Human society is a complex biological system. Our higher knowledge as a species has evolved to create a pool of social structures that don’t naturally occur, essentially establishing the human brain as a biological anomaly. We naturally throw objective sciences like mathematics, economics and engineering into this pool. These fields of study are rooted in the human study and manipulation of the world’s natural resources. Our ability to observe and develop the natural world has allowed for an unprecedented population boom of a keystone species.
What is less often considered is the role that agriculture plays as a human machination. Since the roots of farming are in a field, not an office, it is easy to overlook the fact that agriculture is the original objective science. It wasn’t until we learned how to cultivate the land and grow a stable surplus, that all of the other philosophical “isms” and rational “ics” had the time to flourish. At the beginning, the two dominant human structures were: agriculture, to exercise our mastery of the land, and spirituality to celebrate our futility to nature. This was a natural evolution that considered our fundamental dependance on the natural world. Further evolution had deviated away from the spiritual structure of farming. Instead, human history has preferred to develop food systems to meet objective needs based on a rapidly growing and professionally specialized population.
In the early 20th Century an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner recognized this breakdown, and in 1924 led the first series of 8 lectures on a western idea of organic agriculture. These talks focused on the breakdown of species diversity on farms, corresponding loss of crop and livestock quality, and deteriorating soil quality due to chemical inputs. While only 800 farmers attended these lectures, the ideas indirectly proliferated into the Organic Revolution, which swept western culture in the 1970’s as people sought to reconnect with spirit of the land. The conferences also led directly to the creation of Biodynamic Farming, developed by Steiner himself.
Biodynamics evaluates agriculture from a wider, socio-ecological perspective, where humans and food production are dependent pieces of a harmonious ecosystem. The role of the farmer in this perspective is to, in the words of agronomist Donald Lotter, “restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.” A element to consider in this role is the temporal role of land management, and ensuring productive fertility for future generations. One other idea that Steiner planted, was that farms should take the same principals of building ecological harmony to bring people closer together.
Many of you have likely heard of Juniper Jungle Farm, eaten their produce, or seen their farm stand at Farmer’s Markets here in Bend. For those who haven’t, Juniper Jungle Farm was started by Chris Casad five years ago, and is a 10+ acre operation just on the outskits of town. Chris started his operation from an understanding that farming should strive to meet wider societal needs other than simply food production. His farm philosophy is rooted in similar thinking to Rudolf Steiner; food is the center of community. Also, akin to the beliefs of Steiner, Chris believes that farming should represent a two-way exchange with nature; farmers give the land the means to fertility, and the land repays with food. If approached mindfully and with due diligence, this philosophy generates cyclical sustainability. Chris and his team focus in on fostering a resilient farmscape that enhances the land around it. Constructive farming like this is a balancing act of biodiversity; holding the balance means allowing a biologically dynamic, or “biodynamic” environment to grow. Instead of a catalogued input/output of select mineral nutrients, a dynamic farm derives fertility from the endemic plant diversity contributing a less selective range of nutrients. By deriving nutrition from a variety of sources, farmers mitigate the risk of losing balance and over saturating their soil with any one mineral.
A further example of this dynamism is how Juniper Jungle plants their crops. Chris, and some other likeminded Biodynamic thinkers, seed and transplant their crops according to an Astrological calendar. This calendar was researched and developed by Maria Thun in the 1950’s, and provides a planting guideline based on the proximal location of the moon to the earth, and its relative location to astrological signs. When I went out to the farm, it was right in the middle of a biodynamic planting window for leafy greens; and the window was to close soon. So, upon my arrival, it was all hands on deck to get the greens in the ground before the moon passed through the water signs and the sun rose high in the sky. As the cool morning began to heat up, and the afternoon sun beamed fields with warm rays, the moon began to pass through fire signs in the cosmos. This was the queue to Chris and his team that it was time to get fruit crops in the ground. As soon as the last of the planting trays from the morning were stowed away, out came hundreds of tomato and squash seedlings ready for life in the soil.
This mindful approach to planting extends to all aspect of farming at Juniper Jungle, acting as a guide for cultivating and harvesting field rows. All of this is done in pursuit of maintaining healthy symbiosis amongst biological elements of the surrounding farm matrix. It isn’t only plant and animal life that benefit, but us people as well. Juniper Jungle is a canvas for building the human social experience through education and, shared work and meals together. The farm works with Central Oregon Locavore to get students out from their standard classroom, and bring the curriculum outside and learn from the land directly. While we moved up and down the plowed fields planting new life, kids and teachers listened, watched, and played in the fields. In a human world that has become less aware, this form of education is the foundation of a new generation that is more aware of the impact of a modern lifestyle.
What is beautiful about Juniper Jungle is the dialogue it brings out in those who visit. Being outside, with your feet in the dirt, inspires us to think deeper about our purpose in the world. We are after all just another animal species; just one with the capacity for higher thought. Without perspective on how we meet our needs to survive, this intelligence spells consumption of the natural world. Given our intelligence, and a mindful commitment to balance, our survival can work with the biodynamic cycle that guides Juniper Jungle farm. So I urge you to get out there see it for yourself, and contribute to the dialogue of living.