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There Is More Than One Way to Grow a Tomato -- Biodynamic Farming Is Probably the Weirdest

Biodynamic farming produces wholesome, pesticide-free food and drinks -- but the methods are a little out of the ordinary.

Photo Credit: Ron Kacmarcik/


Biodynamic farming is organic farming with a twist.

That twist entails clairvoyance, archangels, astral bodies and Waldorf schools. It also entails feces, flowers and quartz crystals fermented inside skulls, horns and intestinal tissue, buried and unearthed and then returned to the soil.

Like most organic farming, it produces wholesome, pesticide-free food and drinks. At a roundtable discussion in Berkeley last week, biodynamic wines and brandy were paired with courses prepared by Cordon Bleu grad and Esquire magazine Chef of the Year Sean Baker from Michelin-tipped Gather Restaurant. The point was that biodynamically derived products should rank alongside cutting-edge haute cuisine. The panelists felt that it was essential to make this point, because biodynamic farmers see themselves as agricultural underdogs: dismissed and even mocked by not merely the mindless mainstream but even their fellow organic farmers.

In other words, by everyone who doesn't get the horn-and-gut stuff.

"This isn't some pie-in-the-sky thing where you have to kill chickens for ritual sacrifice or smear blood all over yourself," said moderator Joseph Mora, publisher of the biodynamic journal Dionysian Writes.

Biodynamic farming is based on the ideas of Austrian esotericist and self-declared clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner, who before his death in 1925 wrote and lectured widely on dozens of topics including angels, Isis, Jesus, dragons, reincarnation, Lucifer, Lemuria, Atlantis, astrology, education (Waldorf schools are based on his teachings) and the Apocalypse of Saint John. Steiner also lectured about plants, animals and nutrition.

"When a man eats fat, he resultingly is spared the task of producing fat himself," Steiner declared in a 1909 lecture. "Yet, if he takes the opportunity to unfold his own inner activity through producing his own fat, he is made free and thus becomes lord over his body. ... The astral body's inner flexibility comes up against an internal obstacle if it is denied the opportunity to produce its own fat. ... Even if one is not clairvoyant but judges these matters only with common sense, he can tell from the look in a person's eyes whether or not he produces his own fat."

Which bring us to farms. Steiner saw this planet -- and its farms -- as human-like organisms, "sleeping" and "holding their breath" every winter, then "waking" and "inhaling" every spring. (You might consider this a precursor to the Gaia Theory, in which the globe is a living system.) Debuting in 1924 as a protest against commercial farming and now hailed by many as the birth of the modern organics movement, Steiner's Agriculture Course outlined nine "preparations" -- numbered 500 through 508 -- whose arcane recipes were meant, in Steiner's words, to "heal the earth."

Preparation 505 comprises oak bark fermented inside the skull of a domestic animal. Preparation 506 comprises dandelion flowers fermented inside the intestinal membrane of a cow. Preparation 502 comprises yarrow flowers fermented in a stag's bladder. Preparations 500 and 501 comprise cow dung, ground quartz and rainwater packed into cow horns. Others involve stinging-nettle tea, horsetail tea and valerian-flower juice. These "preps" -- as insiders say -- are buried on an astrological timetable.

"During the cooler months life breathes into the soil and the soil has the tendency to be full of growth energies, which energies are absorbed into the dung through the receptive nature of the horn," reads a typical Preparation 500 instruction at the Bio-Dynamic Association of India's Web site.

Once fermented, preps are added in homeopathic (that is, minuscule) quantities to compost, or sprayed onto soil and plants. Advocates claim that preps improve root growth, soil bacteria, photosynthesis, worm activity, humus development, and access to trace elements, among other benefits.

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