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Viticulture,Wine

What Is It That Sets People Off When They Hear The Word “Biodynamics?”

I was just reminded of this with a comment on one of my blog postings. The story is called, Viticulture in Astrological Cycles ~ What Once Was, Cycles Back as a “Biodynamic”

Since I wrote that one, Stu Smith of Biodynamics is a Hoax has taught me that Biodynamics actually began in 1924, when Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner gave a series of lectures on his beliefs. So, this movement with rituals of preparing very specific fertilizers for growing fruits and vegetables wasn’t started by Native Americans. It’s only been around since 1924. Rituals for growing, however, have been around as long as man and woman were able to grow anything. There’s magic in the beginning and living of all life; otherwise, we’d not be telling our children about Santa Claus.

Here’s what my reader Katie wrote to me:

OK, I’m on board with honor and care for the land. I can live with “pay attention to natural cycles”. I even get that, “There are more things in Heaven and Earth …. than are dreamt of in your ‘philosophy’.” All that being said, however, if you’re going to suggest a mechanism for how all this functions, gravity of constellations doesn’t cut it for me. Sorry. Sun, Moon, even local planets — maybe. Constellations? No way, Jose.

I’ll stipulate, for the sake of argument, that *maybe* the position of a certain planet in a particular constellation might be a way of describing the position that determines the influence of a planet. The biggest trouble is that the stars in the constellations are so separated from each other, and so distant that any gravitational force the earth feels from them is vanishingly small. Any force your vines feel from them is so dwarfed by the earth’s own gravity that it might as well not be there. I’m not arguing that the method doesn’t work; I haven’t studied it enough to know for sure. My main “heartburn” is with your explanation.

Poor dear. I gave her heartburn.

That’s the last thing on my mind when I journal my thoughts of my life experiences and observations. So I wrote back to her about gravitational pulls, and then I also slept on it. Today I’m writing more about it here, because I’ve had an even greater epiphany. I always use the forces of the moon as evidence to talk about how these gravitational forces work… But, all these years I’ve missed the biggest, most obvious one… THE SUN! The sun, the sun… You’ve got to imagine me singing right now… “The Sun!” Every single day, for 365 days in the year, our planet is affected by our sun… besides the moon and all the other planets. Our own microcosm (our bodies) are only a piece of the greater whole, the constellations.

If our solar system is so interconnected, how could the other systems out there also not, too, be interconnected? I know that this is really big picture, but that’s how I roll. And, that’s how new concepts are born, then proven, then just become mainstream thinking… Like gravity; or the earth is round, not square.

Now, for the other planets and what they affect… Years ago, before astronomy, there was astrology, as the first “Gods” of the world, before man invented his own gods to help keep people on the straight and narrow for morals and ethics. Cave people would look to the heavens at night, and realized that it was the same each night with a simple twist of the earth’s axis. Let’s face it… they didn’t have TVs. They had to watch something, and it was only the night sky that had any illumination. They HAD to look at the sky, and the most ingenious among them began to study it because they couldn’t see much else in the dark… Most especially before fire was invented.

Back to now…

Biodynamics… It seems to really rub those among us in the most “wrong” way who are the most scientific… And their major rub is the burying of the cow’s horn, it appears. The practice in question is the wine grape grower burying a cow’s horn with ground quartz inside of it, before sprinkling it on the vines.

From Sustainable Table:

Otherwise known as Preparation 500 to Biodynamic farmers worldwide, manure–filled cows’ horns are buried on the autumnal equinox and carefully unearthed exactly six months later on the spring equinox, the first day of spring. The manure is removed and stirred with water in a process called “dynamization”, which creates a vortex that cosmic energy can be funneled into. The homemade brew is then sprayed upon the fields to stimulate the soil, promote root activity and contribute to good bacteria growth.

A great Website for watching how angry people become with Biodynamics is Biodynamics is a Hoax. Stu Smith (mentioned above) is the author. He’s very well educated. (Stuart is a veteran winegrower of forty years. He was schooled in the sciences while working on his master’s degree at U.C. Davis in Viticulture and Enology. His course work included basic chemistry, inorganic, organic and bio-chemistry, bacteriology, biology, plant propagation along with the specialized courses unique to the Viticulture and Enology Department.) His biography goes on and on with serious credentials. I admire him in this regard.

He writes:

Contrast that to Biodynamics. Can someone show me the rigorous peer reviewed research that demonstrates burying a cow horn transmits cosmic energy into the earth? Have others successfully reproduced that (non-existent) research? Yeah, I’m still waiting too.

There it is… prove it to me scientifically.

So here’s my getting to the bottom of all of this.

Prove to me there is a god… for any of the various religions that have cropped up over the last 6,000,000 years of man and woman’s existence. We can’t see it, we can’t feel it, but we still go through rituals of turning bread and water into Christ’s body and blood – symbolically – once a week in Catholic churches, for instance. I can only cite that one, as I was raised in a Catholic family. The burning of incense to cast away evil spirits in other religions…. How about that one?

I dare think, based on the “prove it or lose it” beliefs that people with scientific minds have, that they would also be atheists or an agnostics… And that’s okay. We can’t give them a god in person, so how could they possibly exist?

The most wonderful thing about existential thoughts is simply this… There’s room for us all, or we’d be falling off the planet.

Go bury your horn, if it’s supposed to bring you the gifts of a great harvest. It’s better than just playing violent video games with your life. And I’ll cherish what you believe in, because you’re entitled. I wonder how my vines would do if I get myself a cow’s horn. I couldn’t handle having the horn. (I was a vegetarian for a few years of my life, and still can’t eat eggs.) Nope, you do it and I’ll drink your wine. Here’s to all of you, with or without the horn. That’s why there’s salt, and that’s why there’s pepper.

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21 Responses to “What Is It That Sets People Off When They Hear The Word “Biodynamics?””

  1. bill says:

    this is not good writing and just adds to the confusion people seem to have with biodynamics. read steiner and perhaps actually comment on his talks and writing instead of boring us with one more average joe’s opinion of biodynamics. the industry could do with fewer of you.

  2. Sterling says:

    you sir are an idi0t.
    biodynamic might work but it is not becuase of some cosmic interaction…. you expalined it your self, “…spring equinox, the first day of spring. The manure is removed and stirred with water … The homemade brew is then sprayed upon the fields to stimulate the soil, promote root activity and contribute to good bacteria growth.”

    that is just good and common viticultural practices.
    You are still an idi0t

  3. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for your opinion, Bill.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for your opinion, Sterling.

  5. Ken Payton says:

    Bill and Sterling, your responses are are both crude and insulting. Neither comment advances Jo’s reflections. One of the most surprising things about the anti-biodynamic crowd is the threadbare, inflammatory character of their rhetoric. Unable to sustain an argument, let alone write a grammatically proper sentence, you ample demonstrate who really are the barbarians at the gate.

    Burying a cow horn is a private decision. Writing noxious comments behind a screen of anonymity is public cowardice.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Ken, thanks for the defense.

    Reading the comments, I saw that both comments prove my original question/title, “What Is It That Sets People Off When They Hear The Word ‘Biodynamics?'”

  7. Jo Diaz says:

    I have permission to post this Email to me. I asked permission, because Tracey’s comments behind the scene are very thoughtful. She wrote the following after reading this story, and offers answers to my original question/title. Answers are important and better serve us all, versus character assassinations; which are easy to do, but don’t offer any advancements in civil discourse or understanding the debated question.

    ======================================

    Hi there, Jo,

    I just phoned to thank you for your recent blog entry – What Is It That Sets People Off When They Hear The Word “Biodynamics?” I spoke to Jose when I phoned and he said that you were busy, but to send you an e-mail. So, here you are.

    I am a Biodynamic wine grape grower. We produce Cabernet Sauvignon from our small vineyard estate in the Red Hills AVA and have won International Gold Medals on each release of our wines to date. We also just received our first review from the Wine Enthusiast – a 90 Point Score. I wanted to thank you for your fresh and liberated dialogue on Biodynamic farming. From the title of your piece to the content, you hit a number of points on the head. First, that people on both sides of this issue are rather “set off” by certain aspects of the other’s view. Second, that not everything can be proven scientifically – even if we wanted it to be.
    I am a close friend of Stu Smith and I, like you, highly respect his opinion – in fact, I believe that it was I who first brought BD farming to Stu’s attention by giving him the collected farming lectures of Rudolph Steiner. I think people like Stu are necessary in the BD movement right now because this kind of retort keeps people thinking and growing. Stu genuinely wants to understand. Though, as you point out, it seems, at times that people who are trained in the sciences sometimes grapple with new concepts most. I would not necessarily say this is an entirely bad thing. You are so wise when you see that concepts are never proven when they are new, but evolve as they take hold. Much science has been done on BD farming and peer review will surely follow. (However, as BD farmers make most of their own preparations and no chemical product is being sold, one wonders who will fund this work.)

    New concepts must also be taken in their proper context. In this case, in post-industrial revolution Germany farmers’ crops were failing so they went to Steiner seeking help. Steiner intended his lectures to be a launching point – not a science. (Steiner was himself a scientist and a medical doctor, by the way.) His aim was to redirect the farmers to the land and the laws of nature and away from chemicals and commercial farming that was producing diminished returns for the German farmers of his time. Some of his ideas seem farfetched, and some seem very simple – almost primitive. Steiner intended for the farming community to try some of his ideas and make improvements and changes and additions as this way of farming evolved. It is interesting to note that even our own Benjamin Franklin, in his Farmers’ Almanac, discuses the moon phases and other “cosmic” interactions and their relationship to farming. (You can check this out on our web site: http://www.hawkandhorsevineyards.com)
    Jo, if you would like to learn more about practical applications of BD farming, I would like to invite you and your family out to Hawk and Horse Vineyards for a complimentary ranch and vineyard tour with a tasting of our wines including our library reserves. I would greatly honor the opportunity to show you what we do. Our vineyard is stunning at elevations of up to 2,200 feet.

    With my warmest regards,
    Tracey Hawkins

    Hawk and Horse Vineyards
    Lower Lake, California

  8. Burying a cow’s horn in the vineyard makes perfect sense, provided the cow jumped over the moon first!

  9. Jo Diaz says:

    David, your sense of humor becomes you!

  10. Andy says:

    Jo — nice post. I have appreciated your blogs on petite sirah and Suisun Valley (2 of my favorite topics). From a rational perspective, the principles of BD, beyond “old school” organic and sustainable practices, are complete nonsense and were essentially fabricated by Steiner. That being said, if you choose to believe it helps your land and/or your wines — that is fine with me. The problem I have with BD, are the claims of superiority (both moral and in the finished product). i was at Ceago Vinegarden in Lake County recently — and the claim was rather emphatically made that BD was “beyond organic”. Now, if I were a farmer who practiced sustainable/organic agriculture — that would really irritate me

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    Andy,

    Thanks for the kudos on subjects that are near and dear to my heart.

    I get how it’s too far fetched and irrational for some… I really enjoyed David’s sense of humor.

    I personally don’t care about whether or not a cow’s horn is used. In my own dealings with planting by moon cycles with African violets, you wouldn’t believe how I can grow them with tons of blooms, and they’re supposed to be so difficult. No cow horn involved, just knowing when to propagate, slip leaves from a mother plant, etc.

    I don’t care what magic is employing in vineyards. Some of us believe in God, some of us believe in cow horns, and some of us believe in secret fishing holes. It’s all okay with me, even though no one can scientifically prove any of it.

    There are always those who do something and become holier than thou… but I see that as insecure puffery ;^)

    The real question to be addressed: Can a cow horn be as bad as the dangerous chemicals that are used on a regular basis by commodity growers, versus organic and biodynamic practices? Isn’t that the real outrage that should be getting people’s bloomers in a twit? Why aren’t people as outraged with those practices, I can’t help but wonder?

  12. Andy says:

    Jo — i am terribly outraged by conventional farming practices and the industrial food chain that perverts our food supply. But, if you confuse the consumer with BS about cow horns and astrology rather presenting the rather simple facts of sustainability, I think you will be doing a disservice in trying to wean people away from industrial agriculture / viniculture.

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Andy, I too am outraged by conventional farming practices and the industrial food chain that perverts our food supply. I don’t wonder why cancer rates are up… I know why.

    I can’t wean people away from industrial agriculture, though… not on this blog. My blog is just my own thoughts and observations as a wine publicist. I’m not a paid journalist, so it’s not my job. I don’t get paid when I write anything on this blog… I’m not afraid to say that my blog is my hobby.

    I write what I have to (as a paid publicist) for my clients, and deliver those messages to the wine writing community. and am paid well when I do. When I’m blogging… that’s all I’m doing… Thinking out loud…. Stream of consciousness. Wondering, some of the time.

    My title even suggests that this story is not going to be about trying to convince anyone of anything. It simply wonders, “What Is It That Sets People Off When They Hear The Word ‘Biodynamics?'”

  14. Dario says:

    Andy has hit upon the main answer to your question, as well as the purpose of Stu Smith’s Biodynamics is a Hoax Blog. Stu puts it very well in his posting “Why I Resent Biodynamic Farming!”. It isn’t the fact that people choose to farm a certain way. It is the claim of superiority that “sets people off.”

    Dario

  15. Jo Diaz says:

    Okay, Dario… The claim of superiority…. Pretty simple for such complex emotions.

  16. Ken Payton says:

    Dario, Industrial farming makes no claim of superiority. Yet it silently grinds its way through the world’s resources and lays low a soil’s regenerative capacity. Resentment of biodynamics is a puerile luxury best enjoyed by those who’ve given up all hope they might persuade Monsanto to reign in its depredations.

    Andy, Your outrage is misplaced. Read the editorials issued from the Western Farm Press. And then complain on their page. I shudder to think the tone of their readership’s comments plotting your crucifixion. Still I know BioD farmers would offer you shelter.

  17. Jo Diaz says:

    Ken, LOL…

    A very wise man once said to me, “Worry about the things you can change.”

    That’s been what I’ve tried to do ever since… and been working very hard to keep my nose out of things that aren’t directly impacting me, and work hard on those that do.

    I’ve been wondering, during *this* debate, why people are so worried when they simply hear the word “biodynamics.” Why do they so vehemently feel the need to change or eliminate a practice that some people just believe in because it suits them well. It’s not hurting anyone; while war, famine, and/or pestilence does, and could actually be well served by their passions?

    Then it’s was explained to me that it was… simply put… superiority. It seems like it’s much ado about nothing, but who am I to judge? When it got down to it, it wasn’t about practices, it was about how people project their ideologies… And, I’m a firm believer in perception is reality.

    So, someone out there made a statement that biodynamics is “the best” way to farm, and said it in such a way that someone else who doesn’t farm that way didn’t like the way it was presented… tone of voice, body language, didn’t take the other person’s feelings into account when it was delivered… and that person who heard it took massive offense. Now, it’s a huge debate based on a perception of superiority.

    What a bizarre answer to my question?

  18. Matthew says:

    Dear Jo,

    I really like your posts and agree with a lot of your points.

    I have just spent the last two years proving that biodynamic farming has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with mysticism or spirituality in any way shape or form. It is this perception I believe that sets people off! Biodynamic farming is simply a very old and traditional form of farming. The only idea that could in some way be considered spiritual lies in the process of stirring the water from a spiral as suggested by Steiner.

    The result of stirring water, scientifically, is simply that it adds energy to the water, which in turns encourages the growth of bacteria. You don’t have to love the water, or be at one with it, or any of this other nonsense that is written about the process. Anyone can do it including a machine. Giving water extra energy encourages bacterial growth when the manure is spread in the field.

    There are lots of scientific studies that prove that there is a simple scientific logic to the processes that are involved from the planting of the cow horns, to the stirring of the water and planting around a lunar cycle.

    I really like what you said about the Sun and other planets and think you would find my website very interesting as I completely agree with you.

    Best wishes,

    Matthew

  19. Jo Diaz says:

    As one of my friends said off record (in an Email), I’ve really stirred it up some s— this time.

    Thanks, Matthew. And the beat goes on…

  20. sondra says:

    Jo, Inspired by your post and all these comments, it’s no wonder that manure is used.

    My two cents about this incendiary topic – expecting scientific proofs for bd or claiming ‘mine is better than yours’ is like listening to teapartiers and birthers. The inflammatory comments against bd have always surprised me. Isn’t the real proof of any viticulture or winemaking technique in the tasting, the wine made?

    Whether people ‘believe’ its the stirring or the cow horn or the potions used, the choice is up to whose growing the grapes. and if they want to go to all of the extra bother, beyond organics, they must have good reasons.

    It is beyond organics since bd is organic PLUS all the other so-called weird practices. Doesn’t make it necessarily better, just more labor and energy intensive.

    Decades ago I apprenticed at a biodynamic farm, a city girl who only grew house plants. It was a hard-working and joyful crew I spent 3 months with. Recently I interviewed a winemaker who had interned at a biodynamic winery who said that was the happiest winery he’d ever spent time in.

    so in the end, perhaps it is the happiness factor that fills the bd grapes with their vitality. Just like the cook who loves their food, those bd grapes are getting a lot of attention – even here.

  21. Jo Diaz says:

    Well, Sondra (coming from a biochemist), I think you offer some very interesting advice… Most especially since you’ve also worked a BD farm.

    I simply believe that if something isn’t hurting another living being, you have a right to do whatever turns you on. After all, what I’ve mostly learned about life is this: life is about war, famine, and pestilence, and our life assignment is to try to find our own happiness in the process of serving others.

    From you, my takeaway is this… IF you’d like to criticize, get yourself a PhD in biochemistry, go work at a BD farm, and then tell us what you think is wrong or right.

    You’re not saying or suggesting this, but I am… Because, even with all that science behind you (cancer research for children), you have hope that magic is alive and well, and practiced by the most joyful souls among us.

    Thanks, my friend!

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