The “Koberwitz Impulse”—Biodynamics and the Institute for Mindful Agriculture, Part 1

By Steffen Schneider

“We are on a mission – the formation of the Earth is our calling” 

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.

Our world situation in general gives cause for deep concern, and the following quotation captures our current state of mind and our relationship to the world and each other very accurately.

“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

In the midst of this mess, global agriculture is at a crossroads. We can either apply a new holistic thinking to create a vibrant and healthful food and farming system for the future, or double down with our reductionist scientific approach on an outdated model of agriculture that is rapidly undermining our environment and our health. This model of industrial agriculture developed by business and science working together in the decades following World War II with the goal of generating as much product as possible. It succeeded—by using approaches better suited to making jet fighters and refrigerators than working with living systems—but at a high cost.

On the other end of the spectrum we have traditional agriculture. Its basis of deep indigenous wisdom and practice is not inspiring enough for the next generation. Much of the young rural population is relocating to the urban centers, drawn by the promise of modernity and economic progress. 

The industrial agricultural paradigm seems to be coming to an end, as the average age of our farmers hovers around sixty. And going back to “how things used to be” does not offer a viable solution either. I get the impression, imagining agriculture as a being, that the shoes we are offering it to slip on are not a comfortable fit. 

Where can we go from here? I suggest we begin by taking a renewed and careful look at all the aspects that Rudolf Steiner drew our attention to when he addressed the question of a future-bearing agriculture in his eight lectures, given in Koberwitz, Poland, 92 years ago. The impulse that began back then is now known as biodynamic agriculture. I believe it was Steiner’s intention to offer to the world principles and tools for a radically new agriculture, neither traditional nor industrial. This impulse has matured tremendously since 1924, and is now practiced successfully on all continents. Nevertheless, it still occupies only a tiny niche in the contemporary agricultural scene. 

What can we learn from overlaying current reality onto the vast and comprehensive context into which Rudolf Steiner places agriculture? From personal experience I have come to a number of conclusions. Firstly, Steiner’s indications are eminently relevant and important; secondly, the world around agriculture has changed significantly in the almost 100 years since the 1920s; and thirdly, there are essential points in Steiner’s work that have not become part of biodynamic and general agricultural practice to the extent I deem necessary.

The combination of my personal engagement with Steiner’s ideas and 33 of farming with biodynamic practices has led to the founding of the Institute for Mindful Agriculture. The following statement describes how we currently imagine our work and goals going forward:

The Institute for Mindful Agriculture (IMA) will help re-shape agricultural theory and practice to create a world where individuals are once again strongly connected to the source of their sustenance and where food is grown in active dialogue with nature and distributed in a socially just manner.

To meet its responsibilities in the future, this new agriculture will require us to consciously develop mindful life practices. Only then will it be able to support the co-evolution of Planet Earth and her inhabitants.

IMA will engage the visionaries, practitioners and educators of this emerging food culture and economy in research focused on accelerating the growth of this transformative paradigm. Together we will work to ensure that a truly regenerative form of “agri-culture” takes hold on a local and global scale.

In this effort we have to date identified six aspects, each one illuminating important pieces of a new narrative for agriculture, a narrative that will build on the traditional and industrial ones presently being enacted on our planet.