Like the Breeze Over Young Grass

Grappling with the questions, “How can we make biodynamic farming accessible and relevant to Israeli farmers, and how can we speak about it in a way that every farmer can grasp?“ led Liron Israeli to found the Adama Haya Center in Israel. He was recently nominated for the Future of Farming award by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the Farmers Day of the Israeli Parliament. Earlier this year, Franka Henn spoke with Liron about his vision.

Welcome, Liron! One of your mottoes is “The situation is not good, but we are here to do the good.”

That’s right, there is no other way.

Please tell us about your work and what you are committed to.

I had the impulse for the Adama Haya (Hebrew for “living soil”) Centre1 ten years ago because I was a farmer myself and wanted to contribute to the transformation of agriculture. The Centre consists of different branches. One is the production of farming supplies that were not available before—our main products are cover crop seed mixes. We also produce biodynamic preparations and stirring devices for biodynamic farmers who need them. Another branch is education and training. We have been acknowledged as an occupational training institution in Israel. That means if you are a new farmer, you can receive large subsidies for studying biodynamics in Israel. The third branch is research, developed through my master’s studies and the PhD in agroecology that I am about to complete. Through the academic world, I joined practical research teams on topics such as multi-functional agriculture, a new generation of farmers, and more. We also have a small lab for chromatography2 and are actively participating in research, training, and advisory forms for the Section for Agriculture and the Biodynamic Federation Demeter International.

This sounds fortunate for the entire biodynamic movement. How open is the future of biodynamic farming in Israel?

I am optimistic, although biodynamics has not yet fully awakened here. We started our initiative ten years ago to fuel this awakening. Why did it not develop earlier? I believe this is because of a combination of the lack of farming culture in this immigrant country and the erasure of the local history of mostly herdsmen traditions. Since the 1940s, the technical gesture of segregated, industrial mass production has become very strong out of the need to feed the rapidly growing population. Industrialized, mechanized, and chemical—these were the signatures of Israeli agriculture. Combined with a strong link between farmers, farm extension, and research, it pushed forward one narrative of agriculture. There was no holistic understanding of working with the earth. Only in recent years have people become more aware of this possibility because of global health and ecological trends.

You talk about the materialism that has dominated agricultural development since the founding of Israel in 1948. Perhaps this is also due to the socialist impulses that initiated the Kibbutz and Moshav agricultural community movements. But Israel is religiously and culturally dense: was there no anti-materialist, spiritual farming before?

The organic movement in Israel was started by religious Jewish people, but it had no major social influence. It boomed from the 80s to the 90s. Nowadays, however, Israel is one of the few countries in the world where organic farming is declining: every year, we have less organic farmland. We need a stronger cultural and scientific foundation to stand up to the highly mechanized, scientifically based, conventional farming. I am from the third generation in the kibbutz movement: my grandfather was one of those who came from Europe to found a kibbutz. They started with a very idealistic approach to bring together the spirit of the Jewish people and the work of the land. But with time, they lost the vision, and the world’s ever-growing capitalism turned them into factories and big agricultural cooperatives.

The picture and history are mixed. It all comes down to the vision: what is the meaning of your work with the land? This is how we started. I met other good organic farmers who felt that “normal” organic farming no longer represented what they were doing. They were looking for their next step. We could not dream about perfect biodynamic farms because there was absolutely nothing here to support them. Where would I find cow horns? How could I learn to make preparations without living examples of a farm organism in my climatic zone? So my idea was: let’s work with those good farmers who that are looking for their next step and grow the whole thing out of our questions.

During the workshop at Salsila Farm, farm owner Yarden Shachaf (pictured right) with Liron and the participants.

There already existed diverse anthroposophical initiatives in Israel when you started. Can you outline the local biodynamic history from your perspective?

The first evidence I have of biodynamics with regard to Israel is a letter to the editor titled “Biodynamics in Palestine” in the American Biodynamics Journal No. 007 from 1945. So someone was here in the 40s doing something that was hardly recorded, but, in a sense, the seeds were sown. I also know that Ita Wegman visited Palestine in the 30s. In the late 60s to 70s, there was a study group in Jerusalem of people with young handicapped children, who later moved to Beersheva in the desert and founded Kfar Rafael, a healing community and one of the first anthroposophic initiatives in Israel. They worked with biodynamics, but I do not know to what extent. In the 80s, the Harduf community was founded. It began as an anthroposophic kibbutz, meaning they started with farming and biodynamic activities, but they were not active anymore when I got into biodynamics. In the 90s, there were about five Demeter-certified projects in Israel, but they didn’t last. In the last years, there has been a re-awakening. For example, in Harduf they started working with biodynamics on their farm again and now also offer a kind of training program.

What is your relation to those anthroposophical communities? Did you meet biodynamics through them?

I was an organic farmer in Israel who married a German woman, a second-generation anthroposophist, and got to know biodynamics via her family—so I say, it was karma. When I visited Harduf, they still had an organic farm, but they were not really practicing biodynamics anymore. However, there was an anthroposophy teacher who had come back from Emerson College in Great Britain and began a study group on Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course. We were four people sitting in his basement, reading the lectures. At the same time, I had free space to try out everything at the organic farm where I worked. So, life gave me the space for self-motivated biodynamic training. Some things, like the preparations, did not exist, so I traveled to different countries and found farms where I could apprentice. One of my greatest mentors is Briony Young from Table Hurst Farm in the UK. Later on, a group from Harduf organised a meeting on the question, “Can biodynamic training develop in Israel?” They invited a biodynamic farmer from Germany to help and support them. About 30 people showed up, but six months later, we received a message that “the conditions are not yet ripe for developing a biodynamic training in Harduf.” This was like a “klong!”: move along on your own path.

At the time, I was completely immersed in biodynamics. I was studying Steiner’s lectures, taking part in a foundation year in anthroposophy, experimenting on my own farm, visiting abroad for a short biodynamic training and extra input from farmers, and developing my own biodynamic library. I researched everything I could find and immediately said, “Let’s do it in our own way.” I called another colleague, Yarden Shachaf, and showed him my research and ideas for opening a study and implementation group. He and his wife studied agronomy at the university and were not happy with just that; they were ready to try it out in practice. They had just started an organic farm and were open to my ideas. My path grew organically! We didn’t have a coherent program apart from the leading questions: How can we make biodynamic farming accessible and relevant, and how can we speak about it in a way that every farmer can grasp?

Looking back at this life journey, I see that I developed a real authenticity of biodynamics. Today, I have diverse relations with different anthroposophical initiatives in Israel, from giving biodynamic introductions to teacher collegiums in Waldorf schools to publishing a regular column in the Anthroposophy and Waldorf magazine in the last six years or occasional cooperation with anthroposophic cooks or doctors. I experience a great curiosity from people who have a long journey with anthroposophy and would like to discover biodynamics as a branch of anthroposophy more closely, which was not available here before.

Excavation of cow horns with preparations from the previous year. Salsila Farm, Amikam

Actually, you had an autodidactic education in biodynamics after you studied agroecology at the university. Please share a bit about how you developed the infrastructure for the study-and-implementation group you are now leading.

We began in Amikam at the Salsila farm with Ella and Yarden Shachaf, the couple who owns the farm. But they had no cows. Where would we get horns for the preparations? I located a good slaughterhouse—a small family business that raised and slaughtered their own cows. They showed me all the internal organs and taught me to recognize whether a cow is healthy and grass-fed. Although the cows aren’t from a biodynamic farm or our own farm, it was the best possible option. We have since developed a ten-year business partnership with them. We started with nothing—no materials at all—and now we produce enough preparations to cover 250 hectares of land each year. We can produce them on a commercial scale—big enough for any kind of farm in Israel—and we could make more of them. Farmers coming to work with us can see that, yes, it can be done on a scale adequate for their land.

Making farm-scale biodynamics a visible and practical reality was a vital step forward. On the one hand, the study-and-implementation group was self-directed and independent—we had to work on the ground. On the other hand, we have also observed and are in constant dialogue with what is going on with biodynamics outside Israel. The English education materials from the UK and USA associations were of great help, as were the different meetings abroad, like with the Indian association.

It sounds quite bold to have simply studied biodynamics and immediately reached out, started implementing it, and even built up a business around it. What gives you the guts to do so?

It is a life-long laboratory; all of what I do is out of my own study journey. Needing to communicate what biodynamics is makes me understand the questions people ask. And honestly, it is still my ongoing research. It was not my intention to teach others. I tell everyone who joins our group: it is not about me teaching—we are a study-and-implementation group that wants to understand and implement biodynamics in our locality. The more they ask me questions, the more I understand it. I think they are teaching me.

In recent years, as “alumni” develop their own biodynamic paths more, I take new participants of our group to visit them; in this way, we can hear and see biodynamics from different and diverse perspectives emerging in Israel.

True, the students always teach the teacher!

Yes, one wants to call something where people meet, learn, and develop skills a “training.” But as I said, my question came from good organic farmers who were asking how to reach the next level. There were no living examples of what a healthy farm organism looked like in our own farming locality, so the only way to understand it was to start working with the question: how can we create a healthy farm organism? How do our colleagues abroad perceive a healthy farm organism in their localities? Then, back to our evolution, step by step.

I have been organizing and making things accessible and available to people who speak a “non-anthroposophic” language while sticking closely to Steiner’s agriculture course. Slowly, more and more people in Israel have joined me, and I am happy to have colleagues, some of whom are now joining me in the research process. Until now, I only met like-minded people during the big conferences of the Agricultural Section in Dornach or last year in Zimbabwe.3 I had a biodynamic family, but now people in Israel also realize that something has been growing, and a new interest has been kindled.

The number of biodynamic initiatives in Israel is on the rise. Further information: Magazine ‹Adam Olam› Nr. 1/2022

What is this capacity of yours to communicate “hardcore anthroposophy,” such as the preparations, in a way that outsiders are not driven away but get interested?

Well, the gesture that grew inside of me is that I want to make it available. Sometimes, I say it is my hobby to introduce biodynamics to conventional agronomists. (Laughs) They really make me think and be concrete—it is a mindset thing, a challenge. They understand it—you just need to say it in their words. I am not invading them with ideology. I meet people in different contexts and see their individual journeys and where they want to take them. And in a way, throughout anthroposophy, there is always the question of whether you can make it your own. As long as it is something external to you, and you need to recite it, you are limited, even if you love it. When you understand it so well that it is internalized, a metamorphosis happens. Because we are here in Israel, at the periphery of the biodynamic world, we need to make it our own and be independent because we are literally alone. We need to bring biodynamics in an authentic way, not in a copied model, and we need to speak it in a language of our own. And since agriculture is always practical, we need to have good results. So this gesture of authenticity may be something we can offer from the periphery to the people in Europe or elsewhere, where biodynamics is long-established. Imagine it like the freshness coming from a breeze over young grass, meeting the smell of deep, rich forest soil developed from long-established trees.

You come from a scientific and practical background as a farmer. When you met anthroposophy, did you feel you had to re-communicate it for your context?

In a way, this is my individual history. Coming from a family that speaks three languages, a gesture to move between languages simply emerged from me. You always need to be open and attentive. What is the language the other person is speaking? When I read the Agricultural Course for the first time, I had a background in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Steiner’s lectures, for me, were the Vedic knowledge spoken in a different language.

If you communicate this content yourself, you always have to perceive where the other person is at. That is the most basic rule of communication. You do not have to forget yourself, but in a conversation you want to try to understand the other. Then people can understand you better too, even if you are doing something unknown to them. They can perceive it as a new perspective and not a source of conflict. This is also why I said everyone in our study group is my teacher. Through their questions, I constantly learn to express what I researched from a new angle. So, the truth has no name—there are endless perspectives on it, and we need to grasp them anew every time.

Liron Israeli in the beans. Photo: Private.

You seem to build bridges within all your working fields. Is it your intention to be at home in such diverse fields?

This is a core principle: if you are just following the spiritual gesture, you lose balance. If you only follow a materialistic gesture, you lose balance as well. If you want to be stable in the world and work with the world, you need both. That is my journey. So, I’m doing a PhD at Tel Aviv University and with the Israeli Agricultural Research Station. I want to be capable in the scientific approach. On the other hand, I’m going deeply into the spiritual side and finding ways to create preparations from scratch. Only if I work with both of those ends can I be balanced.

To me, it sounds like an aspiration for all of us who work with anthroposophy. Most of the world is not interested in anthroposophical impulses, and Western cultures seem to avoid the spiritual. There is an imbalance already. But seen from another side, we are all born into this world, into our time, whether we identify with it or not. If we are taking part in an anthroposophical movement, it is our task to stay interested in this world or culture and let interest be the bridge of communication.

This is the main thing. Not “Where am I?” but “Where are you?” I see it with many people who are interested in anthroposophy. They find it great, but they hold to the book—they follow it like some kind of ideal. Then, it becomes a different gesture: it is not alive or flexible because it is something you are hanging onto. The big challenge is to let go and say, “It is everywhere.” You need to make it your own to get there.

What does this look like in your practical business?

How can a farm organism exist in the very mechanized and industrialized Israeli agriculture? In a sense, our mission is to heal this organism that has been broken and segregated for so long. There is not one solution—we have to look at every situation and find the best healing we can offer. It’s like the cow horns from our butcher: it’s not ideal—it’s not coming from an ideal German biodynamic farm. But from my perspective, it is the best possibility we have right now, until, out of practice, we find something better. Every year, it improves. Our farms are not closed circles, organisms, yet, but our initiative is, in a way, the social organism. We cooperate and share between the small and medium farms, and a local culture is emerging. It took us a very long time to make our own biodynamic compost from animals living as close to us and as naturally as possible. And now we provide biodynamic compost for any small farm that needs it. When someone wants to start preparations on their land, we help them by providing preparations for them. Later, we help them create their own and close the circle on their farm. No trainer from Europe could have shown us these local solutions with presentations on biodynamic farming. It grows with the people here—we find creative solutions, and we build a real, local biodynamic culture that could not have been imported.

Preparation making at Salsila Farm, Amikam.

We have grown Adama Haya Center to support the transition of farming in general. Over the years, I realized that, in order to have more biodynamic farmers, we need more organic farmers. But we have so few. So, in order to have more organic farmers, we need to have more conventional farmers working in a more sustainable way. Out of real necessity, we are working with the whole spectrum. I do not advise the use of chemicals or herbicides, but if conventional farmers come and say they want to take the next step forward, I am there to help them. For example, one simple, large-scale activity we do is provide green manure seed mixes for building soil nutrition. Nobody in Israel has made cover crops, or green manure seed mixes available. So we did, and now we are working with 170 different farms across Israel, and we produced 70 tons of seed mixes in the last year. It is the same gesture. Listen to what they need, and find a way to make it available and relevant.

Where are you heading with all of this?

Now, after a long journey during which I stopped farming and became a trainer and advisor, we are working to build a new biodynamic farm. I’ve seen what exists outside of Israel and how the biodynamic journey, the transformation into biodynamics, just takes time. I want to create a full, integrative biodynamic farm. It is a huge challenge, a long evolution from where we are, but we’ve already come a long way in the last ten years. The development of a biodynamic farm is now possible because of good relationships with colleagues abroad who are interested in buying products and colleagues in Israel who are interested in the local market. It is a real social institution. The farm is not me, but a larger group of people—in and outside Israel—and we have to discover how to create this organism. In a way, it connects to my history with the kibbutz movement: a community owning a bigger piece of land, trying to create its own entity and work collectively, but now with a higher vision.

Thank you for taking the time to speak, and good luck for the future!

Thank you.

Note: This article was originally published in the German edition back in September. With heartfelt concern and sensitivity for the current situation in Israel and Palestine, and the new challenges it will bring, we’ve republished the article in our English edition. It is one of several small but bright rays of hope in a dark and troubling time. — The Editors

Title image Liron Israeli (left) with a participant of the biodynamic training during preparation making. 18 April 2023 in Amikam, Salsila Farm.
All photos Franka Henn

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  1. Adama Chaya.
  2. Biodynamic Research Conference 2021: Youtube “Parallel Session_Chromatography (BDRC 2021)“.
  3. African Biodynamic Trainers Workshop 2022 – Report.

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