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The Nature Institute
20 May Hill Road
Ghent, New York 12075

Tel: (518) 672-0116
Fax: (518) 672-4270

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Coming Alive to Nature:
Winter Courses at The Nature Institute

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  2017 Farmers’ Course
“Nothing will produce an effective change but the fresh transformation that has already begun in the human mind.”
(Lewis Mumford)
“There is practically no field of human endeavor that does not relate to agriculture in some way. Seen from whatever perspective you choose, agriculture touches on every single aspect of human life.” (Rudolf Steiner)
outdoor circle

Since 2009, The Nature Institute has offered each year a weeklong course for farmers, gardeners, apprentices, and others who love the land. Winter is an especially good time to pull back from day-to-day activities in order to gain perspective and inner tools that can enrich our relation to nature and guide the work on the land.

These intensives focus on honing observational skills and on developing capacities of flexible thinking and discernment. We engage with participants in Goethean phenomenological method as a contemplative practice. In these courses we explore topics that pertain directly to nature and agriculture: plant growth, metamorphosis, and ecology; the cycle of the year and astronomy; whole organism biology of animals; domestication in plants and animals; the qualities of the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire); evolution and human responsibility. And we have often worked with projective geometry as a means of expanding our inner horizons.


Here are some comments from participants:

“I feel the course was a very interesting progression of ideas and questions. I think I can confidently say I have the beginnings of a new perspective on the formation of plants and a new methodology with which to observe the natural world. I found the pace of the week to be very appropriate to the subject matter.” (Biodynamic farming apprentice)

outdoor observation

“Fantastically challenging mentally. Really opens up “clogged” or non-existent thoughts…. It definitely feels like I have a lot more to think about, new tools in my mental tool box and, of course, an ever deeper respect for this planet.” (Market gardener)

“I found the course content to be very grounding and yet meaningful from a personal subjective point of view. I learned a lot about the Earth, animals and the stars, and got a sense of how it all interconnects. It was helpful in using my observational skills to an extent beyond the norm and developing appreciation for nuances in nature and objects. Though my interest is primarily gardening and horticulture, I benefited from learning different dimensions of farm life and the wonders of the natural world.” (Gardener & horticulturalist)

2017 Winter Course at The Nature Institute

Developing a Qualitative Understanding of Nature: Animals, Humanity and Evolution

A course for farmers, apprentices, and educators.
February 12 – 17, 2017
“The day is coming when a single carrot freshly observed will set off a revolution.”
                         – attributed to Paul Cezanne

In light of deep concerns about human, animal, plant, and ecological health—which are all intertwined—the question arises: how can we learn to perceive and discern quality? Science has given us marvelous ways to study the quantitative aspects of nature; we can know all the ingredients of food and what is clearly harmful or a basic prerequisite for survival. But we have lost an intimate qualitative relation to things.

Goethean phenomenology is a means to perceive and understand the qualitative and dynamic aspects of nature. It is an approach that is always grounded in concrete human experience. It strives, through practice, to intensify experience so that we can gain clearer and deeper insights. Such insights can help us to interact with nature in more responsible ways.

Daily schedule and topics:

working with animal bones

Mornings (9 am to 12:30 pm with break)

  • Exercises in flexible thinking through geometry
  • Mineral, plant, and animal: different ways of
    being-in-the world
  • Wild and domesticated animals
  • Animalness and humanness in evolution

Afternoons (2 pm to 5:30 pm with short break)

  • Hands-on activities related to morning sessions
  • Observing farm animals (at neighboring Hawthorne Valley Farm)
  • Astronomy: daily and yearly rhythms of sun, moon, and stars


  • Night sky observations if the sky is clear; otherwise free

The course begins on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 7 pm at The Nature Institute and ends on Friday, Feb. 17, at 5:30 pm.

The course meets a portion of the classroom study requirement for apprentices enrolled in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (

Course Staff:

Craig Holdrege is a biologist, educator, and the director of The Nature Institute.

Henrike Holdrege is a mathematician, biologist, educator, and co-founder of The Nature Institute.

Bruno Follador directs the Living Soils program at The Nature Institute.

Course Fee:

Sliding scale: $300 – $600
Fee includes materials, as well as morning and afternoon snacks.

Financial Assistance:

Scholarships are available for biodynamic apprentices and farmers with financial need through the Biodynamic Scholarship Fund; please visit

for information and to apply.


Please download and send us your registration form, if possible by January 15, especially if you need help finding housing.

Course Location:

The Nature Institute is located near the hamlet of Harlemville (town of Ghent), New York, and is nestled at the foot of the Taconic Hills. Our neighbors include the 400-acre biodynamic Hawthorne Valley Farm, the Hawthorne Valley School (a K-12 Waldorf school), and the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store. Click here for directions.

Lodging and Meals:

We can refer participants to local families who rent rooms ($30 to $50 per night). For a list of motels and bed & breakfasts, click here. We provide morning and afternoon snacks. Course participants will be responsible for all other meals. The Hawthorne Valley Farm Store has extensive organic food and deli selections and is within walking distance of The Nature Institute.


This course is offered in collaboration with Hawthorne Valley Farm (HVF) and the Biodynamic Association of North America. From Sunday, February 19 to Friday, February 24 the Farm is offering a course entitled “Attending to Animals in a Caring Economy: Working in Agriculture, with Each Other, and Our Inner Selves.” You will find further information here.

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