By Steffen Schneider


The 2016 “Biodynamic Winter Intensive” brought 45 participants (young farmers, food activists, food distributors, landowners and other stakeholders of the agriculture-food system) from North America, Canada and the UK to Hawthorne Valley to explore how agricultural practice can become more mindful of the beautifully coordinated larger rhythms of our celestial universe – its effects on the life of plants and soils, and its earthly reflection through humans caring about food and agriculture.

Lectures on celestial phenomena, alchemy, plant growth, soil science, biodynamic preparations, farm individuality etc. were delivered. The classroom was set up as a café lounge allowing participants to learn from peers, to network, to discuss, reflect and “ruminate” in pairs of 2, small groups, by themselves or in plenary.  The flow of the days was embedded in a carefully designed social process supporting the individuals’ quest for the deeper purpose of their role as farmers, as well as to cultivate personal and collective (mindfulness) practices. Opening and closing sessions created space for framing, sense making and seeing oneself as part of a larger agriculture-food “organism”. Social technologies such as Otto Scharmer’s 4 types of listening and speaking and other tools were provided for exploration and to develop a shared language across diversity. A sensing journey (tour) into the social organism of HVA, dialogue walks reflective of one’s own biography, a solo in nature and a large group dialogue session were set up to allow for deepening connection with nature and inquiry into what earth is calling us to do. A “learning lab” on one afternoon offered parallel open sessions and a choice to rotate freely every 30 min. Meals were spent together; a considerable number of participants had been offered private housing in groups by HVA and the larger community – discussions among participants would often last late into the night.  

After reflecting on the experience we crystallized the following learnings:

  • Diverse groups offer great potential. Diversity not only from a professional point of view but also as far as spiritual-cultural grounding is concerned. In our group were individuals of the Jewish, Buddhist and Christian traditions.
  • Learning labs are dynamic, interactive, personal and more intimate learning environments (30 to 40 minute topical sessions, where participants can freely choose a theme of their interest and engage a “specialist” in small groups) than lectures.
  • The “being” of Hawthorne Valley has a profound effect on folks, even if basically only introduced lightly. How to bring it into programs even more consciously is one of our questions and goals.
  • The importance of “communal” housing. Such situations allow folks to continue the learning “after hours”.
  • The cultivation of compassion as the “soil” to shift consciousness in the agriculture and food system underlies this process as a strong red thread.

Lastly some of the participants in their own words:

“What an amazing winter!  The intensives had such a profound effect on me, and I feel like I haven't even come close to processing it all!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!” 

“It was important to have the course in a place that practices and embodies the principles being discussed. Would have liked to get to know the farm better and interact a bit more, but I know it's hard given the season.”

“Thank you so much for having me be a part of an amazing week at Hawthorne Valley. I'm still deep in thought about all the conversations that took place at the intensive.
I'd like to pitch a story idea about what I learned about the emotional side of farming that we spoke about at the round table discussion. As consumers we should know our farmers beyond a romantic view we have or the beautiful photos we see. There is a lot of loneliness, passion, love, and a desire for community and culture. I'm hoping it will begin a longer and more important conversation in local agriculture.”

“Thank you so much for putting together such a nourishing and enriching week. I'm so grateful to you and all the others who helped to make this an amazing experience. I'm inspired to go forward knowing that there are gatherings and groups of people like this in the world.”

“It was great seeing the manifestation of a very potent farm individuality. It was very inspiring to be surrounded by that.”

“The food provided was excellent and essential to the success.”

“The most useful concept was that there are invisible forces just as “real” acting on us and the farm.”

“I wish there was a way IMA could attract more people of color doing this work as well, since I believe having a diverse background of experiences only ends up enriching everyone’s takeaways from a week like this.”

“More movement! More interaction with the farm itself!”