What might the Green New Deal mean for the farmscapes and food systems of the next century?
"The greatest challenge of our time is not how to live within the limits of the natural world, or how to overcome such limits. It isn’t about optimizing our planet to better serve humanity or the rest of nature. To engage productively with the world we are creating, we must focus on strategies for working more effectively together across all of our diverse and unequal social worlds…”
What Speth and Ellis are pointing to is what we at the Institute for Mindful Agriculture are calling “inner soils” and “social soils”. And I would be remiss not to mention them here as I believe they are as important for a healthy future as the above described soil health. In fact, one central mission at the Institute for Mindful Agriculture is to cultivate the social soil to grow a just, resilient, and regenerative food ecosystem, resulting in the growth of vibrant food sheds throughout our country.
“Our starting point is that agriculture and food are not just about production and consumption. They are about relationships and care, too, – care for each other, care for the land, care for living systems.
These social and ecological relationships to do with food although damaged by modernity, are being re-made by what we are calling social food projects. Such projects are about about care, not just consumption. They are about hospitality and connection – between people, and with place. They are a medium of solidarity among diverse cultures.”
Have you ever wondered, “Why, even in the midst of astonishing natural beauty and wondrous life cycles, do I feel so stressed and out of touch?” As a former farmhand and current farmwife, I have often found myself disconnected from that which brought me to this livelihood.
Droves come to our region to vacation in the agrarian countryside, to eat good food, to hear the glorious racket of August insects, see clouds and stars, inhale what the woods and fields breathe out, feel dewy grasses swipe along ankles and thick earth cushion feet, have the stunning feeling that the cows and deer and pigs and hawks are gazing right back. Unlike some visitors, this is a farmer’s experiential bread and butter, or can be. Sometimes we’ve got to work harder to bring it home.
Beyond this essential matter of personal connection to place, there is also the challenge of managing the complex, interdependent relationships that make a farm hum along. How could I possibly understand, and therefore manage, the farmscape when I am disconnected from the living, breathing, happenings of it?
A few years ago I came across a practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, forest therapy, or the medicine of being in the forest. It is an approach to wellness that immerses people in a nature-rich environment (traditionally coniferous forest) through a series of guided meditations, or ‘invitations’, that focus awareness through the senses. Whether phytoncides specifically or just good old, vitamin N, the forest offers its medicine to those who show up, become present, to accept them. However, an important part of the forest bathing practice is to reciprocate. To become fully present, be curious and loving with our attention and give thanks is good human-made medicine for the forest.
If I can only say two things about my forest bathing experiences, I will say that:
1) The practice is an incredibly fast way to deeply plug into what’s happening in the world around me. And there is an overwhelming amount of life happening. I cannot say quite how astoundingly much is revealed in plain sight.
2) When I notice life happening, I love it. I want to take these happenings on dates and learn about their families, their hopes and dreams, make plans together, or just get myself out of their ways so they can do what makes them shine.
At the Institute for Mindful Agriculture, my colleagues and I incorporate forest bathing into our meetings throughout the year as a way to connect with ourselves and with the other lives in this place where we live and work. We have a profound feeling of wellness and calm after these meetings. "Forest-therapy" is the most common term now used for shinrin-yoku and we can attest to the therapeutic value.
In between a personal, therapeutic relationship with nature, and the, ideally, reciprocal value our loving attention offers back to nature, there is this realm of human-nature action. What can a practice like forest-, farm-, place-bathing do bring more awareness to the way we interact, engage, manage the rest of the natural world? We see a great potential in this forest-bathing practice of two-way medicine as a method for farmers (and other members of the foodshed) to survey the many lives of the farm. Farmers are life-cycle managers, and from that perspective, it’s our job to take the pulse and care for the farm organism. “Farm bathing” is a good way to do just that while also connecting ourselves back into the whole we are living and working with.
As we continue to work with this "place-bathing" practice, I wonder if and how it connects with biodynamic practices, such as applying the Three Kings Day preps. What beings are living and working on our farms that could benefit from our notice, and how have they been benefitting the whole farm already? What ‘data’ does this sensory and mindfulness approach offer a farmer or ecologist as a complement to other methodologies? How does the kind of attention we use and experience within a shinrin-yoku invitation relate the kind of attention we use in other ways of observing? (See here and here.) Can it contribute to developing intuition as a serious farm tool?
Shinrin-yoku has opened up a lot for me. Whether as a path for cueing an inner connection to nature, forest, place, or as a method for cultivating curiosity and love for the life of a farm, maybe it will be a guide for you, too.
...if brought together more intentionally by the relevant players of a bioregion could multiply the capacity of scale of biodynamic agriculture: quality of soil, networked procurement, infrastructure, processing and distribution functions, collective capacity for action in high quality relationships across the food value chain and finally, 180 degree shift of perspective from isolated farmers towards highly integrated networks of farmers, producers and eaters co-organizing bio-regional food sheds.
“Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.”
– Edward O. Wilson, 2012
The Internet, journals, papers, twitter and the blogosphere are overflowing with talk and conversations on agriculture and food. Since the publication of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006 our awareness and consciousness on food issues has reached new and amazing heights. Already in the early 2000s when the USDA invited public comments on its “Organic Rule” it received more comments than on any issue ever! What is going on here? Why is this happening, and can we detect some underlying patterns? These questions and a few more are at the root of a new initiative: The Institute for Mindful Agriculture.
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.
The basis of this article is a workshop that the authors offered at the 2014 National Biodynamic Conference, which took place in Louisville, Kentucky. The workshop was titled “The Resettling of America”. It seemed appropriate to focus on the work of Wendell Berry, whose farm is located less than 50 miles from Louisville, and whose seminal work carried the prophetic title “The Unsettling of America”. The article follows the workshop in that it compares and contrasts Rudolf Steiner and Wendell Berry who through their writings and practice have presciently postulated a similar viewpoint decades ago. Steiner and Berry’s views foresaw many of today’s individual, socio-cultural, and ecological ills particularly in their relationship to agriculture.
“The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income... health care, paying for our kids’ college, preparing for retirement? Not happening...” (Sunday Review, NY Times: “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers”)
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.
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.
Why “Mindful Agriculture”? Do we really need another designation for agriculture, you might ask yourself? That is a fair question to arise after encountering the website of this new initiative at Hawthorne Valley Farm. Especially after you see we already have a confusing plethora of descriptive adjectives to distinguish various forms of farming and agriculture.
Michael Pollan in his seminal book on the current food and agriculture system in the United States, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, paraphrases Vaclav Smil in describing the roles of nitrogen and carbon in the natural world. He states, “nitrogen is supplying life’s quality, while carbon provides the quantity” (Pollan, 2006).