Note: This article originally published in Applied Biodynamics, journal of the Josephine Porter Institute (Issue No. 90, Fall/Winter 2016-17).
As the Sun approached Summer Solstice, my friend Stephen Clarke stopped by to visit. He sat with me at the picnic table by our garden. In the afternoon light we talked.
Stephen spun out for me the tale of his recent journey up onto the Colorado Plateau near the Lukachukai Mountains, close by the imaginary straight line that legally, if not naturally, separates Arizona and New Mexico. Among many elements, this part of the Navajo Reservation is a place of high elevation, white reeds, rich farmland, uranium, tangled history and big sky.
Stephen made his journey to sit with some Navajo friends as part of a week-long Nadáá healing ceremony. He’s an astute observer of matters physical and metaphysical, one of the founding parents of both the Taos and the Santa Fe Waldorf Schools in New Mexico, and also the former proprietor and master mechanic at Mozart’s Garage.
In telling the tale of his visit to Lukachukai, he mentioned how the community of people came together in hard work and good fellowship to abide with one another over a week and to make ceremony expressing timeless ways and courtesies, all woven together within a group energy field of respect and humor many times larger than themselves.
“Native people know how to cooperate in community,” he told me. “It’s silent, it’s unspoken, but it is known and known implicitly by everyone. I see that as the Christ energy in expression. Not as a thought or a feeling, but in action. That’s it for sure. I could see it once again as I sat among the people. The Christ spirit lives in the ethers – the biosphere – as it circulates among people and the natural world.”
When I heard Stephen share his observation it summoned for me the seed thought expressed in Matthew (18:19-20) “…if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them…For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
“Sure,” he agreed. “That fits. Native people know already that the spirit lives in the land and in their relationships with one another. As part of their way, for thousands of years they have had the understanding of spirit life on a practical level.
“There’s a western axiom that ‘the map is not the territory.’ But that’s not so in traditional Native contexts. The land itself is the map and that land map is also indivisibly the territory wherein life unfolds. Physicality and spirituality are not separated by concepts or perceptions, to be worshiped in a metaphysical superstructure high off the ground, but are appreciated as one interpenetrating and mutually revealing reality. Native people have the land as source of spirituality and as the reference point for their spiritual lives.”
Stephen’s story put me in mind of community supported agriculture (CSA), the movement that took root some 30 years ago in the USA with the inspiration of biodynamic understandings, ideals and techniques. I’ve been involved as a reporter and participant since the start, and thus had a chance to observe the development of CSA in the USA over three decades.
Over that span of time many thousands of people in all parts of the world have come to recognize in CSA a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment and community in a healthier way. But as of late the community dimension, and the intrinsic aspect of relationship to the land, have often been marginalized. Efficiency has assumed primacy with institutional efforts to employ CSA as a “market strategy.” In my view, treating CSA as a “market strategy” is not only antithetical to the initial impulses, but also woefully inadequate to the challenges of our time.
Our era is sharply marked by the mounting, menacing clouds of climate chaos, paralleled by dramatic and urgent shifts in global politics, economics, and social relations. Much more than a market strategy is required. I remain steadfast in my conviction that CSA can play a key role in addressing these issues. It’s time to expand exponentially the CSA vision and reality to hundreds of thousands of community farms around the world, and time also to evolve consciously the community and the associative economic dimensions of CSA.
As Stephen related, Navajo relatives in Lukachukai — with grace and spiritual intelligence, via basic interactions with each other and nature — demonstrated their understanding and appreciation of community and spiritual realities. It’s their way. And their way is part of the strength of the rootstock: the native spiritual, cultural and agricultural knowings that have been cultivated and developed in North America for 30,000 years or more.
A rootstock is part of a plant, often an underground part, from which new above-ground growth can be produced. Grafting refers to the process by which a plant, sometimes just a stump with an established root system, serves as the base onto which cuttings (scions) from another plant are joined.
The cultural ways that arrived in North America from Europe, Africa, Asia and the far south, have never been deliberately grafted on to the rootstock. Instead, there has been a concerted, systematic, violent and tragic attempt to annihilate the rootstock of native wisdom through protracted campaigns of genocide, wholesale landgrabbing, and systematic treaty violations. That pattern has generated a massive energy field of karma, as yet unreckoned, but now coming into focus as tribes gather at Standing Rock in a historic action to protect the earth for life.
A successful, healthy, conscious grafting of the world’s cultural and spiritual ways to the rootstock of Turtle Island (North America) would, I believe, yield an abundant harvest of goodness, including more respectful, appreciative attitudes toward the land that sustains us all, as well as the agriculture systems we employ to bring forth it’s bounty. Biodynamic agriculture and preparations can play a key role in this critical matter
The initial Biodynamic perceptions and preparations were indigenous to Europe. Now the perceptions and preparations are global, and they are employed in many different ways in many different geographical and cultural contexts, including North America. The Biodynamic impulse can benefit enormously from being more deliberately and skillfully grafted with the rootstock of native knowings. Both will be strengthened. This kind of healthy grafting is certainly a prominent theme in the 2016 North American Biodynamic Conference set for Santa Fe, and rightly so. Much good is likely to arise from this sharing and reciprocity.
But beyond the 2016 conference, fundamental grafting and community questions need to come more into focus. The questions are not just philosophical, but also practical. Considering the status of climate change, they’re also urgent.
Is there, or could there be, a biodynamic preparation that aids, nurtures and supports the grafting of the world’s wide array of cultural and agricultural traditions to the native rootstock and wisdom ways so inseparably a part of North America?
And what kinds of biodynamic preparations could help magnetize the land and thereby rightly draw to it the interest and dedication of diverse groups of people (communities) who will willingly take on responsibility for caring for it as a farm? In other words, how might Biodynamic understandings and preparations continue to foster the growth and healthy development of CSAs, which can help make an important, positive difference as we all seek to reckon with the momentous changes afoot?
I taled briefly with the Josephine Porter Institute’s Board President, Pat Frazier, about some of these questions. Speaking by cell phone after just having finished milking chores on her Colorado farm, she suggested that as far as community and cultural grafting go, there are indeed intriguing possibilities that could be taken up by biodynamic researchers. But in the present, she said, a good starting point is with a familiar prep that’s already been developed: barrel compost. “Barrel compost is oftentimes created in community,” she said. “It just lends itself to that. It’s easy to make, it joins people together, and it’s transferable to community because once the compost dug out of the pit you can store it, and then share it widely.”
My sense is that both kinds of preparations – a grafting prep and a community prep – could help usher us to the level of strength, courage, intelligence and will necessary to meet the challenges of our era.
Note: I will be facilitating a workshop at the North American Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, Nov. 16-20, 2016. The workshop is titled CSA Farms: Awakening Community Intelligence. Stephen Clarke will also be presenting via the conference track for the Agricultural Wisdom of the Americas: Entwining Biodynamic and Indigenous Ways of Working with the Land.