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Reflections on the Future of Biodynamics: John Peterson

Inspired!

Biodynamics is a path for deepening my relationship to my farm, Angelic Organics, and its relationship to me. Biodynamics increasingly unifies me with the farm. It helps me to open my eyes and ears, heart and mind, to its needs. Out of my increasing affinity for the farm, the farm becomes more able, more willing, to reveal itself: “Hey, John,” it whispers. “I could benefit from a tree there, a hedge over here, a dormer on that barn . . .”

This communication from the farm develops out of helping the farm to become more of its own individualized self, helping its being to emerge. In order to be able to discern its needs and to communicate them, it needs a sense of identity, of self. Helping the farm to become more self-sustaining, more integrated within itself, more able to satisfy its own needs, helps its individuality to emerge. (So as not to deviate into the “abstract” about the farm individuality, I will add that I have sensed this essential feature or aspect of farms since I was in my teens, long before I encountered biodynamics. I have long been aware of these beings hovering in the farmscape, ennobling it, consecrating it.)

The majesty of the ideal biodynamic farm organism, with its multiplicity and synergies of forests and wetlands, birds and fungi, orchards and gardens, grains and legumes, along with a plethora of farm animals, is of course a most alluring picture, offering a mood of paradise on earth.

And the opportunity to work with Steiner’s Agriculture Lectures and his whole range of offerings to the world, and then to flow these ideas and pictures into farm development, management, musings, meditations, visionings, understandings, ponderings, experiments, observations: what an opportunity for meeting the land! To work with forms and colors, seasons and soil, people and animals out of Steiner’s indications and insights . . . what a fantastic and endless enrichment of life.

The Global Challenge:

I write from the vantage point of having been out in the world quite widely for several years with a film about my life, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. I have led hundreds of discussions regarding the film, the green movement, food, and community supported agriculture (CSA) for tens of thousands of people. I have heard their concerns, their questions, their rants.

Even though the film actually addressed biodynamics in a short yet clear-cut way, I must say that few audience questions were generated about biodynamics. The interest generally was in organics and very often in cheaper organics. I frequently pointed out that earlier organic farming and eating was what eventually led to the kind of farming and culture we have today. I asked if perhaps something more needs to be added in to the model they were envisioning in order for our future to lead to something workable.

I would sometimes bring up the possibility that what is especially important about food is its forces, that these forces could perhaps help give humanity strength to transform itself. This didn’t get far, either. (Mind you, I was not out to sermonize . . . more to listen, but also to perhaps steer things a bit towards a deeper inquiry into food and farms than what people normally undertake.)

In addition to the major preoccupation amongst audiences regarding cheap healthful food, there was sometimes a presumption of entitlement to this food. It was also sometimes implied or bluntly stated that the farmer should figure out how to make this food cheaper and more available.

I often made the point that the planet will never be saved if people persist in thinking that farms owe them cheap food. I created the picture of financially desperate farmers working harder and more frantically to survive and asked how this could possibly constitute healthy stewardship of the land.

“Farmers preside over much of the land mass of the planet,” I would say. “Unless they are taken care of, the planet cannot be taken care of.”

I consider farms to be poetic, dramatic, fascinating places, hubs of noble and dynamic activity, meccas of inspiration and cultural renewal. Most people consider farms (and this was made very clear by the audiences) to be out in the middle of nowhere, places to drive by as fast as possible when getting from one city to the next. Farms are regarded primarily, almost exclusively, as sources of food. This has to change if farms will ever get the support they need from society in order to flourish.

I have ended my touring campaign for the most part, partly because it was exhausting, but more so because I simply didn’t know how to induce a suitable inquiry for what is needed today for our farms. I’m sure that here and there, things occurred out of my interactions with audiences that caused an opening for biodynamics, or at least for regarding the land less as a commodity. However, you might understand how, gradually, I yearned more and more to return home to take up farming again. Read what inspires me about biodynamics above and you will understand why it is more satisfying for me to farm than to talk about farms to people who drive by them really fast.

The Challenge at the Farm Level:

I have visited many biodynamic farms in many countries while on my film tour. They ranged tremendously from chaotic to well-managed, from dissonant to harmonious. I became intrigued as to what sorts of social and management models characterized these farms and if these models seemed to correlate to how I felt about the farms. This has turned into an extensive inquiry for me in the last couple of years.

Out of a biodynamic picture, a farm might broaden itself to host and manage a vast range of agricultural activities. This might lead to a challenge of the traditional hierarchical model for running a farm. This transition from a farmer or a farm couple running the farm to a community or management team running the farm seems to give rise to a very different character of farm. (Not all biodynamic farms that I visited that were run non-hierarchically were chaotic; however, the only farms that did seem chaotic to me were those that were run non-hierarchically. To be very clear here, some biodynamic farms that I visited were chaotic and they were run non-hierarchically. I encountered no biodynamic farms that were chaotic that were run hierarchically. So, one can ascertain that there is a danger, not a certainty, but a danger, of farms becoming chaotic when they are run in a non-hierarchical way.)

Frankly, I’m more drawn to the hierarchical model, but in light of how I have hoped to expand Angelic Organics into more diversity and more enterprises, I realized that I should include in my farm visits models that are non-hierarchical. These visits to farms (and numerous other anthroposophical communities) have led me to read Steiner’s lectures in Awakening to Community and Anthroposophy and the Social Question. (I have subsequently recommended these two books for our Steiner study group at Angelic Organics. Taking these books to heart might prevent a lot of problems and heartaches in working with community.)

Also, I suggest Steiner’s Lectures on Bees as a complementary guide for farms following the Biodynamic path. These lectures offer insights and inspiration regarding community, sacrifice, and love.

The Future:
Out of my encounters with so many biodynamic farms in the world, I decided that I would document some of them and share them on my farm’s website www.AngelicOrganics.com. This is a large project and is not yet complete. It should be complete by fall of this year. I want to offer an inspiring picture of what is possible with biodynamics, through interviews with biodynamic farmers and in-depth presentations of their farms. In speaking with people about the great possibility that lies in biodynamic agriculture, I have noticed many blank looks. My goal now is to show people what has been accomplished through this path, as opposed to having them just think they are hearing a pipe dream.

Since my idea for this conscientious sharing has come to me while in Europe this last year, that’s where all the farms are that I have documented with this purpose in mind. It is a huge task to document a farm and its farmers and to present it to the world in an inspiring way. Therefore, unfortunately, I doubt that I will find the time or the resources to document biodynamic farms in the U.S.
We can find encouraging signs that the world is becoming more receptive to biodynamics, but they are few, miniscule, compared to what is needed, compared to what should be in place by now. The question is: how to proceed? We have to start from where we are, but something needs to happen differently or we will just be doing what we’ve been doing: trying to get biodynamics more established and not getting very far.

My favorite experiences while on my presentation tour have been visiting farms. For the most part, they have been inspiring, uplifting, true causes for celebrating agriculture and humanity. How do we get people excited and inspired about this? For my whole adult life, I’ve thought farms are the greatest, coolest, most magnificent places, places where true cultural transformation can occur, and thereby planetary transformation. Can we get enough other people to think and feel this so we can accomplish what needs to be accomplished?


Lifelong farmer John Peterson is the subject of Taggart Siegel’s thirty-award-winning feature documentary film, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. He has also published Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables. Farmer John runs Angelic Organics, one of the largest community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States, in Caledonia, Illinois.