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

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The Nature Institute.

Coming Alive to Nature:
Winter Courses at The Nature Institute

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  2018 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)

2018 Winter Course at The Nature Institute

Plants and the Living Earth

A course for farmers, gardeners, apprentices, and educators
February 11 – 16, 2018
“Are there no works written in the
language of flowers?”

                – Henry David Thoreau

Our interactions with nature will become ever healthier, and will support a productive co-evolution of humanity with the natural world, when they are based on a deeper understanding of nature. Can we truly see and experience nature as dynamic, interconnected, and whole? That is an underlying question that will inform the week’s activities. The work will include careful sensory observation and just as careful attention to how we think about and judge the phenomena we are observing.

During the week we will engage with:

Earth, water, air, and warmth
Practical exercises and observations to understand these essential qualities that inform all life on earth.

Plant study
Metamorphosis; plant growth and development in relation to the environment with a focus on soil; domestication characteristics of food plants; assessing quality through our senses.

Soil, compost, and phenomenological chemistry
Integrating composting into the organism of the whole farm; qualitative assessment; experiencing the qualities of the chemical elements carbon and nitrogen.

Daily schedule and topics:

  • Morning seminars from 9 am to 12:30 pm
  • Lunch break from 12:30 pm to 2 pm
  • Afternoon activities from 2 pm to 6 pm

The course will be held at The Nature Institute. It begins on Sunday, February 11, at 6:30 pm, and ends on Friday, February 16, at 6 pm.

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.

This event is supported by the Scholarship Fund of the Biodynamic Association. To contribute to this fund or apply for a scholarship, please go to

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.


Click here for a printable (PDF) version of the registration form that you can mail to us. Click here to fill out the registration form online.

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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