francis P. Church
Editor, New York Sun
In chemical agriculture and materialistic science we fall prey to the trap that the rational human mind can comprehend all things. We fail to recognize and appreciate our own limitations. In the harsh light of the sun science disregards and denigrates spiritual thought. Yet the world is still full of churches and people carry on with their various faiths and practice scientific thought. The most real things in Biodynamics are those that neither children nor adults see.
Materialist Science, by definition, ignores the existence of the spiritual side of living biological systems. I was always impressed that in the traditional scientific study of biology and other life sciences, the first thing we would do is killing what we were studying. It would be dissected, examined, named, quantified, and categorized. Analyzed as the sum of its components. And if we were really advanced, we would analyze it as a member of a group of living systems.
But at the moment of death, the material scientist can identify only the absence of life. Once gone, it is incapable of recreating life. Materialist science yields knowledge of life, but not the wisdom of life. The vitality, the life force, the spirit of the living entity is beyond definition. Materialistic science is incapable of describing it or working with the sentient part of natural world. It can identify the active element in an herbal compound identified by a shaman living in the jungle. It can sometimes even synthesize it. But modern science can not originate it, or communicate with the environment and plants to discover it. That can only be achieved by communicating with the living, sentient part of the environment.
The effect of spiritual influences on crops can be identified through the use of standard materialistic investigation studies. The history of Biodynamics is easily traced by the work of traditional materialistic scientific validation of the effects of specific Biodynamic practices. From the beginning, Dr. Rudolf Steiner encouraged further scientific verification of the benefits. Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer was encouraged by Steiner to demonstrate through scientific methods the influences of etheric life force. These verification methods included his development of sensitive crystallization, and chromatography as specific research tools that could physically identify increases in plant vitality and quantifies increases in the nutritional quality of food. Further comparative research was latter conducted by Dr. Herbert H. Koepf of Emerson College. The research continues today with the fine work of Dr. Walter Goldstein of the Michael Fields Institute. Traditional and leading edge microbiological research and its practical application to the farm organism is commercially available from the Woods End Research Laboratory, Inc.
Biodynamics is the oldest western form of sustainable agriculture. It has a strong foundation of materialistic scientific research to quantify the benefits of the approach. But it has been held back from greater acceptance because of the spiritual origins of the method, the archaic Goethean language with which it is explained, and the non-commercialization nature of the agricultural inputs.
Biodynamic farms are by definition, self-supporting organisms with the minimum of commercial outside inputs. This is the primary reason why it has not received greater acceptance. It is not a great profit generator for agribusiness. It is however easier than industrial chemical agriculture. The longer it is applied to the farm, the fewer problems are encountered. The very existence of a disease, or insect infestation; is viewed as an opportunity to fine-tune the application of the method and improve the health of the farm organism. The goal is always to work with underlying cause of the problems, not continuous Band Aids on the symptoms.
Effective practice of Biodynamics doesn’t require belief or understanding of the philosophies from which is has arisen. Although with this understanding t can be enhanced. To truly implement the method, the farmer must be in constant communication with the farm. It is incumbent upon the practitioner to pay attention and listen to farm. The old saying goes: ‘The best fertilizer is the Farmer’s shadow.’
At the end of each day, we try to walk the farm and just experience the place. Sue always brings along a plastic sack to pick up any garbage or trash she may find. I travel with a small notebook to make myself notes and list things that need to be done. During the last four or five years we have added a small Jack Russell terrier to our group. She smells everything and constantly draws our attention to a world infused with odors.
We may not see the dancing fairies, but the plants draw our attention to small details and the beginning of problems. It is during these walks that we find new flower varieties, which are spontaneous sports for other varieties. We notice an insect problem beginning, by being called over to look at the underside of a leaf. We notice slight wilting and see gopher damage. Perhaps a color irregularity calls us to see the beginning of a nutritional or disease problem. These things jump out at us, call for our attention. Mixed in with the appreciation of the beauty and the occasional gum wrapper.
At our farm and nursery, we grow people and soil, and the flowers pay for it. Our goal is to cultivate a healthy farm organism that supports us and brings benefits to everyone it touches. We focus on paying attention to the details, to what is happening in the moment. A continuous parade of flowers gently reminds us of where we are, and the great need to appreciate it. Hence the meaning in the name of the business. We try to provide the beauty of the natural world as it unfolds. Our flowers are the beauty of the Here and Now. Steiner has written that etheric life forces are enhanced if our work is dedicated to the greater good. The following Tantric Buddhist benediction describes how we wish to apply the Biodynamic method to our farm:
By the power and the truth of this practice
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness
May all beings be free of sorrow and the causes of sorrow
May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless
And may all live in equanimity
Without too much attachment and too much aversion
And live believing in the equality of all that lives.
Seven Essential Elements of the Biodynamic Method.
- Fertilize primarily with compost. Make BD compost using the compost preps. Make compost from farm waste, manure, and the compost preparations. Preparations can be purchased, properly stored, and used according to instructions.
- Use the BD preparations. Invest as little as 4 to 8 hours a year of work. Stir and spray Preparation 500 (Horn manure) and 501 (Horn Quartz), at least twice a year. In the early spring and in the fall. Design appropriate application methods for the scale of the farm. This should be easy to accomplish, and mechanized enough to be pleasurable. Make tea of 508, ferment, strain and store. Apply as necessary during the spring.
- Grow soil. Whatever you grow, concentrate on systems that improve the soil. Manage soil cultivation, planting, and weed control in the most optimum manner for the maintenance and increase of soil fertility. Grow great soil and all other problems that may occur will be more manageable.
- Plant diverse crops. Avoid monoculture embrace polyculture. Design farm products to be marketed around diverse crops, avoiding large blocks of a single plant or a single crop.
- View the farm as an individual organism. Design your farm systems to minimize the need for high imputs of labor or materials from off the farm. Mechanize for efficiency and profitability, but avoid over complicated systems or facilities.
- Farmer is the conscious steward of the farm organism. Keep records. Observe everything. Know how to do every task on the farm and which way is most efficient. Walk, get a dog, smell the flowers. Know every living creature on, in and around your farm. Trust your intuition, it is the farm talking to you. Enjoy the best job on earth!
- Use the Biodynamic Calendar as a tool to connect farm, farmer and cosmos. Use your Stella Natura as a journal. Plant and weed according to the recommendations whenever possible. Avoid blackout periods. Celebrate each solstice and equinox. Observe eclipses, conjunctions, and perigees. Enjoy being a small creature riding around the solar system on a beautiful planet within a huge universe affecting everything we do, see, or feel.