From Long Island to Kentucky
A Biodynamic Preparation Maker’s Journey
by Karen Davis-Brown
In his 1924 Agriculture lectures, Rudolf Steiner laid the foundation for today’s biodynamic agriculture. In Lectures Five and Six, Steiner describes how to make eight “preparations” to be sprayed on the earth or plants and to be used after a process of transformation in making compost. To take this work forward, he organized an “experimental group” of farmers. Researchers and practitioners have been involved in the discovery process of how to make and use these preparations for almost one hundred years. These preparations bring together herbs, animal sheaths, and human consciousness in relationship to Earth forces and rhythms, in what Steiner describes as “homeopathic substances” to bring vitality, health, and even intelligence to the soil and plants.
Laura Riccardi Lyvers, a lifelong preparation maker currently living and working in Kentucky, was interviewed as part of the Fellowship of Preparation Makers Interview Project in January 2019. The written summary of her entire interview is available for download at www.biodynamics.com/content/fellowship-preparation-makers.
The Beginning of the Journey
Growing up on Long Island in the 1980s and 1990s, Laura felt drawn to metaphysical concepts from a very young age. She shared, “I remember being so young I could not explain to my parents why I felt the way I did, and the questions I had could not be communicated. In my college years [1992-1997], I was drawn to studying metaphysics and Eastern spirituality and graduated with a bachelor of science in conservation biology and range ecology.
Her first exposure to biodynamics came her first year of college, when she began to work with family friend Jeff Frank through a school he ran on Long Island. She described that school as mostly for “horticulturalists on Long Island . . . landscapers, arborists, people working with the Earth. It was never very formal, but he would teach people in two-day courses what was essentially a spiritual and organic approach to horticulture and nature . . . The last session in the two-day course, which he said was the culmination, the most significant thing that could be offered . . . was on biodynamics. . . . because it came from such a trusted family friend and my spiritual teacher at that time, I instantly embraced it.”
You can just look out onto a field—it is not like a scientific kind of equation, but just observing the contentment of the animals, which also shows itself in the condition of the animal, the fullness of her rumen, and the quality of the manure we use for preparation making.
After college, Laura returned to Long Island to create a CSA garden with a friend and continued to work with Jeff’s school. She met biodynamic practitioner Steve Storch through Jeff’s school and began working with him in 1999. In 2001, she attended a preparation making workshop at Josephine Porter Institute (JPI) with founder, teacher, and lifelong preparation maker Hugh Courtney (www.earthlegacyagriculture.com). Laura remembered, “Hugh was my first true teacher. I am so grateful for this infusion. I got to live life as a preparation maker . . . at JPI. Precious years…. I was completely under the tutelage of Hugh Courtney—I love that word, and whenever I think of him and this experience that is how I say it—for those three and a half years.”
Starting Down the Biodynamic Path
In 2005, Laura moved to Foxhollow Farm just northwest of Louisville, Kentucky. A biodynamic, grass-fed beef farm, Laura was tasked with assisting the cattleman with the cows and pastures and preparation making. She lived and worked at Foxhollow for several years, then moved about two hours south of Louisville, where she lives with her husband Philip Lyvers on his family farm. Her relationship with Foxhollow evolved into a consulting arrangement as the pastures and the preparation making work matured. Her preparation making at Foxhollow continues as a social and educational event, where she works with Janey Newton, owner of Foxhollow Farm; Dave Chal, of Green Acres Farm; and “depending on the year, up to 20 or so other farms, gardeners, and individuals.”
Laura explained her “draw” to biodynamics as, “just the most natural thing. There was not even a big wow factor, it was so natural to me that this is what I am doing, this is what I am going to do, this is my world. Of course, it is the mystery and the intrigue of what we are really doing and working with, but even that came a little bit later.”
I began my own discovery process around the forces at play and the spiritual influences behind nature...
She attributed her lifetime love and appreciation for cattle to her experience at that first preparation making workshop with Hugh Courtney. She stated, “I had never been around a cow before, not a living cow, no cows in my life.” Her first experience of working with a cow was to work with cow organs to be used for preparation sheaths which would then be buried in the Earth over winter. She recalled, “To see this animal in its natural state up at the barn and then to see it from the inside, the innards glowing outwardly, the beauty of removing the hide. I was so taken by this and it was all so beautiful to me. That was probably the most striking draw . . . to get to work with the animal in this way.” She went on to say, “. . . that was the beginning of my work with cows, which are really the center of my life. I revolve my life around my little dairy herd and working with my home pastures and those at Foxhollow Farm, for their cows.”
When asked her goal for a pasture, she replied, in addition to desirable forage species diversity and stage of growth when grazing, “To see the contentment of the animals as they are grazing through the field compared to having to search and pick, take a few bites, then walk and take a few bites. To me the latter is not a ‘content’ grazing situation. When they put their head down and they are grazing, good-looking forages, and they just never stop grazing . . . they are finding what they need with every step they take. Those are some of the things that I look for. You can just look out onto a field—it is not like a scientific kind of equation, but just observing the contentment of the animals, which also shows itself in the condition of the animal, the fullness of her rumen, and the quality of the manure we use for preparation making.”
The Journey Is Lifelong
In her twenty-year journey as a preparation maker, Laura observed, “I began my own discovery process around the forces at play and the spiritual influences behind nature, and that was what opened up for me several years after my training, more than technique. It is my relationship with the cycle of the year and the inquiry into spiritual forces and beings revealed in preparation making that has ‘evolved.’”
She elaborated: "I imagine that people . . . who have a deep relationship with this work, it becomes part of our yearly cycle, just like putting up hay and putting seeds in the greenhouse to start plants.
It is such a deep part of my rhythm of life that, for me, it is like the working reference point
for everything that I am pursuing in my understanding of biodynamics. Anything that I
continuously discover, uncover, wrestle with, in my studies and in what I receive about
alchemy or spiritual science from any discipline—I bring many things back to the
preparations in my thought process. I’ll think, how does that work with the preparations
and what are the preparations bringing to the farm individuality? How is that related to
the elements that we are working with when we make the preparations? Then, how is
that on the other end when they are applied and working through the farm? Into us as
humans as we consume the food produced? How does that relate to what I am
learning right now?"
It is about a humbleness, that we know so little, and this can be a doorway, an open question throughout our lives.
She cautioned new preparation makers, however: “Just to not imagine that you get it. Remain in that receiving mode constantly, receiving what insights can come . . . To think that you know something, or you get it after making the preparations a few years is very limiting because it is a continual process. It is about a humbleness, that we know so little, and this can be a doorway, an open question throughout our lives.”
At this point on her journey, Laura is beginning to explore the wider picture of the role of biodynamics and preparation making in Earth and human co-evolution:
“I wonder what else is part of the whole picture of how we work with the earth
in this way, of bringing these new impulses, this evolving consciousness, this
coevolution with human and earth into the future. I wonder what else there is that people feel naturally drawn to that is like the preparation work. That is a recent question that comes up for me, a sort of expanded picture of what else is there for humanity in addition to the preparations. For me it is
understanding the preparations to be able to communicate about what we are
doing when we work with them, this is what we are striving for.
What else can be worked with out of other traditions or practices to move into
this evolving spiritual consciousness? This vision has come up for me recently.
Instead of it just being that I have to bring this particular way of working
with these particular processes and substances into another person’s world,
I wonder what it can look like through different ways of seeking.”
She further observed, “It is through our own deepening of understanding of what we are really doing, what we are really working with, so that it can be translated into other forms, other ways of expression, that then brings this impulse into a different picture for others—so they can understand it because it is their own. Then we understand it more and are more deeply able to relate.”
Laura closed the interview expressing this concern, “There are so few people working with the Earth anymore for growing food. Farming is more mechanized and materialized. I feel like I am so fortunate to be able to work with biodynamics and preparations and that other people do not have that opportunity. She then put forth the challenge, saying, “How would we be able to give them the opportunity to have these same experiences we have?. . . people not connected to land or farms [to] have this opportunity? . . . the link that is rapidly disappearing and has largely disappeared already, is the opportunity for the human being to work with the Earth . . . not just farming, but to work with the Earth in any way that is not mere extraction.”
Her final words expressed what she termed, “. . . a huge cultural, economic question . . . How do we want to be as humans on this Earth? Are we willing to give up what looks like luxury and what looks like comfort, having things delivered at our whim? We are choosing without realizing that we are choosing this distancing from the Earth. The real barrier that exists in real time is that people are not working with the Earth and they do not even know it is an opportunity because it is not an opportunity in a lot of ways.”
Karen Davis-Brown has been a biodynamic practitioner since 1999, a member of the Agriculture Section of North America since 2004, and a member of the Fellowship of Preparation Makers since 2007. She has been a grower and made preparations in California, New York, Minnesota, and Tennessee, as well as writing, editing, and developing websites for various biodynamic organizations and initiatives throughout North America.
The Fellowship of Preparation Makers (FOPM) is an informally organized group of biodynamic practitioners formed approximately twenty years ago. The group’s mission is to “insure that good quality biodynamic preparations are available now and into the future throughout North America” (https://www.biodynamics.com/content/fellowship-preparation-makers). The group organizes an annual conference to explore and learn about various aspects of preparation making and meets regularly via conference call in their efforts to hold a consciousness for the status of preparation maker and user needs and concerns. In 2018, the group initiated the Fellowship of Preparation Makers Interview Project, which collects written information and oral interviews from preparation makers in diverse parts of the continent and makes these materials available to the wider biodynamic community. Karen Davis-Brown—a biodynamic practitioner since 1999—is a member of FOPM, and coordinator of the Interview Project (firstname.lastname@example.org). The Biodynamic Association (www.biodynamics.com) provides generous support for FOPM, by being the fiscal agent for the Interview Project and a page on their website is for the group.