Unit Overview - This unit will enable the learners to develop knowledge, skills and understanding of Holistic Support and care in relation to the farm organism and the human being. The learner will be introduced to the key factors and processes including the 7 life processes of R Steiner and the 7 care qualities of RMT, which are embedded in holistic support and care.
1.1 Discuss the 7 care qualities
Examples taken from The Practitioner's Guide:
1.2 Discuss the seven care qualities in the context of human wellbeing
There are a great many examples of how the seven care qualities manifest themselves in the work that takes place with students at the farm. Some are obvious, others less so, but all are worth consideration.
Rhythm: There are many rhythms, and not all students (or indeed staff) are in step with them. On the farm, they are written large each and every day. The sun rises. The dawn chorus occurs. The dragging out of bed. The drive or cycle to the site. In the morning the animals cry out to be fed. There is running around - seeing to the needs of the farm. There is a rhythm. There is a rush to prepare activities and resources. The students arrive like clockwork at a given time. The whole day has a structure and pattern. Students enjoy that reliable rhythm. It is comforting and safe. It is part of our job to create it and make it bold and obvious.
The seasons are rhythms. The weeks and the months pass by in a relentless repetitive pattern. The festivals occur and pass. The signs of the seasons are all around us. The grass needs cutting, the plants grow, expand and adapt and contract. It is my understanding that the rhythms and repetitive motions described above are also echoed on the pole lathe, or on the potter's wheel, in the repetitive hammering of the the forge and elsewhere. In other words rhythm is all around us and it helps us to navigate the world.
Warmth is drinking the first hot drink of the day. It is pulling on appropriate clothes for the season. It is lighting the stove in the classroom. It is found when turning compost heaps and with other kinds of physical exertion. But warmth is also a human quality which is welcoming and reliable. Each student who visits the farm must be welcomed with warmth. They must feel that they are really 'welcome'.
The worst thing I have experienced is that fake 'ironic' tone that some jaded teachers use because they have run out of energy and passion for the job. 'Thanks for that ...." They say, but with a tone and attitude that means exactly the opposite. Its very detrimental to mood, energy and productivity.
How else can we motivate people other than with warmth? Punishment? I think not. Its the carrot and the stick debate. The carrot always wins.
Nourishment is another term with multiple meanings. On the one hand, the word speaks of nutritional nourishment, on the other the nourishment of something deeper - in the soul perhaps. What it means is a feeling of satisfaction and of having the energy and resources to feed the body to achieve. This is something that is a constant challenge with students, and staff, because it is easier to sit back and watch or sit back and complain or just sit back. If we can find the ways to nourish students then we can unlock their potential.
Trust: Another word for this might be reliability. In the voice of a student 'What I get today I'll also get tomorrow and the day after. Over time I will learn to trust this person, because I get the impression that they are reliable and strong. They can keep themselves together even though I struggle to do that. They don't show uneven temperament. They are pretty stable and kind. They are always kind.
This might be difficult to achieve, but its where we should aim. Students with completely chaotic lives appreciate the certainty of reliability and trust.
Constancy: Whatever you do, make sure you stick to it reliably and over time. This builds certainty and ultimately trust.
A culture is a similar to a forcefield. Everything within it is affected by it. Everything within it is mutually connected. Something as simple as thanking the person who prepared the meal is pervasive. Something as simple as praising your work colleague for a job well done. All of these tiny actions build into something bigger. And everyone is watching or listening to them to receive cues as to how they should behave themselves. This is basic role modelling. The secret to everything. If you consider the Steiner model of 7 year development the 0-7 stage is all about imitation. So with many of our students imitation is going on all of the time. I like the following quotation:
'Are you a role model worthy of imitation?
Recreation: Looking at the word re-creation I can't help but think that the meaning is more complex than the word suggests. If it means leisure that is one thing. If it means reinventing yourself that is something else. Whichever the case they are both critical to human development.
1.3 Discuss the relevance of the 7 care qualities in relation to soil, plant and animal
"Following the rhythms of nature and of the Cosmos' is one of the principles of biodynamic agriculture Pierre Masson A Biodynamic Manual. It is certainly the case that rhythms underpin everything in relation to the soil, the plant and the animal.
Steiner's life processes start with 'Breathing' He says “The Earth is a living ensouled organism which brings forth the plants, the animals and the physical being of humankind out of its inner forces.” (Rudolf Steiner, The Cycle of the Year- 4 lectures 1923.
'As a living organism, our planet Earth inhales and exhales, yearly and daily.' Carol Avery 'The in and out breath of planet Earth.'
'This mighty breathing of the Earth is in direct relationship to the surrounding cosmos. Beginning with the Easter Season (equinox), the long exhale starts which continues through St. John’s Tide or the Summer Solstice, around June 21st. This long exhalation can be experience in all the rapid growth and green-up that we experience here in the northern hemisphere when all the elemental beings are released.' Carol Avery 'The in and out breath of planet Earth'
As well as the yearly breathing and breathing out the same happens within a day. 'The planet also has a daily exhalation in the morning or “out breath” and the daily inhalation or “in breath” in the evening.' Carol Avery 'The in and out breath of planet Earth' The biodynamic sprays are deliberatly timed to coincide with these breathing cycles.
For the plant we might look to the practical matter of a cropping plan, which details the dates for each of the elements of care for each plant. As the season passes and we observe its rhythms we gain an understanding of when to plant and how to care for the plant. The relationship of plant growth to the rhythms of the Cosmos are contained within the Biodynamic Planting Calendar.
Warmth accompanies living processes. Warmth is produced almost instantaneously in the compost heap. 'All living physiological and biochemical processes require some degree of warmth, and most inorganic processes or reactions are accelerated through warmth. At higher temperatures, however, warmth denatures living substance, then burns and consumes it and ultimately annihilates life.' The soil is cold throughout the winter and will only support life when it gradually warms up in the Spring. The polytunnel, provides the heat and humidity needed for the development of certain crops, but leave the tunnel closed on a hot day and everything will be dried out and burnt
The nourishment brought by the addition of Biodynamic compost to the soil is the most important way that we can add vitality to the living soil. The Biodynamic preparations that have helped to transform the compost are an important part of that vitality.
Trust I have clearly observed the trust and bond that develops between the farmer and the animal. Particularly with the goats. There is a mutual bond based on the history that exists and the patterns of behaviour that have occurred. This is closely linked to constancy. It is also closely linked to the work we do with students discussed elsewhere in this unit.
Constancy is the principle of being there for the animal and it is something I have observed. It is closely connected to culture, because through trust and constancy we build culture in an organisation or on a farm. This begins to pervade the holding when the strong spirit of the person who has created or cares for the holding and the animals, plants and soil manifests itself on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.
2.1 Reflect on the value of a stable home life as a factor affecting work life on the holding
There is no doubt that the life of the farmer in a remote location is a difficult one. Studies show that suicide rates in farmers exceed most other occupations, specifically in men. This may be because it is a lonely occupation, physically hard and with the rigors of exposure to all weathers. Early starts, long days, little company and the difficulty of making decent financial income are all factors. On larger farms, the sheer act of covering all of the ground can be debilitating and good organisation is essential to prevent exhaustion. Machines break down, animals get ill, the emotions are raw. There can be long hours and little social contact. In the winter, the short days and low light levels are proven to affect mood for the worse.
So the farmer must have a place of warmth to return to, the stability of a home life that is an anchor and safe harbour to return to. This is vital.
There is something very rewarding but also very depleting about working with large numbers of students with special educational needs. This is magnified when working outdoors, challenged as we are by the temperamental weather and daily difficulties of the farm. This is not to be negative, but merely realistic. The period between November and January is particularly hard.
So at the end of a physically and intellectually demanding day it is vitally important that the embrace of the family environment is secure and warm. This is simply essential.
There will no doubt be discussion around the table as to the difficulties and successes of that day. Mingled across the family will be stories of annoying teachers, difficult meetings, amusing incidents and complicated factors that affected the day. All of these anecdotes will be briefly chewed over and comments will be made. Wisdom might be dispensed or frustration might burst out. Anger is rare but
There tends to be a weighting towards the negative very often. 99 things have gone really well but 1 has gone badly. Which do we focus upon? Unfortunately the answer is obvious. Human nature causes us to pick over the negative event instead of revelling in the positives. This is part of our learning and helps us tackle difficult situations in the future.
The conclusion that I have reached is that it is always cathartic to talk things over, listen to other perspectives, be at home and gradually emerge from the fog that we can find ourselves in. The distractions of home, the fresh conversations and the humour that emerges are all essential for me, and the antidote to long hours and the emotional turmoil of running a school farm.
© Brantwood Specialist School
Created by Jim Hildyard