Perry Court Farm

Alan Brockman and his family have been working the land at Perry Court Farm for over 55 years.He personally started the farm and has helped to develop it into one of the better known biodynamic farms in the UK. Alan has often been called upon to represent and speak about biodynamics, both in the press as well as on the radio and television. The latest DVD on Biodynamic Gardening also includes an interview with him.

In December 2008, his work was recognised through the presentation at Rudolf Steiner House. Along with this award it was also felt appropriate to speak with Alan about his work and his thoughts for sustaining the bio-dynamic work in the UK. The following article is based on an interview he gave to Richard Swann in November 2008.

Alan’s roots are deeply embedded in the Kent countryside. Originally from Canterbury, he lived on a smallholding run as a sideline by his father a garage proprietor. During the war this led to a farm as business faded. His strong connec- tion with nature stood him in good stead for his later life. He was also fascinated by electrical things and so took up a four year training in electrical engineering in London. It was whilst he was there that he first met Henry Goulden, who became a good friend and colleague for many years. It was Henry who first introduced Alan to anthroposophy.

Alan’s training was followed by a spell in the army, following that he carried on working in power engineering that meant lodging in London, which at that time was very polluted. He felt life in London was in fact ‘anti-life’ so he went back to Kent to recuperate. By this time he was also looking to deepen his interest in anthroposophy.
Whilst he was in the army he had the chance to visit Sunfield Childrens’ Home as well as a weekly study group at Ilkeston. At Clent he heard about biodynamics from Carl Mier who was then the secretary of the Biody- namic Association in the UK. This inspired him, when he was recuperating on his father’s farm to try out some of the biodynamic preparations in the dung ‘maxel’ from the dairy herd. He was now developing more interest in farming

In 1953 he started to look round for a farm and came across Perry Court Farm, which was just 5 miles from his father’s farm. This was bought and immediately he started to put it into order after the neglect of the war years. The farm at that time had about 40 acres of fruit much of which was old varieties of apples and pears. They pruned the trees and planted up 3 acres of Coxes and decided to run this orchard biodynamically the rest being conventional due to lack of know-how at the time. Conventional treatment included, at that time, the use of tar oil and when one day he found the orchard floor littered with dead worms, he turned his back on chemicals.

With his developing interest in biodynamics Alan was looking for further opportunities to learn more. He heard about a coach trip to visit biodynamic farms in Hol- land and West Germany that was being organised by the Biodynamic Association in May 1954. He went on that trip and visited various farms including one of the oldest bio- dynamic farms in Germany, Dottenfelderhof, which at that time belonged to the Becker family.There they were shown compost making on a large scale, so when he returned to the UK he expanded his compost area. For this he needed to upgrade from using only a wheelbarrow to now investing in a fore-loader for one of the ‘Fergie’ tractors.
The early fifties were very formative times. The farm not only had a productive 40acres of orchards but also 45 acres of arable land plus 110 acres of woodland. There were sheep, chickens and pigs with the latter keeping the farm going financially. By this time Alan’s father had retired from the other farm and was able to help manage the livestock.
Between1956 and 1961 a lot of work was carried out on the farm to build it up. The hope was to turn over the whole farm to biodynamic management, but he did not know enough about it. Therefore they took the farm through a very long conversion period which lasted until 1976, whenthe farm finally became wholly biodynamic.

During this time Alan was asked to grow, fruit and vegetables for Peredur, a childrens’ home run by Joan and Siegfried Rudel near East Grinstead, East Sussex. The Rudels were convinced that good biodynamic food was im- portant for the childrens’ well being and saw that it helped underpin Peredur’s curative educational work. Even though it was quite some distance away, Alan took on the work until someone closer to hand could be found. They were able to supply a ton of fruit and vegetables a week to Peredur and its farm shop. Out of this interest for biodynamic produce in the Forest Row area, a new shop, ‘The Seasons’ was started by Diane Phillips. It is still there today selling organic and biodynamic produce for the local community.

Apart from the farm, Alan had other interests in those times. In 1950 Alan and Henry were in Hawkwood for demob leave where Alan first met Ulrike. However it was not until 1960 that Alan and Ulrike met again and then married a year later in Stuttgart. The house in which they currently live was built then which they had designed with a sitting room large enough for group meetings.

All along Alan was deepening his interest and knowledge
of anthroposophy, by going to conferences and becoming more involved with the English Section of the General Anthroposophical Society. After his trip in 1954 to the continent, he became more interested in reading the Agri- culture Course. At the time it was only available as a printed Roneo copy with limited circulation. It was first published as a book in 1958.

During the 1960s Alan started to get involved with the work of the Soil Association through local organic farmers. He then joined the Soil Association on the strength of Anthony Kaye’s interest in it. This resulted in a local group being set up in the Canterbury area.

Later, Alan was asked to join the Soil Association Council. This was at the time when Fritz Schumacher was the president. The Council had the drive to develop organic standards so a committee was set up to work on this to which Alan was invited.

For the work on the first Soil Association Stand- ards, Alan was able to provide a copy of the Demeter Stand- ards (which had been developed on the continent) to inform the process. A symbol was also being designed, so Alan lent the designer a copy of ‘Sensitive Chaos’ (Theodor Schwenk) which he hoped would inspire the design work. They were looking for something that would have the same sort of ‘crunchy’ look as the woolmark symbol. The symbol that we see today was based on an image in the book. It is a math- ematical representation of the ‘plane at infinity’ as described by the mathematician Boy. Alan reflects how wonderful it was to choose a symbol for the quality of organic food with an image of the Sun forces coming from the periphery.

In the 1970s the French were planting up square miles of Golden Delicious apples in the south of France. This action put a lot of Dutch and English growers out of business as the imported apples were cheaper than home grown. Perry Court was mostly planted up with old varieties, standards and half standards, which meant that they had to be picked using a ladder. With rising labour costs, this meant that it was becoming more uneconomic.

Most of the apples at Perry Court were also low grade Bramleys. So when they joined a local marketing co- operative their apples were selling for less than they could be picked. Even though Perry Court apples were being sent as farawayasAberdeenandBottonVillageinYorkshire,there still was not enough in it to keep going. The decision was made to rip out most of the fruit (for which they received an incentive grant).

They then realised that things on the farm needed to be reorganised to make it more financially viable. In 1972 Alan travelled to Scotland with Graham Shepherd who had introduced him to the Luing breed of cattle.
This was followed up with the purchase of some calves from the market in Oban. These were later crossed with Simmental cattle. Since that time in the early seventies all the cattle at Perry Court have been home bred. Along with the cattle they also started to implement a proper crop rotation and complete the final phases of biodynamic con- version.

Around that time the old farm house came onto the market and with the incentive to start some sort of cen- tre, they bought it. Even though Alan and Ulrike’s children, Patrick and Leo, were travelling to Michael Hall School some miles away, they decided to start a school there on the farm with the help of the grant from taking out the fruit trees. The Perry Court School then started in 1976 with I4 children in three classes and a kindergarten.

Over the next three decades the farm grew and developed into what it is now. Currently there are about 300 acres in total, some of which is rented land. It is a great joy to Alan that Patrick and Leo are now running it.

When being asked what has sustained him through the years, Alan answers:
‘Personally one has to have a conviction that one is doing something that is needed. That conviction has been strong for me and if not stronger now. What we are doing is bringing healing to the earth. The Bible says ‘You will be made whole’ – you are not healed but made whole. And it is this conviction that what we were doing was right which has helped a lot. Steiner says that faith has an attracting power and it has helped that one has had these convictions and worked with them inwardly over the years that helps bring things into being. What has also helped me very much is Paracelsus’s view that ‘Steadfast Imagination can achieve all things.’ ’

He goes on:
‘If you have a picture of something, it’s an archetype and if
you are living with that archetype it will grow down, just as the archetype of a plant wants to find expression somewhere. So it was when we first came here we wanted to have some sort of community asssociated with the farm. The farm grew and in the end it produced a blossom in the school. All this has come about because of inner working.

I know from my own experience that these things work. Even Einstein says that ‘Imagination is more important than Knowledge.’
‘There is wonderful little expression in Goethe’s Faust where the astrologer says:
First self command must quiet and assure us, The higher things the lower will procure us Who seeks the good must first be good,
Who seeks for joy must moderate his blood, Who wine desires let him the ripe grapes tread, Who miracles by higher faith be led.
(Goethe: Faust Part II, Act 1, scene 2 – Bayward Taylor’s Translation)

I think these are such wonderful thoughts, such sustaining thoughts and I hope that other biodynamic growers can live with those imaginations.’

When asked what he would say to a young person going into farming now, he says that they should listen to what is living in their hearts. He goes on to explain that we all come to Earth with a certain impulse. If we can find this longing in our innermost being then we can find what we have to do on the Earth. Sometimes these longings may not be clear or conscious and we may have to meet some difficult situations to wake us up to ourselves. This is something
that young people are going to have to face more and more because life is becoming more barren. Alan is concerned that people ‘fill up their lives’ with so much noise and movement in their search for themselves. He says; ‘If they could only pause and say what is it that is driving me into this continual movement and preventing me from really seeing what is living in me as impulse.’

‘That is what the biodynamic movement is taking into the future, it is taking the seeds of all the efforts and struggles that all biodynamic farming is putting into bringing the sun forces into the earth. They are all going into the future.’

When asked what can help biodynamic farmers face the challenges that they meet today he replies:
‘We have got to have knowledge, spiritual knowledge. That’s why anthroposophy is here and I think that has got to be the basis to carry the absolute inner conviction of those ideas and ideals – ab- soluteconvictionthattheyaretrueandneeded.It’sonlymyfaith in anthroposophy that has carried me through all these years.’
‘We have to be careful that it doesn’t fall into being
a method and that it’s not just a means to an end. It is a pity that Standards are necessary because it should all be done out
of moral integrity. I must say that Standards are good because when you have the feeling of responsibility to an outside author- ity you perhaps pay more diligence to what you are doing, than if you just rely on your own moral strength. Sometimes your own moral strength isn’t good enough to do exactly what should be done at the right time or whatever. I think it is necessary to have a certain framework of minimum permissible standards. There is no limit to the maximum! It is like a law it gives you a frame- work. It doesn’t prevent you from doing things and not having initiatives but only that they are not harmful to society. At our present stage of evolution we haven’t got sufficient moral strength inwardly to do without laws but we must have a framework within which these Standards must be obeyed.’

Finally, he speaks about the responsibility that the biodynamic farmer’s work has for the whole Earth:

‘I think that the awareness of what one does has an effect not only here but on a worldwide basis. We are actually connected by an etheric network, if you like, with the whole globe. What we do here is very important. A picture came to me of the circus where you see the clowns jump up and down on the safety net. When one clown jumps up and down the other one also has to go up and down. There is an ‘etheric net’. What you are doing in one place is having an effect in other places, so there is not only a world wide web in a physical, electromagnetic sense, but there is
also a ‘world wide web’ in an etheric sense such that what we are doing in one place is affecting the life of the whole earth. What we are thinking and feeling, and Steiner speaks about this, we are creating a whole aura around the earth. It is important that biodynamic workers think that are doing something not just for their garden or farm, but for the whole life sphere of the earth. They are bringing Sun forces into the earth.’

‘In the olden days the farmer was actually the priest. Akka was the god of the earth and farmers were the priests of the god of the earth. And that was considered to be a holy task. The druids felt the same. They were guiding agriculture with spiritual knowledge and this is what biodynamics is doing – we are guiding agriculture with spiritual knowledge. We are the modern priests for the spirit of the earth. And I think that this is a holy mission. In the Celtic cross you have this wonderful Picture of the Sun forces uniting with the earth. In Celtic Christianity we have Bridget who is the western equivalent of Demeter. The Peace chant of Bridget is:

Peace up to heaven, Heaven down to earth, The earth under heaven, Strength to everyone.

It is a wonderful, that behind the whole of nature there is a spiritualrealityandthisiswhattheCeltsexperiencedinBridget, and what the Druids were bringing in with Sun knowledge and that biodynamics is bringing in a reincarnation of these Sun forces that were known in the past.’ ■
Richard Swann