An unconventional Austrian philosopher’s influence has stretched across a century to specialty vineyards and inventive classrooms in Sonoma County that share his vision for bringing a “life force” to the tilling of soil and cultivating of young minds.
With its trademark affection for liberal politics and alternative practices, this suburban-to-rural county has become fertile ground for the ideas hatched in the early 20th century by quirky, controversial Rudolf Steiner.
Nowhere else in the nation are so many Waldorf-inspired public charter schools close together, six within a 35-mile radius, including four in Sonoma County and two more in Napa and Marin counties.
And nowhere else is there such a concentration of wineries and vineyards that are certified practitioners of biodynamic farming, a blend of botanical common sense with pagan-like animism that began taking hold in North Coast vineyards in the mid-1990s.
Both Waldorf education and biodynamics are rooted in anthroposophy, Steiner’s overarching philosophy in his compendium of 40 books and more than 6,000 lectures that imputes a spiritual-material harmony to the universe.
Waldorf critics abound.
Dugan, a formerly enthusiastic Waldorf parent, is part of a group called PLANS — People for Legal and Nonsectarian Schools — that filed a federal lawsuit in 1998 alleging that anthroposophy is a “religious sect” and that taxpayer-funded Waldorf charter schools are unconstitutional.