My first visit to a biodynamic farm was to Old Plaw Hatch in West Sussex, home not only of biodynamic practice but a ‘live in’ community committed to the principles and ideals of Austrian thinker Rudolf Steiner, originator of biodynamic methods.
Old Plaw Hatch Farm is a 200 acre farm on the edge of the Ashdown Forest which is owned, along with its nearby sister farm Tablehurst, by a charitable trust which supports and promotes Steiner thinking. It has been the location of biodynamic principles for over 30 years. The biodynamic approach not only values sustainable husbandry of the land and responsible and loving welfare of the animals, but promotes a working environment that honours ‘integrity, peace, happiness, honesty, personal responsibility, passion, love, authenticity, freedom and balance’. Indeed one that celebrates the beauty of the farm and the natural environment.
The community at Old Plaw Hatch comprises some three growers, dealing with the plant side, and three farmers, dealing with the livestock side which here is cows, pigs, sheep and hens. The mix of arable and livestock is important as part of the biodynamic method is to prepare special nutrient mixes of compost made from both animal and plant sources and which, when sprayed or implanted in the land according to Steiner’s exacting methods impart a cosmic energy harnessed in their preparation and application. The core of the farm community live along with an international range of support staff, apprentices and volunteers within the farm. Whilst each working their separate areas and living in separate households, communal meals are common and bring the community together for regular informal dialogue.
Rudolf Steiner lived from 1861 to 1925 and was philosopher, author, social reformer, architect and esoteracist. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy through which at the beginning after World War I, he worked to establish various, practical expressions of his thinking, including Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture and anthropological medicine. His thinking is esoteric and complex, often not totally in line with contemporary scientific knowledge – spiritual without being religious – and perhaps best seen as built on a platform of ethical individualism Much of it was influenced by Goethe and his idea that “Thinking … is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colours and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.
>Whilst living and working as a close community, Old Plaw Hatch culture values the connection to the surrounding population and communities, so that the farm is operated with transparency as an example of ethical and sustainable agriculture and open as a living display of the full cycle of food production. The farm provides wide a range of produce which is made available to the local community through its farm shop which was undoubtedly one of the best I saw on my travels. The range and quality of produce is astounding – the milk and cream, being sold, almost without saying, as raw and homogenised. Pride of place for me having to be the amazing yoghurt made from the farms milk, and strained through muslin to create its unbelievable rich texture!!
To just be in and around Old Plaw Hatch for a day was a truly amazing and inspiring experience. I didn’t meet everyone by any means, but its welcoming, open and caring culture is a resounding tribute to the people involved today, and ultimately to Steiner himself and his ideas.
for more on Old Plaw Hatch farm see the farm website
For more on Rudolf Steiner see the Rudolf Steiner Archive
For more on Biodynamic Agriculture see the Biodynamic Association
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