Herbert Koepf Meets Alan Chadwick
"There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers."
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Alan Chadwick had been in London during the bombardment of that city by the Germans in World War II. The death and devastation he witnessed there were beyond words, he said, and had utterly destroyed whatever faith in humanity he had earlier possessed. As the captain of a mine sweeper he saw action against the Germans in European waters, and then, more directly, against their allies, the Japanese, who sank his ship off the coast of India. It was then that he was forced to witness the horrible deaths of his crew members. He described to me how he had looked down from the bridge and seen his men screaming in agony as the flesh burned off the bones of their legs during that last battle.
After the war, he came to know the Countess Freya von Moltke in South Africa who eventually became his best friend and muse. Her husband, Helmut von Moltke, had been tortured and murdered by the Nazis for his role in the German resistance movement. Although Alan was very fond of Freya, her two sons, and her mother—and therefore not categorically anti-German—still he would have been wary of Germans in general, especially those who had the airs of Nazis or Nazi sympathizers.
During the decades following the war, one would occasionally meet former Nazis or their family members in various parts of the world. They all seemed to possess the common characteristic of needing to draw you into their way of thinking, or of finding out if, perchance, you shared their world view. I met a man in southern Mexico in 1969 who, over drinks of Tequila, told me that Adolf Hitler was the greatest man who had ever lived. When I disagreed, the lunatic nearly shot me.
In the mid 1980’s that scene strangely repeated itself. The elderly director of a firm that we were doing business with in Germany invited me and an associate to participate—as their guests—in the Faust festival held in Dornach, Switzerland, the international headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society. He was a director of the largest Anthroposophical bank in Europe. During a casual walk we took together in the forest surrounding the Goetheanum, he cursed the bad luck that resulted in Germany’s defeat, declaring that they really should have won that war.
Having learned my lesson in Mexico some years earlier, I affected a non-committal attitude about his opinions. His English was not perfect, nor was my German, and so I could feign a bit of confusion about exactly what was said, and the moment passed without incident or offense.
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So when Herbert Koepf arrived at Santa Cruz in the summer of 1971, Alan Chadwick would have been keen to know if he were a soul of the type kindred to Freya von Moltke, or of a type rather more akin to those who had murdered her husband. I remember the day well and was watching when the two of them met. Alan shook hands politely, said a few courteous words, and then withdrew to one side to get a sense of the man from a distance. When, a few minutes later, Herr Koepf began to lecture about anthorposophical agriculture it was immediately obvious that he was an academic with little practical knowledge. Yes, he could very well have been the world’s expert on the sugar beet or some other equally limited field of specialization. But he seemed to have little appreciation of beauty, and probably could not have told you the difference between a petunia and a snapdragon. He was a curious mixture between a theoretical scientist who lacks experience of the practical world, and an ardent Anthroposophist who can tell you in detail about what Rudolf Steiner said about gnomes, sylphs, undines, and salamanders, but who couldn’t sow a lettuce to save his life. In short: He was a pedantic intellectual full of self-important concepts, but decidedly lacking in practical horticultural wisdom.
Alan politely drifted away unnoticed during Koepf’s long and extremely boring talk. I didn’t see him again in the garden for the rest of that day.
― Contributed by Greg Haynes, February, 2014
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An alternative view of the above events as described by Steve Kaffka in his oral history interview with Ellen Farmer of UCSC on August 31, 2007:
Kaffka: When Francis Edmonds came, he suggested [that] he send Herbert Koepf to Santa Cruz, [and that] Herbert Koepf would like to see this place. I don’t know if you know who he is.
Farmer: I don’t.
Kaffka: If you were to read about biodynamic agriculture, you would find his name as the principal name in the late twentieth century. He wrote the standard book on biodynamic agriculture, in German and in English, and was in what they called the Vorstand in the Anthroposophical Society. There were seven leaders of different divisions of the Anthroposophical Society, and Herbert was
the leader of the biodynamic agriculture movement worldwide, and was also teaching biodynamic agriculture at Emerson College. So the next summer he came, and he stayed in my house on Western Drive, which was short on amenities and very primitive, really. It was really extraordinary. Here was another middle-aged man who was willing to stretch his limits. Herbert came and gave a lecture about biodynamic agriculture in its more formal (Steinerian) sense.
It was also interesting that Alan didn’t want to have anything to do with him. He was almost rude. Herbert was there, but Alan didn’t interact with him at all. It surprised me. I think partly Alan’s reaction may have been a residue of Herbert being German, but he was also a separate authority, a different authority, different from Alan. Whatever the reasons, they didn’t interact at all. Herbert subsequently returned several times after the Farm had started, at my invitation. He came on two or three occasions to give lectures and again stayed with us. He became a friend and mentor. He was a scientist and well trained. He was a soil scientist and had been in a German university professorship in soil science at Hohenheim Univeristy in Stuttgart. But he also had the capacity to tolerate cognitive dissonance: to handle, or be interested in and committed to, alternative agriculture notions. I hadn’t met anybody like him before.
Farmer: He could hold all those different things in his head at the same time.
Kaffka: He tried to integrate those different ideas. He became something of a mentor for me. And subsequently, when I [later] left Santa Cruz and had a Fulbright to go to Germany, he helped set that up. We wrote a couple of papers and a book together, later. So it was a lifelong connection for me. It was enriching.