“The totality of truth is present in every soul as a seed and can be brought to blossom if the soul devotes itself to the development of that seed.” ~ Rudolf Steiner
What does it mean to nourish our children, ourselves, and our world? There is literal nourishment given by the earth to humankind; and also spiritual, emotional, and intellectual nourishment. All of these gifts are not just given, but cultivated, as we humans are only benefactors of the natural world when we engage in its stewardship. The method of this stewardship, and the way we teach it to our children, matters greatly.
Caring holistically for the earth is the elemental idea behind Biodynamic Agriculture, an innovative method of sustainable farming developed by Waldorf education founder, Rudolf Steiner, in 1924. Caring holistically for the child is the elemental idea behind Waldorf education, which Steiner established in 1919. In Waldorf education, Steiner was very intentional about how we teach our children about the natural world, gardening, and food -- always approaching children, nature, and their commingling with great reverence.
In his Agriculture Course given to local German farmers, Steiner encouraged and instructed them to practice holistic, ecological, and ethical farming by eschewing chemicals, and instead using natural preparations sourced from the farm itself. Biodynamics and its principles and practices, as outlined here by the Biodynamic Association, can be applied anywhere food is grown - and it currently thrives around the globe in thousands of gardens, farms, vineyards, ranches, and orchards.
As Waldorf education nears its 100-year anniversary, teachers, students, farmers, and communities around the world look to Steiner's many offerings and seek to unite and celebrate his work. One such unification is the GreenBee Wildlife Web Initiative -- a coming together of a consortium of Waldorf schools, students, and communities across the globe, to establish sustainable pollination gardens and beekeeping programs.
Biodynamic farming and beekeeping gives us an ideal opportunity in education as these practices can uniquely show the sustainable and codependent relationships between humans and the earth. Indeed, the Biodynamic Association shares its mission to nurture and care for the land with a mission to nurture and care for humans. They seek to “awaken and enliven co-creative relationships between humans and the earth… [to care for] the health and wholeness of our communities.”
Spikenard Farms Honeybee Sanctuary in Virginia also shares in this mission. They seek to restore the health and vitality of honeybees while also educating visitors as they experience a “biodynamically invigorated landscape in which plants, animals and human beings create the necessary care, protection and healing for all.”
One simple way biodynamics can be directly taught to children is illustrated at the Sunfield Biodynamic Farm and Waldorf School in Port Hadlock, WA which grows food for the school and the local community using the principles of Demeter-certified Biodynamic Farming.
Children at the school hand-raised chicks and then built them a chicken tractor. Chicken tractors are large, mobile pens for the chickens to graze in, which contains them on plots of land where they eat the weeds and pests and provide enriching manure for soil. Chickens can be moved to a new spot of land in the garden or farm to continue the cycle of weed and insect eating and soil enrichment. Afterwards, seeds can be planted and food harvested. This process continues all while the chickens give eggs and education in this enriching ecosystem.
Another Waldorf school in Santa Rosa, CA, The Summerfield Waldorf School and Farm, is a school community and farm community with a 15 acre, on-site farm certified biodynamic by Demeter USA. As at Sunfield, the farm at Summerfield serves as a living classroom for students of all ages.
The school emphasizes that, “At the farm, students have the opportunity to learn many basic skills that are rapidly becoming lost in today's industrialized society. By tending soil, turning the compost, planting perennial gardens, harvesting vegetables for soup, caring for farm animals, and pruning and grafting, each student gains a deeper awareness of the natural world.”
Visiting and interacting on farms and beekeeper sanctuaries like these can help a child understand a holistic approach to growing and eating food. It can transform their understanding of the practice of agriculture to see it as a fertile renewal that contributes to their nourishment and the nourishment of the larger community.
Not only can biodynamic farming help children understand agriculture in this meaningful way, but it can also help them better understand themselves. The whole child, like the whole farm, benefits from a sustainable, soulful environment that resonates with its ecological counterparts. Each child, after all, is its own ecosystem of needs and gifts -- growing, learning and thriving in a vast and complex world.
And children do thrive by learning in nature and specifically by learning through stewardship of our earth. Gardening helps children learn science, understand where food comes from, make good food choices, and develop a love of nature and life itself.
This study, published in Journal of Environmental Education, shows that school gardens positively impact children’s learning and behavior. In a review of research, author Dorothy Blair from Penn State University found children active in school garden programs scored better on tests of science achievement. They also displayed more positive food consumption behavior. Blair also added, “Qualitative studies documented a wider scope of desirable outcomes, including an array of positive social and environmental behaviors.”
Not only does working in and with nature educate children by helping them learn academic essentials, but it also helps develop a love of nature and a love of self.
According to Linda Jolly’s work in a Norwegian University of Life Sciences publication, Relationship-based experiential learning in practical outdoor tasks, children who are “committed, caring and do continuous work with nature” have the potential to experience “an enduring experience of connection and belonging.”
It is this sense of belonging and connection, in nature and with one another, that we need most to thrive as individuals. A farm ecosystem is a reflection of the ecosystem of the earth and the beings that inhabit it -- a self-sustaining culture of connection, interdependence, and belonging.
This is why Waldorf educators, in honor of the Waldorf100 centennial celebration of Waldorf education, are stewards of the GreenBee Wildlife Web initiative, so that children in the 2019 school year can form a new ecological-green ‘continental park system’ in backyards, playgrounds, schoolyards, and public spaces. These green spaces will be developed with birds, insects, bees, butterflies, praying mantises and biodiversity in mind; creating a food-web for native species and wildlife.
This project is both accessible and essential - because while we can teach children about global ecosystems in theory, it is most effective to have them create and influence an actual ecosystem. Doing projects like these optimally illustrate the life-sustaining relationship humankind has with nature, and can show children the harmonious and living relationship between all beings.