Updated: Feb 15, 2019
Many people ask us what permaculture and biodynamics are, as they are integral to who we are as Benevolence and how we operate. We thought a couple of definitions would help.
In 1978, Australian biologist Bill Mollison and his student, David Holmgren published Permaculture One; a book introducing the permaculture design model for a perennial and sustainable agricultural system. This “permanent agriculture” model (or permaculture for short) evolved into an educational system intended to train others in alternative approaches to the entropic demise of our environment hastened by modern agriculture. Initially inspired by Mollison’s 1959 field observations in Tasmania; Mollison believed if he designed an agricultural model based off of living-systems theory, ecosystems in decline due to unsustainable industrial agriculture practices, could not only be restored but also become capable of self-renewal. In part, ecosystem regeneration occurs when it is utilizing on-site renewable resources to recycle waste, fertilize the soil and increase biodiversity. Long-term thinking, self-regulation and succession help to keep the growth of species populations in check, thus increasing the ecosystem’s ability to become resilient in the face of changing climate and environmental stressors.
Permaculture is an interdisciplinary model of design, which takes into account stacking the functions of multiple species based on ecological principles, creating what is known as a living landscape, functioning like an organism as a whole. Using Benevolence as an example, earthen berms are created in the orchard built on a curve to act like the moist water catchments in the bends of riverbeds, catching and holding water for the diversity of life planted within them. From the inoculation of mycorrhizae in the mulch, to the installation of perennial plants and ground cover such as clover and thyme, the heritage fruit trees joined together by medicinal herbs and cut flowers, all provide layers of function, use, and habitat for multiple species of flora and fauna within our orchard ecosystem. By composting our organic waste on-site, we’re allowing nutrients, pulled up from the soil and utilized by the plants, to become nutrient-rich soil once more feeding the next succession of life.
Rudolf Steiner lived from 1861-1925 and was an Austrian scientist and philosopher. A year before he died, Steiner led a series of eight lectures on agricultural practices as a response to observations of land degradation after the advent of industrial agriculture. These lectures included a series of recommendations for local farmers to follow, creating a movement in fringe agricultural history known as Biodynamics. The word itself is a combination of “biological dynamic” agriculture practices. The “biological” practices include known organic growing techniques such as crop and livestock integration, along with a specific regime of field sprays and fermented composts, known as preparations, used to activate the soil and re-enliven its microbiome. Additionally, the purpose of these preparations are to influence the vital life force of the farm metaphysically through a “dynamic” interaction between the celestial and the earth. Tasks such as planting, weeding, harvesting and applications of field sprays are all set to a calendar correlated with celestial influences, such as the placement of the sun, moon and stellar constellations.
Similar to the principles of Permaculture design, Biodynamic farming places emphasis on recycling nutrients and maintaining soil health through the use of manures and composts instead of chemical additives and fertilizers. What sets Biodynamics apart is that it is also inter-layered with esoteric thought which connects the humans’ rhythms with the rhythms of the earth in a participatory consciousness: a worldview of interconnectedness between all sentient beings who share direct participation by contributing to a community (be it local or cosmological) creating a profound sense of belonging, in which, we as humans recognize we are a part of nature and we live in the earth not on it. This shift in perspective is paradoxical because it is perhaps subtle and yet, proves contrary to our modern industrialized culture, where we are taught to believe there is a great chasm between our species and all of the millions of others (billions if we include the many species of bacteria) inhabiting this planet.
In biodynamics, realms of the ethereal not only exist, they are honored and harnessed in a symbiotic relationship with our telluric existence. In biodynamics, this is what’s called a “super organism”: a farm is more than a place, it becomes a place of harmonization, of organic farming practices with an added mystical approach by viewing the farm as a self-contained entity with its own terroir, which flavors the food with the essence of place, packing everything from animal to plant harvests full of nutrients. It’s like a sixth sense (no pun intended) or taste similar to umami, but what we’re tasting when we eat biodynamic food or take biodynamic medicine is essentially our place of belonging. Understanding this concept as more than just theory, but as a way of being, is crucial in providing a solid foundation from which biodynamics is built upon. This understanding one experiences is beyond book knowledge; one that moves the soul and whispers remembrances echoing wisdom from our elders, who’s very DNA have now become the wisdom of the soil. The soil, dust of our elder’s bodies providing nutrients and libraries of their wisdom teaching each new plant, each new being if they but listen, a way of life that integrates us as humans, as whole; shifting our perspective from human-centric to gaia-centric.