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Strengthening the Heart of the Food Movement: Biodynamics and the Deregulation of GMO Alfalfa

March 4, 2011

By Robert Karp
Executive Director, Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association

The wider food movement, of which I consider the biodynamic movement to be an intimate and integral part, suffered two devastating blows the past month—blows which have evoked much pain and which deserve much reflection.

The first and most obvious blow was the USDA’s decision to deregulate genetically modified alfalfa and several other crops. The second, less obvious but no less important blow, was the widely circulated letter of Ronnie Cummings of the Organic Consumers Association claiming a kind of complicity among large players in the organic industry in these USDA decisions. (An alternative view can be found here.) The first blow was ecological, political and economic. The second blow cut right to the social heart of the food movement.

Is there a helpful light that can be shed on these events from a biodynamic perspective?

A guiding concept within biodynamics is that of the “farm organism.” The idea is to conceive of the farm biologically and “spiritually” as a whole organism rather than mechanistically as a collection of “parts” to be manipulated for purely human ends. The farm organism does have “parts,” so to speak (i.e. woods, crop ground, animals, vegetables, wetlands, pastures, etc.), but these are worked with in a far more holistic, integrated and ethical way than the parts of a machine. And each “part” is also thought of as a whole—that is, as living organisms of integrity unto themselves.

The creative work of the farmer thus involves bringing the diverse elements of the farm into such a dynamic relationship that the whole farm takes on the life of a self-sustaining eco-system. In this way, a profoundly healthy environment is created in which soils, plants, animals and human beings can truly thrive. This is the ideal, anyway, to which basically all biodynamic farmers strive along with many organic farmers and others who have come to this approach out of their own life experience.

The idea of human beings splicing together genes from completely different organisms and species and even kingdoms of nature in order to create wholly new organisms is nothing less than a mechanistic, technological perversion of the picture of the true vocation of the farmer presented here, i.e. of the farmer as a social-artistic creator of farm organisms. And thus it is in the proliferation of these kinds of farms and farmers that I would suggest lays the ultimate antidote to genetic engineering.

But we also need to be active politically and economically. While the concept of the farm organism has been gaining more and more recognition outside of biodynamics, it is less well known that this way of looking at the farm can also be applied to political, economic and social realities. In doing so, radical new ways of approaching social change and the transformation of capitalism can be discerned. Community Supported Agriculture, for example, was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s efforts in this direction. (See, for example, McFadden, Steven, “The History of Community Supported Agriculture Part I Community Farms in the 21st Century: Poised for Another Wave of Growth?”)

In my 2007 essay “Toward an Associative Economy in the Sustainable Food and Farming Movement” (available here), I pointed to many examples of the promising emergence of an associative or “organismic” economy in our midst and suggested a number of ways to strengthen these efforts. And I proposed that the key challenge facing the wider food movement derives from the fact that we have attempted to embed a holistic approach to agriculture into a conventional, toxic economic and political landscape which, by its very nature will tend to erode the values at the foundation of the food movement.

In that essay, I also pointed to the tension between the grassroots, activist, non-profit wing of the food movement and the pragmatic, industry, for-profit wing—and highlighted the need for these two groups to come together to find common ground and develop more synergistic economic practices and political strategies.

The events of the past month suggest to me again that we stand in great need within the food movement of realizing that our core values are based on wholly different way of thinking about nature, social life and the human being than those informing mainstream institutions. If we think we can easily graft the food movement onto the current social and economic forms, without working to transform the whole system, we are, I believe, profoundly mistaken. At the same time, I do not believe we are called upon to withdraw from society and attempt to set up quaint little agricultural islands for foodies.

In this light, I would suggest that what is most deeply needed right now, in the wake of the recent deregulation of GMO alfalfa and other crops, is not to stand back and point fingers, or even simply gear up for bigger and better lawsuits against Monsanto (which is not to say these do not have their place, particularly the lawsuits). Rather, I think these events call us all, idealists and pragmatists, activists and industry leaders, farmers and consumers alike to come together to develop a more comprehensive, holistic and “organismic” vision for our work, and a more seamless, dynamic ecosystem of strategies for accomplishing our goals.

The fact is we need each other and the diverse perspectives, skills and resources we bring to the table. We need to leverage and harmonize the unique capacities and strategies of our for-profits and our non-profits; of our farmer groups, consumer groups and trade groups; our educators, researchers and activists; our foundations, angel investors and philanthropists. Only by coming together in this way and thinking outside the box, can we hope to navigate and transform the treacherous landscape of our current political and economic life, while strengthening, at the same time, the social heart, the social organism, of our movement.

We must find new ways to transform our economy of winners and losers into an economy of producers, distributers and consumers working together with capital providers to meet the needs of all. And we must find new ways to conceive the right role of government in our movement, and so transform our politics of insiders and outsiders, into a true democracy that can embody the will and wisdom of the whole community.

Finally, as biodynamic practitioners, I would suggest that we must join unreservedly in this task. For we too have often attempted to naively embed biodynamics into the existing social, economic and political forms or withdrawn into our agricultural islands. Rather it is time to join forces, in all humility, with our brothers and sisters in the wider food movement and bring our best ideas to the table, so that the pain of the past months can be transformed into new hope, new insights and a new vision for the future.

In a further contribution I plan to deepen these perspectives and share more specifics of what I think some concrete next steps along these lines could look like.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 3:22 pm

    Estoy de acuerdo con la visión de unir fuerzas con nuestros hermanos y hermanas en el movimiento de los alimentos en general, para generar esperanza, nuevas ideas y una nueva visión para el futuro.

  2. DAR / North Florida permalink
    March 5, 2011 5:55 pm

    GMO: The complete corporate takeover of the worlds food and seed industries.
    Washington has been bought and sold before your very eyes.
    The worlds largest major food commodities are now tightly under the control of a few
    very wealthy chemical monopolies.

  3. Ryan Keisling permalink
    March 16, 2011 11:10 am

    I love the ideas and the positive outlook, but the fact is once this stuff is growing our food system is polluted beyond repair; there is no turning back, there is no putting a positive spin on things. That is pure imagination when GMO alfalfa is polluting EVERY LEGUMINOUS SPECIES in nature. As a society we have sealed our fate by allowing this to happen. It is great to sit in an office and write about this stuff, but what about the farmers that are helpless to defend against the cross pollination that will literally destroy their well being? Every organic minded entity has failed to protect the “movement” from that and the deregulation of this stuff has dealt a fatal blow to anything “organic.” I invite anyone to show me how I am wrong?

    • David permalink
      March 16, 2011 4:59 pm

      You are not wrong.

      While I appreciate the sentiments of the article’s author, I feel that he is going after a mammoth with a fly swatter. These corporations are little more than greed driven gangsters and thugs, and will stop at nothing to achieve their ends, which is complete control of our food supply.

      We have been sold out by our congressional reps and our federal agencies. I’ve been battling this madness for years, with no real results. I will keep on fighting, even though it looks quite bleak.

      They are now beginning to plant gm eucalyptus trees in the southeast, I suppose with dreams of gigantic invasive forests spreading from horizon to horizon. In the end, if nothing stops this juggernaut, a few big corporations will own our food supply, and we will eat it or starve. One can hope for a bolt of lightning from an angry God, or a tremendous crop failure that illustrates the madness of relying on ‘manmade’ lifeforms.

      I’m sure that if enough mainstream people become aware of this situation and refuse to buy gmo products, the industry, which is based entirely on greed, may back down. After all, money is everything, isn’t it?

      I do sense a kind of awakening among some of our youth of the importance of good, nutritious food, which is encouraging. After all, the future is theirs, and they need to make sure it is livable. And I, and others like me, will continue to fight. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  4. Anna permalink
    June 28, 2013 10:07 am

    good for you and bio dynamics, and your striving. The GMOs may have government support. And what is ‘worldly’, what can we do but give it away?> Render unto Ceaser …. his GM crops and dollars. And if the people did not stop it, or even began to believe they needed it…what can you do even? But when they want to take GM crops to poor people in countries devastated by industrial chemical practices already, what can we do? I would like to see more bio dynamic farming in Africa and India, and farms that enable them to keep thier own seed, as they have for generations and their livelihoods and natures depend. It is catastrophic and evil what is happening to farmers via GMO in poor countries. It is good that biodynamics is being taught in India and anywhere. The spirit of what is taught is important , to keep alive. Just as any advance of bad practices should not mitigate the striving to bring good practices. It should strengthen our striving. the authorities promoting greedy, dominion must be exposed and seen for what they are doing, in order to moved away from and for us to evolve and reject their dominion, even if we must begin again through natural and ‘man generated disaster’, which is what is currently occurring, and is preferable to furthur domination by such evil. The geo engineering is another example of this (what I perceive as) negative dominion.


  1. Strengthening the heart of the food movement — Biodynamic farming and the recent de-regulation of GMO alfalfa | The Bovine
  2. Strengthening the Heart of the Food Movement: Biodynamics and the Deregulation of GMO Alfalfa (via Biodynamics Blog) | wellnessdharma

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