Richard Joos on Alan Chadwick's Biodynamic Approach
The following remarks by Richard Joos are more properly a reference to the methods and philosophical approaches used by Alan Chadwick than to a memory of Chadwick himself. Yet, on one level, the two are inseparable. Joos gives us an articulate expression of one of the most intangible aspects of Chadwick's philosophical ideas: the mysterious relation between the soul of the gardener and the abundance manifested by the garden. Alan would often say that, in addition to classical technique, the productivity of the garden has everything to do with the attitude of approach of the gardener.
In one sense, this is obvious. The attitudes of the gardener will influence the practical decisions he has to make day by day. Will he (or she) apply animal manures and compost to increase fertility, or will he use synthetic chemical fertilizers? Will he encourage specific wild plants that attract the beneficial birds as a means of insect control, or will he simply spray with commercial pesticides?
But Alan meant far more than this when he referred to "attitude of approach." He believed that the gardener exuded an "emanation," a kind of life-energy force-field, that affected all of the living beings in his surroundings. Think of it as a type of spiritual "aura," invisible to the ordinary physical organs of perception, but exerting a strong influence on the plants, animals, and people in the immediate environment.
There were two aspects to this dynamic: The first had to do with the moral values of the gardener. Was he or she a thief, eager to steal the residual fertility of the soil so as to maximize financial profits? Or was this a responsible person who respected the health of the earth and who was willing to take only a fair share, leaving the soil in an equal or higher condition of fertility than when he found it? Was the gardener so fixated on his profit motive that he was willing to kill off all forms of life other than his commercial crop, or was he respectful of the totality of nature: the worms, the insects, the birds, the wild plants―being willing to share a fraction of the output so that all could live in harmony?
We use the words "moral values" in the widest possible sense here, for it was not simply a question of economics. It also involved a spirit of openness and welcoming toward the various manifestations of the natural world. Did the gardener, for example, notice the singing of the birds? Did this awaken in him an exuberance of joy in the hearing of it, inspiring a desire to trill back in welcoming acknowledgement the greeting of the blue jay? Did the taste of a ripe tomato from the vine sizzle one's blood down to the toes, and did this awaken a deep feeling of gratitude and reverence? If so, then one's attitude of approach was of the nature to draw down a subtle but palpable magic that permeated the whole artistic masterpiece of the garden environment.
The second factor in this mysterious relation had to do with the gardener's physical contact with the earth. Simply having a reverential attitude toward the natural world was not particularly effective unless he were communicating that attitude through his own hands in the processes of cultivation, fertilization, planting, and harvesting. Through the gardener's loving touch on the soil he participated in a subtle communion with nature, and this translated into an incalculable abundance and productivity in the results of his labors.
This is all very transcendent and esoteric, so Alan rarely talked about it. But it was implicit in his decision to use only hand tools and also in the way he conducted himself in his daily work of the garden. His unique way of interacting with nature was so evident to his apprentices that they could not fail to take notice and to emulate his attitude. His personal example implied that a sympathetic physical contact with nature was able to create a conduit between the spirit of the human being and the "soul of creation," as Alan called it..
Richard Joos refers to this mysterious dynamic in the following words:
"What is more difficult to see and, for some, harder to accept, is that the abundance of superior fruits, flowers, and vegetables is as much a result of human caring as it is of special techniques. Though biodynamic “methods” can heal abused soils and restore productivity, the significance of this approach lies in bringing the human spirit into harmony with the natural forces"
Visitors to Alan's gardens were often stirred to the profoundest depths of their souls through what they experienced in the atmosphere of the place. It was hard to say exactly what it was that made such an impression. Was it the abundance of the vegetable production, the beauty of the flowers, the delicious fragrances that entered almost unconsciously into the human senses, or the gentle sounds of birds, crickets, frogs, or peacocks, that worked their magic on the heart? It was all of these things in synergistic magnification that captivated and enchanted the visitor. It was a healing miracle that manifested itself before the spirit of the beholder, and this, Alan claimed, had everything to do with the attitude of approach of the gardener.
All of this is an aspect of Chadwick's methodology that is rarely mentioned, simply because it is so difficult to articulate. But Richard Joos does a remarkably admirable job of alluding to this reality behind the reality. For that reason, we reproduce his comments here.
An Approach to a Solution: Round Valley Garden Project
by Richard Joos, President of the Institute for Man and Nature
This was an introduction to a slide presentation about the Round Valley Garden Project given at a conference entitled, “Small Scale Intensive Food Production: a Workshop on Improving the Nutrition of the Most Economically Disadvantaged Families.” The event was sponsored by the League for International Food Education, and took place at La Casa de Maria, Santa Barbara, California, October 24-27, 1976.
The Round Valley Garden Project, located on a fifteen acre farm in the northern California mountain village of Covelo, is an unusual educational experiment in which a group of young people are committing their energies to a garden and to agricultural practice which focuses on human survival. The people who teach and learn in this garden deal with specific questions: “How may I spend my life usefully?” “What in the world may I do that matters?” “How may I survive by doing things I believe in and care about?”
Under the direction of Alan Chadwick, one of the world’s most respected horticulturists, young people have been trained in the classic traditions of intensive gardening techniques by which plants producing healthful foods may be obtained in greater yields, leaving the soil improved rather than depleted, and without resorting to chemical intervention.
Twenty-five apprentices and a staff of five work in the garden and participate in a program of lectures and workshops dealing not only with horticultural subjects but also the related arts and crafts. Training is given free of tuition charges in exchange for a year’s commitment of time and energy. The students share in the garden’s output of food and are expected to provide their own shelter. The work is hard and they soon discover that for every fragment of knowledge of the horticultural techniques, there must be an equivalent deepening of self-awareness and direction.
The Round Valley Garden Project was started in 1972 [ed. note: 1973] and was supported initially by the Planning Conservation Foundation. In 1974, the Institute for Man and Nature, a non-profit California educational organization, was established to coordinate support for the Project’s activities. Under its sponsorship, plans are being made to introduce a number of projects into the community and beyond, which relate to and support the garden and its training program.
The procedures followed in the Round Valley Garden Project, and much of its philosophic basis, are derived from European traditions and particularly from the work of the German scientist-philosopher Rudolph Steiner. The classical techniques of England, France, and Italy and the ideas of Steiner have been synthesized by Steiner’s student, Alan Chadwick, who is the director of the Round Valley Garden Project. Intrinsic to the approach (it is much too comprehensive and complex to label as a “method”) is the integration of meticulous technique and a world view. The parts of this approach that may be described as “method” are intensely practical—centering on the building of soil fertility, the maintenance of productivity, and the creation of environments in which each plant may reach its maximum potential. The result is a radically increased yield of a superior nutritional quality. Inseparable from such techniques is a set of philosophic and spiritual principles as intensely idealistic as the other is practical. The two are as one; and in their union is the secret of the enormous appeal of this approach and the key to its potential.
Work in the biodynamic garden is labor intensive. Machine power is employed only in those instances where hand labor is unequal to the task, which is seldom. Beds are dug by hand. Field crops are cultivated by hand. Soils are prepared and crops are harvested by hand. The reasons go beyond a simple abundance of apprentice labor. The biodynamic view of things places the human in a very special relationship to the plants and creatures in his or her care. It involves obligations that may not be discharged by machinery or from a distance, but may only be properly met by individuals who have finely tuned perceptions, who pay close attention to every detail, and who have direct physical contact with the soil and plants.
It quickly becomes clear to garden visitors that the biodynamic approach is enormously productive compared with conventional methods. What is more difficult to see and, for some, harder to accept, is that the abundance of superior fruits, flowers, and vegetables is as much a result of human caring as it is of special techniques. Though biodynamic “methods” can heal abused soils and restore productivity, the significance of this approach lies in bringing the human spirit into harmony with the natural forces—a union the potential of which may be glimpsed in the Round Valley Garden.
One of the most important tasks at the Round Valley Garden Project is the restoration of genetic balance in common food plants in order to recover their original nutritional characteristics. The hybridization of domestic plants was not an overnight event, but has taken place over a century or more during which agriculture in this country evolved from home practice to corporate enterprise.
The widespread application of machine technology and the demands of commercial marketing have brought about a corresponding attempt to standardize farm produce. The price nature has exacted for this convenience to man is a large and ominous decline in nutritional quality and flavor. As plants are bred for special characteristics, they lose the vitality of the original form. In order to restore the vigor of the original plant, specimens which survive in more or less original form must be found and propagated for seed.
Nutritionists have pointed out that a continued trend toward processed foods and the further mechanization of agriculture without attention to the decline in nutritional quality will lead to the gravest consequences. Our nation is as healthy as the food we consume. The genetic restoration of domestic food plants is a matter of urgent necessity.
The project is at work to recover early strains of grains and orchard fruit as well as a variety of vegetable and flowering plants. A number of these are already in use in the Round Valley Garden.