Agriculture 3.0

Quite some time has passed, about 15 months to be exact, since the scenario of “Agri-culture 3.0” first presented itself to me. It was then—and still is now—an on-going attempt at imagining and formulating a new narrative for agriculture. I deem such a narrative absolutely necessary in order to transform our practice and approach to agriculture in a way that it can be ready to meet the demands and the reality of the emerging future.

In this country, we are approaching a watershed moment (largely unrecognized as of now) in our history. Within the next 10 to 20 years, the majority of current farmers will age out of their profession (current average age of the American farmer is 60 years old) and many millions of acres of farmland will change hands and need new farmers. Will we be ready to respond to this challenging situation?

We will need to find answers from many angles, among them are:

  • The inspiring, training and mentoring of new farmers
  • The transfer of land ownership (as part of a “new” commons)
  • The protection of agricultural land from commercial development and its preservation for farming
  • A renewed awareness of the fundamental importance of a regenerative, resilient agriculture for our society as a whole (multi-functionality of agriculture), and more.

Exploring these and other questions in the context of an Agri-culture 3.0 continues to be an inspiration in my daily work.
What have I learned since I first began to think about my vocation and work in this new light? You can tell from my initial sharing that I believe the biodynamic context and practices continue to be very relevant in these explorations. I also believe that we need to frame them in a newer light and also continue to expand them from their traditional middle European roots, in order to fully implement them across this planet.

I would like to share two of my further learning’s about the future face and practice of agriculture.

Two percent, ninety-eight percent, everybody

Over the last many centuries of our history we have developed several forms of agriculture, 1.0, 2.0 and now moving towards 3.0. In fact, today all three of these incarnations are being practiced in various places on Earth.

Almost all humans participated more or less directly in the growing of food and care of the Earth in the earlier stages of our history. We have now arrived at a point in time when only a very small and rapidly aging percentage, less than 2% in fact, of our population is directly involved in this work. Surely as cultural development, this process has allowed us more freedom in many ways. Looking ahead, though, we need to face the fact that this trend needs to be reversed to some extent. What the future will demand in exact numbers we cannot answer precisely, but it will have to be a larger percentage of our total population than presently. If it needs to be 5, 10, or 20 percent is hard to say at this time. What is clear, though, is that the number needs to go up along with a growing number of acres being taken over by this next generation of agriculturists.

This question takes on another interesting flavour in parts of our world where the majority of individuals is still living in rural environments. Presently, the driving paradigm there is also to relocate most of the citizens into urban environments (See the recent reports of Chinese government policy planning to relocate millions of people off the land into cities). By shaping a compelling new narrative, can this trend be slowed before we end up in a similar conundrum as in the US, for example?

A sad reality of this imbalance between rural and urban population is the dramatic disconnect that many individuals experience—a deep separation from Nature in general and our food supply, more specifically. To rekindle and help rediscover this crucial “soil to soul” connection is one of the most important acts we need to facilitate for all people and especially children. Gardeners and farmers have the privilege of working within this soil to soul space on a daily basis. How can we open it up for everybody else to share in it?

This question really hit home for me last summer during the 2012 Global Forum of the Presencing Institute in Berlin. Speaking out of personal experience, I know that farmers have the tendency to find wrong with many aspects of our work, the weather, the prices, the help, etc. We often forget and overlook how fortunate and blessed we are, and really need to express gratitude on a daily basis for being able to work in Nature and with the Earth so directly.

Not only will the farms of the future need a solid and healthy connection to their biological and ecological “fields” surrounding them, creating a balanced “farmscape,” they also need to be re-connected with their surrounding social “fields”—thus overcoming the existing disconnect that often leads to undesired outcomes both ecologically and socially—and thus paving the way towards generating transformational action for a more sustainable agricultural development.

In fact, current farmers can learn to appreciate the reality that many of our farms are being valued as much for the social space they provide as for the food they make available.

It’s my consciousness, stupid!

It’s not the economy anymore. We need to all dig a littler bit closer to home in order to find ways out of many of the present dilemmas.

The evolution of our Earth, our history, is driven very much by the development and changes of our human consciousness. This also effects how we look at and approach agriculture, which in turn will determine to a large extent the way in which we as human beings live on this planet.

My second learning revolves around a more differentiated look at the various possibilities of consciousness expression.  And here I am leaning heavily on the work and research of the
Presencing Institute at MIT in Boston. The social fields mentioned above are made up of individuals with our individual consciousness. Moreover we have the ability to place the centre of our awareness at differing places. Social action research has been able to identify four distinct dimensions of social fields. In which of these dimensions we place our awareness has a tremendous effect on the results of any deliberation or problem solving that is attempted in any individual or collaborative human context.

To illustrate this fact, take for instance this example out of physics. Water will express itself completely differently depending to which type of environment it is exposed. In a cold environment it becomes ice, if the temperature exceed 212 degrees it transforms into a gas.

In the same way our attention, interest, and empathy that we enact in a social field will change the environment so much so that the results will differ dramatically.

The four dimensions of the social field structure are as follows:

I-in-me: total focus on myself, acting out of pure habit
I-in-it: opening my mind, debating facts honestly
I-in-you: opening my heart, empathy with the other, seeing it with the other’s eyes
I-in-now: opening the ability to act (the will), being totally in the moment

I consider it a foundational piece of any future human endeavour, let alone agriculture, that all of us become more familiar and fluent in our recognition and application of this field-structure. The next generation of agriculturists needs to not only have a deep knowledge of the various soil horizons but also a deep knowledge and passion for the multi-dimensional structure of our consciousness, individually and then in any collaborative setting.

This is especially important because the deeply troubling issues of our time require a collaborative approach to solutions.

Our Work on the “litmus-questions”

Lastly, I want to share how our work here has, if at all, dealt with the difficult questions that I posed at the end of my initial article.

  • Possibly the most difficult—but in many ways also the most important question—deals with the affordability of good food: food justice. Good, healthy food cannot be a privilege; it has to become a basic human right. How to get there? I do not believe the answer can come from farmers alone. Fair pricing will most likely, in many instances, be sadly above the affordability threshold for many citizens. It will need everybody’s will to work towards solution in these areas.  I am thrilled to report though, that Hawthorne Valley is currently involved in a project of opening a natural food store in Hudson, NY. Hudson is the county seat of Columbia County and is officially categorized as a food desert. Hudson is in the middle of a tremendous revitalization (“the new Williamsburg”) with a thriving business, food, and music scene. There is an influx of new and young people, tremendous real estate development and a widening wealth gap between the various strands of the community. In working to establish a store in this environment–a store that will be a true community store—we will be forced to face and be able to address many thorny issue: inclusion, trust, affordability, viability and others.
  • We are beginning a pilot project at the farm this season called the EARTH (Education and Renewal through the Hands) school, in collaboration with Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School. It is program for children that have challenges in a traditional class room setting. We are planning to record findings and share them as an on-going research project.
  • Hawthorne Valley has for many years provided an alternative to the more traditional family farm model with individual ownership of land. The development rights of the land have been deeded over to the Columbia Land Conservancy (part of the American Farmland Trust) and the farmers are not owners. The farm is presently undergoing its second cycle of succession. We have learned that by entrusting the stewardship of land and farm to the most able individuals proves possible and avoids possible pitfalls that can show themselves with private and family ownership. While not owning either the land or the farm business seems very workable, we have also seen that enabling farmers to own their living space supports them in the daily work and also allows them to gain some equity and security beyond their daily involvement on the farm.
  • Apprenticeships, Internships, Mentoring, FarmBeginning classes, Farmer’s Research Circle—these are all practices that we are involved in around the formation and cultivation of Learning Communities. How can we continue to foster, broaden and deepen a spirit of on-going learning and provide the appropriate spaces? These convening spaces need to be inviting, open, and inclusive. They also need some structure and facilitation and, above all, a good degree of patience and commitment so that trust can grow among all participants.
  • At Hawthorne Valley, we have not entered the field of “Live Power.” We have diversified our cropping rotations with the inclusion of small grains (rye, wheat, barley, triticale) and are using very limited tractor power in our Corner Garden. Presently, our farming practices still demand considerable amounts of diesel- and gasoline inputs. What was interesting for me to learn this year was that a farmer who farms with horses expressed a certain amount of frustration about the smaller and smaller windows of being able to do field work amidst the climate chaos. He was actually thinking about having to use a tractor to accomplish certain tasks quicker.
  • I recently read the latest book by Daphne Miller, PhD, with the title Farmacology. It is a fascinating read as the author shows through several examples how intimately linked farming and medicine are. Reflecting on this, it really is not so surprising that there are deep connections between a holistic approach to the care of the Earth, Agri-culture 3.0, and a more holistic approach to health care. Suffice it to say, a lot of ground needs to still be explored in this field. Not only from the point of view of a healthy and balanced nutrition and its effect on health, but also by enlarging our understanding of the human being and its microbiome. Health being very much reflected in the make-up of this microbiome, each of us could be considered a farmer in a certain sense, cultivating a diversity of microbial life.

Original Concept

One hundred and fifty years since Rudolf Steiner’s birthday and almost ninety years since his groundbreaking lectures on agriculture commonly known as the “Agriculture Course” have passed. This anniversary provides an opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation for a work that has shaped and continues to shape life at Hawthorne Valley Farm. However, it is the larger context that is much, much more important.

Our planet is in dire straits, facing multiple crises (climate, water, ecosystem diversity, pollution). Agriculture across the globe is facing huge challenges, needing to feed an ever growing population. On the other hand, more awareness around agriculture and food has arisen in our part of the world in the last five to seven years and resulted in a very dynamic and burgeoning local agriculture and food movement.

In light of these facts, there is an emerging need to look at agriculture and food in a radical new way, a complete “re-branding” and re-framing of our concepts and perceptions. It seems this emergent future can be called “Agriculture 3.0″.

What is Agriculture 3.0?

Agriculture 1.0 was and still is rooted in traditional ways based on peasant wisdom and the practices that have developed over thousands of years in all parts of the world. This is still the most prevalent form of agriculture practiced in the world today. Its paradigm is locally adapted, labor intensive, relatively small, diverse, and agro-ecologically sound farms that are very much at the heart of their respective communities and societies. Many family farms are part of this tradition as well. Slow Food, as an example, is one organization that is trying to preserve this wisdom and the products it creates, through its Arc of Taste programs.

Agriculture 2.0 is, and hopefully soon was, the application of an industrial efficiency mindset into the living realm. This has created what we call agribusiness or industrial agriculture. One of its main paradigms is “get big or get out”. It has also pushed farming onto the economic fringe, solely there to produce lots of cheap food. While it has undoubtedly provided growing amounts of food (of sometimes questionable quality), it has done so with significant social and environmental costs.

Agriculture 3.0 then is the emergent future form. In order for us to transcend and transform 1.0 and 2.0, we must redefine what agriculture actually means and what context it really needs today and looking forward. Steiner’s assertion of agriculture being the foundation of both cultural and economic life and affecting all of social life could be seen as his way of expressing this concept.

It is noteworthy and encouraging that the need for a more fundamental step is being recognized and formulated in more and more places. International studies and UN reports speak about the “multifunctionality” of agriculture and stress the need to create agro-ecologically sound farming systems in order to meet future demands. But we might have to go even further than that – to form and firmly grasp and penetrate new imaginations around agriculture and its place in nature, our economy and our society. There are three distinct but intimately tied areas that encompass and frame Agriculture 3.0.

Framing Agriculture 3.0

The first of these three realms is the ecological/biological foundation of all farms. What can be the driving paradigm in this area, beyond ecologically sound methods? Is it a real understanding of the farm organism/individuality, and what new reports call agroecology? Don’t we have a long way to go to appreciate and understand all the forces and interactions present on a diverse farm and their effects on the food grown there? How well do these farms fit into the surrounding land- and farmscapes in forming interpenetrating holons? In this area some of the main questions have to do with size, scale, diversity, and local adaptation of operations.

The second realm encompasses the economic parameters that govern our food system today. What is the future paradigm in this area? Is it what Rudolf Steiner calls associative economy or in Otto Scharmer’s nomenclature, Awareness Based Collaboration (ABC)? How do we practice this at our farms and then in the wider economy? What social skills and techniques do we need to have and apply to achieve this? It is worth interjecting here, that one main impulse for the CSA movement comes from this source. It is also fair to say that many CSA’s are still struggling to implement these economic ideas and practices.

Can we redefine the concepts of value, quality, and food itself? How can we develop better ways to have capital flow into areas where it is really needed and could help create real values, not just paper value and thus support new ways of land access and land tenure? Charles Walters, the founder of ACRES put it succinctly in 1975, emphasizing the role that the consumers play in this dynamic: “The old agriculture of the 19th and 20th century is dying, and consumers can hasten that death, and they should. They are, after all, the walking wounded, offended by the chemical amateur. The consumer cannot hide in an organic garden or sleep in a subway of ignorance. Consumers will get clean agriculture when they demand it, casting their demands in knowledgeable terms and nailing those terms to the market door.”

The third realm encompasses the whole social/cultural environment. Presently the status of agriculture and related activities is valued at or near the bottom of our societal structures. Can we change this paradigm and make agriculture a more recognized, compelling, modern and viable vocational choice for the younger generations all over the globe? Innovative answers and new imaginations are necessary to inspire the next generations. This has become a leading thought and question for me as its answer might provide solutions all over the world. In countries like ours the average age of the farming population is in the high 50′s and very, very few people are engaged in agriculture. In more traditional societies the youth is migrating to urban centers as they are the places where modernity and many diverse cultural and economic opportunities are located. One interesting challenge and possibly a direction for an answer in this regard will be to look at manual labor and value it in a whole new way. As Vandana Shiva put it so beautifully: “We need to worship the Earth with our labor.”

Looking to the Future

New developments around farm- and place-based learning, urban farming, agri-tourism, concern around food security and safety, new rural/urban connections and innovative urban design point to a growing awareness around the need of a raised stature of land stewards. Also, in the United States, 2010 was the first year in many decades that the number of farms in the country actually increased after years of annual decreases. Applying the latest farming knowledge, peasant wisdom, cutting edge systems design thinking, and true insight within an inclusive, meaningful dialogue process will hopefully begin to provide fruitful glimpses into the formation of new paradigms, concepts and imaginations. Not the least critical component of this process will be the ability of each of us to really reflect on and penetrate into what drives and motivates us in the context of the world.

As Rudolf Steiner said, “There is no realm of human life that is not affected by agriculture”. Linking and understanding these statements with his socio/economic, pedagogic, and even medical thoughts creates a context within which to think about the future. A real difficulty and challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity, lies in holding all the many viewpoints and angles in one’s consciousness while trying to create an agri-culture for the future, an Agriculture 3.0.

Questions for Consideration

Below are a few “litmus” questions that, depending on how we might answer them, could show us if we really have a new picture, not more of the same:

  • What’s beyond the call for “cheap food” and can we achieve real food justice?
  • Can we look at live power in a cutting edge way and not as hopelessly romantic and stuck in the past?
  • Will a truly modern education inherently need a place/nature/farm-based component in order to be complete?
  • What are new farm and land tenure structures besides the family farm and the “get big or get out” agribusiness model?
  • Can farmers be considered “primary health care practitioners”?
  • What kind of training and mentoring/support systems need to be in place to create a vocational path and guarantee success for all the new, beginning farmers?

The Need for Dialogue

In the recognition of the need for a collaborative dialogue, your feedback, thoughts, and questions are most welcome. Please contact Steffen.