This past summer while visiting Paul Barre at his vineyard in Fronsac, I was struck by something he said. We were talking about the long road to understanding what is really going on in biodynamic agriculture and he said, “I’ve been practicing biodynamic agriculture for 30 years and still, all I know is this much (showing me the tip of his thumb).” Paul Barre is also attributed with saying, “they’ve stolen our practice and replaced them with their technique” referring to the introduction of the chemicals of war into farming.
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It made me reflect upon the difference in approaches to chemical / industrial farming and biodynamic and organic. There is a kind of hubris and impatience in chemical farming – “we don’t need to follow nature’s rhythms, we can grow anything, anywhere, anytime; we can create the soil we need, we have the technology; we can control disease and conquer pests; we can manipulate the building blocks of life and genetically modify organisms…”
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This hubris has lead to a massive decline in soil quality and an ever-increasing loss of biodiversity. Instead of healthy, vital foods that are rich in nutrients and taste, we have insipid, over grown vegetables and fruits pumped up with water that lack vitality and are poor in nutrients.
The biodynamic farmer on the other hand spends their time observing nature trying to understand what is going on and learning from what they observe. They walk in their fields and vineyards, head down, looking at the life that is around them with an eye to interpreting the signs being transmitted. They humbly admit how little they know, even when they have been practicing their art for years.
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I have seen this humility in pretty well every biodynamic farmer I have met and again when talking with Jean Michel Comme at Pontet Canet in July this past summer. Once a week he walks the entire 80 hectares of vines that he is responsible for, as he says, “with head down like a penitent”. After the oidium and mildew disaster of 2007 when the owner cracked and they decided to deal with the problem chemically (a decision he later regretted), Comme has been humbled and penitent. He claims he knew too little then and has sworn never to have to live through such an ordeal again. And his answer to avoiding such problems is humility – humility before the workings of nature and a willingness to remain as close as possible to its workings the better to understand.
We all know that pride precedes a fall and that in humility there is great virtue. Would that the proud promoters of agribusiness were so wise…
“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
― Mahatma Gandhi