By Steffen Schneider
Six “windows” onto the “being of agriculture” place it into the current context of time and place, and ground it ecologically, socio-economically, and spiritually.
- Learning from and honoring the work of the pioneers in the field. So many remarkable ecologists, agricultural theorists, ethicists and practitioners have already weighed in on this question (for instance: Rudolf Steiner, Masanobu Fukuoka, Sir Albert Howard, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Aldo Leopold and Wendell Berry). We have an abundance of traditional farming wisdom from ancient cultures that honored and respected the natural world. We also believe that the modern farming paradigm has many techniques and practices that are important to maintain. What can we learn from the thinking and practice of agriculture over its history? What can we fruitfully bring to the future?
- Many call the time we live in the Anthropocene. This indicates the unique role and responsibility humans carry today. How can we explore more deeply what this means and learn to engage the world in constructive rather than destructive ways? How would such engagement transform the nature of our agricultural practice? (Rudolf Steiner’s whole work is based upon this recognition.)
- The Emerging Real Food Economy provides the local and regional context of our agricultural future. Eaters, educators, chefs, food artisans, storekeepers, distributors, veterinarians, farmers and gardeners will need to weave the tapestry of the future together.
- The true multi-functionality of agriculture. We suggest that this emerging new agriculture is truly multifunctional and thus will also be a starting point for societal renewal. As Wendell Berry so eloquently and correctly observes, “Agriculture is rooted in Nature and true culture needs to be rooted in agriculture.” Understood in this way, agriculture spans the ecological, economic, and cultural dimensions of our lives. This is also the main finding of a recent global study on the state of agriculture. (Rudolf Steiner: “There is practically no field of human endeavor that does not relate to agriculture in some way.”)
- Understanding and establishing self-sustaining, resilient farm-organisms and individualities. Farms of the future will need to wean themselves more and more from the inputs of non-renewable resources and become biologically viable out of themselves. We will describe and research this real essence of farms, drawing on the knowledge and experience of Biodynamics, Agro-ecology and Permaculture. (Rudolf Steiner: “Now, a farm comes closest to its own essence when it can be conceived of as a kind of independent individuality, a self-contained entity.”)
- Cultivation of mindful awareness. One constant in our modern world is the human being. Exploring what it means to become fully human and developing practices that might help unfold that potential is fundamental to our work. We want to help understand and cultivate the mystery of our “inner soils and landscapes.” (Rudolf Steiner was very clear on that issue: “Activities like meditation are based on very real processes. And in fact…the spirit in our inner activity begins to acquire a certain relationship to farming.”) The acknowledgment of our personal practices will also lead to more meaningful and fruitful collaboration with others. This is deeply important, as most challenges today require a collaborative approach to finding solutions.
Understanding and practicing agriculture in light of the above perspectives can contribute solutions to many major challenges in our world today: food shortages, food waste, excess water and energy consumption, environmental pollution, ecological disruption, deterioration of nutritional quality, medical problems, economic inequities, and spiritual/cultural emptiness.
In an interesting paradox, current agricultural practices contribute significantly to many of these very same challenges. The models used in our production-scale agriculture do not produce food with optimum nutritional integrity; they waste a great deal of water, consume much more energy than alternative models, and contribute a great deal to soil, water, and air pollution through fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics!
So, this brings us back to the question I asked in the beginning. Are there any patterns in the situation that is facing us as a global community, and is there any relationship to agriculture and food?
Working with one of Rudolf Steiner’s main contributions toward the future of our planet helps me in trying “to connect the dots.” This is his insight into the principle of the evolution of human consciousness, whereby the developing human consciousness becomes an evolutionary force that links us with the Earth and the Cosmos. The evolution of our planet depends on the evolution of our consciousness. And our work on the land becomes such a significant part of this!
This radical proposal, in my view, is at the source of the renaming effort of our current geological age from “Holocene” to “Anthropocene.” This effort is being acknowledged more widely in the last couple of years. (As an interesting aside, this word “Anthropocene” is closely related etymologically to “Anthroposophy” the name of Steiner’s cosmology)
We have arrived in the time when Creation has the possibility to reflect upon itself through human consciousness and from there to newly appreciate all relationships within it. Diversity, complexity, and individuation are some of the characteristics that define this evolutionary trajectory.
Taking all of Rudolf Steiner’s indications in his agricultural lectures seriously, and looking through the six “windows” into a possible agricultural narrative of the future, I see a thread. I would suggest that the evolutionary signifiers of diversity, complexity and individuation also have to hold true in agriculture – hence Steiner’s postulation of the creation of “Farm-Individualities.” I can only hope to grasp and connect with this if I am willing to freely engage my “inner landscape” through rigorous personal practice, now applying the evolutionary principles to myself. In this sense, Steiner’s repeated reminders in his agricultural lectures of the importance of developing personal relationships in all our work take on a much fuller and more textured character.
In closing, what is emerging for me is agriculture as a vocation that is uniquely in tune with our particular Zeitgeist. When I use the term ‘agriculture’ here, I do it in the spirit of Wendell Berry’s “eating is an agricultural act.” It, agriculture, offers us the opportunity to work on the three most important “construction sites” of our time, where currently the “cracks” have gotten disturbingly large and deep. I am referring to our relationship to Nature, our relationships to each other, and our relationship to our inner selves.
I cannot help but marvel at the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. By rescuing agriculture from the fringes of our society we can engage some central questions of our time. What amazing possibilities arise from embracing our human role within the ongoing evolutionary process! Can I consciously and freely pass through my inner “eye of the needle” to then be able to step into the awe inspiring responsibility of becoming a co-evolutionary partner in welcoming the future onto our planet?
“You cannot transmit wisdom and insight to another person. The seed is already there. A good teacher touches the seed, allowing it to wake up, to sprout, and to grow.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh