Agriculture has played a central role through humanity’s long odyssey on Earth. How we use or abuse the Earth’s natural systems determines, in part, whether we will flourish or not. Supporting life requires the growing of food crops worldwide, meaning that agricultural restoration can become the foundation for improving our global community’s ecosystems and human health.
One available tool is biodynamic farming, which offers us a way to both cherish the Earth and attend to the process of growing foods and raising animals properly. According to activist and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) owner and educator Allan Balliett, biodynamic farming is “a spiritual approach to growing.” Biodynamic farmers “try to take into account all of the forces that affect plant growth and their nutritional value.”
In 1924 Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), Austrian educator, esoteric scientist and originator of anthroposphy and the Waldorf School System, gave a series of lectures near the end of his life, resulting from his concern that foods didn’t taste as good as they did when he was a boy. Steiner was concerned about the depletion of soil quality because of the use of chemicals, which can be traced to about the year 1900 in that area. As Balliett pointed out, “It’s amazing to realize that as far back as then, a hundred years ago, people were already seeing the dramatic change in . . . the taste and quality of foods as a result of their introduction of chemical farming, which was beginning to replace the ancient and well-proven system of peasant farming.”
Steiner believed that a plant is not isolated, but rather is in a relationship with the entire universe. The source of activity within the plant is not limited to sunlight and water and minerals, as might be taught at a less spiritually inclined agricultural college. “If it is in truly living soil,” Balliett explained, “the plant will respond to a whole range of formative forces, which come through the universe and which are, essentially, the basis of life. This is a really important thing to consider, particularly for people with health issues. Regardless of how we see things in our culture, the source of life, whether [it’s coming to us] through animals or processed goods, still comes down to the way the plant can process both terrestrial and extraterrestrial forces. Like most lifelong farmers, biodynamic farmers know that planting with the phases of the moon makes a difference.
“I’m continually surprised,” Balliett noted, “when I speak to Extension Service people who want to deny that beans will sprout faster if they are planted a few days before the full moon, or that fungus is more active a little while before a full moon. The healthy plant in healthy soil is very much an interaction between the forces in the universe. In biodynamics we use a book called the Stellar Natura, which tracks on an hourly basis the forces that are positive for plant growth. Many of us plan our planting, harvesting, fertilizing, and watering with these rhythms within the cosmos. One of the conversion experiences I had, [convincing me to switch] from organic farming to biodynamic organic farming, was with some pea seeds.
“When I had planted pea seeds whenever I felt like it, they’d stay in the ground for eight days. Then I used the Stellar Natura, saw a good day and planted those seeds next to the other seeds already in the ground. The seeds that I planted according to the Stellar Natura ripped out of the ground in about four days. The other peas that I had planted, I had to wait at least a week before they came up. We also use homeopathic approaches to plant nutrition and disease and pest control. Biodynamic farming, as compared to normative organic farming, is more sophisticated and yet more subtle. It derives an understanding of planting cycles and processes from an observation of formative forces, not just terrestrial weather.”
Balliett explained why he made this commitment to a more rigorous and detailed type of farming. “It seemed it was a more conscious farming process, thus giving the humans doing the work a more awakened sense of their actions. One of the things that is paramount is the tremendously increased sense of reverence. It’s what native people infer when they speak about the Earth. It’s being aware that we are in processes that are sustaining and pro-life and far more complex than anything I had to wonder about. Things like preparing the soil for receiving seeds is done with such great care, as though tending to the Earth’s body in proper fashion and assisting in her ability to produce living foods.”
He spoke of farming the way a lover does the body of the beloved, adding that “your intentions in biodynamic farming will take root, so it is very important to be very clear why you are planting a seed and what the purpose of the food is. It doesn’t have to be a dominant thing, but it is why earlier societies had rituals before they entered the garden or yard; they entered with a sense of focus...”
In addition to recommending planting by the calendar, “Steiner was an advocate of raised beds for row crops because he felt that the celestial influences penetrated deeper into loose soil,” continued Balliett. “We also use compost preparation and homeopathic herbal preparations. Valerian, chamomile, stinging nettle, the bark of white oak tree, dandelion flowers, and yarrows . . . go through the composting process before they are incorporated into the pile...”
Steiner’s biodynamics, developed almost a century ago, show that as we honor the Earth as a living being and by giving her what she needs, she is able to sustain our lives as well. We know there are gentle ways of farming that enhance nature’s qualities and use cosmic forces in a scientific and beneficial fashion.
It is time to farm with reverence for life. Among biodynamic farmers one finds the science of agriculture both spiritually and physically at its greatest integration producing nutritional food.
©2013 by J. Zohara Meyerhoff Hieronimus. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Destiny Books,
an imprint of Inner Traditions, Inc. www.innertraditions.com
J. Zohara Meyerhoff Hieronimus, D.H.L., author of The Sanctuary of the Divine Presence and Kabbalistic Teachings of the Female Prophets, is an award-winning radio broadcaster, social justice and environmental activist, and passionate organic gardener. She founded the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center in Baltimore in 1984 and hosted the daily regional radio program The Zoh Show from 1992 to 2002 and the national radio program Future Talk from 2002 to 2008. She cohosts 21st Century Radio with her husband, Robert Hieronimus. Photo by Mariann Pancoe.