Cosmic Tilth: The Wisdom of Biodynamics
By Jessica Luhning | Photos By Jim Klousia 3
The urge to hibernate is relentless in winter, and in our northern climate, this hibernation-fest can go on for months or more.
But as springtime peels back the snow and frozen earth, and if readied with a superhuman microscopic lens, we would witness a soil web of life; millions of organisms just getting ramped up. Soil’s humus-rich layers enter their own sort of powerhouse hibernation as the energies of spring’s rebirth, summer growth and fall return are all wrapped up beneath the surface; accumulating, concentrating, formulating and transmitting; silently and with steady resolve preparing for the coming season of growth.
Winter is soil’s healing season, when the polarities of animal, plant and mineral combine in a balancing rhythm of expansion and contraction, soaking up earth energy and cosmic forces and preparing to burst forth at the first hint of lengthening days—the very essence of biodynamic agriculture.
Beyond the mystery and skepticism, biodynamic agriculture is heralded as nature’s remedy for the plague of chemical destruction crippling our soil ecosystems.
When our soils are “farmed” out, pushed to their giving capacities, and when all presence of life has disappeared, soil is left to serve as merely an anchor for seed and crop. But when biodynamic methods are applied, health and vitality return to these living systems.
Today biodynamic farmers across the globe are building healthy farm ecosystems by repairing soil once damaged by chemical-dependent, monoculture cropping systems. They are bringing life back to the land as true stewards of the soil.
I was first introduced to biodynamics while studying sustainable agriculture in graduate school. After spending a semester touring conventional dairy farms and monoculture cropping systems— basically learning how not to farm in harmony with nature— I participated in a one-day biodynamic intensive at S&S Homestead Farm on Lopez Island, Washington. This one day of events transformed my understanding of agriculture and food production. Up until that point, I had never witnessed agriculture that functioned like a whole organism, where the plants, animals and people sustain each other, where the soil is regarded as the lifeforce sustaining all activities on the farm.
There on tiny Lopez Island, Henning Sehmsdorf and his partner, Elizabeth Simpson, farm in harmony with nature on 50 acres, all of which are managed biodynamically. Their farm is ecologically and economically secure. During my farm visit I was able to take part in the making of biodynamic preparations while witnessing firsthand the life and vitality that imbued their farm.
Admittedly, though, as the day wore on I felt my old friend Skepticism start to creep in. Biodynamic methods are shrouded in mystery with notions of cosmic energies and talk of physical and non-physical or “unseen” forces. My reductionist brain just couldn’t make peace with it all. And although I couldn’t make sense of what was happening on that farm, the place just felt good and it tasted good, which for me has always been a dependable litmus.
In the end, my ability to embrace biodynamics came down to one bite—one bite of the most delicious, ripe, juicy peach grown on a tree treated with biodynamic preparations. That one bite from that blessed tree, compared to a bite of the same peach variety grown in close proximity but without biodynamic preparations, was in no way the same peach. My skepticism melted with each juicy bite until it was no more. Sometimes it just comes down to something as simple as a peach.