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‘Biodynamic farming’ bullshit

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This was always going to be nonsense. The first time I clocked “Biodynamic” produce was as advertised by a stand selling waffles with an added egg option at the (wonderful – you should go) Maltby Street Market in London (UK).

What the fuck is a biodynamic egg?!

I exclaimed quietly to myself, assuming it was some quirk specific to this company or a small group of hipster cafés. Sadly not.

On a call with a friend recently, he asked “Guess what the latest woo nonsense I came across is?!” and told me what biodynamic farming is actually about. Friends, we’ll get to that.

In between those two times, we took a trip to Sonoma county, CA USA, with some friends – a wine weekend! Let’s tour or do a tasting at one of these cute vineyards, we thought.

Then, the first one we arrive at has “Learn all about our unique Biodynamic Farming practices!” plastered on its signs. Ohhh, nooo. We shan’t be going here. (Sometimes the skepticism thing doesn’t earn you friend points). Where we ended up was lovely though!

So, what the hell is biodynamic farming?

In summary, it’s homeopathy magic for your fertiliser, with a bit of astrology and alchemy thrown in, based on the idea that a farm is a special cosmic entity whose “energy” you can manipulate to help your crops grow better.


ie. fucking nonsense.

Who started it, you might wonder? None other than Rudolf Steiner, the German man behind a “philosophy” known as anthroposophy; deeply racist, anti-science (including anti-vaccine) and steeped in further nonsensical beliefs, upon which sits the global chain of Waldorf-Steiner Schools. That’s a whole other story, though. Let’s stick to the farming. Read about Steiner (1)

A Skeptoid podcast transcription from 11 years ago shows that sadly this stuff has taken hold over that time rather than getting the scrutiny, derision and shunning it deserves.

The foundation belief in biodynamic agriculture is as follows:

the best way to think of it would be as a magic spell cast over an entire farm. Biodynamics sees an entire farm as a single organism, with something that they call a life force. (2)

That should have the red flags raising already.

As with any such fringe claims, this is not unexpected either: “Much of the work on biodynamics has been published by just a few research groups. (3)” – this should also cause concern. Following the cult-like zeal of a few is unlikely to keep you grounded (pardon the expression).

Steiner believed that cow horns, by virtue of their shape, functioned as antennae for receiving and focusing cosmic forces, transferring them to the materials inside…
and would impart these forces to crops and thus to the humans that consume them. (3)

… okay. Let’s build and build a whole practice out of this philosopher’s 1920s lectures, shall we? Sounds sensible.

Kirchmann (1994) states that as Steiner developed his biodynamic philosophy through meditation and clairvoyance, he rejected scientific inquiry because his methods were ‘‘true and correct unto them-selves.’ (3)

I feel so much better.

Chalker-Scott argues that consumers don’t always care about scientific evidence when making decisions. (4)

No shit!
To be ‘certified’ as a biodynamic farm you have to include Steiner’s 9 preparations in your farming methods.

The preparations include:

  • take cow manure, pack into a cow horn and bury it underground over winter. Make this into a homeopathic solution and add it to the soil – followers believe this stimulates root growth.
  • pack extracts of various plants into animal skulls or organs (e.g., deer bladders, cow peritonea/intestines) or peat or manure, age then dilute and apply to compost

Full list (3):
From Chalker-Scott, 2013

Otherwise it’s basically just organic farming, incorporating demonstrably beneficial practices like crop rotation and so on. So much of its purported success could really just be down to well-known considerations and (!) have nothing to do with all the magic add-ons. Weird ?!

The only Biodynamic-specific practices are:

  • the preparations (above)
  • use of lunar/astrological calendars to guide planting etc. (not required for certification)
  • Menhirs (“Stones used for channeling cosmic energy and radiant fields through geo-acupuncture”)
  • Pest ashing/D8 solution
  • Sensitive testing (“Includes image-forming practices variously called biocrystallization, capillary dynamolysis, morphochromatography, sensitive crystallization, and the Steigbild method” – well that’s definitely all legit.)

It’d be very hard to rigorously test any of these things. Especially given homeopathy is dilution to such an extent that none of the original substance remains at all – it’s literally just water. So to claim a biodynamic farm ‘works’ better than any other really is a claim based on no evidence at all, and likely it’s just down to being more conscious of the ecosystems you’re working with and not overworking the land.

There is mounting evidence that modern “organic” practices – not just pushing back against large-scale industrial monocultures and other generally bad ideas but the non-synthetic pesticide use etc. – are actually worse for the environment. So there’s definitely a happy medium. But it is never going to involve astrology or poop homeopathy. Just, no.

Something that also stands out, especially in my (admittedly limited) experience and reading, is their whiteness. It jumped off the page in this quote about the homeopathic practices:

the standard does not represent all of the ways farmers practice biodynamic agriculture, just like one type of yoga (let’s say Ashtanga) does not describe the entirety of what yoga may mean to the yoga movement.”

Yoga “movement”? Sounds about white.

It’s hard to disentangle beliefs in quackery – particularly nascent 20th Century varieties -from white privilege. I know this loses a lot of people, but it’s really worth consideration; only when life throws you so few curveballs can you have the time, money, peace of mind and excess concern to make up health problems and invent fake cures for them.

Of course, quackery affects poor and non-white people, too, often more severely – in some situations disproportionately, such as when people cannot afford real healthcare, or when cultural background demands engaging with potentially harmful medicinal traditions. But when it comes to “clean eating“, “superfoods” or even veganism trends, whiteness is at the forefront.

But that’s slightly beside the point – what I’d argue is, if you see ‘biodynamic’ on a product, a sign for a place you’re going to visit, or elsewhere – avoid it. Don’t give that business your cash, because you’re driving this anti-science agenda, a buzzword, nonsense waste of time hocus-pocus, and lining the pockets of people who think you’re that gullible. Don’t be.

Resist this – call for ethical practice, for animal welfare, for protection of ecosystems. Just not magic. It’s ridiculous, and sinister at its roots.

Links

  1. Anthroposophy and Ecofascism
  2. Skeptoid: Biodynamic Agriculture
  3. The Science Behind Biodynamic Preparations: A Literature Review
  4. Biodynamic farming is on the rise – but how effective is this alternative agricultural practice?

  5. The environmental costs and benefits of high-yield farming
  6. GWYNETH PALTROW’S GOOP CONFERENCE MADE ME SICK
  7. ‘White People Food’ Is Creating An Unattainable Picture Of Health

* Notes on Anthroposophy

Many won’t have heard of this, but may have heard of Waldorf/Steiner schools. Because they still exist, mostly in Europe, but also in Australia and New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and some in Africa. So, do start here, and continue reading if you can – because this nonsense should be exposed, though many keep trying, and rejected for the utter, unbelievable horseshit that it is. Excerpt:

The centerpiece of anthroposophical belief is spiritual advancement through karma and reincarnation, supplemented by the access to esoteric knowledge available to a privileged few. The spiritual dimension, in fact, suffuses every aspect of life. For anthroposophists every illness, physical or mental, is karmically determined and plays a role in the soul’s development. Natural processes, historical events, and technological mechanisms are all explained through the action of spirits. Students in Waldorf schools are taught, for example, that good spirits live inside of candles and demons live inside of fluorescent light bulbs–an instance of the anti-technological bias that runs throughout anthroposophical thought.

Steiner’s doctrine of reincarnation, embraced by latter-day anthroposophists the world over, holds that individuals choose their parents before birth, and indeed that we plan out our lives before beginning them to insure that we receive the necessary spiritual lessons. If a disembodied soul balks at its own chosen life prospects just before incarnation, it fails to incarnate fully–the source, according to anthroposophists, of prenatal “defects” and congenital disabilities. In addition, “the various parts of our body will be formed with the aid of certain planetary beings as we pass through particular constellations of the zodiac.”

Anthroposophists maintain that Steiner’s familiarity with the “astral plane,” with the workings of various “archangels,” with daily life on the lost continent of Atlantis (all central tenets of anthroposophic belief) came from his special powers of clairvoyance. Steiner claimed to have access to the “Akasha Chronicle,” a supernatural scripture containing knowledge of higher realms of existence as well as of the distant past and future. Steiner “interpreted” much of this chronicle and shared it with his followers. He insisted that such “occult experience,” as he called it, could never be judged or verified by reason, logic, or scientific inquiry. Modern anthroposophy is thus founded on blind faith in Steiner’s convictions. Those convictions deserve closer examination…

Building on theosophy’s postulate of root races, Steiner and his anthroposophist disciples elaborated a systematic racial classification system for human beings and tied it directly to their paradigm of spiritual advancement. The particulars of this racial theory are so bizarre that it is difficult for non-anthroposophists to take it seriously, but it is important to understand the pernicious and lasting effects the doctrine has had on anthroposophists and those they’ve influenced.

Steiner asserted that root races follow one another in chronological succession over epochs lasting hundreds of thousands of years, and each root race is further divided into sub-races which are also arranged hierarchically. By chance, as it were, the root race which happened to be paramount at the time Steiner made these momentous discoveries was the Aryan race, a term which anthroposophists use to this day. All racial categories are purely social constructs lacking any scientific meaning, but the notion of an Aryan race is an especially preposterous invention. A favorite of reactionaries in the early years of the twentieth century, the Aryan concept was based on a conflation of linguistic and biological terminology backed up by spurious “research.” In other words, it was a complete fabrication which served only to provide a pseudo-scholarly veneer to racist fantasies.

Anthroposophy’s promotion of this ridiculous doctrine is disturbing enough. But it is compounded by Steiner’s further claim that–in yet another remarkable coincidence–the most advanced group within the Aryan root race is currently the nordic-germanic sub-race. Above all, anthroposophy’s conception of spiritual development is inextricable from its evolutionary narrative of racial decline and racial advance: a select few enlightened members evolve into a new “race” while their spiritually inferior neighbors degenerate. Anthroposophy is structured around a hierarchy of biological and psychological as well as “spiritual” capacities and characteristics, all of them correlated to race.

The affinities with Nazi discourse are unmistakable. Read more


Image credit: Antonio Marxuach/Travel Word

Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

2 thoughts on “‘Biodynamic farming’ bullshit

  1. Thank you so much for your clear debunking of nonsense. One of my close friends has been “educating” her children at the Steiner school. When they are alone we me, they ask for the truth, such as “do gnomes push the grass up?” and question all the other ridiculous lies they are being fed. My husband and I took them to the Am Museum of Natural History and the NYC MET Museum, where they could experience true science and see that Egyptian mummies were not archangels. They ate it up voraciously. The 10 year old revolted and refused to go to school. Now in public school where she is learning math for the first time. The others are not far behind. Victory for reality. My relationship with their mom has had a chill, but deep in her heart she knows that Steiner “beliefs” are not quite right.

    • That’s pretty extreme stuff! Their standards appear to vary wildly. Some ‘just’ do the restricted reading and screen ban, otherwise seem not to slack on general education too much. I hope your relationship with your friend improves again in time!

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