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A Natural Education
A Natural Education

As I drive up the tree-lined winding road to Hawthorne Valley Farm, my home in New York City feels a million miles away, even though I’ve only been on the road for two hours. When I arrive, I inhale deeply and take it all in. From that first breath, I can feel the quiet tranquility of the farm’s daily rhythm settle into my bones. The wind rustles, people chatter, and off in the distance, cows munch away. Welcome to Hawthorne Valley Farm.

Hawthorne Valley is a 400-acre Biodynamic® farm in Columbia County, New York. Since 1972, the farm has produced high-quality, Biodynamic® and organic foods while providing farm-based learning experiences for children and adults. The farm has dairy cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, vegetables, a creamery, an organic bakery, a sauerkraut cellar and more. They distribute their goods at farmer’s markets around the state, including at the legendary Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. They also operate a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which people pay a fee to receive a monthly box of produce.

The farm itself is part of a much larger organization called the Hawthorne Valley Association, a diverse not-for-profit that was founded by farmers, artists and teachers in the hope that education, agriculture and the arts could come together to reconnect people to the land. Its origins are deeply rooted in Dr. Rudolf Steiner’s teachings about the interconnectedness of humans and nature. A philosopher and scientist who co-founded Weleda, Steiner emphasized the many learning opportunities that nature provides. Today the Hawthorne Valley Association is one of the largest employers in the county, akin to a few large branches and many little twigs. The larger branches include the farm and farm store, a Waldorf School, a Waldorf teacher-training center, the Farmscape Ecology Program and the ever-busy Hawthorne Valley Farm Learning Center, where visitors and students from urban centers can experience what it means to be stewards of the land. The smaller “twigs” include the creamery and the bakery.

The work at Hawthorne Valley follows Biodynamic® farming practices, a concept Steiner first introduced in a series of lectures in 1924. He presented a holistic view of agriculture based upon a healthy farm, one with the right balance of plants and animals with a focus on healthy soil life. According to the Hawthorne Valley Farm website, this type of mixed-farming approach predates Steiner ’s ideas, but he pioneered the view of an ideal farm — a Biodynamic® farm — as one that can produce everything it needs from within itself and become a self-contained individuality.

The cycle of Biodynamic® agriculture starts with healthy soil, where the nutrients in the soil pass into the plants, allowing them to flourish. The plants, in turn, give energy to the animals that eat them, who then fertilize the soil through their manure. It’s in these natural progressions that farming becomes more than just tilling dirt or picking weeds — it becomes an ecosystem in balance, where all the pieces are in step with each other and the farm functions as one self-sustaining organism. At Hawthorne, nothing goes to waste; value is added to whatever they produce: milk is turned into yogurt, cabbage into sauerkraut and grain into bread.

As we strolled through the fields, past grazing sheep and clucking chickens, Rachel Schneider, director of the Learning Center, talked about the tenets of Biodynamic® farming, including the relationship between humans and nature. We could not survive without the earth under our feet, the water that surrounds us, the air above us or the sun, moon, planets and stars. All of these elements move around, under, over and within one another, as if in a dance.

A Biodynamic® farmer is sensitive to that dance and to the forces and relationships that occur on a farm. Take companion planting, for instance. Different plant species, like chives and tomatoes, do well when grown together. Chives have a pungent odor that deters some pests, so planting them alongside tomatoes allows both crops to flourish with little disturbance from bugs. The Biodynamic® farmer also works in concert with the cosmos, planting according to growing cycles and harvesting when plants are at their most vital point.

The Biodynamic® farmer must be a sensitive being, one who is in touch with all aspects of life on the farm. This includes connecting with their consumers. Hawthorne Valley actively uses direct marketing to bring the farm into homes in the local community. If you shop here, if you visit the market stalls or even if you take a tour, you become a part the farm. As the tour comes to an end, Schneider sums it up: “The farm is meant to inspire, strengthen and transform an individual’s connection to the living land.”

Driving back to my apartment in the city, I feel renewed and reconnected with nature. And I am grateful that every Saturday I will be able to reestablish that connection at the Union Square Greenmarket, picking up some Biodynamic® vegetables from my friends at Hawthorne Valley. Connie Montalvo

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