Ileen Macpherson (1898-1984) was born in August 1898 in Australia. She attended Clyde School in St. Kilda (Melbourne) and as a young adult became increasingly interested in natural ways of producing food.
This interest brought her to regular Anthroposophy meetings, based on the early biodynamic philosophy by Rudolf Steiner . Anthroposophy is a philosophy that combines natural science (such as biology) and the intellectually comprehensible spiritual world. It is rooted in German idealism and mysticism, but its essential message is respect for nature, development of the human being in an individual manner rather than a mass-educational approach und the connection of our
micro universe to the universe as a whole. So according to Rudolf Steiner it makes sense to watch what the universe is doing (for example Full Moon and other celestial aspects in the sky) and connect them to tasks such as planting, weeding, turning the soil and else. Seeds of this philosophy are now found in ethnical banking, the Waldorf education and alternative medicine.
One of the speakers at these early Anthroposophy meetings in Melbourne was Ernesto Genoni, an Italian citizan who arrived in Australia in May 1926. A few years later Ernesto and Mrs Anne Macky started the Anthoroposophical Society and it is through these meetings at the Anthroposophical Society that Ileen meets Ernesto.
A year later the pair have plans to start the first biodynamic farm in Australia and they call this farm Demeter Farm (named after the the Demeter society, a brand that is still around today and that upholds the quality of biodynamic farming. Its name was taken from Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and fertility). There Ileen and Ernesto perfected crop rotation, soil enrichment and the study of healthy plants and all organisms that are connected to the farm. The Biodynamic agriculture is a cycle where every part reinforces the entity as a whole. For example grass clipping and rotten food are turned into compost and this compost again fertilises the land where cows feed on its grass. In turn the cow’s horns and manure are then used to enrich the soil which then produces healthy plants and fruit trees.
In March 1935 the Demeter Farm in Dandenong, Victoria, finally opens and produced good quality biodynamic food on 40acres of land for over two decades. The main crop was fruit, vegetables and milk. Soon after the opening Ileen and Ernesto found a group called the ‘Experimental Circle of Anthroposophical Farmers and Gardeners’.
This group soon becomes known for all ways of alternative farming in Australia and even Alfred Meebold comes to stay over for a fortnight. But just as things are going so well, tragedy strikes. Ileen, a very active person in her early years and busy with long days farming and milking cows, became weaker and weaker. She still carried on as usual, but her conditions deteriorates and soon her legs gave way. In 1943 she was admitted to Epworth hospital where she spent on and off the next three years.
This was a bitter blow for Ernesto. Not only did he now have to carry out all the hard work on the farm, but he also had planned to go with Illen to Europe to join the Biodynamic movement, but all these plans were now nil and void.
In the end Ernesto stayed at the farm at at Ileen’s bedside. When she was finally released in 1946 she would be confided to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. The cause was later revealed as pernicious anaemia (a lack of vitamin B12). Nowadays this condition is easy to cure, but in the 1940ies it often led to the patient’s death or life in a wheelchair.
Although Ileen tried her best with Ernesto to keep the farm alive, in the end her failing health was getting too much for Ernesto and the farm was sold in 1955. Ernesto started painting (the picture of Ileen above was painted by him) and Ileen, although now unable to practise it, never let go of the biodynamic ideology. After her death in 1984 the Ileen Macpherson Trust still supports Anthroposophic causes in Australia.
Biodynamic farming and living is catching on. What was once described as a ‘dubious niche interest’ has recently developed into an almost mainstream way of living, hobby gardening and farming? More and more people are getting concerned about the health of the food chain and try their hand on growing their own food, so there is a real trend emerging on allotments, gardens and hobby farms.
As intensive modern farming has left the soil so depleted that there is hardly any minerals left in the soil. So when your mother once said’ Eat spinach, it is good for you as full of iron’ there is very little iron now left.
Organic food has been around for a very long time now and it is just growing food with less or no pesticides, but the concept of biodynamic is another level up. It is concerned about the state of the soil, crop rotation, animal welfare and keeping the land in good condition so future generations are equally able to produce good quality food.
The original pioneers of biodynamic living started off with nothing but faith and learning from trial and error. But now it is a well-established practise that really works and can and is being adapted for big business, especially in the wine industry.
Biodynamics is more than just farming, it is a philosophy, a way of life
The concept of biodynamics was devised 80 years ago by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. He mixed old farming practises with the moon phases and soil tonics. By nourishing the life-giving soil, the plants that grow in this healthy soil are by default stronger and less prone to disease, they also contain more nutrients. Compost and fertilisers are made from home-made composts and animal dung. The animals are seen as part of the land and food growing procedure and not as separate income stream. So just like the moon cycle, the biodynamic growing cycle binds in the earth, the cosmos, the people and animals who live on the land all together into one living organism.
Biodynamics also dictates that animals should be reared slowly, and slaughtered humanely with minimal stress. It further advocates a rather stress-free living and going back to basics.
I believe that after an increasingly globalised world with 24/7 internet and constant pinging emails more and more people crave a bit of solitude, simplicity and real things like face to face friendship and good food. And biodynamic food is good. The proof is in the pudding as it wins food prizes every year.
But if you think this way of life is just for the airy-fairy types, think again. It is true that good quality food that is full of life and grown slowly is of course more expensive to produce, but in that way it also employs more people and customers are often happy to pay a premium. So the business model works.
At the end of the day — you are what you eat – so eating food that is brimming with life and vitality and that helps you to keep a healthy body surely is well worth the price!