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Spiritual farming


As Wikipedia says: “Anthroposophy is a philosophy founded by Rudolf Steiner that postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world that is accessible by direct experience through inner development. More specifically, it aims to develop faculties of perceptive imagination, inspiration and intuition through the cultivation of a form of thinking independent of sensory experience and to present the results thus derived in a manner subject to rational verification.[…] Anthroposophical ideas have been applied practically in many areas including Steiner/Waldorf education, biodynamic agriculture, medicine, ethical banking, organizational development, and the arts.”

That’s the theory. Already the definition is a little bit complicated. It occurred to be so also in practice, which we had the chance to observe at the biodynamic IVA farm in Jalovik, west Serbia.

Viv, co-founder of IVA farm: My first contact with anthroposophy was when I was 16. I was surprised in a positive way by the wonderful approach to children, which sees every child as an individual which needs to be supported on the right way to develop. I was impressed how people with anthroposophical family approaches go with children to nature, how they don’t give them sugar, and teach them a lot of handicraft. Anthroposophy became my big life inspiration.

Anthroposophy is also the base of biodynamic farming, an alternative approach to agriculture which was simplified by the people in the farm as an organic holistic method with a spiritual touch.

Viv: I have memories from my childhood of picking fruits from our own garden. Food had taste, which I missed when my parents resigned from gardening and started to buy food from the supermarket. I found it disgusting, I didn’t want to eat it. I started to eat wild food, trying to figure out what we can eat from nature. You cannot be independent if you don’t know how to survive with the food you find in nature. When I worked that out, I started to be interested in growing food for other people and developing humanity in the right way. I tried different techniques. I worked in organic gardens, permaculture, but it didn’t satisfy me. Then I discovered the biodynamic approach, which speaks about the spiritual advance of humans and the influence of food on our inner and holistic development. It has a big understanding of the processes, nutritious forces, how to select plants, how to feed humans in the proper way. It’s not just producing for sell, but truly thinking about other humans.

Viv applies the principles of biodynamic to all aspects of her life. She is living on the farm together with her husband Bou and two children: 5-years old Karla and 1-year old Antonin. Together with Bou she opened the farm 8 years ago, after long time volunteering in other community-based farms. Through IVA farms they want to spread the knowledge about organic, healthy food, inspire people to come back to the land and put more attention on what we eat. They believe that change needs to come from our food. They are actively enforcing a way of producing food alternative to mass production, which is driven by profit and not by animal’s or human’s care. They know that doing it by themselves is not enough and for that reason since the very beginning they are welcoming volunteers and students, who want to learn and help.

Bou: Our aim is to create an organic and biodynamic agricultural education center. We want to spread the knowledge, living just for ourselves doesn’t make much sense. We may be able to inspire some people, even if not in farming, maybe we inspire someone in life, who knows. A lot of volunteers are not really planning to work in agriculture, but maybe they got something here more spiritual related.

Among the two of us, Andrea is the one who is truly interested in farming, trying to learn more and discover different approaches. For Anna, farming itself is not really fascinating, but observing and listening to people so strongly convinced to truths which are new for her was very interesting, though not always an easy process. A first level of difficulty came from the tough job, especially considering the low temperatures of Serbian winter. We worked about 6 hours per day outside, with breaks every 1,5/2 hours for some warm drink or food. We fed animals (which was actually the most pleasant part), chopped wood, mulched strawberry fields, cleaned stables, harvested plants, and many other things. Not too difficult to learn, but quite challenging for a body not used to daily physical work.

Another level of difficulty came from facing a different approach to life. Concepts like anthroposophy and biodynamic, astrology and reincarnation, were quite new for us. Listening to Viv and Bou, and even more observing them in the daily life, the way they work, they speak, they interact with each other, was a fascinating lesson. Anna, less experienced in farming, felt really cared about. Viv, while sharing tasks, always took into consideration our skills and possibilities. The best example can be caring about Anna’s comfort when the butcher came to the farm. Anna was vegetarian, or even more as an urban creature, never really experienced farm life and was not used to seeing killing animals. But thanks to Viv’s care all the situation became more a learning than a traumatic experience. Viv is able to change every situation into an educational moment, she explains us a lot every time while giving instruction or just walking through the fields, happy to answer any question.

Viv: I want to help people, especially young people, to come back to the roots. To have the opportunity to ask and answer important questions about life. Our students spend the first year on the farm, learning the basics. Then we send them to another farm in Germany or Switzerland. After that they came back to Serbia, spent 2-3 weeks in some organic farm over here. Farms usually don’t want them for longer, working with volunteers and students is not an easy job, sometimes they don’t have facilities to host them. We even have tents for students, to make it possible for them to go. They don’t pay for learning, in fact sometimes we support them by buying tickets to go to other farms. At the end they come back here for the examination. In future I would like them to have exams in the last farm they work on. During examination they have to prove they are able to adjust to any new situation and fulfill the task after short instruction. After the whole educational process they should be able to start their own farm. And some of them already did.

After two weeks at IVA farm obviously we won’t be able to open our own farm. Volunteers stay much shorter time. Some of them look for farming knowledge - like Stephanie from France, which we met there - some of them are more interested in discovering themselves, they look for a new adventure, sometimes for peace, some of them probably don’t even an idea about what they are looking for. But most of them leave the farm with a few thoughts, more awareness about the food we eat and its production and gratitude, as we could realize reading the guests book. We are also grateful, for all the discussions, learning, but maybe above all, for the opportunity to spend Christmas together, with good, organic food, friendly atmosphere and animals around. Following Serbian traditions Viv invited some animals to the house to share with them Christmas food and atmosphere. We also took candles and went from stable to stable to sing Christmas carols for the animals which were not lucky enough to join us at home. The all ritual created a magic atmosphere, where we felt as part of nature, as one with plants and animals. Whatever terminology we use to describe reality, whatever philosophy would be the base of our thinking, it is difficult to deny the strong connection between nature and us, human beings, which reflects also in how and what we eat.


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