I was surprised to learn that biodynamic farming began ninety years ago with a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner and was a precursor for our modern organic movement.
Bernard takes me down to the farm to the collection point where members collect their vegetables.
“The vegetables supply all the members as a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm.” Bernard told me. “Stroud Community Agriculture was started about 13 years ago. The whole scheme was set up as a cooperative with members who are supporting the farmers to do the work. The intention was to make this viable as a small farm, because one this size is usually not viable. So the farmers have a guaranteed income and somewhere to bring their produce. All the members pay a monthly contribution which covers all the costs and the salaries of the two farmers and two part time workers and an apprentice. Then members can come and collect their vegetables every week.
“May is the hungry gap because most of the winter crops are coming to an end. We still have a good range of things from the farm, but also a few things from other farms so that members can get a good variety throughout the year. We have the board up which says what you can take for one share.”
It’s tempting to try to explain the results that Bernard describes in scientific language. To try to find meaning in things I already know – fungi, magnetic fields, or human behaviour affecting plants. But I think first I need to view it as a cultural story, a visible result of a different way of looking at the world. I don’t think I’ll really get it if I keep trying to translate it. The visible effects I can understand but Bernard has a truth which includes energies and beings that I have no feeling of.
Biodynamics feels in many ways like an approach to agriculture that is akin to magic. The traditions of spells and magic have been undermined and persecuted so much that it is hard for me to have a clear sense of them. I’m aware of the huge benefits of natural herbs and the way they are targeted by drug companies to try to get them banned. The natural versions of many of our medicines can have less side effects but the factor that damns them is that they can not be patented. What company or government will pay to develop something that we already know works, that you can not have exclusive rights to? We have a long history in England of suppressing traditional wisdom and culture at home and abroad with a powerful disrespect and prejudice, so it makes sense for me to pause and think twice about things I think I ‘know’.
I’m due to get walking again but when I get back to the cafe for my bag, I get a call from Bernard, inviting me to dinner and to stay the night.
“My wife Karin is a long distance walker too and she would love to meet you.” he says.
In the richly colourful house, with dark blue locally made crockery, I look at the pictures Bernard has handed me whilst he’s cooking. They are black and white images of a building in an architecture book. The building is the Goetheanum, and it’s construction is the most amazing building I’ve ever seen. From the outside it looks beautiful and reminiscent of Gaudi’s style, but the complexity and love devoted to the inside are incredible. The reason I’ve never heard of it before is that it was burned down by arson over ninety years ago, just two years after it was built. Bernard is part of a group that has planted a living building of trees in Somerset based on the Goetheanum layout.