There Is More Than One Way to Grow a Tomato -- Biodynamic Farming Is Probably the Weirdest
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"Farming is by definition exploitation, so after a hundred years of taking away from the soil, we're finally giving back," Mora said.
Critics call it pseudo-science. Cornell University horticulture professor Marvin Pritts warns that any studies appearing to validate biodynamics are based on "bad science." Washington State University horticulture professor Linda Chalker-Scott argues that any alleged biodynamic benefits come from basic organic standbys such as composting rather than the horn-and-gut stuff. She calls the very word "biodynamic" a "myth":
"For me and many other agricultural scientists, usage of the term is a red flag that automatically questions the validity of whatever else is being discussed."
But biodynamic products are gaining traction among ecologically conscious retailers and consumers. It's a great buzzword, at the very least. Bio! Dynamic!
Ivo Jeramaz, vice president of vineyards and production at Grgich Hills Estate, farms the winery's 366 Napa Valley acres biodynamically. Scientifically trained, he initially took up winemaking with an engineer's mind.
"But something was missing," Jeramaz said. "Then I discovered biodynamics. I don't reject science, of course. And yes, biodynamic preparations are controversial. I think of these preparations as enzymes and catalysts that will ultimately create healthy soil and healthy plants."
His fragrant, fruity 2008 Grgich Hills Cabernet was paired with Chef Baker's pasta-like strips of miso-cured tofu skin in a lentil-seaweed vinaigrette.
"Biodynamics teaches us that anything you do anywhere is connected to everything you do everywhere," said fellow panelist and biodynamic winemaker Kevin Morrisey, who works at Ehlers Estate Organic Vineyard, also in the Napa Valley.
"You must direct every molecule of yourself into the energy of whatever you do on your farm," Morrisey said. "I do approach this as a spiritual act. Steiner was very Christian" -- thus at odds with many in the organic/vegan/ vegetarian/sustainable/foodie movement.
Morrisey sees his work as a kind of mission.
"If you've enriched that food with all that beautiful energy, I would say that it will affect the very morality of the people who eat it when they put that food into their bodies."
"Working with the cosmos, we live with a rhythm," said Gena Nonini, steward of Marian Farms in Fresno, CA, whose distillery produces biodynamic brandy. "The universe writes the music and it's up to me to let the symphony shine.
"We're working with subtle cosmic energy. These preparations are buried in the earth as all these planets are doing their gyrations and their dances. ... It's about the soul, about the development of the individual soul, because at the end of the day, your soul is what you take with you.
"Unfortunately, an instrument has not yet been developed to measure vitality," Nonini said. "So when it comes to the ways in which food is grown, the dynamic becomes experiential. You have to experience it" to tell the difference.
All three wineries represented at the roundtable are certified by Demeter International, the nonprofit that deems certain farms worthy of labeling their products "Biodynamic®."
Colum Riley founded Malibu Compost in order to sell Demeter-certified biodynamic compost "made from an untapped source of power and majesty that transcends the rest, with the best recipe known to man to restore your soul's vitality," according to a message printed on the company's bags. This compost has been treated with preps, to which Riley attributes astounding properties.
After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, "the radiation cloud blew westward across the Earth," Riley said. "Satellite photos showed all these little blank spots in the radiation cloud."
Those spots corresponded, he said, with biodynamic farms whose soil was seizing radiation from the air -- "literally pulling it in and trying to turn it around," performing a wondrous "bio-remediation to literally transform the soil."