Celestial Gardening

At Threefold Farm in upstate New York, the roots of the biodynamic movement in America run deep.

By Sari Harrar


Biodynamic practices just might produce better cropsThe Organic–Biodynamic Connection

Biodynamics and organic gardening have much in common, including a shared moment of rebellious, chemical-free history—with connections to this little plot of land where renowned biodynamic scientist Ehrenfried Pfeiffer spent 17 years researching BD growing methods. The center is named for him, and his old lab is just up the hill. While Pfeiffer wasn’t the first to bring BD to America from Europe, he was an important early leader—working in Switzerland with the founder of biodynamics, Rudolf Steiner, and running a successful BD farm in Holland before leaving Europe to come to America in the 1930s.

In Pennsylvania, Pfeiffer crossed paths with J.I. Rodale, founder of this magazine and of America’s organic-gardening movement. In the 1930s and 1940s, it took about 2 hours to drive between Rodale’s experimental farm near Emmaus, and Kimberton, where Pfeiffer was creating a model biodynamic farm and training center. “These were passionate men with big personalities and strong opinions. Their conversations must have been fascinating,” says Bill Day, development coordinator at Threefold Educational Center (parent of the Pfeiffer Center and of the other community and educational organizations on the propery’s 140 acres, including a restaurant, a food co-op and a Waldorf school).

Both men were intent on showing the world an alternative to the chemical-based agriculture they feared was sapping the earth’s fertility and leaching nutrients from food. Rodale funded some of Pfeiffer’s early experiments, including one in which mice fed an organic diet were found to be less irritable and have fewer digestion problems than those on conventional chemically raised feed. Rodale published Pfeiffer’s book The Earth’s Face and Human Destiny in 1947 and commissioned Pfeiffer to write for Organic Gardening. “The soil itself is now considered a living being,” Pfeiffer wrote in the pages of this magazine 62 years ago. “It dies when it is abused and mineralized. It is sustained when organic methods are practiced.”