For those who have ever sensed the pulse of the Earth, or felt a sense of awe even in their own backyard, consider the 2012 North American Biodynamic Conference, Nov. 14-18 at Monona Terrace.
This year's theme, "Sacred Agriculture: Creating a New Relationship with the Earth," centers on the idea that the Earth needs to heal from the effects of industrialized agriculture and that working with the land can be a sacred act.
"The world over, farmers have felt that there's something sacred about what they're doing," says Robert Karp, executive director of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, host of the conference. "You don't have to be deep into biodynamics to come and learn."
Biodynamics, founded by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, has much in common with organic farming. Biodynamic farms were pioneers in the organic and CSA movements, though there are distinctions. Biodynamics takes a more overtly spiritual, ecological and ethical approach to agriculture.
Karp is careful to note that it is not based in dogma or religion. In biodynamics, nature is viewed as living and intelligent, and that intelligence shows farmers how to farm, he explains. The farm is seen as an ecosystem in which animals and crops interact synergistically. Biodynamic farms tend to be very diverse for this reason.
"Biodynamics is a holistic approach to agriculture that produces exceptionally high-quality food," Karp says.
The conference will include voices from organics, permaculture and the arts. In fact, an evening will be devoted to music, poetry and storytellers because, Karp says, "We recognize farming in the end is an art, and we need to draw from the arts."
Apprentices will be able to meet with experienced farmers. Open sessions for networking, fundraising and consultations will also be offered.
Keynote speakers are Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics, and Dennis Klocek, author of Climate: Soul of the Earth and the forthcoming Biodynamics: An Alchemical Path. They will host workshops, too, among over 40 other workshops from farmers, educators and activists from both outside and within the biodynamics movement. "We try to have a mix of speakers working outside of biodynamics, but who are doing things that are inspired by similar principles," Karp says.
Eisenstein will speak on how biodynamic farms can enhance community through economic exchanges.
"In biodynamic farms, the economic model for agriculture doesn't work as well as it does for mechanized monocropping," he says, explaining that the latter is geared to provide a commodity at minimal cost. Eisenstein poses the idea of a "gift economy," which suggests that acquiring goods and service take place through relationships.
Klocek, director of the Consciousness Studies program at Rudolf Steiner College, will present the keynote "Practicing Sacred Agriculture."
"Coming out of agricultural religions is the idea that [we] have to work in rhythm with something that is already happening," says Klocek. Using the moon and planetary movements are two ideas at the heart of biodynamics. There are planting calendars and preparations to help farmers work with nature's natural cycles for optimal results. "In the alchemical process, it's not what you do but when you do it."
Other workshops will cover philosophical, practical and cultural applications of this spiritual science. Anne-Marie Fryer and Susan West Kurz will speak on "Bees, Borage and Biodynamics: Sensing the Sacred in Your Own Backyard"; Micah Loma'omvaya on "Hopi Wisdom for the Future of Agriculture"; and Paul Dolan on "Biodynamic Winegrowing."
Matias Baker will lead a workshop called "Biodynamic Preparations and the Alchemical Mysteries of the Cow," which will "delve a little deeper into the marvel of the cow as not just an organism but as something of a sacred animal," Baker says. Many parts of the cow - including the mesentery and horns - are used in biodynamic preparations, and manure is used in ferments and composts. But as with most biodynamic principles, the key is the individual and his or her spirituality.
"Sometimes you lose people there," Baker says, but adds, "That's why this is called kind of a spiritual science."
Monona Terrace, Nov. 14-18
Pre-registration is closed but walk-ins will be accepted, space permitting.