Cosmic Tilth: The Wisdom of Biodynamics
By Jessica Luhning | Photos By Jim Klousia 3
BIODYNAMICS IN A NUTSHELL
In 1924, Austrian philosopher, scientist, social reformer and father of anthroposophy Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) introduced a series of eight lectures on agriculture. These lectures are known as the Agriculture Course Lectures and form the early foundation of biodynamic agriculture—the first intentional form of organic agriculture.
Steiner grew up among Austrian peasants, a child drawn to nature and inspired by the sciences. He witnessed firsthand the detrimental impacts of the Industrial Revolution on rural life, agriculture and health. He went on to study natural sciences at the Vienna Technical Institute and later earned a doctorate in philosophy at Germany’s University of Rostock. From 1912 to 1923, Steiner served as an advisor and lecturer for the Anthroposophical Society, a society based on a spiritual philosophy of freedom and social transformation. During this time, Steiner focused on developing centers for people with special needs, organic farming, medical clinics, and a nature, science and spiritualbased education philosophy known as Waldorf Education.
In the summer of 1923, working with a group of farmers and doctors in Arlesheim, Switzerland, Steiner filled twenty cow’s horns with manure and buried them in a field. The following spring, the group, with Steiner’s oversight, dug up the horns, removed the contents and prepared a water-based spray that was immediately applied to the field. This was the first application of a biodynamic preparation in agriculture(1).
One year later in June of 1924, Steiner gave a series of eight lectures at the request of a group of German farmers and doctors concerned with declining soil fertility, reduced seed vitality and the diminished nutrient content of food produced in those soils. These lectures covered the use of chemicals in agriculture, the impact of chemicals on soil health and food quality, elements needed for seed viability and the health of livestock and crops.
Steiner’s biodynamic methods provided recommendations for planting, cultivating and harvesting based on the cycles of the sun, moon, planets and stars. His lectures also covered eight biodynamic herb, animal and mineral preparations, which some liken to agricultural homeopathies, and which are the foundation of the applied practice of biodynamic agriculture. His teachings on agriculture formed a bridge between the physical and non-physical, or cosmic, forces in nature: bio meaning life and dynamics referring to rhythmic movement. To Steiner, biodynamic methods offered a renewal of nature, where the farm is considered a living organism and soil health is the primary means to healthy crops, livestock, humans and local environment.
Steiner believed that the practice of biodynamic agriculture will lead to healthy soil, high-protein crops and natural pest and disease control, all accomplished from within the farm system itself through the recycling of animal waste as compost, the inter-planting of crops and flowers to encourage pollinators, and the on-farm production of plant, animal and mineral-based fertilizers.
Following Steiner’s lectures, biodynamic agriculture started to gain a stronghold in Europe, with over 1,000 farms by 1931. Then during World War II, Nazi-occupied Germany banned the practice, and farmers still applying Steiner’s methods largely went underground, dissolving biodynamic farming communities and practicing in the solace of night.