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Living Soils

2016 Earth Day Event

Attention is the rarest and purest form
of generosity
– Simone Weil

hands holding compost

Are we able to perceive whether a farm is healthy or not? Are we aware of how our ways of seeing, speaking and thinking contribute to the creation of our agricultural reality—for better and for worse?

The sustainable agricultural movement grew in part out of the perception of the effects of distancing ourselves from nature through the industrialization of agriculture. These effects include declining biodiversity, air and water pollution, degradation of soils and erosion, high energy needs, negative health impacts of pesticides on human and other life, unintended effects of genetically engineered organisms, disruption of rural communities. There is also an overriding focus on quantity and uniformity instead of quality and diversity in breeding, cropping techniques, and food production. All of these contribute to global climate disruption.

Such negative effects are themselves symptoms of a more deeply seated dissociation of human thinking and motivation from the dynamic and interconnected workings of nature. We need not only a shift in practices but also a shift in human consciousness out of which new ways of interacting with nature in agriculture can develop.

people observing and learning about a compost pile

The broad intent of our Living Soils initiative is to:

  • Stimulate holistic ways of perceiving and working with the farm as a dynamic organism.
  • Integrate the development of high-quality composting into the life of the farm to foster soil fertility and farm resilience.

The emphasis on inputs (fertilizers, irrigation, pesticides) in industrial agriculture has led to a global degradation of soils. Composted organic matter produced on the farm (manure and plant material) is a means to enhance soil fertility while reducing inputs, fostering a healthy carbon cycle, and when done properly, reducing polluting agricultural runoff.

Surprisingly, even organic and biodynamic farmers and others committed to sustainable practices rarely have adequate training in composting practices. As a result, the quality of their compost and soils is often not what it could be. Composting is often not carefully guided as a process integrated into the whole farm. Concerted efforts are needed to improve and popularize farm-scale and garden-scale composting systems and applications.

studying compost in Kimberton, Pennsylvania

But enhancing the vitality of the soil is not just a matter of learning a set of particular methods, just as the vitality of the soil is not only a matter of its chemical composition. Our project addresses the need to develop qualitative ways of understanding that recognize and focus on dynamic processes. Soil health is bound up with the dynamics of the whole farm organism, which includes the inner perspectives of the farmers. Living Soils will provide training to help farmers develop skills in perceiving, comprehending, and interacting wisely with the complex, interwoven flow of living processes at work on their particular farms. Such skills are essential, if agriculture is to enhance food and environment quality instead of degrading them.

In short, our goal is to help farmers and others committed to sustainable agriculture and agroecology cultivate dynamic ways of seeing and understanding that then find concrete, on-farm applications, especially in composting and in quality assessments of compost and soils.

Living Soils began in fall 2014 and is directed by Bruno Follador. (See Bruno’s biographical sketch.) Project work currently includes:

  • Hands-on workshops and courses. Main topics: Holistic ways of knowing in agriculture. Controlled heat method of composting based on Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s work and its integration into the whole-farm organism; Qualitative assessment of compost and soil with a special focus on round-filter chromatography, originally developed by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer.
  • Integrated consulting services for farmers and gardeners including qualitative compost/soil assessment, with a focus on chromatography.
  • Research: Refine and further develop qualitative testing methods for compost and soil through on-farm research and a related new laboratory at The Nature Institute.
  • Collaborations, educational resources, and outreach to promote holistic approaches to farm and soil health.

Articles:

Soil, Culture, and Human Responsibility
Portraying Soils and Compost: Color, Form, and Pattern
The Inner and Outer Gesture of Composting
The Creature That Has Never Been

News: Of Wines and Compost — a visit to California vineyards

Events at The Nature Institute

Please see our events calendar.

people gathered around a compost heap at a farm workshop

Comments from Participants about Living Soils Workshops

“Bruno's composting workshop was outstanding! I think the highlight of my weekend.”

(Participant in our workshop, “Composting as a Free Deed: Being and Becoming,” at the 2014 Biodynamic Association Conference)

“[The] two-day workshop on Composting and Ehrenfried Pfeiffer's Chromatography given by Bruno Follador at Thyme Again Gardens left fourteen participants with increased enthusiasm, passion, and confidence to tackle small-scale and large-scale composting projects ... Bruno’s dedication and passion for compost-making resonated throughout all the sessions. His enthusiasm blended with his ability to clearly explain compost dynamics, principles, and practical applications.”

(Newsletter of the Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario)

There were many examples (arising in presentations, discussion and activities) that linked qualitative aspects with practical aspects of making compost and managing a farm ... [Thanks for] providing the kind of thinking, the language, and the reasons for incorporating imaginative cognition and deeper perceptions into our work in education and farming.”

(Professor of Biology and founder of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative at his New York public university)


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