Patrick Holden, our patron, and founder and Director of the Sustainable Food Trust, shares his views on the true meaning of vitality
What does biodynamic ‘vitality’ mean ?
The biodynamic understanding of vitality is ‘life force’– that universal energy that’s a true reflection of positive health, be that of soils, plants, animals or people. As the poet Kalil Gibran said in his poem, The Prophet, it’s “life longing for itself”. Chinese Medicine , for example, expresses it as ‘chi’, Ayuvedic medicine as ‘prana’, but the concept is universal. It embraces physical, mental and spiritual health, is the foundation of everything that biodynamic farmers and gardeners strive to achieve.
You’ve been an organic farmer for 40 years, how do you recognize this quality of vitality on your farm?
It’s something you sense as well as see. The best way to describe it, I suppose, is that crops and animals literally radiate with health. There’s definitely an aura that surrounds plants, for example, an extra depth of colour, the turgidity of the leaves, and a perceptible quality of harmony, strength and resilience in their form. For animals, there’s a bloom to their skin, a contentedness and lack of stress in their manner. It’s almost as if plants and animals have an inner happiness and balance.
But anyone can learn to recognize this vitality. Being sensitive or ‘mindful’ to this is like a muscle, the more you look out for it, the more you’re able see it. Speak to anyone who grows their own fruit and vegetables and they immediately recognize how dull, lifeless and ‘stressed’ most sold in supermarkets seem by comparison. That’s why local organic box schemes are so valuable – they empower consumers to experience what health and vitality really looks and tastes like.
How important is this holistic notion of vitality – how does it help us as human beings develop our relationship with the world we inhabit?
The concept of vitality is fundamental if we are ever to live in sustainable harmony with our planet and be nourished by it – or be happy. It’s the organizing principle of nature and the key to food quality. Biodynamic and organic farming was founded on the belief that health is not merely the absence of disease; true health is based on achieving a dynamic harmony with the environment and that a healthy soil full of vitality is its core.
Biodynamic philosophy takes this one stage further. It recognizes that life’s forces encompass the physical, emotional, intuitive, cosmic and spiritual. It’s visionary agriculture made real through it’s practices, all of which aim to maximize vitality and harmony. As Prince Charles explains so lucidly in his book, Harmony, the quest for harmony is the thread that unites us all, and which can be found in all societies and cultures. It is intimately bound up with our quest for happiness, and why it’s so important for us to recognize and cherish it.
What about the science of vitality – do we have the tools yet to understand it?
Novel techniques developed by biodynamic pioneers are able to assess vitality as a measure of the inner harmony of plants (and wines) but are seen as too subjective and have not generally been accepted by conventional science. However, my feeling is that is about to change. We live in an exciting time where science itself is rapidly shifting its paradigms and consciousness. Quantum mechanics and epigenetics are already radically altering the way we understand our world, and open up the prospect of being able to shine a light on previously invisible but profoundly miraculous energetic processes that comprise ‘life’.
It also means that Science finally is beginning to catch up with visionaries such as Rudolph Steiner. The dawn of quantum agriculture, which accepts that plants and animals are sentient, and that human intuition, for example, is as important as measuring stuff in a laboratory makes me very hopeful that biodynamic, organic, and enlightened agroecological systems have a very bright future.
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Photo Credit & copyright: Oceans of Goodness