Biodynamic Organic-Intellectuals

This article was first published by State of Nature on April 21, 2013.

Biodynamic organic

Magical thinking has a long history of involvement among leading intellectuals within the global organic agricultural movement and with bourgeois intellectuals more generally; with one of the most influential proponents of such organic connections being the Christian spiritualist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). As the founder of a bizarre movement known as Anthroposophy, Steiner was a true believer in miracles, and the year before he died he presented a series of lectures to farmers in Europe that expounded the principles of what would come to be known as the biodynamic cultivation: a mystical form of farming that averred that astral and zodiacal forces could be harnessed by farmers to maximize agricultural productivity. Eager to spread Steiner’s ideas in Britain, in 1928 his green disciples set up the Anthroposophical Agricultural Association (which is now known as the Biodynamic Agricultural Association). This Associations explicitly New Age approach to farming, however, did not sit well with all budding organic agriculturalists. But while influential individuals in the secular farming movement, like Sir Albert Howard, were uncompromisingly skeptical about biodynamic cultivation, Steiner’s magical ideas were readily accepted by many leading members of the organic movement.

A useful, albeit largely uncritical, history of the organic movement that deals with Rudolf Steiner’s magical legacy is provided in Philip Conford’s enlightening book The Development of the Organic Network: Linking People and Themes, 1945-95 (Floris Books, 2011) – Floris Books being the leading publisher of Steinerite “non-fiction” in the UK. However, in light of Conford’s rather selective history of the influence of Anthroposophical ideas on the organic movement, this article will excavate Conford’s study for information that can throw critical light on the problematic institutionalization of mumbo jumbo within the organic movement. In this way this article aims to explore the manner by which organic activists have had the misfortune of being inspired by Steiner’s thoroughly anti-modern, eco-mystical biodynamics.

Conford begins by, what I hope will be demonstrated in this article, wrongly downplaying the influence of biodynamic farming on the organic movement. He writes that while biodynamic farming certainly influenced the agricultural movement, it was Sir Albert Howard, not Steiner, who should be considered to be “the key figure in the development of the British organic movement.” He continues: “The organic movement’s opponents, however, prefer to place the emphasis on Steiner, since the esoteric nature of his agricultural theories provides better ammunition for mockery of the movement’s supposedly irrational philosophy.”[1] Of course there is plenty of basis for such attacks and Conford himself acknowledges that it “seems clear that the biodynamic movement has played a significant role in the development of the British organic movement”: “not because its ideas are essential to the organic philosophy,” but because of the industrious activities of many of the biodynamic proponents within their midst.[2] Conford surmises:

During its first twenty years its [the Soil Associations] Council and Advisory Panel of Experts included as members committed exponents of biodynamics such as Maye Bruce, Lady Cynthia Chance (at one time the BAA’s Honorary Secretary), Lance Coates, Deryck Duffy and Laurence Easterbrook, along with others who experimented with biodynamic techniques or studied Anthroposophy: Rolf Gardiner and Aubrey Westlake, for instance. Steiner’s disciple Ehrenfried Pfeiffer was another important link with the early Soil Association: he had spoken at a conference held on Lord Northbourne’s estate in the summer of 1939 and been guest of honour at a two-week Kinship in Husbandry conference in 1950. When Faber published his books Soil Fertility and The Earth’s Face in 1947 they featured introductions by Eve Balfour and Sir George Stapledon respectively. Pfeiffer had settled in the USA long before the war, and Balfour visited him there on her tour of America in 1951. Lawrence Hills was another pioneer who made early contact with the biodynamic movement, reading about Steiner in 1942 and visiting Maurice Wood’s farm the same year. (However, Hills did not accept the movement’s assumptions and for many years challenged the biodynamic farmer John Soper in particular to consider that he might be wrong.) (p.79)

Biodynamic tensions within the organic movement are longstanding, as rationally-minded critics have always argued that Rudolf Steiner’s magical agricultural beliefs have no place in a movement aiming to make the world a better, fairer, and less toxic place. Such criticisms however hold little water with the Soil Association; and one should ask why they chose to employ a biodynamic farmer to help direct their comparative study of organic farming and conventional chemical-based farming (otherwise known as the Haughley Experiment). The individual in question being Deryck Duffy, who was a member of the Soil Association’s “original Panel of Experts and became, with Friend Sykes, a co-director of the Organic section of the Haughley Experiment.”[3] The answer to this question no doubt lies in the aristocratic roots of the Soil Association, whose elitist pedigree correlates nicely with the determinedly anti-materialistic and anti-socialist thinking of their leading activists and organic-intellectuals.

Take the case of David Clement, a farmer who had been “committed to Anthroposophy since 1930,” and whose farm served as the headquarters of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association during the 1950s and ’60s.[4] In 1982 Clement, who eventually resigned as Chairman of the BAA in 1986, was selected to serve on the founding steering committee of British Organic Farmers alongside Soil Association members Patrick Holden (who would later spend 15 years as the Director of the Association and then become a BAA patron), Lawrence Woodward (who would become the Chairman of the Association’s standards committee), and Richard Mayall (whose father was a former Vice President of the Soil Association). The bourgeois (and some would argue irrational) line taken by such green capitalists is exemplified by a booklet their organization published in 1990, Organic Farming: An Option for the Nineties, which was sponsored by none other than Barclays Bank.[5] Such a pro-capitalist approach to social change was unfortunately nothing new for the organic movements leading lights. Take by way of another example the case of Charlotte Mitchell, who in the mid-1980s had produced The Organic Wine Guide (with Iain Wright), and contributed to the Green Consumer Guide. “High-level positions in the Soil Association followed: Treasurer in 1991 and Chair for seven years from 1992, during which period Craig Sams [see later] was Treasurer.” Mitchell proudly takes credit for establishing organic foods in leading British supermarket chain, Waitrose.[6]

This mention of Waitrose then brings us to another undemocratic member of the ruling class, the Prince of Wales. Long enamored by the work of the Soil Association, in 1986 he converted his Duchy Home Farm to a completely organic system. Then in 1990 the Prince launched his very own organic food brand, Duchy Originals. Since its inception, Waitrose has prided itself on being Duchy Originals largest customer, and in 2009, the supermarket signed an agreement that it could manufacture and sell food under the Duchy Originals brand name. Although Duchy Home Farm is not run along bio-dynamic principles, it does run regular courses on bio-dynamic farming. Moreover it is noteworthy that Duchy’s Head Farmer, David Wilson (and former Soil Association council member), resides on the management committee of the Elm Farm Organic Research Centre – a body which was established in 1980 with the aid of another organic-obsessed member of the ruling class, David Astor.


Elm Farm can take some credit for putting Prince Charles firmly on the organic bandwagon, because as a part of the Centre’s 30th birthday celebrations the Prince paid them high tribute indeed, acknowledging that: “Had it not been for the help and advice of Elm Farm Organic Research Centre (and the uniquely special Lawrence Woodward), we would not have been able to convert the farm at Highgrove to the organic system some twenty-five years ago.” Here we might add, the man the Prince spoke so fondly of, Lawrence Woodward, was actually first exposed to organic thinking of a New Age variety during his adolescence when he spent a year studying at Dartington Hall. And it was here during his temporary residence at this special school that he met David Astor’s daughter Alice, whom he subsequently married in 1972.[7]

Evidently around this time David Astor’s friend E.F. Schumacher had aroused his concerns with all things environmental, and so in “In 1975, Astor and Woodward met Schumacher to discuss ‘the need to develop “preliminary examples” … of technologies and approaches that could bring about a society where production and consumption were more appropriate to a world of finite and diminishing resources.’ The first subject they considered was organic farming.” As a result of this intervention, Woodward picked up the organic mantle and the following year began “farming organically on part of the Springhead estate at Fontmell Magna in Dorset, which had once belonged to Rolf Gardiner. This was arranged through Schumacher, who was Chairman of the Springhead Trust.”[8]

David Astor’s brother Jacob, who was chairman of the Agricultural Research Council, made it clear that no official body was likely to undertake scientific research into organic farming — such was the intellectual curiosity of officialdom – so Woodward, with his father-in-law’s support, established the Progressive Farming Trust and bought Elm Farm (previously a conventionally run dairy farm of 232 acres), registering it as a charity in 1980 and holding meetings that year with various research establishments, thanks to the Astor connection. (p.319)

Having already met Dr Hartmut Vogtmann in Switzerland, Woodward invited him to join the Elm Farm Research Centre’s council. In 1992 Vogtmann subsequently became their Research Director, a position he maintained until 2011. (Prior to this Vogtmann had founded the Swiss-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (in 1978), and in 1981 was “appointed the world’s first professor in organic agriculture”.) In 2010 Woodward stepped down from the head of Elm Farm, and in his place stepped Prof. Nic Lampkin: a man whose mother had been a disciple of Rudolf Steiner, and had been sent to a Steiner school, though as Conford clarifies, “he did not, as an adult, adopt his mother’s spiritual philosophy.”[9]

Stepping back slightly one should note that E.F. Schumacher had been a member of the Soil Association since 1951, only becoming their President in 1971.[10] However, throughout the 1960s and ’70s he wrote regular articles for his friend and patron, David Astor, which were published in The Observer. Yet although Schumacher is often presented as a straight-talking rationalist who had worked for twenty years as the Chief Economic Adviser to the National Coal Board, Steiner-esque mysticism had left its traces on his mind too. Such influences are evident in his contribution to the journal Resurgence, which Schumacher helped found in 1966.[11] As Conford reflects:

It seems to me that Schumacher’s place in the history of the organic movement is not only as an influence on the younger, environmentally minded generation who joined it in the 1970s, but also in the stream of organicist thought represented by [Philip] Mairet’s generation. As a thinker, Schumacher came to have a good deal in common with Mairet. Both were influenced by Eastern philosophy and both had read the writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy. Both were familiar with the esoteric system of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky: this influence is evident in Schumacher’s book A Guide for the Perplexed (1977). Both came to forms of Catholic Christianity: Anglican in Mairet’s case, Roman in Schumacher’s. Schumacher’s posthumously published book Good Work (1979) addressed the same sorts of concern as Torn Heron, decades earlier, had done, and from a similar standpoint owing a good deal to medieval social thought. And there exists a strong family resemblance between Schumacher’s Intermediate Technology and the small-scale machinery which L.T.C. Rolt – another organicist writer with sympathy for the medieval order – advocated in Massingham’s 1947 symposium The Small Farmer. Schumacher was also familiar with the work of Rene Guenon, whom he described as ‘one of the few significant metaphysicians of our time’ and whose book The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times Lord Northbourne had translated. It is not too difficult, in fact, to imagine Schumacher in the company of the Chandos Group and the New English Weekly’s editorial board. (pp.361-62)

Another man proud to stand in Astor’s stable of reporters at The Observer was the biodynamic man of mystery John Davy, “who, under the pseudonym Charles Waterman, had written a book on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas, The Three Spheres of Society (1946).” In 1954 Astor had successfully snapped him up, enticing him to join his paper as their first full-time science correspondent.[12] When Davy left The Observer in 1970 he became the Acting Principal at Emerson College, a facility which provided adult education based on his guru’s work, Steiner not Astor. Between 1969 and 1971 Davy then acted as a member of the Soil Association’s Editorial Board, but more importantly, with regard his biodynamic commitments, he went on to become the General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society.[13]

Moving on to another Astorite, in 1954 Lawrence D. Hills made his own important contribution to the organic movement by forming the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA, now known as Garden Organic). “1958 was a turning-point for Hills in another respect: David Astor appointed him gardening correspondent of The Observer, and the money he earned as a journalist helped fund the HDRA’s work.” In December 1986, Hills stepped down as HDRA’s Director and became its President, Alan Gear was appointed Chief Executive, and his wife Jackie became General Manager. “With increasing public concern about ‘the potential long-term risks to health from consuming food containing pesticide residues’, growing one’s own fruit and vegetables organically became an appealing alternative, the idea being boosted by the mid-1980s television series All Muck and Magic?, which featured Alan and Jackie Gear and attracted more than three million viewers.” This television series should not however be taken as proof that the HDRA was clean of magic, as one of their council members, had been the both the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer to the Biodynamic Agricultural Association.[14]

Founding member of the Soil Association, Lord Kitchener, acted as the President of the Henry Doubleday Research Association from 1973 until 2008, and in 1960, he provided financial backing for the creation of Wholefood of Baker Street. Other than Kitchener, the main mover behind this retailing project was Donald Wilson, who in 1959 had taken a year’s sabbatical from the Soil Association to set up the Organic Food Society before opening premises in Baker Street the following year. Another key individual who supported the Wholefood shop was the American violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, who amongst his prior spiritual achievements is recognized as having introduced the yoga teachings of B. K. S. Iyengar to many in the West.[15]

Around the time that the Wholefood Baker Street shop was taking off, American macrobiotic diet enthusiasts Craig and Gregory Sams waltzed into town, and determined to serve only organic produce they “established Seed Restaurant in West London in 1967.” Gregory Sams in particular quickly made good connections within the organic network, serving for a short time on the Soil Association’s Standards Committee during the early 1970s, and forming “a good relationship” with Lilian Schofield, Mary Langman and David Stickland. In 1971, Gregory and Sam, with their father’s support, founded Seed, a monthly magazine of the alternative and complementary health movement. Seed “contained many elements of what would come to be known as ‘New Age’ thinking, and was often distinctively pagan in tone.”[16]

Readers irritated by Seed’s tendency towards mysticism were rebuked in an editorial which praised those ‘romantics’ who wanted to resist the seemingly inevitable drift to an Orwellian society. A bit of romantic mysticism harmed nobody, and made those who adopted it much happier. ‘If a group of mystics like the Findhorn Trust … consult elves to grow organic crops, and are successful in doing so, is that bad?’ The magazine in fact instituted a regular feature on mysticism, ‘Messages from a Star’, urging its readers to reject the complexities of technology and exploitation of the natural world, relying instead on the inner resources of a refreshed spirit and the outer resources of God’s generosity as revealed in nature. (p.233)

In 1972 Seed’s secretary was Sue Coppard, which is significant because the year before, while working as the secretary at Resurgence magazine, she had founded Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms with help provided courtesy of John Davy’s biodynamic farm (at Emerson College).[17] Moving to the present, Greg Sams still maintains his family’s commitment to mysticism and recently published the book Sun Of God: Discover the Self-Organizing Consciousness That Underlies Everything (Weiser Books, 2009). His brother Craig, on the other hand, adopted a more secular approach to life, founding Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate in 1991 (which is now owned by Cadbury’s), and now serves on the Soil Association’s certification board, having previously served as both Honorary Treasurer and Chair of the Association.

One Soil Association activist who blazed the trail for the educational path eventually trod by Lawrence Woodward in the 1960s, is Victor Bonham-Carter, author of Dartington Hall: The Formative Years, 1925-1957 (Exmoor Press, 1958). During the early 1970s Bonham-Carter served as a chairman of the Soil Association’s Editorial Board and as a Council member, and his book, The Survival of the English Countryside (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971), is credited as catalyzing Peter Segger’s move towards the organic movement. Formerly in the frozen fish trade, in 1974 Segger had sold his business, and in 1975 he established the Soil Association’s West Wales Group; later being elected to the Association’s Council in 1977 as the regional representative for the West. Around this time, Segger’s West Wales Group was considered to be one of the two Regional Groups whose activities “were particularly important” to the promotion of organic agriculture (the other being the Epsom Group).[18]

None too surprisingly “Segger was attracted to Steiner’s ideas,” but another important member of this thriving West Wales Group was self-sufficiency guru John Seymour, whose Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency (Dorling Kindersky, 1976) “was so successful that it had an unpredictable commercial result: the emergence of its publishers Dorling Kindersky as a force to be reckoned with, enabling Peter Kindersley to become one of the twenty-first century’s growing band of ‘organic millionaires’.” The Epsom Group likewise turned out to be something of a success story, and one of the key movers in this group was Dr Anthony Deavin, a “scientist with an interest in biodynamic techniques and experiments.”[19]

Deavin’s scientific background was impeccable: first-class honours in Chemistry at Queen Mary College, leading to a doctorate at King’s College, London; research at Heidelberg and a lectureship in biochemistry at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. In tandem with this career, Deavin developed more esoteric interests. He had been taught Economics at the [deceptively named] School of Economic Science by a land reform enthusiast, and through him was introduced to the ideas of Henry George and the Natural Law tradition. When he first came across Mother Earth he recognized the same tradition in it: the need to work in harmony with nature. Although the natural law philosophy is an attitude to life, not a scientific theory, Deavin was struck by the idea that the Haughley farms could be used as a resource, and that he might be able to provide a bridge between the natural law tradition and Reginald Milton’s measurements. His holistic philosophy was already in place before he joined the Soil Association, which he did in 1969, the same year that he was appointed to the staff of the North-East Surrey College of Technology at Ewell, as Research Director in the Department of Biological Sciences. (p.323)

The courses Deavin ran at Ewell College in turn “attracted a younger generation” to the Soil Association’s work, providing their new recruits with a unique educative blend of science and mysticism.[20] Later in his career Deavin departed from any pretense of science and devoted himself more completely to the esoteric doctrines he had picked up from Steiner: from the 1980s onwards he studied at the School of Herbal Medicine and eventually took up the practice of spiritual healing.[21]

After his departure from Ewell, Mary Langman wrote to Bryn Lewis, the Soil Association’s General Secretary, recording her view that the Association owed Deavin a great debt for the courses which he had organized at Ewell during the 1970s and the lectures he had given. He was an Association Council member, an architect of organic standards with Hugh Coates, scientific advisor to the HDRA from 1973 to 1979, and also a member of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association. (p.325)

Following very much in Deavin’s footsteps, Jack Temple, who was the author of Here’s Health Guide to Gardening Without Chemicals (HarperCollins, 1986), had also lectured at Ewell during the 1970s. But while Conford reserved judgment about Deavin’s mental state, in the case of Temple he says that he eventually went “down the route of a particularly bizarre form of alternative healing”; adding that his friends Alan and Jackie Gear (from the HDRA) commented that he “went nutty.” In this example, Conford seems momentarily unaware of how normal such occult interests were for those involved in organic and biodynamic circles. This is despite the fact that Conford mentions that in 1984 Temple had helped sponsor the Festival of Mind, Body, Spirit – a New Age festival that counted influential anthroposophist Sir George Trevelyan among it cofounders. Conford thus considers it “a tragic anti-climax” that Temple’s life ended with him becoming a homeopathic dowser healer for Cherie Blair. In reality this is not so much a tragic anti-climax but rather an understandable career choice given his involvement with the Soil Association.[22]

That such anti-modernist thinking as that exemplified by Rudolf Steiner and his occult successors has become institutionalized within the organic movement clearly demonstrates the pressing need for a Marxist alternative to managing our world for the benefit of all. The task that now lies at hand is difficult and involves building a mass movement of the working class to rid our world of bourgeois predators who, on the one hand, consume the planet to enrich themselves, and then offer us irrational solutions to distract us, to enable them to continue to sustainably rape the planet. One step towards building such a democratic movement will involve disentangling nonsensical ruling-class environmental theories from those that will strengthen eco-socialist concerns for the future. In this way, we can learn from previous mistakes, and continue to build movements capable of generating the type of popular momentum for social change that will eventually be capable of eradicating, and not just domesticating, capitalism.


[1] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.77.

[2] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.93. “This occurred through the quiet influence of Steinerians such as Katherine Castelliz, David Clement and Siegfried Rudel on certain younger members of the organic movement who became prominent in it; and through the part which the biodynamic movement played in helping to establish organic standards.” (p.93)

[3] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.84.

[4] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.84, p.85. Clement’s grandson, Sebastian Parsons, is presently the chair of the Biodynamic Agricultural Association.

[5] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.113, p.115. “In the mid-1990s, BOF and OGA [the Organic Growers Association], who had long been sharing the offices at Colston Street, Bristol with the Soil Association, merged with the larger organization to become its Producer Wing.” (p.115)

The British Organic Farmers’ booklet included an introduction by Holden and was endorsed by Sir Simon Gourlay, President of the National Farmers’ Union; and for the record “both Holden and Gourlay belonged to something called the Gay Hussars Dining Club, a clique which was changing its name to the Agricultural Reform Group and whose other members included environmentalist Jonathon Porritt; the Cambridgeshire ‘barley baron’ Oliver Walston; Hugh Raven of the SAFE (Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Environment) Alliance, and Fiona Reynolds, Director of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. The mind boggles at trying to imagine what agricultural reforms might have been unanimously accepted around that particular dining-table.” (p.115)

[6] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.252. Waitrose is part of the John Lewis partnership. In 2001 Unilever acquired a 90 per cent share of Go Organic from its founders Charlotte Mitchell, former chair of the Soil Association, and Sheila Ross, a nutritionist.

[7] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.318. Alice Astor is a former trustee of Sharpham Trust, an educational charity which runs the former family home of Maurice and Ruth Ash. Maurice is the former chairman of the Dartington Trust (1972-84) and was the chairman of the all-party environmental lobby group the Green Alliance from 1978 to 1983. A 100-acre farm on the estate, known as Upper Sharpham Barton Farm, is run according to bio-dynamic principles and is presently leased to Judy Smith and her family. In addition, Sharpham Trust board member, William Lana, is the Chairman of the Soil Association’s Organic Textile Standards Committee and sits on the board of the Transition Network; while another notable trustee, Romy Fraser, set up Neal’s Yard Remedies in 1981, and is a patron (along with Jonathan Porritt) of Rolf Gardiner’s former estate, Springhead. One might note that in 2006 Peter Kindersley, the co-founder of the internationally successful Dorling Kindersley (DK) organic publishing empire purchased Neal’s Yard Remedies. He is also a patron of Elm Farm; and interestingly he served as the art director for Alex Comfort’s famous sex advice book The Joy of Sex (Simon and Schuster, 1972).
With regard William Lana’s aforementioned connections to the Transition Towns movement one should note that Conford writes that: “Although it falls outside the period which this book covers, it seems to me important to refer to the work of Rob Hopkins, Permaculturist and leading spirit in the Transition Towns movement. Here we have a clear instance of Permaculture influencing the organic movement, given the enthusiastic way in which Patrick Holden in particular has responded to Hopkins’ ideas.” (p.123) For another connected group see the Pesticide Action Network UK which was founded in 1984 and counts the former head of research at Elm Farm as one of their current trustees.

[8] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.319. Gardiner and Schumacher’s friendship having previously developed after the founding of the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now known as Practical Action) in 1966. The stimulus for the creation of this group was an article that Schumacher had published in The Observer.
Rolf Gardiner was a “founder member in 1946. Gardiner quickly gained a seat on the [Soil] Association’s governing Council and retained the position until the end of his life… Michael Allaby, who worked in the Association’s editorial department from 1964 to 1972, confirms that Gardiner was more than just a ‘name on the letterhead’: that is to say, he participated fully in the SA’s activities and used its publications, such as the journal Mother Earth, as a platform for his ideas. Gardiner gave keynote addresses to the SA in 1955, 1967, 1969 and 1970, and hosted a visit by eighty members to Springhead in 1961. He was also the Association’s representative at the first meeting of the Committee for Environmental Conservation in 1969.” Dan Stone, ‘Epilogue: Rolf Gardiner: eminence vert?’, in Matthew Jefferies and Mike Tyldesley, eds., Rolf Gardiner: Folk, Nature and Culture in Interwar Britain (Ashgate, 2011), p.171.

[9] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.319, p.89, p.90.

[10] “It appears that the Association was unaware of the fact that this prominent environmentalist was one of its members (he had joined in 1951) until Michael Allaby and Robert Waller came across his name among the files at Haughley and decided that he must become more directly involved in the Soil Association’s work: a decision that resulted in Schumacher becoming President in 1971.” E.F. Schumacher replaced Lord Bradford who had served as the President of the Soil Association for twenty years. Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.107.
In August 1977 the Soil Association entered into a five-year agreement with the National Coal Board (NCB), through Schumacher’s contacts, to carry out a research project on a 314-acre farm near Llanelli in South Wales. 250 acres had been restored after open-cast mining; the other 64 were still derelict. The Experiment’s purposes were to devise techniques of accelerating the rehabilitation process and to monitor the effects of organic farming on the soil. In Eve Balfour’s view, speaking as President to the Soil Association AGM in October 1978, this was “just about the most important project the Soil Association ha[d] ever undertaken and, if successful, [would] do more to advance the cause of organic farming…” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.311.

[11] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.269. Resurgence magazine is a mainstay of the New Age movement and until recently Philip Conford was counted among their regular contributors.

[12] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.87, p.88. “No doubt his father’s position as Assistant Editor on the paper played a part in this, but it is equally true that John Davy repaid Astor’s faith in him.” (p.88)

[13] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.88.

[14] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.141, p.136. The person in question was John Soper who had worked as an agriculturalist for the Colonial Service, working in Tanganyika from 1949 to 1958, as Deputy Director, then Director, of Agriculture. Once he returned to Britain, he soon became Honorary Secretary and Treasurer to the Biodynamic Agricultural Association, “wrote about its work in the Soil Association journal and was a member of the HDRA Council.” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.83.

[15] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.227. In the mid-1970s a man called Nick Jones was “promoting an orchestral concert with Yehudi Menuhin, who was one of the directors of the Soil Association’s Wholefood shop in London” and the latter thus “encouraged him to go into the business of bread-making.” Free loans from their rich friends were an obvious aid, and after making a commitment to the Soil Association and by the 1990s Nick and his wife Ana came to know Alan Brockman, who subsequently encouraged them down the biodynamic pathway. Brockman had made an early commitment to the biodynamic movement in the late 1940s, and in the 1960s he supplied produce to the Soil Association’s Wholefood Shop in London. Soon Cdr Noel Findlay invited him to stand for the Soil Association Council, a position he supplemented by serving on their Standards Committee as well. He helped form the Association’s policy standards, which he based partly on those of the Biodynamic movement, and he was “actively involved in the Soil Association until around 1976…” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.91, p.92, p.86, p.87.

[16] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.230, p.231, p.232. In 1991 Craig Sams founded Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate with his wife Josephine Fairley, whose Maya Gold chocolate was the first product to carry the Fairtrade mark. “Seed’s ‘alternative’ stance was thoroughly pragmatic, placing faith in the established channels of media power as a means of spreading its message.” (p.235)

[17] Sue Coppard recalled that while working at Resurgence: “A friend suggested that Michael Allaby, editor of the Soil Association journal, might know of a suitable farm, and he put me in touch with [John Davy at] Emerson College in deepest leafy Sussex, the training college for the application of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical philosophy – including bio-dynamic agriculture on their 200-acre farm.” In Autumn that year Coppard then founded WWOFF with her initial volunteers working at Emerson College, and to aid with the promotion of her new venture she spent the next year working as the secretary of Seed. (Notably, issue No.2 of Seed, published in 1972, led off with the eco-mystical story titled “Diet and ESP” (pdf) which argued that it is possible that an organic diet might help you develop a sixth sense.)

[18] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.153, p.110. Victor Bonham-Carter’s book The Survival of the English Countryside (1971) was dedicated to Robert Waller, “a long-time friend with whom he had worked for BBC Radio in Bristol in the 1950s.” (p.153) Segger currently serves alongside Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser on the board of directors of Patrick Holden’s Sustainable Food Trust, which Holden set-up when he left his position as the Director of the Soil Association in 2010. Although Conford does not highlight Holden’s interest in Steiner, he does write that Holden was attracted to Krishnamurti’s theosophical ideas and adds that “Holden has also been involved in Gurdjieff groups.” (p.371)

[19] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.371, p.153, p.270, p.89. During the mid-1980s John Seymour traveled across “‘many tens of thousands of miles’ across four continents in the company of Herbert Girardet for the BBC television series Far From Paradise: The Story of Human Impact on the Environment.” (p.272) Between 1996 and 2008 Girardet served as the chairman of the Schumacher Society, a group founded by Resurgence magazine editor, Satish Kumar. The founding chairman of the Schumacher Society had been Dartington Hall’s very own Maurice Ash.

[20] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.100. In 1973 Deavin organized courses on animal husbandry at Ewell “as part of his work with the Soil Association’s Epsom Group where he spoke alongside biodynamic farmer, George Corrin.” (p.83)

[21] “According to Mary Heron, who worked at Haughley in the early 1960s, Eve Balfour maintained that there were no materialists in the Soil Association: a proposition which might sound paradoxical but which Deavin had no difficulty in understanding. For him, the early Soil Association in particular was a forerunner of contemporary spiritual movements, working to provide not just physical, but spiritual nourishment.” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.324.
“Eve Balfour, in her Postscript to The Living Soil, looked to the dethronement of ‘[tlhe false idols of comfort and money’ and their replacement by ‘the Christian God of service’. Mary Langman told Allan Pepper that Eve Balfour had been ‘brought up in the Church and in faith in a benign Deity whose purposes were working out’, and that this faith would have played a part in her acceptance of ecological thinking. (It appears that later in her life, Balfour’s beliefs grew somewhat less orthodox, showing signs of what might be termed ‘New Age’ thought; but her belief in a benign power at work in the world remained. Dr Anthony Deavin has recalled how she responded philosophically to criticism and problems by saying, ‘It’s all taken care of’.)” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.354.
Helen Murray worked at the Steinerian inspired Camphill Community Schools organization in Botton Village at Danby in North Yorkshire, living there for a year from October 1955. She then returned to Haughley were she acted as Lady Balfour’s personal assistant, “commut[ing] almost every weekend to Botton and started building a house there which by late 1960 was habitable.” Eventually Helen moved to the United States to continue her work with Camphill Schools. “Helen Murray was succeeded as Eve Balfour’s assistant by Mary Barran (later Heron), who, by coincidence, bought a farm with her husband Giles Heron in the 1970s close to Botton Village. The Herons, although not Steinerians themselves, had a good deal to do with Botton, and have praised the community there in Giles’ book Farming with Mary.” Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.81, p.82.

[22] Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, p.149. Clearly not everyone involved with the Soil Association succumbs to mysticism, and many actively resisted such trends. Take for the case of Michael Allaby who worked as the editor for the Soil Association’s journal between 1964 and 1972, and who in later years distanced himself from their eco-mysticism in his book Facing the Future: The Case for Science (Bloomsbury, 1995). Here Conford concludes that: “Allaby aimed much of his book against environmentalism in general and its associated ‘New Age’ attitudes, but the chapter on reductionism and holism is particularly relevant to,and critical of, the organic movement’s philosophy of science.” (p.325)


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