What I Learned About Organic Agriculture

In one of my posts on Google+, I relayed a piece of information about a company that labels its toxic products as “organic” to sell it better. I had no intention of either evaluating or devaluing organic products. In fact, I had a mild sympathy for organic agriculture even though I had read that there was no nutritional advantage in consuming organic food.

what-pyrethrum-isHowever, when one of the readers of the post pointed to my ignorance and lack of knowledge of “Sir Albert Howard or the Rodale magazine,” I tried to educate myself about organic agriculture. I learned that, in the English speaking world, there are three names associated with the founding of modern organic agriculture: Sir Albert Howard, Rudolf Steiner, and Eve Balfour.

Albert Howard worked in India as agricultural adviser and was in charge of a government research farm at Indore. He observed and came to support traditional Indian farming practices over conventional agricultural science. Howard spread his knowledge through the UK-based Soil Association, and the Rodale Institute in the US.

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher and educator whose philosophy of Anthroposophy, which he also called spiritual science, postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience, and aims to attain in its study of spiritual experience the precision and clarity attained by the natural sciences. His contribution to organic agriculture is biodynamic, which employs a holistic understanding of agricultural processes, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives and the use of astrological sowing and planting calendar.

Eve Balfour began farming in 1919, in Haughley Green, Suffolk, England. In 1939, she launched plans for the Haughley Experiment, designed to compare organic and chemical-based farming. Deborah Stinner,1 an entomologist, has written that by modern standards the Haughley experiment was more of a “demonstration” than a true experiment because it lacked methodological rigor, and it is thus not possible to draw any firm conclusions from its outputs.

  1.  Stinner, Deborah in Lockeretz, William, ed. Organic Farming: An International History (CABI,  2007). pp. 50

2 thoughts on “What I Learned About Organic Agriculture”

  1. If I may introduce a parable that physicists will understand, organic agriculture is like Newtonian physics: in a small scale it kind of works and it can still be used, appreciated, and have fun with. However, dismissing modern industrial agriculture in favour of organic is like dismissing Einstein in favour of Newton. I understand we cannot send a probe to Mars or design a computer based only on Newtonian physics. Equally you cannot achieve all what we have achieved (vast increases in soil productivity, feeding billions of people, and (with GM crops) reducing the use of pesticides and soil tillage) based organic agriculture alone. Not to mention the lies of the multibillion-dollar organic industry which uses very toxic substances (like rotenone) as pesticides claiming they are “natural”.
    Regarding the chap in the middle (the crazy Australian), give me a break we don’t need new religions; we have enough already.

    1. Good analogy! I agree that all backyard gardens are by their very nature organic and fun to work in. Unfortunately, the word “organic” has picked up a mystical tone in the hands of people like Chopra, Sheldrake, Capra, … And the “Austrian chap” who injected mysticism in the word to begin with. Now, the word has become almost synonymous with Eastern mysticism and alternative medicine.

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