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A Sick Earth Needs Medicine: (and Biodynamic Preparations are Indigenous Microorganisms)

The biodynamic preparations are composted medicinal herbs. If these plants can stimulate animal health, how much more plant health and yet more microbial life? Hugh Courtney of Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC urges people — really against his own financial interests — to make their own preparations. He does so because he is far more interested in what the preparations do than in money. But why? Can’t you just buy the preparations? Of course you can. But if you make your own, they are Indigenous Microorganisms (IMOs) which are uniquely suited to your land. You can import organisms, carefully prepared by others, but the ideal is for the farm to produce its own fertility.

A healthy body does not need medicine. All a healthy body needs is healthy food. But a sick body needs medicine. In the same way, a healthy Earth does not need medicine. But our Earth is sick. Our Earth needs medicine. The biodynamic preparations are medicines for healing the Earth. Organic food might help prevent you from getting sick, but it is not enough to heal a seriously diseased body. Organic practices are simply not enough to heal the Earth.

There are some people who might question the need for medicine. There are others who deny that the Earth is sick. But the soundness of biodynamic medicine will resonate with many of us, and the facts will validate their insight.

“Even someone who knows nothing as yet about directed compost fermentation must needs admit that certain well-known and well-described bacteria and yeasts play an important role in other fields of fermentation, in cheese, in milk (yogurt and Acidophilus), in wine, and in bread. Modern techniques in these fields do not permit accidental inoculation to take place but introduce quite specific cultures in order to achieve their specific ends. American wines of a Bordeaux, or Rhine, or Burgundy, or Riesling type are only possible because certain specific cultures have been used. Bread made from dough inoculated quite by chance with wild yeast would be quite unpalatable. It is the typical baker’s yeast which makes the dough rise and results in edible bread. To deny, therefore, to the composting process, that such specific microorganisms could be found and used which direct its proper fermentation is a retrogressive and not a progressive concept – inasmuch as experience has already shown that it works, wherever and whenever adequate knowledge and skills are applied.” Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Bio-Dynamic Gardening and Farming, pg. 106.

Most of our soils, even what appear to be productive soils, are deteriorating. A new form of agriculture must arise to meet the new challenges facing Humanity. The biodynamic preparations are financially affordable, applied as herbal teas to your soils. Most of our soils are sick. None of them are as good as they could be. At this point in human development, the Earth’s soils are tired and need to be stimulated by gentle herbal medicines.

For the first years, it makes sense to me to purchase the biodynamic preparations from a reliable source. In my case, I buy them from Hugh Courtney at Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC. They are not “indigenous” to my farm, but they are fermented here in Virginia. I have been using the biodynamic preparations for two seasons now, and this fall we buried our first BD500 “Horn Manure” using organic and 100% grass-fed cow manure from a lactating cow. We have our friends to thank for the manure.

The buried manure is “sensitized” and develops a unique relationship with the quality of your own soil. What develops there are Indigenous Microorganisms (IMOs), and ones ideally suited to forming stable humus.

There might be some benefit to importing the medicinal “inoculants” until the soil has begun to heal and can better produce its own preparations. On the other hand, perhaps the forces necessary to heal your soil are already there.

As Rudolf Steiner says, “A thoroughly healthy farm should be able to produce within itself all that it needs.” Since few farms today are “thoroughly healthy” they should look to healthy farms with composted medicinal herbs (“preparations”) to assist their return to health.

Steiner said: “The benefits of the bio-dynamic compost preparations should be made available as quickly as possible to the largest possible areas of the entire earth, for the earth’s healing.”

To me, it seems like we are on the verge of a catastrophic future where soils are dying. If we continue on this trajectory, we may enter a new Dust Bowl, as Ken Burns suggests in his recent documentary. If this does happen, where will the biological life come from to heal the ruined Earth? It will arise from organic and biodynamic farms and radiate outward as knowledge radiated out from monasteries after the Dark Age. There is nothing more important we can be doing now. The most important place to be is not with like minds, but surrounded by the very soils that need to be healed. Even with pesticides drifting onto your land, the preparations cultured on your farm will learn to metabolize these poisons. How else will deadened soils be rejuvenated?

From organic and biodynamic farms will radiate new life, whether or not we change the trajectory our food system has set for itself. We are creating the future for Humanity. Our project is cosmic in scope and is not limited by whether or not we avert the impending storm. We can hope that Humanity changes its ways so the good work of recolonizing neighboring soils can begin all the sooner. If Humanity doesn’t manage to change its ways and avert its catastrophe, our work is already in place, ready to repair what is broken.

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  • So beautifully said .
    You put into words the meaning of the past 25 years of my work .”Work is love made visable” is the Kahil Gibran quote on the board for the month or year. You are such a good teacher and express words and ideas so well… but even better to be able to see it manifested by your work! :)Sharon

  • Stewart – Would you please do me a favor? Run your idea about the preps being IMO past Hugh Courtney and get his take on it. Me thinks you are unintentionally selling the preps short. Since you have access to Hugh, best for him to tell you where IMO set in biodynamics. If it turns out the whole view has been updated and microbiology has become a causitive agent in biodynamic farming and not a result, I’d like to be the first to know. In the meantime, know that the effects of most of the preps are apparent even when the preps are put into the compost pile in glass jars, effective even when their bacteria cannot spread. Haven’t seen such an experiment for 500 or 501 but it’s probably also the case. Let me know but in the meantime know that it’s important to not minimize the ‘forces’ or the Spiritual aspects of biodynamics by comparing it to other forms of agriculture that may currently be in vogue. Courtney, not I, is the authority on this stuff. (Otherwise, of course I see it just like you do) Keep up the good work and never forget “The bigger the front, the bigger the back”) Thanks

    • I had run my idea of IMOs by Hugh before sharing this, and I don’t intend to sell the preparations short! There is something special that happens by the shape of each sheath on its contents, something that simply can’t be reduced to microbiology.

      As for the effect of the preparations contained in glass and inserted in a compost pile, I am reminded of a similar experiment Pfeiffer discusses where the mere proximity of Potassium in a sealed container near Potatoes caused the Potatoes to accumulate more Potassium without reducing the substance in the jar.

      I will clarify here for anyone following this: it is the formative forces that govern the biological processes in the preparations. Thinking of them as IMOs is a bridge to permaculturists. Unless I am wrong, Hugh Lovel (not Courtney) describes them as specialized microbial inoculants?

      They must then ask: why do these sheaths culture specific strains of bacteria? Why does Horn Manure reveal nitrogen-fixing bacteria as Pfeiffer found? They must then realize that each sheath is a microclimate that develops a unique direction of life forces. But why? We get back to the form of the horn.

      People are only just beginning to pay attention to microclimates and how forms can create special modes of life within that geometry.

      We can’t stop at IMOs, but if it gets more people making their own preparations, I would be quite pleased. Steiner himself indicates that regional horns will make a significant difference, and manure would be the same. If he also says an animal becomes at home (so to speak) on a farm after a few years, then the manure from that animal is also at home there and makes a better candidate for a preparation.

      But a sick farm will not make good IMOs. I can prove that! I buried 40 horns last year and they all failed. Our farm is far too young in its transition and the soil is only healing slowly – albeit faster than without biodynamic treatment. In some places the darkened soil has increased to a depth of as much as 24″ from a pitiful layer when we took over the land.

      Our own local IMOs, and the elemental laws that govern them, are not all beneficent. And until I can successfully make my own preparations, I will need to bring off-farm manure in as the “medicine” Steiner calls it. I am hoping sooner than later I will have my own.

      This season I buried a fresh skull with bark, 40 more horns of pre-potentized manure, nettle preparation, and Barrel Compound. Wish me good fortune.

      I hope this helps dispel the (reasonable) concern of reducing the preparations to a bio-physical level. Certainly such a view would be better than full blown materialism, but it still shows the temptation to make some physical “stuff” the ground of existence — invisible “stuff” nonetheless, but still a kind of materialism if we leave it there.

      I feel like to a materialist, I can only talk about the substances in the preparations — so I do. To a naive realist, I can talk about the biological processes, to a healthy idealist I can talk about etheric formative forces. But to a mystic I can’t talk about the chemistry or the biology, but only energies. I try to heed Steiner’s exhortation to avoid trying to convert these people “lock stock and barrel” as anthroposophical “centrists” (a Leninist reference!) like to do. People are where they are, so if I can expand their concept of substance, biology, or energy, I try to.

      It’s like reading Scripture: there is how a child reads it, and adult reads, and how a rabbi reads.

      I think of St. Paul being all things to all men.