THE BETTESHANGER SUMMER SCHOOL: MISSING LINK BETWEEN BIODYNAMIC AGRICULTURE AND ORGANIC FARMING
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford, 51-53 Banbury Rd, Oxford OX2 6PE, UK.
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“Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer … will be in charge of demonstrations, assisted by members of the Biodynamic
Association and others … As Dr. Pfeiffer’s activities are world-wide, the opportunity of
securing his services for a full week is a rare and important one” Lord Northbourne (1939e, p.1).
Biodynamic agriculture and organic farming have been regarded as having different provenances and having arisen independently. The present account introduces the ‘missing link’ between the two. In 1938 Ehrenfried Pfeiffer published the milestone book on biodynamics: Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening. In 1940 Lord Northbourne published Look to the Land, the work that introduced the term ‘organic farming’. In the summer of the intervening year, Pfeiffer travelled from Switzerland to Northbourne’s estate in Kent, UK, and presented for British farmers a nine day course on biodynamics, the Betteshanger Summer School and Conference on Bio-Dynamic Farming, 1-9 July 1939. Pfeiffer was supported by the pre-eminent biodynamic scholar-practitioners, Otto Eckstein and Hans Heinze. Dr Scott Williamson of the Peckham Experiment was the sole British lecturer at the Betteshanger Summer School. For the UK Bio-Dynamic Association, the Betteshanger Summer School was the highlight of the year. Northbourne and Pfeiffer had collaborated on the Farleigh Experiment in 1938, and Northbourne had travelled to Switzerland in January 1939 to arrange Pfeiffer’s visit. War broke out less than eight weeks after the Betteshanger Summer School. Northbourne’s manifesto on organic agriculture, Look to the Land, was published in May of the following year. The book took the Steinerian and biodynamic view of ‘the farm as an organism’ as its central tenet and adopted it as the nominative motif for ‘organic’ farming. The book offered to the Anglophone world an account that was secular and distanced from any Anthroposophic or Germanic roots. Subsequently, Northbourne sought to bring Pfeiffer to the UK but Pfeiffer’s next and final visit was in 1950. The Betteshanger Summer School and Conference on biodynamics has been otherwise unreported. As this account demonstrates, Betteshanger was a stepping stone from biodynamics to organics. Northbourne sponsored Pfeiffer’s visit and the Betteshanger biodynamics conference in 1939, and the following year he introduced his term ‘organic farming’ and its philosophy in his book Look to the Land.
Keywords: Organic agriculture, biodynamic farming, conference, ‘Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening’,
‘Look to the Land’, Lord Northbourne, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Viscount Lymington, Earl of Portsmouth, Otto
Eckstein, Hans Heinze, Albert Howard, Farleigh Experiment, Haughley Experiment, Kent, Bio-Dynamic