June 22, 2010

In Defense of You and Me

The following is an excerpted comment contra Stuart Smith's new tirade against bio-dynamics (and edited a wee bit by yours truly for clarity). Its author, who calls himself Waldo, works in the trade and would rather remain anonymous. Like that guy who wrote Primary Colors. Or Edmund Burke early in his career. Or Deep Throat.

Is it just me, or it does seem a little odd to be hiding behind a fictional personae...

Anyway, Waldo makes a passionate, humanist defense for the basic principals of biodynamics and I found them moving and wanted to share.

I apologize in advance for the relative seriousness of this post.

It won't happen again.

Stu, this blog (he means Stu's blog) is frightful to me not because it is questioning the scientific base of what biodynamic farming is, not because it is exposing large disingenuous wineries (using biodynamics as marketing not viticulture), not because it is showing that Rudolf Steiner was beyond the pale with an overextended imagination, nor because it dares to quash the latest tastemaker trend … it saddens me because it is downright mean spirited and hurtful to people who have gained insight into the human condition from the Waldorf school or performing Eurythmy – it is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

It is unfortunate that Biodynamics has become so publicly associated with the wine industry – a business fraught with fraud, pettiness, huge egos, misrepresentation, perverted marketing and profit margins on par with the drug trade. This is a recent phenomenon mostly brought on by marketing types that saw an untapped gold mine of rich mythology to exploit.

Most practitioners of BD do not flaunt the fact that it is superior in its methods to other types of agriculture. For the most part, the people who have been at it for any stretch of time have been humbly and quietly doing this work because they know in their hearts and minds that the petrochemical solutions to farming are harmful to the earth and its people.

Rudolf Steiner was approached to help farmers -- hooked into using the munition chemicals left over from WWI and the newly emerging science based farming methods of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, the three primary nutrients in any fertilizer) -- to come up with a new way to farm. In a generation, these peasant farmers of Europe saw yields that were unbelievable -- Brobdingnag-sized fruits and vegetables. But with the new technologies came compromised plant life immune systems. Evolved so quickly and unnaturally, they had no way to deal with the new pests and diseases that also fed on this outsized bounty.

Steiner (while not a farmer himself and probably not a drinker) gave his BD lectures after a lifetime of studying ancient traditions and understanding how small inputs can have large influences. His ultimate goal was to teach these farmers methods of reintroducing healing properties to their soils so that they could attain the balance robbed by unnatural inputs. Composting, cover cropping, soil conservation, were the keystones of these talks. One could strive for a farming system that was akin to the forests surrounding the fields – the forests didn’t need human intervention to achieve perfection – the plants figured it out for themselves. The forest floor was biologically rich in all of the minerals it needed to self regulate its variegated life.

Steiner encouraged farmers to produce a patchwork quilt of fields that would in effect create a network of healthy soils and, when spread over acres, would render outside inputs unnecessary. In Steiner's vision, this system would eventually restore the chemically polluted areas.

He didn’t offer proclamations from on high. He merely encouraged farmers to experiment with his theories and to systematically test the results. BD is not as dogmatic and rigid as the skeptics portray it – preparation recipes for 501-507 are merely guidelines, and it is an evolving practice.

While this may seem a utopian, LSD-induced fantasy – it was accepted and implemented by adherents because they knew something had to be done to correct the Pandora’s Box of synthesized products that had sickened their fields and threatened their existence. One could say, Steiner's lectures were the birth of the back to nature movement.

How can you look up into the night sky and not think that there is a whole world of unknowns out there deep in the uncharted Universe. Other forms of life, undiscovered planets, new solar systems... I believe our addiction to petrochemicals, plastics, and all of the unnatural additives we consume are just beginning to show their true risks.

Our reverence for food has been lost – the importance of recognizing that what we consume has implications beyond the physical realm. There was a time when the hunt was celebrated, the flesh of the animal considered a sacrament, an offering. We have lost the communal table.

We have developed into a culture eating alone in cars, and, not surprisingly, we are sick. Obesity, type II diabetes, autoimmune disorders, ADD, oncology, coronary disease... its a long list and all are on the rise at alarming rates. Frankenfoods neither nourish nor taste good, and are inimical to the natural process of furthering the human species.

I would rather put my faith in the natural process of the earth than the scientific community at Cargill, DowAgro and Scott Labs.

Is BD belief-based? Sure. Is it perfect? No. But it does challenge the paradigm that chemical companies have advanced which is equally based in belief – that science can solve all our problems. This type of thinking doesn’t always consider the interconnectivity of the inputs, known and unknown, and only adds to the downstream risk when we falsely believe the problems have been solved.


PS. If the owner of the image wants to contact me about a reasonable, non-commerical license, I'm happy to discuss it. There's no way the guy I "borrowed" it from used it legally.

1 comment:

duke of hurl said...

I couldn't agree more. This is an admirable movement. Big agribusiness should stop fucking with our food.

This coincided with a report on the BBC yesterday about new "superweeds" that are evolving in response to the Roundup herbicide made by our good friends at Monsanto.

I fear that someday we make look back and realize that these producers were the canaries in the coal mine...