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Goetheanum Exhibition Steiner Blackboard drawing 1924.

Goetheanum Celebrates Centenary of Biodynamics

The Goetheanum and the Biodynamic farming community worldwide have reason to celebrate this year. 2024 marks the Centenary of the philosophy and practice of Biodynamics.

In the beginning

It all began in 1924. European farmers saw increasing disease and susceptibility in their plants and animals. Furthermore, they already had concerns about the adverse impacts of growing agro-industrial practices, such as new chemical fertilisers. They became convinced there had to be a better way to farm and work with nature. So they approached Rudolph Steiner for a way forward.

Was the word

The Goetheanum

The Goetheanum

Steiner’ was a philosopher who attempted to combine aspects of spirituality with the arts and science in what he termed Anthroposophy. This culminated in establishing the Goetheanum, near Basel in Switzerland, which remains the centre of Anthroposophy. After World War I, he focused on practical applications of his ideas, such as in children’s education and farming.

Consequently, biodynamic farming began with eight lectures entitled “Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture.” Rudolf Steiner gave these to a group in Koberwitz, Germany (now Kobierzyce, Poland) in June 1924. These lectures were never repeated because Steiner died in March 1925. However, the lectures were published later by the Goetheanum as the ‘Agriculture Course’. The 111 attendees were mainly from Germany, Switzerland, Poland and Austria. They became known as Koberwitzers, and some 60 of them went on to put the ideas into practice.1

Steiner saw a farm as a living organism and described the soil as the digestive organ of a plant. Consequently, he thought agriculture should focus on nourishing the soil as the basis of plant and animal health. Furthermore, this nourishment should come only from natural rather than chemical inputs. Detailed scientific observation would then reveal what experiments worked best and, thus, develop practical agriculture adapted to each farm. The lectures were, therefore, designed to be precepts rather than clear and finalised instructions.

What came next

After the lectures, sixty Koberwitzers began developing Steiner’s ideas by practising them and observing the results with their ‘Agricultural Experimental Circle’. These experiences led to the creation of a cooperative, then the Demeter brand. The first Demeter standards were in 1928 and have developed into the world’s strictest agricultural standards.2 The movement grew to 1,000 farms by 1931. In the last decade alone, Biodynamic hectares have increased by 57%. In 2022, 255,000 hectares were cared for by more than 7,000 farmers in 55 countries.

Practitioners

Two hundred fifty-five thousand hectares is an outstanding achievement. However, this is still less than 1,000 square miles, or about the size of Luxembourg. Or put it another way, it’s just 0.35% of the 71.5 million hectares of organically certified agricultural land worldwide. So it’s hardly mainstream, but the influence of Biodynamics is disproportionately enormous. For example, in agriculture and food ethics, the development of organics (which started in the UK in 1938) and the mitigation of climate emergencies.

Increasing take-up by some of the world’s leading wine producers since the 1980s is perhaps its most visible strand. Hence, my initial interest was over 25 years ago. Indeed, you can read my introductory articles on Biodynamics starting here.  These articles attempt to contextualise Biodynamics and make a convenient starting place for further discovery.

And finally

Today, we need biodynamic agriculture more than ever when we face climate emergencies and environmental collapse. Congratulations to the Biodynamic movement for their achievements over the first 100 years. This deserves to be celebrated.

A toast then to Biodynamic farmers – here’s to the next 100 years!

Naturally, I shall continue to feature biodynamic wines on these pages alongside organic wines and other wines with sustainable credentials.

Notes

  1. John Paull (2020) “The Koberwitzers”, published in the International Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. Vol. 6, No. 2, pp 47-54.
  2. The current Demeter standards can be found here.
  3. The cover picture is a detail from one of Steiner’s original lecture blackboards. These have survived intact and will be exhibited at the Goetheanum in 2024.

 

Location

Goetheanum
Rüttiweg 45
4143 Dornach
Switzerland

 

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