PETER PROCTOR (1928-2018) was one of the most respected and influential figures in contemporary Biodynamics. He was born in 1928 in New Zealand, although he told me his grandmother was probably born in Stamford, Lincolnshire, England “sometime in the 1800s.” His father was a primary school teacher and was brought up in what he called “a conventional church environment. I just missed the Second World War by being at high school.” In 1948/9 aged 18/19 Peter worked at the botanic gardens in Wellington, under the expert supervision of horticulturists trained at Kew Gardens. This is where his passion for gardening, compost making and practical excellence began.
In 1950 Proctor left high school, and in 1951 gained a Diploma in Horticulture from Massey College. For the next three years he worked for the Parks and Reserves in Rotorua on the North Island “as a practicing farmer and horticulturist.” This is when he first became interested in the work of Rudolf Steiner, having found one of Steiner’s books on a neighbour’s bookshelf. Between 1954-1965 Peter and his partner Rachel Pomeroy ran their own Landscape and Gardening and Nursery business in Rotorua. In 1965 Peter started practising Biodynamics, “making the preparations in a group, learning from our mistakes.” Between 1966-1985 Peter was the Farm Manager for Hohepa Curative Homes, in Clive. The connections he saw between Biodynamic gardening and food, therapy, spirituality, education and improved physical and spiritual human health was clear and, in his words “that was that for me. I have been involved in biodynamic agriculture since 1965 and had studied Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy before that. Since 1965 I have spent some time running seminars and workshops in different parts of the world which has given me quite an overview of how the biodynamic work is going on elsewhere.’
From 1976 Peter started consulting. “You learn most by observing, seeing. I did this in NZ, and now I can do it around the world,” he said. From 1986 until his retirement Peter was Field Adviser for the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association in New Zealand, which involved teaching and lecturing at Biodynamic field days and seminars. From 1989 Peter created and taught the Diploma for Biodynamic Agriculture at Taruna College in Havelock North. In 1993 he made his first vist to India, having been invited there by Mr T.G.K. Menon of the Indore Agriculture College. From 1996-7 he began leading Seminars on Biodynamic Agriculture in India, “introducing Biodynamic concepts to Indian farmers and tea and coffee estates.” This lead to the first Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in India, such as the Ambootia Tea Farm Estate in Darjeeling, for example. I tried my first Biodynamic Indian tea (Poabs) with Peter when I visited him on Tuesday afternoon, 10th February 2004 in Havelock North (Peter was a teetotaller, seeing alcohol consumption as an impediment to inner spiritual growth, and suggested wine-growers “might switch to grape juice instead.”).
Peter told me his “hobby is botany. I have a strong love both of plants and of the soil. I am curious to know what makes good soil, what is humus, how can soil be made richer in humus, using compost for example. I like to think I have a skill in making Biodynamic compost. The emphasis must be on the excellence and quality of all the practical work. The key to quality lies in the making of the Biodynamics preparations having good quality cow dung for the horn manure 500. This means you need Biodynamic-quality fodder for the cows, and cows that are in milk. You need the right quality and form of the quartz crystal for the horn silica 501. Herbs for the compost preparations are best from a Biodynamic garden, they need top-quality animal parts for their preparation, and to be buried at the right moment, in good structured soil with BD compost and then lifted and stored correctly. What happens in New Zealand, Australia and India is that one or two people take on the responsibility for making the preparations and are taking responsibility for quality at every stage of preparation production. Along with friends in India and particularly Australia [totally unconnected any groups there associated with Alex Podolinsky] and in New Zealand we have developed a very practical approach to Steiner’s agricultural impulse.”
Peter Proctor developed a profound connection with cows during his working life, and created his Cow Pat Pit or Brick Pit Prep (used as a soil spray) as an alternative to Maria Thun’s Barrel Compost 502-507.
On using the Biodynamic preparations Peter said “in New Zealand and Australia we use the preparations more frequently than in Europe, with up to four passes each for Horn manure 500, Horn silica 501 and Cow Pat Pit. In India we apply them to the land even more frequently. There is no reason why people in the northern hemisphere cannot use the preps more frequently. I would suggest that they could be used at the warmer time of the year. It would be worth trying say early summer and late summer and always at the descending phase of the moon for the 500 and Cow Pat Prep and the ascending phase for the 501.”
EFFECTS OF BIODYNAMICS
Peter told me that “where Biodynamics is applied on a well run organic property regularly and frequently using high quality preparations the results are outstanding. The most obvious result of the efficient use of the Biodynamic spray preparations and Biodynamics compost is first seen in the improvement in soil structure quality, then a greater freedom from pests and diseases and then the improved taste and keeping quality of the product. In India there are also many crops where an increase in crop productions has been reported. The nature of the Biodynamic preparations is to have a softening effect on the land. I see this as a counter to the now increasing harshness that we are experiencing in the environment. In the tropics and in our [New Zealand] climate to a lesser degree the bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil work very quickly, I think, due to the continuous warmth in the soil, showing a remarkable improvement in soil structure. From one point of view it does appear that our preparations do stimulate the micro life in the soil, thus increasing the living top soil. The soil is then receptive to the celestial forces of the Moon and planets.”
Peter summed up his understanding of Biodynamic agriculture as being “a management system actually makes organic farming work. That is how I present it at the various workshops I do. You have to be a good farmer first and then the add the extra dimension of Biodynamics. Firstly I accept the concept from Rudolf Steiner of ‘matter being filled with spirit, and spirit being filled with matter’, and so that is the stand point from which I teach. I do not teach my students Anthroposophy as such, but if asked about Rudolf Steiner and his work I will tell them. So I teach everyone who is interested how to make all of the biodynamic preparations and the compost, and how to use them efficiently. I share everything I know with everybody so there is a chance that everybody knows as much as I do and can develop the impulse further.” This approach is such a contrast to a small number of people who work in Biodynamics who have created uncecessary, patented and flawed commercially-drived add-ons that are in direct opposition to the idea that each farm become self-sustaining.
In an article called ‘Biodynamic Farming: When Spirit Infuses Matter’, Proctor wrote that “what we see around us in the practical world is imbued with a tremendous amount of spiritual wisdom. One of the things I do with my students is to go on a nature walk each morning and just observe the unfolding and seeds germinating. What a wonderful world we live in: Beautiful geometry, spirals, a world of magic. So if one has that attitude to farming, one starts to look at a farm in a different way. You look at your crops, you look at your animals, and you look at the weather. You don’t worry if it’s raining. You really become part of the whole environment. With enthusiasm and a love of your environment, you can then move mountains.”
Of all the people I have met in Biodynamics Peter Proctor has been the most inspirational. The uniform quality of Biodynamic wine-growing in New Zealand and the resultant quality in the wines there is tangible evidence of his life’s work. His own life was a reflection of his everday mantra: “Embrace nature, be excellent in everything you do, and enjoy doing it,” he said.
Grasp the Nettle by Peter Proctor with Gillian Cole (New Zealand, 1997).
Briony Young, ‘Peter Proctor, 28.08.1928 – 08.06.2018’, Star and Furrow (Journal of the Biodynamic Association UK), No.129 July 2018, p53