Impressions and Reflections of an Amazing Trip to New Zealand

by Steffen Schneider

Much gratitude and many thanks for the warm welcome and the amazing and generous hospitality we experienced everywhere Rachel and I went. A resounding thanks to all of you that made this trip possible! So many memories and reflections still reverberate, it will take some time to fully “digest” and internalize them. But let me offer a few thoughts that keep coming up now that we have returned to Hawthorne Valley Farm.

In many ways one can experience New Zealand as a microcosm within our global macrocosm. This is also reflected in the present situation surrounding food and agriculture, where we are facing many challenges and also see much opportunity.

On our travels Rachel and I felt that we were able to experience the landscapes and topography that reflect almost all the diverse ecosystems of our planet, within the various areas on each island and between the two islands. One gets the impression of a still elementally very alive land, majestic, threatening, beautifully gentle, towering and stern, with rolling hills, beautiful valleys, amazing lakes, steep and rocky mountains. Amidst the overwhelming beauty we also saw some scars on the land caused by overgrazing and steep hillsides being in danger of eroding due to the lack of sufficient tree cover.

The agriculture itself is largely export focused commodity agri-business with the motto of the need to “feed the world”. And yet everywhere seeds of an emerging future are germinating and growing. We encountered them as we were visiting biodynamic and organic farms, vineyards, and orchards, as well as markets and natural food stores in many towns. This gave us the opportunity to develop a context for the culmination of our trip, when we participated in the Annual Conference of the Biodynamic Association in Palmerston North.

With our contributions Rachel and I focused largely on the “multifunctionality” of agriculture. This term was coined in the IAASTD report on the state of agriculture globally that the UN published in 2007. It expresses the finding that for the future of agriculture, which I believe Biodynamics needs very much to be part of, it is critically important to put the actual practice of agriculture, its techniques, into a larger context. That means that the purpose of agriculture is not only to care for the land and grow health-giving food, it also needs to provide the foundation for the cultural and socio-economic life in our societies by helping to build true communities.

I have come to believe that this “multifunctionality” is an important strand in the “DNA” of biodynamic agriculture as presented by Rudolf Steiner in his Koberwitz lectures 90 years ago. We were able to share with the participants out of our work at Hawthorne Valley Farm and show how that has developed over the years. Our farm is embedded in and in many ways grounds and centers educational and cultural activities as well as significant economic enterprises, both for value adding of farm products and direct marketing. In this sense it has always been an example of the possibility of “multifunctional” agriculture.

Another important signature of our time is the fact that we, humans, have become the major driving geological force. This is the reason our time can be designated as the “The Anthropocene”. For the most part this fact is resulting in many destructive actions vis-a-vie our planet and each other. Today though it is within our power to turn this to the positive and become true co-evolutionary partners in the ongoing development of our Mother Planet. The cultivation and practice of individual mindfulness in the context of supporting communities can help with this turnaround.

With this in the background we perceive many amazing opportunities for the future of agriculture in NZ. In fact we identified the seven areas listed below:

       Agriculture is still a dominant and a very present part of social life

       New Zealand is an island culture –  the self sustaining quality is a natural tendency

       Current tourism is a real opportunity for growing awareness about farm to table food culture

       Already existing woofing opportunities could be developed into a more structured apprentice training

       Informal food sourcing connections through bartering and sharing could be developed into awareness based economic collaboration

       Vineyards are natural leaders in understanding and appreciating food quality

       Grow existing direct customer relationships based on raw milk to include other foods, like meat, eggs, and vegetables.

I can imagine that NZ could become a showcase for a local/regional resilient food culture based on strong personal relationships and sound agricultural practices – a true future bearing “microcosm” of what is possible and necessary to keep pushing positive change forward.

In fact I believe that the NZ BDA could become the leader in growing the CSA movement in NZ. At their essential core CSA’s are almost perfect embodiments of a future bearing agriculture, in that they practice sound farming and gardening, build true community and engender a new economic thinking; one that is based on conscious collaboration and not an anonymous marketplace. This could provide the necessary counterpoint to the overly strong export focus, by beginning to create strong and resilient local and regional food cultures form the grass roots up.

And then because of its unique climate and geography NZ will still be feeding many people in other parts of the world.