Agriculture in Camphill

Camphill Correspondent July 1975


Hartmut von Jeetze-Copake – USA

To understand the appropriate place of the land within a community of people has been a challenge to Camphill ever since its beginnings in 1939. Although not always appearing in the foreground of our activities, the land has at all times been of great concern to all Camph ill Communities. Often misunderstood in its social, therapeutic and economic function, it had to take the place of a stepchild . That this is so is due to a peculiar relation most people still have to the land today.

In the light of indications given by Rudolf Steiner concerning principles governing the social organism, it was possible for us in Camphill to gain a new understanding of our relation to the land . Out of this, new approaches to work with the land have been developed. To describe some of these principles shall be the attempt of this article. To what degree they apply elsewhere must of course be left to the reader.

In order to understand man’s relation to the land it is necessary to see that there are three distinctly different functional areas of involvement with it.


The first area is the cultivation and care of the land. This is often mistaken as the area of economics, since its outcome is the harvest, food substances. The act of cultivation of land has, however, nothing to do with the economy to which the harvested goods are subject. The words ‘cultivation’ or ‘agri-culture’ signify a human activity, a discipline. Everyone knows the carefully disciplined steps that are required to guide a particular type of plant from seed to fruit. The gardener’s role can be compared to that of a teacher guiding a class through the elementary grades of a school. Equally irreversible, the moment when a farmer carries out his decision to turn over an old ley by setting the plough to the first furrow, shows that the nature of decisions underlying all act- of cultivation is one of individual spiritual activity on the part of those cultivating the land . That these act- result in desirable economic effects is only to be hoped. Cultivation itself, as the word shows, belongs to the field of spiritual activity.

That the method to be employed in the cultivation of the land in ourr trust should be the Bio-Dynamic principles of agriculture was never questioned. It is employed in all Camphill centres where land is cultivated.

This method was developed on the basis of indications and directions given by Rudolf Steiner to farmers and gardeners who in 1924 had approached him for advice on ways of revitalizing the soil. The effectiveness of this method can today, fifty years later, no longer be questioned. It is well documented as a fully workable method of agriculture, exemplified by the results achieved by hundreds of farmers and gardeners in many countries. Both in quantity and in quality of products, the Bio-Dynamic principles of agriculture are able to hold their own in comparison with conventional methods . This is well documented by supplementary research, as published in various periodicals and papers, available from Bio-Dynamic farming and gardening associations in the respective countries .

That the Bio-Dynamic method of agriculture cannot and does not employ chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or other chemical toxic agents, acting detrimentally to organic processes, should be self-evident from the above . Neither, however, is it to be understood as a `de luxe’ type of organic gardening or farming. To work on Bio-Dynamic methods presupposes an entirely new method of co-operation, on the part of those working the land, with the formative forces which underlie the processes of growth and decay active in nature . It is these in the last resort which are responsible for the harmonious growth of plants. A technical decription of this method cannot be the purpose of this article.

One may ask : if the above method of working the land provides such a successful avenue of farming and gardening, why is it not practised more widely, particularly today when it might be the answer to ever-increasing needs? The question is no longer one of finding a viable method ; the problem can no longer be sought for in nature. It must be looked for elsewhere. The problem is that of our relation to the land . It is a socialquestion. That is not easily admitted.

In order to understand this we have to consider the second important functional area of agriculture.


The second area is the field of economics . Two distinctively different economic principles apply to our relation to the world . They cannot be mixed up without causing harm to each other. One embraces our relation to goods and commodities ; if you like, the world of inanimate things. The other concerns our relation to livingorganisms. In the first, we are the recipients of things; in the second, the administrators of processes.

A close look at food substances will show that these belong to the first area while agriculture itself belongs to the second. Food substances come into existence at a certain, definite moment, at the end of the process of cultivation, the moment of harvest. Before harvest they are living organisms, parts of which may become food. The act of harvesting therefore signifies the dividing line of two processes. At the moment they are severed from the living organism, one could say, food substances are born. Like all goods, they immediately become subject to different principles and laws than before (weight, measure, etc .);economic laws that apply to all material things.

The first principle, therefore, can be formulated like this: All goods, once removed from their original natural context by man, become part of an economic process governed by man. These goods generate, serve and sustain our social-economic life. In doing so, however, they are subject to a process of diminution and destruction. (In order to yield lumber, a tree must be felled; to make bread, the grain must be ground.) Life in the sphere of economics depends on a process of the dying of material things.

In order to satisfy a given situation to their maximum of inherent potential, goods serving the social organism must be used according to two principles:
1 Optimum quantity required.
2 Maximum development of inherent quality,physical or otherwise. 

This law of the inherent economic value of a commodity, strictly observed, avoids, among other things, waste and pollution. This cannot be dealt with here in more detail.

Unfortunately, usually only in situations on which our life obviously depends, as in the construction of bridges or aeroplanes, or in situations of starvation, is this law fully adherred to.Adam Smith’s idea of free enterprise and competition introduced a highly constructive element into the field of social economy . Through it a discipline inducing individual thought and ingenuity in the development of the maximum potential inherent in goods, in the sense of the above law, came about. Today’s technology is based on this method of handling goods.

While constructive as a discipline, its real value was defeated by the introduction of another principle, that of maximum gain for the individual. Today one says: What can I get out of it? Through this attitude, the goods of the earth have been degraded to mere objects, to be regarded solely from the point of view of maximum usefulness for the individual . Smith’s constructive ideas of free enterprise and competition, by being coupled with the idea of maximum gain for the individual, introduced detrimental consequences . Not only did it subject the goods of the earth to human egoism, but it precipitated an avalanche of utilization, nay ruthless over exploitation of resources by now of global proportions, fired by self-interest and the whip of the principle of the survival of the fittest.

The second principle applicable to living organisms is quite different.

All living organisms-plants, animals, man-are dependent on laws which, contrary to the above laws of economics, lie outside man’s jurisdiction and control, such as day and night, seasons,weather, etc. All life roots in these rhythmic processes. The earth with its most sensitive part, the soil, is part of this living organisation and subject to the same processes. The reader will not find it difficult to understand, therefore, that a garden, and particularly a farm, is a living organism.

Our individual life as man depends on this living organism. In the same way we fully expect that there will be sufficient air for our next breath, we depend on the earth to yield our food .

Thereby the land becomes our host . Our life is inextricably linked to these living elements, and through them also to every other person . Almost un+versal ly- we have overlooked this dependency by leaving it to farmers and gardeners to see to it that we have enough to eat. It has made us overlook the following :

1 Inasmuch as the land sustains our life, it is our host.

2 A farm is the only living organism in nature created by, and dependent on man . It is the only one where man’s activity and that of nature can meet without mutual detriment, but to mutual advantage.

3 The fact that the land is our host and at the same time dependent on us puts the farmer and gardener into a new position quite different from the one realized until now.

This puts the third functional area into perspective, the place of the farmer.


To understand this third functional area, we have to see that because of increasing demands the land has been invaded by a principle valid only for goods . This had detrimental effects . It taut the farmer into a defensive position.

Agriculture became an industry. Having at the same time to defend his stewardship on behalf of the land, he was forced to look for compromises .

Use of spare land, as long as available, cheap labour, artificial fertilizers, forced breeding of plants and animals, mechanization have, because of their seeming success, prevented our recognition that they are largely compromises, obscuring the effect of the invasion of wrong economic principles on the land. The reason forthe flight of people from the land may well have to be sought for in this fact.

The now apparent global limits of capital resources, including soil fertility, may make us ask: How can we reverse this trend? A community of people would have to recognize that the land is their host; and acknowledge its indebtedness to the land. If it does so, it allows the farmer, gardener or forester to be placed in a different position than is customary today . He becomes a mediator between the land and a community of people. He must, on the other hand, be provided by his community with the means necessary for the cultivation of the land on their behalf. The latter comprises every step from composting to sowing to harvesting. He is given full freedom to administer the land according to methods and principles which are in harmony with the living organism of the farm. At the same time he is no longer forced to make compromises. He no longer needs to be on the defensive in the face of wrong economic demands, but can use methods which allow the land its optimum ability to grow crops, without defensive artificial means.

Through the above approach, practised in some of the Camphill centres, the farmer has been freed of the fight for survival, of having to compete with economic principles that have no place on the land. His position is no longer that of a social outcast forced to try to justify two economic principles . Once again the farmer is reassured of his true position, that of a mediator between a community of men on the one hand and divine forces working in the organism of the land on the other.

The above approach to agriculture is in no way impractical or merely idealistic and utopian . In our experience, in the communities of the Camphill Movement, it has solved deadlocked situations on the economic, social and cultural levels, helping to close the gap between man and the land.

Another important aspect of the land is its therapeutic value. Our approach has made it possible for many persons to find a place of true fulfilment in the social organism of Camphill,- people who elsewhere would be social outcasts in a world of competitive `profitability`. In the centres of the Camphill Movement which integrates people into a creative community life, many mentally retarded persons have been able to find a place meaningful for them as well as the social organism of which they are a part, only through being allowed to take their place in the work on the land. Quite apart from economic considerations, their day-by-day involvement in nature’s seasonal processes of growth, dying and rebirth has a therapeutic value which could not be replaced by other means. Not to avail oneself of these would be unthinkable in the Camphill approach to man and nature. The social and therapeutic value of work and life with the land is unquestionably re-established in the striving of Camphill centres throughout the world.

And on page 11 –


In answer to the suggestion to use the image of the two pillars on which the village work rests as a basis for our Conference, Baruch Urieli writes the following:

`I agree that it would be fundamentally important to become aware of the two pillars – curative education and agriculture. They stand in our Villages like the pillars Boas and Jachin in the Temple of Solomon.