Lord Northbourne coined the words “Organic Farming” in his book Look to the Land in 1939. It uses the ideals of the Austrian Rudolf Steiner, philosopher, reformer, and self-proclaimed clairvoyant, to combine science and spiritual thought into a new approach to life, religion, and agriculture, embracing the natural science of the mind and spirit of humanity.  This all sounds a bit weird, and it is. Steiner was a student of a school of scientists that combined spirit and culture with fringe science that he called Geisteswissenschaft (spiritual science), a more magical approach to earthly tangible things like growing food.  

The German Romantic movement, created and expanded by the German poet, Johan Wolfgang Göthe, resisted pure mechanical science, which relies on physical knowledge, analysis, and classification.  Göthe felt that science had become obsessed with accumulating data, thus shriveling the interplay between humanity and nature that Göthe championed in his scientific work, Metamorphosis of Plants.

It is this philosophy that inspired Steiner to look at plants from a spiritual point of view.  After all, we “are what we eat!” From that, it follows that if we eat the right things, we will improve ourselves. Conversely, if we eat the wrong things, we shall deteriorate.  

Now for the magic. Steiner surmised that all those things that are man-made, i.e., synthetic are bad and do not conform to the normal nature of things, especially things we internalize, such as food. He was also enchanted with the ancient origins, what Göthe called the Urpflanze (the archetypical plant). How did Steiner know that man-made was bad and what nature created was good? And how did ancient improve on modern? He guessed. But did he guess right? Arsenic and strychnine are natural products too, but certainly not good for humans.

Nitrogen is a crucial element for the growth of plants. Despite its abundance, usable nitrogen was difficult to come by.  The tanning industry of the 1800s would pay people to bring their urine to them for the manufacture of pliable, hairless, and soft leather.  They did pay well, and the poor all sold their urine in a pot.  The term, “He is so poor, he doesn’t have a pot to piss in,” comes from that era. Nitrogen is the most plentiful element of air, but most plants have no mechanisms to get nitrogen out of the air. Bat feces (Guano) was a valuable product that you can still buy at your local garden supply as fertilizer for your tomatoes. It has NH3 (ammonia)and, as you might guess, a lot more. Guano was also the source of  Sodium Nitrate (Chilean saltpeter) from which explosives could be manufactured. In 1909 Fritz Haber, a German Jew, invented the process of how to make ammonia from the air, and the Guano market crashed. The synthetic fertilizer was born, and with it, the source of all the explosives for World War I.

NH3 is made by a process called the Haber-Bosch process, which earned those two the Nobel Prize in 1918 for Haber and 1930 for Bosch. Currently, the yearly world production of related compounds used for fertilizer is 150 million tons which is absolutely essential to feed the 9 billion people of the world. Those sources are strictly forbidden for Organic Farming because they are “man-made.” The active ingredient, NH3 made from air, is of course, the same as in guano.  How exactly manure from bats, birds, cows, or even humans that contains ammonia is better than extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere, making the same compound NH3 is not known. Rudolf Steiner must have used some of his clairvoyant skills to elucidate this fact. It nevertheless remains hidden in the mysticism of Organic Farming, harkening back to the spiritual science of Johan Wolfgang Göthe.  Silly me, here I thought air was cleaner than shit. 

Organic Farming lent itself to much interpretation, variation, and even fraud. The USDA stepped in and created standards in the 1990s. To date, no evidence exists that consuming organically grown plants or animals is healthier, has more nutrition, or is safer than regular grown agricultural products. The USDA created a list of allowed substances approved for Organic Farming that included synthetics you would not believe, like ethylene, a synthesized hydrocarbon sourced from petrochemicals, but also many compounds that you would not think they would allow, such as ethanol, copper hydroxide, chlorine dioxide, chlorhexidine, iodine, and oxytocin (the love hormone being involved with maternal behavior, sex, and mammalian milk production). They certainly did not include growth hormone, which is forbidden! And, under no circumstances can synthetic products made from nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium be used, but synthetic chemicals derived from sulfates, carbonates, oxides, or silicates of zinc, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt are given magical dispensations. I wonder if the Organic Farming establishment has someone like the Pope that makes all these infallible decisions “ex-cathedra” as to what is and is not allowed and what criteria he or she uses to decide.

Today science applies only to the physical world, not to spiritism. If it is measurable, it is science. If it can’t be measured, it is religion. It appears Organic Farming is more of a religion than an agricultural enterprise. I conclude that Steiner did not know what he was talking about, and the whole of Organic Farming is a fabricated belief system, with nothing that scientists would call science. It requires an unswerving trust, loyalty, (and more money) to something for which you have no proof and no confirmation of its validity, sort of like the picture above.