Despite all my experiences in recent years, I’m still sometimes taken aback by the sheer antagonism towards applied anthroposophy that emanates from some people. No sooner had I tweeted the news that Chateau Palmer, one of the most starry wine producers in the Bordeaux firmament, has gone fully biodynamic and is receiving a price premium for its wines, than someone who tweets as GinaMakesWaves re-tweeted my post to all her 791 followers with the comment: “Biodynamic agriculture offers nothing over traditional organic and it practices animal cruelty”. She then followed up this absurd statement with: “Biodynamic agriculture is a main industry of anthroposophy, both with a complex Nazi past.”
Where to begin, when dealing with such wild assertions? Actually, I’m not going to bother; such wilful misunderstandings are Gina’s issue rather than mine. All I will say is: if you want to find out whether biodynamics practises animal cruelty, just go and visit a biodynamic farm and talk to the farmers and gardeners. As for a complex Nazi past, I wish I could say that no anthroposophist had ever flirted with Nazism, but I can’t say that, because in the 30s and 40s there were a few anthroposophists who leaned in that direction; no more than I can say that no anthroposophist has ever flirted with communism or conservatism or socialism or any other kind of –ism. Because anthroposophy attracts all types of people and, as they say in Yorkshire, there’s nowt as queer as folk.
But in my experience, anthropops are on the whole very decent and caring people, give or take the odd exception – rather like the general population, in fact.
This attack on biodynamics no doubt caught me on the raw, because I had just experienced an exceptionally heartwarming celebration of one farmer’s 21 years on a biodynamic farm, Tablehurst Farm in Forest Row, East Sussex. This was a Midsummer Celebration Lunch for Peter Brown, the farmer who with
his late wife Brigitte arrived at the farm in 1994 with their three children and turned the farm into a shining example of biodynamic and sustainable agriculture that is also a community-owned farm and in addition provides a home for adults with learning difficulties. You can see on the farm’s Facebook page lots of photos of the celebration lunch (scroll down past the cows and flowers), held in the beautifully-decorated Sheep Barn at Tablehurst.
Throughout these 21 years, Peter has dedicated himself to the wellbeing of the land, the plants, the animals and the people working on the farm, without any thought for building up any assets of his own. During this time, Peter has also taken on the executive directorship of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association and has been selflessly involved with many initiatives towards more sustainable forms of agriculture.
This lunch was not just a celebration of all that Peter Brown has achieved but it was also the launch of a fundraising campaign to build an eco-home on the farm for him to live in for the rest of his days. To do this, we aim to raise £100k, not only to build a home for Peter but also to provide housing improvements for the young farmers who are starting families on the farm. As a member of the fundraising committee, I spoke at the lunch and made the following points:
• The average age of a farm worker in Britain today is 59 years
• In conventional farms, 1 or 2 men will look after several hundred hectares of land
• According to an article in the respected trade journal, Farmers’ Weekly, some of England’s most productive agricultural land is at risk of becoming unprofitable within a generation due to soil erosion
I then compared and contrasted this with what is happening on Tablehurst Farm:
• Young men and women are flocking to the farm to work and some of them are starting families here
• The farm currently has 26 employees and growth looks set to continue
• You only have to walk across the farm to feel the wellbeing from the soil rising up towards you – the biodiversity on the farm is fantastic.
It’s clear that conventionally-managed farms with their monocultures, degraded soils, vast inputs of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and herbicides that pollute the soils and water and reduce biodiversity, are pursuing an unsustainable course.
By contrast, a farm like Tablehurst offers hope for the future. It shows that there are viable alternatives that can preserve and improve our soils, do not ask more of the land or the animals than they can give, and provide employment in situations where young people want to live, learn and start families. These farms are like a kind of Noah’s Ark for our collective future, showing that feeding the world and its burgeoning population does not have to be handed over to Monsanto and other large corporations. A much better, more human future is possible and biodynamic and sustainable agriculture is showing the way.
By the way, it’s just a month after we started fundraising for housing on the farm and we’ve already raised £25k (a quarter of our target). If you’d like to help, there are more details here.
11 responses to “A Noah’s Ark for all our futures”
Thank you for this article and this inspiring Bio dynamic farm . I hope to visit it soon .
I’m curious why you deny Gina’s “wild assertion” that anthroposophy and bio-dynamics have a “complex Nazi past.” It’s clear then that you must prefer a “simple Nazi past.” But do you not run the risk therefore of over-simplifying that Nazi past to the point of wishful thinking and outright denial of historical reality?
You declare that Gina’s “willful misunderstandings” are her issue and not yours. Yet are you ready to look in the mirror at some of your own “wilful misunderstandings?” Or perhaps I should rephrase that as your “wilful oversimplifyings?”
Almost 2 years ago now, on September 13, 2013, a feature article appeared in the FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Frankfurt’s major daily newspaper.
I translated the first 3 paragraphs because they described the thriving bio-dynamic herb garden located right outside the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich.
Now the title “Heil Kräuter!” needs an extensive translator’s note because it is a clever pun that only works in German, and thus has to be meticulously explained in English.
We know the Hitler salute in German is “Heil Hitler!” The “Heil” means “Hail!” But “Heil” also means “healing” or “medicinal.”
The word “Kräuter” means “herbs” and when “Heil-“ is made a prefix, then Germans create a single compound word:
Heilkräuter = “healing herbs” or “medicinal herbs.”
The title of the article uncouples the prefix to make this word play:
which is essentially giving the Hitler salute to herbs. Hence my translation:
Do look at the FAZ article to see the photograph of the B-D greenhouse which still stands there today. I translated the caption at the end below.
Nazi Nutrition: “HEIL, HERBS!”
By Jan Grossarth
Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung
September 13, 2013
translated by Tom Mellett
80 years ago, the Nazi regime created the Reichsnährstand (RNS) = The Reich Food Estate. Here the farmer became esoteric and whole-grain bread became a political issue — and German careers took their course.
[NOTE: After being appointed as Minister of agriculture in June 1933, Richard Darre established the Reichsnährstand (RNS) = The Reich Food Estate, which was empowered to intervene and regulate agriculture. The RNS was responsible for prices and production quotas, regulated the quality of farm produce, and set retailers’ profit margins.]
“Heinrich Himmler liked to visit the Dachau plantation and made sure everything was going well there. He would ask his SS brothers if “alles war in Ordnung” in the bio-dynamic herb garden. And everything was always in the very best of order: There were gladiolas, thyme and savory sprouting in long lines facing the sun. The bio-dynamic herb garden was located right outside the Dachau concentration camp. Many hundreds of prisoners, who were herded there every morning as slave labor, would bring in wheelbarrows filled with bags of organic medicinal herbs into the field — and later wheel back the emaciated corpses of prisoners who did not survive the workday.
Today the plantation is in disrepair. The glass panes of the greenhouses are broken, irrigation pipes are rusted through, and the herb beds are now overgrown. This locale north of Munich is a macabre relic of Nazi nutrition policy. Cow horns were ground up here, moon phases were studied, and the SS leader Heinrich Himmler himself was devoted to esotericism and to Steiner’s agriculture with all its unconventional recipes. From this SS-owned plantation, black pepper would be shipped to the Eastern Front while other herbs were used for human experiments with homeopathic medicines. Merck, the pharmaceutical company, ordered rose-hips, and the citizens of Dachau shopped at the farm store. Here the co-existence of genocide and unprecedented state health care was simply taken for granted.
It is a baffling relic. Himmler’s greenhouses leave as many questions as shards of glass: Why were the Nazis occupied, not only — as is widely known — with hallucinated enemies, weapons and contours of the cranium, but also with basil? Why was it so important to them what people ate? — [Just like today, Nazi] food was regional, organic, seasonal, unprocessed, rich in vitamins and low in meat, produced by rural farms, free from pesticides, whatever anyone could wish for. . . . ”
PHOTO CAPTION: Grass grows over the plantation in Dachau, where the Nazi dictatorship had cultivated medicinal herbs.
When your message popped up in my Inbox, I thought at first that you must be replying to the recent comment from Kathy on my Rudolf Steiner and Marilyn Monroe posting – I didn’t understand Kathy’s reference to a video and that you must be writing with further information about it – perhaps you’d be kind enough to look at the comment and see if you can help.
But back to your comment above: you refer to what you call my “wilful oversimplifyings”. Surely Gina’s original tweet, referring to “Biodynamic agriculture…with a complex Nazi past” is the epitome of wilful over-simplification, which was the point I was trying to make. In my posting above, I acknowledge that there were some anthroposophists in the 30s and 40s who were far too close to the Nazis, some no doubt who were trying to do their misguided best to protect what they held dear and others who were fully signed up to the Nazi agenda. I could have added that there were also a few anthroposophists in Italy who collaborated with Mussolini’s fascists. Shocking and shameful, indeed. But what does this tell us about anthroposophy, or about anthroposophists 70 or 80 years after these events?
You refer to Himmler’s greenhouse and herb gardens, as if these were somehow the responsibility of biodynamics, rather than one man’s whim. But surely most of the food production in Germany during the 30s and 40s utilised NPK fertilisers – does that mean that conventional agriculture is also tainted with a complex Nazi past? The whole of Germany was signed up to Nazism, Italy and Spain to Fascism. What does that tell us about Germans, Italians and Spaniards now? Would you or Gina, whenever speaking about Germans, Italians or Spaniards today, refer to their “complex Nazi and Fascist past”?
If not, then why do so for anthroposophy, unless of course you are concerned that anthroposophy has not yet acknowledged a dark part of what has often been a tragic history. It is time that anthroposophists today became aware of this history – many of us, I suspect, are not. It is as painful for us as it must have been for the French when in 1981 Marcel Ophuls’ two-part film The Sorrow and the Pity was shown on TV and made them aware of the extent of collaborationist activity in France during the Second World War.
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A lovely tribute to Tablehurst Farm and all who work there – and none of whom I believe have a Swastika on their farm overalls. Funny how people still like to stay stuck in the past rather than celebrate the good sense of the now. I don’t think Monsanto should be attacked for their involvement in human rights attrocities through creating Agent Orange – simply looking at what they do now, not in the past, is enough to demonstrate that clearly Biodynamic Farming should be what we see as the future for agriculture, not the appalling corruption of our food, air and water by companies with no ‘connection’ to soil or humanity.
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From a plaque inscribed at Auschwitz concentration camp:
“Wer die Vergangenheit nicht kennt, ist dazu verurteilt, sie zu wiederholen”
a German rendition of the original English quote by George Santayana, a close contemporary of Rudolf Steiner:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Hello Jeremy! I just posted on the Waldorf-Critics Yahoo group to attract the attention of Professor Peter Staudenmaier, who is quite capable of informing us all about the “complex Nazi and fascist past” of anthroposophy, and specifically about Bio-Dynamics, his present focus of research.
I know he will be pleased by your acknowledgement that Anthroposophists do indeed need to come to terms with their quite complex past history during the Nazi times in both Germany and Italy, for starters.
Herr Doktor Professor Peter Staudenmaier has responded to your characterization of Himmler’s Biodynamic “whim” at Dachau. Since he mentions you by name, I decided to copy the whole comment here and not just provide this link.
The biodynamic movement’s complex Nazi past is a significant stumbling block for many of Steiner’s admirers. It indicates how far anthroposophy still has to go in coming to terms with its own history. It is also a reminder of the unfortunate tradition of Waldorf spokespeople, from Detlef Hardorp to Jeremy Smith, defending anthroposophist Nazis. Though they presumably don’t realize it, these anthroposophists are parroting the same claims made by Nazi officials themselves after 1945, such as Alwin Seifert, the most vocal biodynamic proponent within the Nazi hierarchy, or Nazi Minister of Agriculture Richard Walther Darre. It is striking to find the same disgraceful apologias recycled by Steiner’s followers today.
Much of this has to do with simple historical ignorance. The biodynamic movement’s involvement with the SS went far beyond the Dachau biodynamic estate. And even the Dachau installation itself was hardly just a matter of herb gardens and a greenhouse. The biodynamic plantation at Dachau was a very large complex: the main site was 180 acres, plus two additional plots with over 300 acres, for a total of nearly 500 acres. There were six greenhouses at the main site, plus several laboratories, a mill, a research institute, and more. The plantation work detail — the group of Dachau prisoners assigned to work on the biodynamic estate each day — was the largest in the entire camp.
The extensive biodynamic plantation was an integral part of the Dachau concentration camp and one of the chief centers of biodynamic activity in Nazi Germany. But there were many others. The SS employed biodynamic representatives at camps from Ravensbrück to Auschwitz. Biodynamic practitioners worked faithfully and eagerly on many other Nazi projects, from the “Reichssiedlung Rudolf Hess” to the “Führersiedlung Linz” to the planned “Hermann-Göring-Stadt” to Hitler’s headquarters at Obersalzberg. They also worked for the Wehrmacht and for Nazi occupation authorities in occupied Poland, France, Italy, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
The notion that this was simply some personal whim of Himmler’s is utterly mistaken. A very wide range of high-level Nazi officials supported biodynamics; aside from Himmler, Darre, Hess, and Seifert, they included Robert Ley, Alfred Rosenberg, Otto Ohlendorf, Alfred Bauemler, as well as figures like Rudi Peuckert, head of the Nazi Party’s Office of Agrarian Policy; Günther Pancke, head of the SS Office of Race and Settlement; and Oswald Pohl, administrator of the concentration camp system.
None of this information is difficult to find. Anybody who would like to inform themselves about the biodynamic movement in Nazi Germany can read the article on the topic I published a few years ago in the journal Environmental History. It can be downloaded here:
I wish to thank you and Peter Staudenmaier for bringing to my attention some information about biodynamic agriculture in the Nazi era of which I was completely unaware. I did know of Rudolf Hess’ interest in biodynamics, and you have told me about Himmler’s herb garden and green houses – but I had no idea of the other interactions between Nazis and BD, as set out in Peter Staudenmaier’s paper, Organic Farming in Nazi Germany: The Politics of Biodynamic Agriculture, 1933-1945.
This information makes for shocking and disturbing reading. For an anthroposophist it is also painful to read such an account. As I said in my previous comment to you, “It is time that anthroposophists today became aware of this history – many of us, I suspect, are not. It is as painful for us as it must have been for the French when in 1981 Marcel Ophuls’ two-part film The Sorrow and the Pity was shown on TV and made them aware of the extent of collaborationist activity in France during the Second World War.”
I’ve now no doubt that there must be other skeletons in the anthroposophical cupboard relating to this period. I will do what I can to encourage people who are in positions to do something about this to acknowledge that these things happened and to assist in full disclosure of this tragic history. For those of us who believe that anthroposophy has much to contribute in today’s world, it is galling to realise that our efforts are continually undermined by the movement’s failure so far to acknowledge and own part of our past – of which, I suspect, many, many anthroposophists know little or nothing.
Two corrections, please. Peter Staudenmaier wrote: “It is … a reminder of the unfortunate tradition of Waldorf spokespeople, from Detlef Hardorp to Jeremy Smith, defending anthroposophist Nazis.” I can’t speak for Detlef, who is very capable of speaking for himself; but as someone who has neither worked in a Waldorf school since May 2014, nor holds any position, paid or unpaid, official or unofficial, on behalf of any of the schools, I wish to make it clear that I am not a Waldorf spokesperson; nor, it should be needless to add, am I a defender of anthroposophist Nazis. I am an independent blogger and, as such, I have the freedom to express my own views on any of the topics I choose to write about.
But Tom, however important it is (and it really is important) for anthroposophists to know about the shadow side of the movement, I don’t think you have yet engaged with the point made by startingovershow about your first comment: “Funny how people still like to stay stuck in the past rather than celebrate the good sense of the now. “ Nor have you engaged with the main thrust of my posting, which was to highlight some really positive news about biodynamic farming by comparison with what is happening in conventional agriculture.
I’ve acknowledged that anthroposophists have to recognise some truly shameful deeds from 80 years ago and I’m going to do what I can to make this happen. Now, how about you recognising that right now biodynamic agriculture is offering some positive alternatives for the future of food production, animal welfare, biodiversity, soil integrity, farming and farm workers?
Indeed, it would be good for Tom to acknowledge positive accomplishments in present-day biodynamic agriculture. The past has a history which time effectively resolves, and biodynamics has succeeded in proving that whatever was the motive in bringing gardeners steeped in anthroposophical principles to work for the aims of National Socialism in Germany during the dictatorship of Hitler was based on life, and not on death. The camps were a holding ground for prisoners, yes, but they needed the best yield from crops in order to sustain the lives of those who lived, as well as died.
Any apologia today in detriment to what occurred in the Nazi era as being supported by anthroposophists is unfounded for the simple reason that Germany was looking to regain its rights after having been unduly undermined by the American imperialism which had easily overtaken the first world war, and then proscribed the punishments of the Treaty of Versailles, totally invoked against Germany, as well as further penalties in the form of 33 billion dollars for causing the war in the first place. This had the effect of breaking down the German Democratic Republic with hyper-inflation throughout the 1920’s, even before the onset of the Great Depression of 1929, and led to the dissolving of the Republic, which led to the rise of the Third Reich, and eventual dictatorship in 1933.
If reconstructive support had been given to Germany by the United States, rather than unremitting penalties invoked throughout the 1920’s, which served to destroy the democracy, and led to the dictatorship, then the second world war would have been prevented, and biodynamic agriculture would have a history of peace and prosperity throughout the entire length of the twentieth century, at least since June of 1924, as it certainly does today.
Everyone knows of the nazis deep connections with the occult (swastika being an inverted sun symbol etc etc): of course there would be an attraction to this (as it’s opposite) from their side and (by extension) and -?tragically – vice versa.
Whilst all information is useful and helpful (even if dug up with ill intent) it nonetheless remains the case that these sort of guilt by association attacks are immature and silly whether directed against anthroposophy or other proponents of other non-mainstream positions.
Any movement beyond a certain size will have all sorts in it.
Hitler thugs attacked Steiner after a talk; he said he could never enter Germany again if they came to power; the nazis banned the schools and closed the anthroposophical society.
This form of guilt by association together with the widespread use of ad homonym attacks on the part of the establishment on all manner of alternative viewpoints is in a way a desperate measure designed to deflect from its own crimes (things such as the new trade agreements opening the way for the monsantos to force their way into sovereign countries and hollowing out of the Middle East through all the recent bombing campaigns to name just two) ; moral; intellectual (and increasingly) financial bankruptcy
My apologies, but it amazes me that persons of obvious intellect can pigeon hole their intelligence on such things.
Nothing in and of itself is evil. It is in how it is used that brings about either good or evil. A weapon, to be sure, is conceived and constructed as a tool of destruction but the thing itself is not evil. A man may pick up the weapon and use it in either defense or offense. It is not the weapon that makes that choice.
A method of farming is neither good nor evil. It the use to which a man puts it that brings forth either more good in the world or more evil.
“Modern medicine” (I put that in quotes because sans emergency medical care, I do not engage modern western medicine in my own striving for better health) owes much of it’s knowledge to operation paperclip. By some of the reasoning espoused here, perhaps it would be best if we through out such practices – it might actually benefit mankind for the better.