#200 Meeting the Spirit of the Land: exploring Spirituality in Farming with biodynamic grower, André Tranquilini
How can we heal our relationship with the earth, heal ourselves and feed the world good, nutrient-dense food?
In this, our 200th episode of Accidental Gods podcast, I am delighted to be joined by André Tranquilini, estate manager at Waltham Place, a 220 acred biodynamic estate in Berkshire, in the UK.
André is a biodynamic farmer, consultant and teacher. He has been the manager at Waltham Place since 2018. André has worked extensively as a market gardener, Steiner school teacher and farmer, and was a founding member of the seed company, Living Seeds, in Portugal. Born in Brazil, André has had the opportunity to work and manage farms in his homeland, as well as Portugal and the UK. He has traveled widely teaching workshops and lecturing on Biodynamic Agriculture and is recognised as a biodynamic consultant by the international Biodynamic Agriculture section at the Goetheanum in Switzerland.
This was one of the podcasts where we could have talked for hours, if not days. With is background in Brazil and coming from a mix of several racial groups, both colonised and colonisers, André brings a unique mix of perspectives just from the outset. Then with his training in Steiner’s philosophy, and at Emerson College, coupled with his choice to specialise in biodynamic farming, he offers insights into the spirituality of agriculture, of how we can bring genuine deep connection with the web of life into our reality to re-connect the disconnections of the last ten millennia.
He is passionate about the nature of living food and really knowledgable on how different it is from the industrially farmed and processed foods we are generally offered. He’s part of a think-tank, A Bigger Conversation, that’s looking into appropriate technology in farming and is at the leading edge of innovation in the biodynamic field, bringing the best of our new world together with the depth of experience that has grown out of the connection with the land. This was an inspiring and generative conversation and I bring it to you with great joy.
We ended up having to record on Zoom, so the sound’s not as good as we’d like, but Caro and Alan have worked their production magic, to make it good for your ears. Enjoy!
Images © Waltham Place
Manda: Hey, people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. There isn’t, I have to say, as long as we used to think. Certainly not as long as we thought when we started this podcast 200 episodes ago. I am just about to record a bonus podcast where I want to look at where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going, and lay out more clearly the offerings that we have within the Accidental Gods membership that are endeavouring to hold that window open, so that there is still time to create the future that we would be proud to leave behind. But in the meantime, I am Manda Scott, your host, on this journey into possibility. And on this, our 200th episode, I am really pleased to be joined by Andre Tranquilini, who is the estate manager at Waltham Place, which is a 220 acre biodynamic estate in Berkshire in the UK. Andre is a biodynamic farmer, a consultant and a teacher. He’s been the manager at Waltham Place since 2018. But before that he worked extensively as a market gardener, has been a Steiner school teacher and a farmer and was a founding member of the seed company Living Seeds in Portugal. You will notice that I am not trying to pronounce its Portuguese name in Portuguese. I will put it in the transcript. You’ll find it there.
Manda: Andre was born in Brazil and he had the opportunity to work and manage on farms in his homeland, as well as Portugal and the UK. He has travelled widely, teaching workshops and lecturing on biodynamic agriculture, and he’s recognised as a biodynamic consultant by the International Biodynamic Agriculture section at Goetheanum in Switzerland. So with all of that behind us, this was one of the podcasts where we could have talked for hours, honestly. Given his background in Brazil and the fact that he comes from a mix of several racial groups, both the colonised and the colonisers; Andre has a really unique mix of perspectives right from the outset. And then with his training at Emerson College and beyond, in Steiner’s philosophy and his choice to specialise in biodynamic farming, he offers us insights into the spirituality of farming. Into how we can potentially bring genuine, deep connection with the web of life into our reality, to reconnect us with the disconnections of the last ten millennia. He is absolutely passionate about the nature of living food and really knowledgeable on how different it is from the industrially farmed and processed foods that we are generally offered. Along with that, he’s part of a think tank that’s looking into appropriate technology in farming in the modern world.
Manda: So he’s at the leading edge of innovation in the biodynamic field, bringing the best of our new world. Because there is some real good in what we’re doing now. I know I can be really down on modern technology, but we don’t want to be picking stones out of fields, as we discuss later in the podcast. We do need to bring modern innovation and indigenous ways into what we’re doing now, so that we don’t simply replicate a kind of faux medieval lifestyle, which was not necessarily a whole lot of fun. And yet we don’t want to throw away all of the wisdom of the past. And so Andre is really looking at depth and across the world, into the ways that we can combine the present with the past to build a future that works. And to bring us all deeply back into connection with the land. So this was right there with all that Accidental Gods is trying to do and all that we’re trying to understand. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Andre Tranquilini from the Waltham Place Estate.
Manda: Andre, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is such an honour to have you here on our 200th episode. It feels like a really vital and exciting one to step into, I don’t know, a new phase of podcasting, maybe. We’ll see. How are you this morning? And tell us where you are.
Andre: Good morning. I’m well, I’m in Berkshire in the UK at Waltham Place Farm. And thank you very much for the opportunity of being here today.
Manda: It’s such a pleasure. We’ve had this one lined up for a long time and it feels good to really be here. So you are the estate manager at Waltham Place and I really want to get into what biodynamics is and all that surrounds that. But just to begin with, because you were born and brought up in Brazil, can you give us edited highlights of how you came to be the person who’s in Berkshire running Waltham Place?
Andre: Yeah. So it’s quite a journey, I must say. I was born in Sao Paulo, which, as you know, is a sort of major, massive city. And I was very much an urban person that always had an affinity with the natural world. So every opportunity that I had, I would escape Sao Paulo and I would enjoy the countryside. And in Brazil, it’s extensive, so the opportunities were many. But also, I think a little bit inspired by my grandfather, who was a professional athlete but had been brought up in the countryside. So I always had a real admiration and a sense like, wow, the things that he knew were the things worth knowing. And I think that part of the journey was inspired by that. My first degree was in media and broadcasting, and I was a printmaker. I was an artist, printmaker, woodcutter. So that was my main activity. And I was a founding member of a known art collective in Brazil called Espaço Coringa. And I used to think I was very independent. I used to think, you know, by being an artist, I could choose what to do, when to do etcetera. And it was in one of the many financial crises in Brazil that I realised that actually what I was producing was a luxury good, really.
Manda: It didn’t survive when people went into recession.
Andre: Exactly. And then I realised, if I want to be truly independent, I want to learn how to grow food. And that journey brought me to Emerson College in Forest Row in Sussex in England, with a view of staying maybe 3 to 6 months and learning as much as I could on biodynamic farming. Which in a way, the way it related to the land, had a real affinity to previous experiences and religious experiences as well in Brazil that I can relate to later, if it’s of interest.
Manda: Yes, please.
Andre: And yeah, I ended up staying there three years after concluding my training, I was asked if I wanted to join the team and was then managing the market garden there and teaching in the biodynamic training. Following that, I went to Devon. I went to work in Totnes for the South Devon Steiner School and that was quite interesting. I think stayed there 8 or 9 years and there I had the farm as part of my classroom in the school. So that’s a journey that again, I will certainly mention later when we’re talking about education and the role of farming in all of that. I left the school with a wish to explore more and not to be bound by a timetable and to travel and to meet more people and yeah, and continue teaching, but I left the school to open a biodynamic seed company in Portugal called Living Seeds, or Sementes Vivas. And that journey brought me back to England, to manage Waltham Place Farm.
Manda: I think there’s some quite big jump cuts in there, like how you get from Portugal back to England. But that was really good edited Highlights. I was just teaching this weekend and getting the students to do edited highlights is a good thing, so I’m very impressed.
Andre: Thank you.
Manda: So that opens up a lot of things. Take us back to Emerson College. You came over because you wanted to learn biodynamic farming, which is really quite a niche area of the whole regenerative agriculture movement. Although guess back then regenerative agriculture was probably not a phrase people were bandying around. Tell us what drew you to biodynamics and then in the process of that, tell us what it is.
Andre: I suppose, primarily links to that journey of being an artist and also someone who loves food. So I’ve started to have that experience that I’m sure we all have of cooking something and taste like nothing at the end. The vegetables not holding any taste, or huge vegetables that once you cook, there’s nothing left because it was all water. And of course that wish to be more independent. So all of those were things that I was interested in in my daily life. But then the whole biodynamic thing really caught my attention at first because of the work with the biodynamic preparations, which are a fundamental part of what we do. And in a way can be perceived as an offering to the land, you know, as an offering to all of the land, all of the beings of the land. And that very much resounded with my background of being Brazilian and having had experience with Afro-Brazilian religions, with their many offerings to the land. So there’s a conscious gesture of creating something as an offering to the being of the land.
Manda: Can I interrupt at that point? Because you said Afro-Brazilian. So you have the indigenous peoples of South America, of the Amazon area, of the whole of Brazil, and then you have African peoples brought in and those cultures melding and creating something that is a synergy of the two. Is that how I’m understanding it? And can you tell us a little bit more about that? Because that sounds really interesting.
Andre: Absolutely. And that in a way is Brazil in a nutshell. If it wasn’t for the most recent years in Brazilian politics and all of that, I could almost say that that quality in Brazil has got a really strong message and a really strong message to all of the world. Because in a way, it’s a country that has had so many different ways of migration. Some forced and some not. Of course, the African slaves went to Brazil in huge numbers. And as you mentioned, we had an extensive indigenous population widespread throughout the whole country. Then of course we had the Portuguese, we had Japanese migration, German migration. So huge waves of migration. But one incredible thing about the country is different than in other cultures, or at least places that I have experienced, is that everyone who comes to Brazil becomes Brazilian. And that is a real interesting gesture of the whole, I wouldn’t say culture of the place, but there’s something in the nature of Brazil that allows that melting pot to be created and a new culture to be formed.
Manda: So in a lot of other cultures, I’ve been to America a few times and it’s another immigrant culture. The genocide happened and the indigenous peoples were pretty much eliminated. But then there tends to be a sense that people who have been there 2 or 3 generations are more American than the people who’ve just arrived. And my sense of Australia is that that’s the case, at least now. What is it about Brazil that means that you’re always Brazilian, or is it the case that relatively new incomers are less accepted than the people whose great, great grandparents have started there?
Andre: More so now, Manda, I think there is a big wave of resistance now we see. Especially against our own neighbours, you know, Venezuelans and so on, there’s many cases of racism. So in a way I’m almost sharing a romantic picture then the nowadays reality of the country. So what I’m narrating perhaps refers to when I was younger. But I think there’s an element in the country of being very open as a culture and that is very much expressed in the way we speak as well, you know. So when I lived in Portugal, I remember arriving there having this really strong experience of not understanding Portuguese and all of my colleagues said, Hang on, I thought you were a Brazilian! How can you not understand? And I realised that the Portuguese in Portugal, they really speak the consonants and there’s almost a singing to it and it’s very closed, which in a way very much relates to a culture that is melancholic. You know, there is an element of longing. And in Brazil we are really vowels, people. We speak them so open, it’s, O I E, and really open. So I think that sense, plus the sunshine and the incredible nature that’s in place, I think that’s what allows people to come in and be integrated as part of the culture. So earlier on, when I was referring to Afro-Brazilian religions, I’m talking about the first recognised Brazilian religion, which is called Umbanda, which really is a big melting pot. We have the African Orishas, the African entities representing and represented in all lines of nature. And then you have the Catholic input, the Portuguese input. So each one of these African Orishas have got an equivalent of a saint of the Catholic, of the Christian.
Manda: And then the indigenous spirituality is, is fused into that somehow? Because obviously we all have become in the West familiar with the concepts of ayahuasca and that there is a spiritual tradition around that. But I have a sense that in the West there’s a lot of colonisation of that happening, where the ayahuasca’s just brought over and taken in isolation, and that actually it exists within a web of a whole cultural background which can quite easily be ignored. Were you a part of ayahuasca ceremonies as well?
Andre: Sure, in Brazil it’s very big and has been part of many of our upbringing. So that’s been part of our culture for for a long time, for thousands of years. There is a particular Brazilian religion which is called Santo Daime, which really brings this syncretic aspect also of the indigenous people through the musicality. So you have all of those rituals with maracas and strong percussion instruments that are very much based on indigenous Brazilian indigenous cultures. That specific religion that I mentioned to is also Christian. So again, there’s the Christian impulse and then there’s the African impulse. All of that in one big melting pot. And with equal value given to all of these different cultures. So I think that’s such a beautiful example to look at, you know, and actually the founding master of this particular religion was a black man. So there is a real proper melting pot.
Manda: And how long ago was somebody founding a religion that is now an active principle in Brazil?
Andre: So that was approximately 100 years ago.
Manda: So it’s not long. That’s really interesting.
Andre: It’s not long. Of course, the use of medicine plants in Brazil and plant teachers, that has been going on for thousands of years and had different rituals. In a way, what these newer religions, what they have managed to manifest is a format of ritual that was really well accepted in towns and cities and therefore could spread wider than than just rituals that were conducted in the Amazon forest in the past. So there is an element of opening there.
Manda: And if you have a spirituality that begins in the forest and then is able to spread to the town, this makes me really curious because I think that where we are now; I just read an article in Scientific American where a group of people did a study in the Amazon and I can’t remember the exact details, but of the 60 or 70 plant species that they looked at, a number are no longer able to photosynthesise because it’s too hot, which is frankly terrifying. And one of the many tipping points that people were predicting that are coming very fast. So the world’s forests are now net carbon emitters because of the fires and no longer net carbon sinks. And that was another tipping point. So we’re hitting tipping points that we thought were going to be generations away and they’re happening today. And if we are going to get through this, it seems to me we have to find a new value system. We have to find why we are here as human beings that isn’t just to make money and that the way to do that is to have a spiritual basis that is reconnected to the web of life.
Manda: And if we’re going to do that, we have to take the understanding that arises from living with and on the land in to cities. And this has always been one of my big questions, of it’s all very well that I go and sit on the hill and do my best to connect to the web of life and live from that. But I live in the middle of nowhere. How do I take that into the middle of Birmingham to somebody who’s got three kids under the age of ten, single parent living on the 10th floor of a high rise, struggling to survive and go here, this is what you need to do. It’s not going to happen. And yet what you’re telling me, I think, is that what you have in Brazil is a spirituality that is immersed in the forest, in the land that you can bring into the cities. Does it seem to you that that is a model that could usefully be extended around the world to give people a different sense of meaning and purpose? Or is it being co-opted into business as usual, and you know, who dies with the most toys wins?
Andre: I suppose there’s always an element of being co-opted in business as usual, no matter. I know there’s always an element of that. I’m always joking with my children. People say, you are living on a farm, what an amazing reality! And I say, Well, the address is still planet Earth. So we’re still dealing with the constraints that are a part of our culture. But you’re absolutely right Manda. I think that really I’m one of those people like yourself, it sounds like. For me, this question What are we doing here? That’s permeated my whole life since I can remember myself as a person and that’s what led me to agriculture as well. That’s what led me. And in a way, that experience of the forest which you related to where you live, of belonging, is, is what we need to offer people. We became so fragmented, we became so disconnected. We don’t remember who we are anymore. And spirituality is part of that journey. We make a link to the Brazilian culture, for instance, and many other indigenous communities in the whole world. This whole separation from nature really is quite alien because we are nature. It’s as simple as that. And that sense of belonging is so relevant because we don’t know who we are. We don’t belong to anything. You know, each one is just chasing their own fortune and and, you know, all about consumerism and what do I owe. So I think that not only through spirituality, but also through agriculture, through farming, we can allow people to have that experience of belonging. And ideally we produce a food that sustains that. So I would like to think that the vegetables, that the food that are produced with that consciousness, will feed more than the physical body of the people who eat it.
Andre: Right. Yes. And then thereby we achieve change from the inside. Right.Okay. That’s firing all kinds… I’ve got particularly obsessed about the microbiome. Partly my pony got laminitis and I had to really learn about the equine microbiome very quickly and about how to help her restore natural gut biome, when I thought I had the perfect system that had it. But then I’ve also really begun to look at the human microbiome. I read a paper not so long ago where someone had done a study where they studied the gut microbiome of indigenous peoples, I think in the Amazon, then a group of peasant farmers, I think in Mexico and then a group of quite Western people in California. And the difference in the microbiome was profound. The indigenous people had a really good thriving what we currently with our relatively new understanding, consider to be a super healthy microbiome. Peasant farmers kind of it’s okay, you’ll survive, it’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. And the white Western Californians, basically it’s going to kill you. You know, it was really bad. And even on the little tiny self-experiments I’ve done, I came off all white carbs and I was such a bad person for about six weeks. I was horrible to be around. I was horrible to live inside. It was just my whole psychology changed because all these bacteria are going, we need the carbs. And I would just be going feed me something white now or I’m going to kill the whole world. And and now I’m through it and it’s okay.
Manda: But the change in who you are as a person. I hadn’t really understood how much what we eat just on that purely physiological level changes us and that’s before we get to the energetic and spiritual level. So can we dive into that? To what extent when you discovered biodynamic food as a concept, and were able to link it to your Brazilian childhood and your amazing grandfather and your connection to the land and you’ve got a spirituality around you that is an inherent connection to the land, and then you find biodynamics. What was it about that, as opposed to any other system that called to you? And then what effects did you see in yourself and the people around you? And do you still see.
Andre: So, Wow, that’s a massive one. But we’ll go there. We’ll go there. I think one comment that I had Manda. I don’t know what the solutions are for part of the crisis that we are living.
Manda: Darn Andre, there I was thinking you were going to solve everything in one podcast!
Andre: I can give you a little bit of certainty on one though. I think unless we are connected in one way or another to the food that we eat, there’s no solution. That’s part of the solution, certainly. What really brought me to biodynamics and really fell in love with it is part of the worldview. So in biodynamic agriculture there’s a set of practices that belong to the technique that you can apply, you can work, you can be certified, you can do all of that without necessarily buying into the worldview. But I was one of those people that it was the worldview that really inspired me to understand the technique and still does.
Manda: Do many people want to get certified without buying into the worldview? Because it seems an awful lot of work, with my very minimal understanding of what biodynamics is, it’s a lot of work if you don’t really believe that this is a constructive way forward. Have you met people who do all the certification but don’t get it?
Andre: Oh, yes. Many, many. Especially in the last 20 years. There was a time where I was doing farm consultancy in Spain, for instance, and the whole region of Almeria, which is, I don’t know if you’ve seen that from above, but it’s Polytunnel after Polytunnel. Plastic.
Manda: Yes. Yes, I have. It’s horrible.
Andre: And there, all of the organic producers, this is the organic plus now, isn’t it? You get a bit more money for your tomatoes or your peppers. So I want to become that. So that’s not uncommon. But then you have this strong work of the biodynamic associations in the different countries really promoting as well the worldview and for those who want to take to really explore that, it’s all there. As you know, biodynamic agriculture evolved from a series of lectures from Rudolf Steiner, and that would be 100 years next year, since those lectures were given. He died shortly after those lectures. And from there, the farmers that were present really took on the research, to work with indications given. And that’s the whole origin of the movement. It’s even said that at the time, Steiner didn’t want to talk about agriculture. He didn’t feel it was an area for him to talk about, but was under pressure from farmers that were connected to the Anthroposophical movement, following the Green Revolution.
Andre: So after the First World War, started to use artificial fertilisers and all of that, but soon enough started to notice a decline on vigour and germination power in seeds. So by harvesting seeds of crops that were fertilised with with artificial fertilisers, they started to notice the decrease of vitality and then asked Steiner to talk about that. So one of the key concepts that he presented is that the human being organsism should be the starting point and the model for a farm organism. And this concept of farm organism is crucial, and that’s where it can get really, really interesting. So speaking in very simplistic terms, what we’re trying to create is the self-sustaining organism within a farm. So you could say, you know, all the animal feed is produced on the farm. On the other hand, all the compost that animals produce is to fertilise the veg garden and the orchards or whatever it is. So really trying to create this self-sustaining cycle, to the point that he expresses that anything you’re buying in should be seen as medicine for an organism that is sick. So, you know, a farm should be able to provide for itself.
Andre: So that’s very much on a very practical level and that’s something that most people find very easy to engage with and makes a lot of sense. We can really understand, you know, that was 100 years ago, but it’s still very relevant. So topics like composting and he really explained that at great length in those lectures. But when he talks about this human organism as a start point in the model, we also need to consider then his worldview and what he considered the human organism to be. So we’re looking obviously at a physical body, which is our physical body, and in the farm is represented by the soil. Then we are looking at what he called an etheric body. So that’s the body of our life forces, our vitality that is really influenced by rhythm, by routine, by healthy habits. And that in the farm is represented by the plant kingdom who’s got a physical body and an etheric body. And then what he called the astral body, which in the human equivalent would be connected to our soul. So qualities of empathy and more in the realm of feeling, which in the farm is represented by the livestock, by the animals.
Andre: And the ego body, so that’s not the Jungian ego. So that’s the I am, which is according to Anthroposophy, it is our spiritual body. And in his worldview, we are the only creatures in this planet that have this ability of saying ‘I am’; that really high degree of individuality. So our job as farmers is to allow the farm to become an individual to this point, to be equally able as a human being, to say ‘I am’, to have its own individuality. So that’s the spiritual goal of the farmer. And therefore linking to my previous comments, I want the food that I produce to bring forth those qualities in people as well.
Manda: Okay. So many questions. Back earlier on, you said that it was part of your experience of eating that brought you to biodynamics. So can you say a little bit? So presumably food that comes through this system tastes alive in a way that food that’s processed in industrial farming just doesn’t. Is that a kind of axiom of the system?
Andre: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that you know, it really is one of the first experiences people have. And I find it quite fascinating that biodynamic wine is what really promoted the name of biodynamics in the world.
Manda: Oh, really?
Andre: Yeah. Yeah. Biodynamics became known because of the wine, even though Rudolf Steiner was not very much into alcohol. You know, it was something that is not correct. I find it fascinating that we have a yearly agricultural meeting, a conference in February, and that’s in the Goetheanum, a worldwide centre for Anthroposophy and biodynamic agriculture. And I think it was only 2017 or 16 the first year that we have a meeting in the Great Hall about wine. Because before we did not even talk about wine in the Great Hall! But isn’t that amazing that when I’m talking about a farm individuality, I’m talking about creating a product that tells the story of my place. As we know, a good wine will taste like the vineyard soils, will remind us of the vineyard soils. So I think that it is remarkable that biodynamic wine became so well known, because of exactly that. You know, it brings that real sense of individuality. So we work in a way that food quality is paramount. And there are many simple tests that one can can do at home. So take a biodynamic vegetable, I don’t know, chard or a leafy vegetable that when you touch it, when you run your hands on the leaves, you can really hear the vitality. And compare it to a shop bought vegetable as well. Keep both in the fridge, see which ones last long, see which one holds the flavour for long. We’ve done time and time again things like with milk, we get a raw unpasteurised biodynamic milk, put it in a glass and put it on a window sill and then put a shop bought milk glass and put them side by side, and just let it rot and see what happens. You see the shop bought stuff becoming really mouldy and smelling.
Manda: Because it doesn’t go sour in the way that proper milk does. We used to eat sour cream when I was a kid in Scotland and shop bought milk, just exactly that, it just rots. It doesn’t have that capacity to become something slightly different, that is also something that you might want to consume. And I read recently the omega three/omega six balance is completely different and I can’t remember which one is good. I think it’s omega three high/omega six low is good and omega three low/omega six high is bad. And shop bought meat and milk and cheese all have the one that’s really not good for you. And the raw, pasture fed, biodynamic, has the one that is brilliant. And we wonder why people don’t get on with milk anymore. And it’s not necessarily integral to the concept of milk, it’s integral to industrially produced milk. But it looks like white stuff in a bottle and people don’t discern the difference. So if people are coming to discern the difference, I wonder, can we affect the spiritual sense of who we are and why we’re here through the food that we eat? Do you see that happening to people?
Andre: Totally, Totally. As you’re just describing in this scenario Manda, we can hear the food that is alive, the food that carries vitality, the food, you know, that will optimise living processes. Therefore, if we are fed in this way, we are more part of this network that is what keeps us alive, really. And then are able to connect to the world in a much different way.
Manda: And are you seeing that now you’re at Waltham Abbey? You’ve got the biodynamic farm. You can tell us a little bit about what size it is and what you do on that in a minute. And I guess you have at least two categories of people. You have the ones who just buy the produce but are presumably influenced and they bother to pay I’m guessing a bit of a premium, because it costs more to produce. Which is, we need to address how do we get good nutritious food to people who have no money, in a system that is designed to keep them in business as usual? But you must also, I guess, have volunteers who come and work on the land and there must be a whole different layer of connection to the land when you actually come and put your hands in the soil. It’s different even when you’re just on an ordinary, not biodynamic farm. But can you tell us a little bit about the processes of biodynamic? You talked about the preparations at the start. Because I know they exist, I’ve heard of the cows horns full of stuff, but that’s the limit to my knowledge, and I would really like to know more.
Andre: Yeah, sure. What Probably I will do, I’ll give as well a wider context and then we can go deeper into the practice if that works. So the first key concept I explained is of the farmer organism. So that’s, that one. The second is that the soil is a living organism and it is the role of the farmer to leave a legacy of lasting fertility and healthy soils for future generations. But really, it was the first time, 100 years ago, where we have this concept the soil is a living organism and we must nourish that and keep it in the realm of life. And composting is a crucial part of that. So if you were to compare the use of well composted farmyard manure, treated with the biodynamic preparations, with artificial fertilisers. This is what we were discussing earlier, you know, this whole carbohydrate rich diet, the artificial fertiliser; very highly soluble, really burning the soil as fast as it can. While compost is something that has to digest, has to work with, and it’s strengthening the soil, changing structure, building up organic matter as we work. So that’s a concept in terms of the soil. So very simplistic terms: healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy people, healthy planet.
Andre: We have a strong aspect of social and ecological responsibility. So that’s part of our certification standards; that at least 10% of the farm has to be set aside for conservation areas and for wildlife, for biodiversity. Biodiversity really is one of our main tools for prevention of pests and diseases and the health of the farm organism. Saying that, 10% is not quite just enough. I think a little bit more or double that is is just about right.
Manda: 10% of what?
Andre: Of the whole land. So that could include hedgerows, herblands or, you know, orchards. But whatever it is, that needs to be set aside for biodiversity.
Manda: Okay so just completely untouched and almost rewilded even if it’s an orchard.
Andre: Yes. And with enough diversity. And this is something we monitor quite strongly at Waltham. This is something we’re constantly monitoring, always relying not only on our own senses, but we engage local community to help with that as well. Local specialists.
Manda: Monitoring how? So this is measuring species diversity, measuring species counts?
Andre: Yes. Bioblitzes. And we tend to do it in different ways depending on what species we are looking at. Things like bees, for instance, they are so difficult to ID, you know, the solitary bees. So we have a specialist, Trevor Smith, who helps us exclusively with that, and he’s patient enough to count the leg hairs and God knows what too.
Manda: Good man. Okay.
Andre: Oh, yeah. We are very lucky because in the area that we are, there are really strong amateur specialists and groups that are constantly helping with us. As part of our strategy, we don’t kill to ID because for us doesn’t make much sense.
Manda: This is the last one of these bees and we’ve just killed it to tell that it was still there. Yes that would be bad
Andre: So we don’t do that. And we know that affects our numbers because, you know, unless we found a dead bee that we can really put under a mic and count leg hairs for I don’t know how many hours, we don’t know that they are here.
Andre: Okay. But we do that as well by events that we call bioblitzes. And we try as much as possible, again, to involve young people as part of that. Because our specialists, they are mostly retired, so it’s really important to get knowledge transferred as well.
Manda: And are the young people interested? Are you getting kind of seven, eight, nine year olds who get really enthused by counting the leg hairs on the bumblebees or honey bees or whatever?
Andre: Absolutely. More and more. You know, it’s a journey. I don’t teach the kids directly anymore, unfortunately. I would love to do that. But my colleague that does, she does that really well. So we bring netting, so we’re consulting the grasslands and then we put things under a magnifying glass. And it’s always an experience, you know, by sitting by a meadow and at first you don’t see much, but give it 2 or 3 minutes. And once their eyes are trained, Oh my God, how much one can see, easily. Everything is moving. So that’s one of the experiences I think can really remind people of who they are. So I love when people come through the farm gates and you can immediately sense silence at first and then, Wow, this is amazing. So I can see, okay, the farm is doing its job, you know, really is starting to work on the people. So especially with children, the more we can offer those experiences of stopping all the crazy energy and allowing them to watch and to breathe into that environment, you can see people starting to relax and having that sense of belonging that I think is really relevant.
Manda: And does that extend through adolescence? Because I’m watching young people in the family grow up and there seems to be you get to secondary school and this amazing fertile, beautiful mind that was completely enthralled by everything alive, seems to be crushed in our system and kind of put into a box. And suddenly it’s much more interesting to look at Snapchat and TikTok and whatever else. They seem to alienate. Around the time where indigenous peoples have rites of passage that deepen connection, our culture seems to have a kind of default rite of passage that severs connection, which is horrible. Do you find with the young people that have come through Waltham Place or any of your other biodynamic experiences, that they’re able somehow to negotiate the horrors of business as usual school and all the gaslighting that goes with it, and retain a connection to the land so that they can put their phone away and sit in a meadow and become absorbed still as they’re heading closer to adulthood. Is that a thing?
Andre: Some more than others. And I can really relate. Now my kids will want to kill me, because that’s the joys of having a South American parent. You know, you’re always going to tell everything. But within my household, I have two of them that really use technology but are not that bothered. And my daughter really is very into the whole TikTok and whatever it is thing and how many followers and all of that. So yeah, it’s a mix. But I will share an experience of teaching at the Steiner School that I think it’s really relevant to this question, Manda.
Andre: When working with very young children, this whole aspect of head hearts and hands, that has always been part of my lesson plan, you know. So when working with young children, the last thing we want to do, and that’s what we tend to get very wrong often in our modern educational system, is engage the head first. You know, a young child really has to arrive at school, be in a dream world and experience the school almost as an extension of a household, and really be able to explore the natural spaces of the school, explore being part of a group and have a dream like world. So always when I brought those young ones to the Garden, we were lucky enough because there was a lot of diversity, but from building little hedgehog houses or little insect hotels and every beginning of lesson, just watching it and see if anyone is using that space. To really being built by the beauty of doing something.
Andre: So it’s using your hands and by using your hands and then observing and then spending time with something, learning to fall in love with it. And then there’s a real sense of responsibility. And then eventually, as a teacher, I will tie in all that knowledge and give some sense of, but more as a mediator, to really bring out of the group the understanding for what we’ve done maybe 4 or 5 lessons ago. So it’s that journey from the hand to the heart and to the head.
Andre: And then for teenagers, what we are looking is almost the other way around. I would ask the teenagers to design a project, to create something, to really spend time thinking about something. And often, you know, something related to the garden. We did lots of seed saving, we were trying to create a sort of sustainable enterprise from that activity. So by designing, by working something out, by really working out the detail, learning to fall in love with it and then doing it.
Manda: Right. So you get to the heart, you get to the falling in love with the land. You just come at it from a slightly different angle.
Andre: Exactly, exactly. And I think the older they are, they need to think about it. It needs to make sense first for that sense of responsibility and love. The heart is always there, has always to be that mediator and then to do something.
Manda: And when both sets of these children grow to adulthood, because you’ve been doing this long enough to see that cycle go through, do they retain that sense of being in love with living and being in love with the land? Or or does it get lost when the rest of the world piles in?
Andre: Mostly. Again, it depends on individuals. But I can mention my children again, poor guys, because that’s the ones I see all the time. And what they understand is process, which is so relevant for young people nowadays, because that’s what the whole aspect of technology and apps and phones and everything is so immediate, as we know, and one loses an understanding of process. And it’s so relevant to have seen time and time again that experience of a seed going into the ground, growing into a plant et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera. So I think that’s really relevant for young people nowadays, that very experience.
Manda: We’re not going to delve deeply into your own kids, but can you just tell us what ages they are?
Andre: We have a 24 year old, a 20 year old and a 16 year old.
Manda: All right. So you are seeing them growing into adulthood. That gives me great hope for the future of the world if we can have more early 20s. And I am following a number of people. I learned last week of something called Digital Gaia, where instead of having a large language model with AI, they have a large Land model. And they are modelling all of the land surface of the earth in order to then apply self-learning, iterative AI to how it would be if it was all farmed regeneratively. And then to be able to tell a farmer, you know, here are my coordinates, what do I need to do to increase biodiversity within the soil? To increase carbon sequestration? And what will it look like in my area if I do that? And that seems to me an astonishingly good use of modern technology. And hopefully because this is something I’d like to get onto, we can begin to put to bed the the internal colonisation that we have that industrial agriculture is necessary to feed a growing population. Which was never true and yet has taken such huge hold. And hopefully a large land model will annihilate that. But we haven’t yet got a large land model. And you’re in a system that is completely antithetical to industrial chemical input farming. How do you negotiate the conversation where people come along and go, you know, basically Monsanto is essential to feed the world and you know it isn’t. How do you manage that so that you can spread the word to people?
Andre: I have the benefit of having the experience and actually to be able to have seen over the years. I always try to give a positive message. It’s very hard nowadays, isn’t it, to be positive? Because everywhere you look it’s all doomsday and we’re all dying etcetera, etcetera. And I understand this statement I’m going to make now is from a privileged position by all means. But what I’ve seen through the practices that I have been involved, I’ve seen life getting better in my surroundings. So I’m really positive that there is a way forward and it is agro-ecological and it involves people being more connected to what they eat. To be part of that, to understand the process, I can really see that. But when people are talking that Monsanto and industrial agriculture is the only way, I always like to mention there’s a particular piece of research that I find really, really interesting. It’s the DOK trial, which is research from Switzerland and it’s been going now for almost 40 years, if I’m not mistaken. And those are comparative trials between conventional, organic and biodynamic production. So they publish various finds; there’s been a report published not not long ago as well. And I always find that fascinating because in a way, what we’re trying to do in biodynamics is to allow plants and animals to express their true nature, and by doing so, being more resilient. So one of the results this year that really caught my eye, if you were to compare phosphorus in the soil. Of course the conventional soil had the highest level because it’s being inputted artificially each year. The organic was the second one because again, through organic methods you can input that into the system. And biodynamic had the lowest one in terms of phosphorus in the soil. But when they went in to research the nutritional content of the food, biodynamic had the highest one.
Manda: Of course, because it’s living phosphorus that’s brought in. Yes. And I guess if you did the rivers, because phosphorus is one of the planetary boundaries that we have comprehensively destroyed, nitrogen and phosphorus. I would imagine the biodynamic is leaching the least phosphorus into the rivers and waterways and the industrial is leaching the most. Is that fair?
Andre: Absolutely, totally fair. Totally fair to say. Isn’t that fascinating? So we create a plant that has got a relationship to its environment that can search for the things it needs. If that’s not what we need during the climate crisis, I can’t think of. Because in modern plant breeding, we are creating this really very particular set of plants that are very dependent on inputs and the whole discussion around plant breeding I find really frustrating now. What for me is really important, is to work with things that are resilient, that are intelligent, that are part of their environment. Another aspect of that research that I find really fascinating is that we know, this is old data, that organic food production, biodynamic food production has got a lower yield. That’s an average 20% lower than conventional produce. But then again, once we look at the nutritional content of the food, we find that the biodynamic vegetable has got 20% more dry matter content. This is what feeds us.
Manda: It’s not just full of water to make it look big.
Andre: Exactly, exactly, exactly. So this whole debate of we cannot feed the world if we don’t do this or that and the other is rubbish, in my view. We have a food system that is broken. We have a food system that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. And that’s why it works, because it’s got cheap energy for transportation, for storage and blah, blah, blah. That’s why it is working. And we’re losing sight of what we need to focus on. But of course there isn’t so much commercial interest in producing open pollinated seeds, whilst, you know, new technologies and these new patents, that’s what’s going to drive Business as usual, as usual.
Manda: Yes, but it can’t because the fossil fuel peak is over. It has to stop because if we don’t, then the CO2 overshoot is going to kill us. But it’s also not there. So one way or another, the fossil fuel bubble has burst and we’re going to have to learn how to come back to the land in much greater numbers. And this leads me… I’ve got so many questions I want to ask, Andre, but I had a conversation with Josiah Meldrum of Hodmedods recently. And we got to a point of in my great grandparents time, they were farmers in Scotland, basically peasant farmers. And it was very hard work. They spent a lot of time, what the men were doing was lifting the stones out of the fields. And stone picking is not fun and I can’t imagine many people in the current world wanting to go back to spending the whole of their 20s and 30s picking stones out of fields, to the point where when they’re in their 40s they can barely move. It’s not a very attractive proposition to people. And yet what let us step away from that was abundant, cheap fossil fuels that would do huge amounts of the equivalent to human labour. In a biodynamic system, how do you get around the stone picking question? How do you get around the fact that there’s bits of the way that we do agriculture traditionally that are basically extremely hard work and not a lot of fun?
Andre: That’s a really important question and something I think about all the time. And I don’t have a solution, but I have some inklings that I can share. But it truly is, because I completely agree, we cannot tell people, okay, we’re going to go back to an agrarian reality. It’s just not going to work. So I think there are various ways of looking at that. One is to decide, and there’s a big conversation going on at the moment, what actually is appropriate technology for the agro ecological movement? Whatever means ‘the agro ecological movement’ as well! But you know what is an appropriate use of technology? And I’m part of a sort of think tank group that is working with that question at the moment and just trying to see from a biodynamic, organic, permaculture point of view what that could look like. So that’s one of the aspects I think.
Andre: More recently and in more recent years, we learn so much about the biology of the soil, we learn about so much of new agricultural methods. And again, we have, you know, the no dig, we have carbon gardening, we have really strong movements coming forward which are not as labour intensive as agriculture of the past was. So there’s also that element there. So I think we don’t quite need to be picking stones in the same way that we were, because agriculture is evolving, and there are smarter ways of doing things. One experience that I used to have when I went to agricultural college, biodynamics and so on, ploughing was the norm. So you ploughed and I remember year after year you would come to a point, I would plough, cultivate, and spend the whole year getting the soil to a level that I want to say, okay, now, now I’m there. And then start it all again the next year.
Manda: Because you destroy the soil biome when you plough. I think that’s something that people are only just getting their heads around. Is that ploughing is not actually a very clever thing to do. So does biodynamics have ploughing integral to it? Or is it evolving to a no dig equivalent on a kind of farm scale?
Andre: Both. I think, you know, it’s not anymore what it was in the past. I’m so sorry, I’m very aware I’m going everywhere with this…
Manda: No it’s good. It’s really interesting. Go with it.
Andre: So if we consider where the history of cultivation comes from and we’re looking at ancient Persia and the emperor would decide when to plough, which direction is going to be ploughed. And there was this whole religious aspect of bringing to light something that was in darkness.
Manda: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that.
Andre: It really is quite beautiful in a way, you know, and I find quite interesting. So when I was at agricultural college, we had still that element, you know, we’re bringing something into the light. We were aware that that a chaos was going to be created, but by proper composting, by working with the biodynamic preparations, with the horn manure preparation more specifically, you are also helping the soil to repopulate. And then you have a pique of chaos and order and you work within those polarities. So that’s how we saw it before. So this is evolving. This is evolving because like myself, other biodynamic farmers and many others are like Hang on, is this the best way of doing this? There must be other ways. So in our farm, for instance, we do plough. Very, very little, maybe 5% of the land, maybe less, even less. And only when we really need to, but then it’s done on a day that the soil is in the right conditions, is done very shallow and etcetera. I still prefer to do that if I need to, than to using glyphosate to control.
Manda: So under what circumstances? What is it that makes you need to plough?
Andre: If I have an area that was under permanent pasture, for instance, and I want to establish a crop. So this year I needed to establish a crop of hemp. I applied for a licence. The Home Office informed me which fields I could grow, and unfortunately, one of them would need cultivation. So that was a typical case here. Okay, let’s do it.
Manda: And are you doing horse drawn ploughing or are we still using tractors?
Andre: We’re using tractors. We have tried with oxen. We have oxen working at the farm. They hate the plough.
Manda: Yeah, I’m not surprised. I don’t know many things that actually enjoy that sort of work. So yeah it’s interesting, isn’t it?
Andre: They absolutely hate it. It’s fascinating.
Manda: You let them hate it and didn’t make them. I think that’s a huge accolade for you, as the oxen hate this let’s just not make them do that.
Andre: There’s no other way really, because the oxen is so determined. There’s no way. It’s fascinating because different to horse. In Devon I used to plough with horses and the horse once it stresses, you know, you have a pony, they run forward, they run away. The oxen. No, they really will.
Manda: Plant their feet.
Andre: Plant their feet and they’re not going anywhere. And you know, they gave us the illusion sometimes that they allow us to work with them, you know, but they are allowing it when they want to.
Manda: Alright, they’re choosing it. That’s really interesting. I taught my pony how to say, no, I don’t want you to do that. I gave her a particular signal that if you touch your nose to my right foot, I will stop what we’re doing, whatever that is. And so you have agency. I mean, there’s some things… We’re doing your teeth, I’m sorry we’re doing your teeth. That has to be done. But otherwise you can say no. And what I discovered was I get on the pony and she touches her nose to my right foot and I get off and she goes thank you. She just hates being ridden. And, you know, I could probably train her out of that. You can train a dog to stand on a plate with an electric current going through it but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. And I look now at a lot of what I used to take for granted as This is what horses do and think most of these horses probably hate this, and they’re just not given agency.
Manda: And I imagine it’s the same with the cattle, you know, frankly, why would you want to do that? It’s not inherent in the nature of how you evolve. But then most humans don’t live inherent in the nature of how we evolved either. But it’s a whole interesting, another conversation. So let’s go back to the soil because I could take us down an animal behaviour route really easily and let’s not, we can do that another time. So you’re using tractors at the moment, but you’re part of a think tank that’s looking at appropriate technology. I’m guessing, if I were in that think tank, I’d be saying whatever else we do, we have to cut back on the fossil fuels. Not because carbon alone is the problem, but because carbon is a significant part of the problem and we need to move to a lower power use, whatever our source of power. So have you looked at what you’ll do when you do need to plough, if diesel is not your motive force?
Andre: That’s why we’ve been on this on this project with the oxen for quite some time. So we have a pair of working oxen at the farm that we’ve been trying to perform a variety of different tasks. Things like moving things about the site, moving hay about the site, they do it really well. They can even work with cultivators and things like that. So that does well as well. And also part of our strategy is to have more and more perennial growing spaces. From ornamentals to vegetables to trees, but more and more move to perennials.
Manda: So then ploughing is not a thing.
Andre: Exactly. And then it’s limited to very few activities, which is where we are already at the moment. So it’s limiting more and more. But it is one of those, I must say, you know, it is really handy to have a tractor at your disposal as well. It’s extremely helpful. But I’m very aware that it belongs to a model that I don’t know for how long we’re going to be able to rely on.
Manda: Interesting. So if hypothetically the diesel ceased to be available, would you move to working horses perhaps? Because I think, you know, pressure on Suffolk Punch, Clydesdales, shires, they’ve been ploughing the land for a very long time. They might not hate it and they might do it perhaps with more enthusiasm than the oxen. Would that be something you’d look at?
Andre: Yeah, absolutely. And as well how to engage the community. And that’s very much part of what we try to do. One of the key concepts in biodynamics is the community has got to be part of it. So that’s always fun, in a way. But I can give you a very small example of something I introduced at Waltham Place when I arrived. I arrived here five and a half years ago, and I call it the work parties. And people look at me a bit suspicious. And basically on the winter months between January and May, every Thursday we’re going to have a work party. And we’re going to come together as a group, from the office people to whoever it is. If they are in my payroll, they’re going to join us and we’re going to do something together. We’re going to have lunch together. We’re going to talk about, you know, some of the themes that are relevant and so on. And at first I had some colleagues really like, I am not doing that. And after some insistence, now everyone looks forward to it.
Manda: Because you’re building community. You’re building a tribe.
Andre: Yes. And the amount of energy and what one can get done in a day is remarkable. And that feeling of achievement as a group, but also allowing empathy to be developed because, you know, we’re working on each other’s areas. And really understanding what is someone else’s day to day. So we extend that as well to school groups that are visiting, so they can also have an opportunity to be part of the Land work. We have apprentices, we try as much as possible to engage young people in biodynamic education in what we’re doing. We have volunteer days, we have courses and events all linked to building community, but allowing community access and experience of the land.
Manda: Beautiful. Brilliant. Okay, we’re running out of time, predictably, because there’s so much to talk about. Two things I’d like to understand. Just give us an idea of what you do produce at Waltham Place just so we can get a sense of the scope of biodynamic production. And then just shortly, I’d really like to know a little bit more about seed saving, because you talked about that, and it seems to me that that another of these things that’s really important in the world we’re heading into, is that we understand both the need for that and and how you go about it.
Andre: Absolutely. I’ll do both of them. I’m also very aware that I started to give you the biodynamic picture and I stopped. If I could just add 1 or 2 little things there.
Manda: We still didn’t talk about preparations, and I’m still curious.
Andre: Yes, exactly.
Andre: So just taking us back to the whole biodynamic aspect. So in a way, as I was explaining earlier, it’s a holistic system. We’re looking at optimising all life forces. So we’re working from the micro to the macro. So we take in question, for instance, the effect of the cosmos in food production. We look at the effects of the moon, so we work with the planting calendar that is looking at at at lunar phases, is looking how far away and how close is the moon to the earth at a specific time of the month, but also the relation between the moon and the constellations. So that is very much part of our planning tool as well. So really it’s all about optimisation. So to dialogue with nature, to make use of those resources that are living and they are here anyway, and how can I use that in my favour? So in terms of the biodynamic preparations, we have field spray preparations. We work with horn manure, which is a preparation for the soil. Cow manure has been inserted into the cow horn and has been buried over the autumn and the winter months, that is then harvested in the spring. And we dynamise that in water for one hour, creating vortexes in both directions. So again, that polarity between chaos and order. We apply that in the field, that is a soil inoculant. Homeopathic quantities.
Manda: That was my question. It’s sounding very homeopathic? Has anybody looked at this… Are you creating a mycorrhizal preparation effectively? Is this a fungal bacterial prep?
Andre: It’s exactly that. And there’s an extensive research that was done in Italy two years ago, looking at exactly that fungal bacterial relationship there, which proved everything that was said 100 years ago. That was such a delight. So independent research not from the biodynamic movement. So that was really delightful to see. So it’s exactly that. So we’re looking, you know, one horn of preparation would be enough to do one hectare per year and will do 3 or 4 applications of the manure throughout the year. The other biodynamic preparation that we do is the horn silica. We break down quartz very finely. We break the structure of the quartz and we insert again into a horn and that is buried during the spring and the summer months, that is then dug up in the autumn. And we use that throughout the year. Again, Dynamised or stirred for one hour, vortexes both directions, and we apply that in very early morning as a very, very fine mist. We only start using that once the plants have gone into the generative stage. So once flowering and fruiting starts and that’s all about quality, aroma, antioxidant levels in the food. So it’s all about quality.
Manda: So that’s a kind of foliar application. It goes on to the leaves and is presumably absorbed in? And the plant takes it.
Andre: Exactly. A very fine mist and very early in the morning. It’s one of those, you know, you have to start stirring at about 4:30 or 5am. And always the night before I’m Am I really going to do that?
Manda: But you do.
Andre: You do and you love it. And once you are there with that container and you can hear the water and just having that experience of stirring is is fascinating. Just to be able to explore those boundaries, you know, of water, of memory. And you know, when you start stirring, it’s kind of hard to create vortexes. You have to really put a bit of energy. And in five minutes the water is always almost moving in the way…
Manda: It’s become alive.
Andre: It’s become alive and then you notice the change in the viscosity of the water. And it’s just remarkable. And again, we’re back to quantities. You know, we’re looking at a size of a pea of horn silica, again, would do a huge area.
Manda: So you put your pea size in what volume of water?
Andre: So I tend to put it in an oak or a wine barrel.
Manda: Wow serious amounts.
Andre: Seriously, yeah. And so it’s very, very small amounts. And then of course we have the biodynamic compost preparations, which aid the composition process and really make the compost as stable as possible. So again, to prevent nutrient leaching and all of that. And that’s often a combination of a medicinal herbs, things like Yarrow, Camomile Nettle, dandelion, valerian, surrounded by an animal shield like the horn. So we use animal organs, and that’s only for the composting process.
Manda: Wow. I want to learn this! Oh, anyway, that’s a separate thing. Just tell us a little bit about the seed saving.
Andre: Seed saving, to be fair, that’s been my main passion for quite some time. I started, within that concept of the farm organism, when I used to find myself buying seeds thinking isn’t this weird? I produce everything else, why am I not producing the most important part? And how seeds became a commodity over the last 50 years, it’s remarkable. And we’re seeing as a trend, especially in America since the 70s you know the old trick, the bigger companies would buy the smaller ones and take products out of the market. So the loss of genetic diversity in horticulture has been absolutely remarkable. And of course, moving more and more towards hybrids. So the F1 hybrids, most organic produce that we find in supermarkets is produced from F1 hybrids, because the F1 vegetables there’s a standardisation.
Manda: Always the same size, the same shape.
Andre: Same size, same shape, same colour, you can buy all your packaging and get a better economy factor because you bought it all at once, because you know your tomatoes will all look the same and they will all taste the same.
Manda: And taste like blotting paper.
Andre: Exactly and all tastes the same: Nothing. And of course, it is more challenging to work with open pollinated seeds. You know, it is more challenging. We work with a restaurant in London, the Jikoni Restaurant, and part of that journey is we have the chefs, we have all of the people from the restaurant, spending time with us on the farm, because we can really explain that to them, you know?
Manda: Why the tomatoes are not all the same size, shape and colour.
Andre: Exactly. Right. And I understand it’s more annoying to prepare that, but it’s going to taste better. But most importantly, you’re contributing to genetic diversity, you’re contributing to wildlife. You know, you’re really having an impact by perhaps peeling a carrot that’s different from the other. And it’s part of the journey of working with something that is living. So I’ve been working a lot with education as well in terms of seed saving and seed production. So next Saturday, we have actually a day for the Gaia Foundation with us and with the regional seed growers. So this is something I’ve been working more and more with. I was last week in Portugal and it was a real delight to see some of the growers that I have assisted and educated and trained, and now they’re major seed producers. They have all the living from biodynamic seeds that totally change the farms and the activities. So I was really excited to see that. So that’s something that is really important as well. Because even if we don’t look at GMOs and all these new breeding techniques, the NBT’s, but just looking at hybrids, we’ve done some research on site at the farm and we realised, for instance, you know, through that breeding process with the creation of the F1, something was lost. So often you have these amazing double petal flowers. Actually, I don’t think they are that amazing. I think they are a bit over the top, but you know, ornamental people really do like that. But bees cannot access what they need from the flower.
Andre: Or you have situations where the breeding changed the composition of the nectar, so it’s not palatable. There’s not enough pollen, the flower is not accessible. So minimally what we saw is 40% more insect activity in comparable crops between open pollinated and F1 hybrids.
Manda: Wow. Right.
Andre: So again, really important and culturally wouldn’t it be great to break down all this standardisation? That everything has to look the same and taste the same and go back to open pollinated seeds. So there’s something I’m very passionate about as well.
Manda: Fantastic. It sounds so exciting. We’ll have to have you back and just have a whole episode on seed saving, that would be really exciting. But in the meantime, I think we have run out of time. Andre, this was such a pleasure. Thank you. Really exciting and really inspiring. Is there anything else you wanted to say in terms of people coming to Waltham Place? I will link to Waltham. I’ve linked to Emerson. I will link to the biodynamic association. Any other way you think people could become involved or that they could explore.
Andre: Yeah. Please have a look at our website. There are courses that that we offer and one particular course that I’m really keen. And they’re not crazy expensive and they are really accessible for people as well. Is we do an introduction training which is over a weekend a month for six months, and that really is to empower people to do their own thing. I keep telling people, you know, there is no recipe. Don’t come here expecting that I’m going to give you a list of things that you’re going to do and it’s going to work. What I’m hoping to do is to guide people in asking the right questions and finding that way to be part of their garden.
Andre: Because no matter how much I know about gardening, my best decisions are made by just walking the land and being whispered what I need to do where.
Manda: Yes, learning to be heart open and listening to the spirit of the land. And you’re offering courses. Andre, that’s glorious. I will make sure that that has its own link. But I’ve also put the Waltham Place link and all the other stuff. Is that part of Waltham Place or is that part of the biodynamic association.
Andre: That’s part of Waltham Place and Biodynamic Association also promotes and supports. It’s endorsed by the Biodynamic Association.
Manda: Brilliant. That’s fantastic. Andre, thank you so much for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. This has been an absolute delight and I look forward to training with you. That’s going to be a lot of fun.
Andre: Thank you, Manda. I really enjoyed this while spending time with you today. Thank you very much.
Manda: Thank you.
Manda: And that’s it for our 200th episode. Enormous thanks to Andre for all that he is and does. For the wisdom and depth and breadth of his understanding. For the fact that he too spends his days and nights trying to think of how we can move forward in a way that is connected and real and alive, that brings the best of humanity into full connection with the web of life in a way that will take us forward so that we can weave that future that we would be proud to leave behind. This feels like a real opening into the potential of who we could be and what we could be. And I absolutely have put in the show notes, links to Waltham Place and their courses. To the Biodynamics Association, to Emerson College, to all of the places that were doing the research, so that you can explore. There will be something near you, wherever you are in the world, that will help you to bring the land around you into life. And increasingly, it feels to me that every one of us needs to be pulling forward now. Whatever you’re doing, try to find and support the people who are really connecting so that you become one of those people. So that you can have the conversations with your friends and family and colleagues and the people you meet in the queue in the supermarket. About the fact that there are other ways of doing things that are better than what we have now.
Manda: So that’s it for now. Very shortly, I’m going to record a bonus for episode 200, which we’ll put out in a couple of days. But in the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot and for the production. Also to Alan Lowles of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for creating the website, for designing everything, for creating the space for both of us to learn. And for the conversations that keep us moving forward. And as ever, if you got this far, an enormous thanks to you for listening. Five stars and a review on the podcast app of your choice is always very welcome. It does help us play the algorithms, much as I really loathe the fact that they exist and I am still completely convinced of the fact that word of mouth is how we spread. So if you know of anybody else who really wants to connect to the web of the Land, to the living food that we eat, to the life around us, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you in the bonus. Thank you. And goodbye.
You may also like these recent podcasts
Words have the power to change worlds. Powerful words, powerfully written can open doors to the future. Beautiful words, beautifully written, can give us hope . Richard Wain’s new collection of poetry is doing all of these, with panache, and heart and soul.
How do we best use the tools of our current system to create and support the emergent change we need? Sophie Parker is right at the edge of the emerging futures and in a position to exert leverage at some of the highest points of the scale at which change happens.
How do we move ourselves – individually and collectively – from the broken Trauma Culture of our times, to the Initiation Culture that will allow us to step forward, healed and whole?
We know we need to eat real food, but how do we make this happen? Hodmedod’s is leading the way in linking farmers to people to make the best of the land.
STAY IN TOUCH
For a regular supply of ideas about humanity's next evolutionary step, insights into the thinking behind some of the podcasts, early updates on the guests we'll be having on the show - AND a free Water visualisation that will guide you through a deep immersion in water connection...sign up here.
(NB: This is a free newsletter - it's not joining up to the Membership! That's a nice, subtle pink button on the 'Join Us' page...)