Sarah Raven stocks up with biodynamic veg

The front page of the gardening section in the Telegraph yesterday was devoted to an article by Sarah Raven about Tablehurst farm near Forest Row in East Sussex – a biodynamic farm.

There are the usual beautiful pictures of apparently perfectly formed vegetables and smiling happy gardeners. There are paragraphs on “ethical gardening” and “good husbandry”.

Shame the ethics do not extend to honesty about the real basis of biodynamics, which apart from the moon planting and the use of “tonics”  is Steiner’s belief system anthroposophy – not mentioned once, although Sarah does go so far as to mention “spiritual science”, which is progress.

Sarah says she is a doctor and “at heart a scientist”. If this is so, I hope she will look more closely at anthroposophy. She clearly has doubts about biodynamic techniques, saying

 I found some of what I heard about biodynamics a little other-worldly…

The palaver of burying cow horns seems further than most of us would go…

but then appears to come down firmly in favour;

Whatever one thinks about the biodynamic growing system, there’s no doubt that it does produce the sort of food that we should all be eating…

 Biodynamically grown plants thrive, are flavour-dense – and it’s comforting and inspiring knowing exactly what’s on your plate. I left with my car laden.

Vegetables produced without the cosmic forces and the use of labour from the residents with learning difficulties from the nearby Steiner care home will look and taste just as good, I can assure her. And I defy anyone to select a leafy green picked in the morning rather than in the evening in a blind tasting.

Sarah doesn’t know exactly what’s on her plate, and that is the problem. The vegetables have been produced as part of a belief system most people would find abhorrent.

If she did know, I hope she as a scientist would have left with an empty boot.



  1. Jim

    I’ve not seen the Torygraph article but it sounds like the usual superficial stuff. As a scientist she should be more careful to distinguish association and cause.

    But sorry, I have to slightly disagree about picking time. Particularly with salads and veg where texture is important picking in the morning before the day heats up ( if it does! ) will produce a better result. But if it’s stored or cooked for a long time the difference vanishes.

    Blimey, we’re getting a bit veg talk!

    • Helen

      I don’t know about you but I wash my lettuce, which freshens it up anyway. And the biodynamic people say harvest leafy greens in the morning and roots in the evening – so if I want carrot in my salad I would have to store it overnight. It’s all just made up nonsense.

      • Jim

        If you wash your lettuce you lose all the fairy dust!

        I can’t remember the BD rationale for picking leaves in the morning ( moon influence? ) but they do take up water better through the roots than through the leaves, which are better at losing water. For that reason if you buy carrots with the leaves attached you should remove them asap. Maybe if you pick root veg at night the transpiration during the day will have drawn more water in through the feeder roots and so firmed up the edible root. I’m not sure about that but it is possibly one of those cases where superstition comes up with a sensible practice but for entirely nonsensical reasons. And if there is any effect at all I suspect it’s very small.

        As for planting by the moon – I read somewhere that a fat man walking past your veg exerts a stronger gravitational influence than the moon.

  2. Simon Charter

    Dear Helen and Jim, I admire the determination with which you wish to address the issue of the spread of work taking ideas to work with from Steiner. You are correct in your basic position that none of us should follow any leader or authority in an unquestioning way- this should always be our starting point when approaching any ideas which do not immediately make sense to us. It would actually bely weakness if we did just accept them as from a higher authority and I have to admit, when reflecting to having found myself in that position in the past, and it is only through self reflecting that we can develop beyond such things . However my reading of Steiner’s works suggests to me that his strongest wish was the same, that no-one take his words on authority but to test for themselves if the ideas could be helpful. You may also find if you look into it directly that his aim is to help his readers or listeners to become their own authority. His first main work, the Philosophy of Freedom was written to address this very point, to show the possibility for people to become free thinking individuals
    I have become aware of other movements offering self development that will use powers of persuasion to gain adherents. I have never seen the use of such powers to “convert ” people to anthroposophy or spiritual science. I would be grateful if you could show me where you have seen this. Most children leaving Steiner schools do not have a wish to become involved in it , nor do they wish to reject it, they wish to find their own way of making sense of the world.
    thanks again for raising awareness of these things,
    yours, Simon.

    • Helen

      Hello Simon
      So if I read you right you are saying that you approached Steiner’s ideas with an open mind and found they made sense to you, and no persuasion was used to get you involved in using anthroposophical ideas. Would that be correct?

      …the issue of the spread of work taking ideas to work with from Steiner.

      Hmm – that’s not quite how I would put it, but there is a long tradition here of Steiner commenters making out that they are just “inspired “by Steiner and don’t really think he was clairvoyant . Do you?
      Are you the same person who has a flowform business locally?
      Perhaps you approached anthroposophy with the same attitude as the teachers who decided it was ok to put weights on a 6 year old’s legs to ground him.
      I would say water features are a much less harmful manifestation of Steiner’s “indications” than what is done to children and vulnerable adults in Steiner schools and camphill, but you are all followers of Steiner, nearly 100 years after his death.
      He claimed to be clairvoyant, and back in those days there was no tv so I guess people were more easily impressed by such nonsense. The devotion and diligence with which the descendents of Steiner’s initial group of disciples have worked to preserve his legacy is impressive, and I would say largely aided by the fact that they have found they can make a living out of this lifestyle.

      They do their best to indoctrinate children and other unfortunate victims,as you will have read if you have done any research, but it doesn’t matter to them if some of these people don’t end up in anthroposophy. As long as they can have an influence at the right stage of spiritual development, and also thereby increase their own chances of a successful incarnation next time round,having worked on their own spiritual development as they see it, they will be satisfied.
      Are you a believer in reincarnation yourself Simon? You have commented on a post about biodynamics – one of the less objectionable aspects of Steiner, But this kind of activity aids the people who run the schools and camphill where the damage is really done, so it does not escape my critical assessment.

    • Helen

      Oh I see…just read this on the flowforms website;

      Flowforms are widely used in the process of Biodynamic Preparations and as part of natural water treatment systems.

      Has the research proved that flowforms purify water, then?

  3. Jim

    Hello Simon

    I’m afraid that saying “I’m not telling you how to think but only offering guidance” is one of the oldest rhetorical tricks going. If you can persuade someone that the ideas you are implanting are in fact their own they will become much more deeply embedded. That was Steiner’s way and his keenest followers continue it.

    I do not comment on direct experience of Steiner institutions because I have none – there are plenty of others who can provide eloquent testimony. I’m often surprised how his defenders inadvertently display in their replies the very characteristics his critics complain of. Be that as it may, my criticisms are directed to the ideas which are riddled with deceptions, meaningless jargon, pseudoscience and plain disregard for the concept of evidence. In short a sustained attack on humanity’s most precious quality – our rationality.

    As for flow forms – they can look nice, and of course swirling fluids is good for oxygenation, dispersing suspensions and so on. It’s physics, not magic. No need for cosmic forces. Actually Anthroposophy’s use of science is a bit like a child playing with a brass sextant. He knows it’s pretty but has no understanding of what it’s for.

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