Since the spring flooding in the Missouri/Mississippi watershed, I have been haunted by an image I saw as a televised news flash: a farmer, a clean-cut white man in work clothes, standing on sorely cracked red clay ground. The news story was about flooding, from the picture we were to see that the farmer lost his crops, his field was bare. Must be the weather.
Must be climate change. Must be global warming. But I see that picture of a man standing on a patch of sorry Midwest USA clay, and I can’t help but think, where have you been, man, for the last 100 years? Because in the last hundred years ideas and tools proliferated in support of sustainable activities vis a vis the earth, the ground, the soil and water of our existence. What were you thinking as you plowed and planted and harvested land along the lowland of the continent’s major artery? Were you thinking about the miracle of soil, and the fragility of life? Were you thinking about soil structure and water retention and drainage systems that honor the flow of water? Whatever were you thinking? We get some answers in the picture of your farm.
The earth is sick, that is clear. And now we are sick, too.
Stepping out for a wider view, we see that the territorial earth is rock. Covering the most of the rock is a thin and fragile membrane we call the ground cover, an earth blanket, if you will, made of primitive living organisms, mosses and lichens and all of plant life in field and forest. Part of that ground cover we call soil, a surface blend of mineral and organic matter that acts as a sponge to hold and disperse water and water borne elements, and also serves as the physical support for territorial plant life. It is extremely complex, and when healthy, soil teems with life and supports growth of healthy food.
For over four thousand years, people have been working the earth’s soils, cultivating and harvesting crops to sustain regional populations, reaping the benefit of the work of millions of microbes which over millions of years have been transforming rock to soil. Creating soil is a long and slow process, and yet humans in a very short time have come close to destroying this foundational element of creation.
It is said that the Sumerians and the Chinese, early great civilizations on earth, were already thinking in terms of substances they could apply when things got out of balance in their agricultural endeavors, using natural elements to combat lice and mites and insect infestations in fields.
Through all the years since then, people have been looking at materials in nature and materials in laboratories and using those materials to sprinkle or spray on the earth to effect some change in the balance of nature.
But then it became apparent to some people that humans were on the wrong track, that poor health was an inevitable consequence of the ways we treat the earth. What to do?
In the early twentieth century, in 1924 in eastern Germany, concerned farmers, noticing a decline in vitality on their farms, turned to scientist and educator Rudolf Steiner who offered a series of lectures that stand as the foundational work in the practice of biodynamic organic agriculture.
Humanity has only two choices: either to start once again, in every field of endeavor, to learn from the whole of nature, from the relationships within the whole cosmos, or to allow both nature and human life to degenerate and die off. There is no other choice.
—Rudolf Steiner Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture English publication 1993 -Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association p.40
At about the same time, a British scientist named Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947), discovered and began to promote composting as a revitalizing strategy for farm and garden.
There were others, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Lady Eve Balfour, J. I. Rodale, William A. Albrecht, Maria Thun, Viktor Schauberger, Rachel Carson, Charles Walters, Josephine Porter, Hugh Courtney, all strong characters in human history who studied nature and lectured, wrote and acted and inspired countless others. For the past hundred years people around the world have been developing practices of organics that seek to support life, and the practices such as biodynamics that seek to work with cosmic forces to bring additional help to our agricultural work with soil on earth.
Insects and disease are the symptoms of a failing crop, not the cause.
— Dr.Wm Albrecht
In the 1940’s agriculture experienced an onslaught of deadly chemicals released from laboratories of scientists. The coal industry produced chemicals that were a waste disposal problem until they were streamlined into agriculture, and toxic war time chemicals emerged as well, freed now from military use and ready to infuse the chemical industry with sales. Farm land and farm populations suffered the results of major toxic chemical contamination.
Chemicals became the foundation of huge corporate wealth, and no matter how many organic producers there were, the power of the agriculture industry world wide was being driven by the chemical industry, and they overwhelmed the land.
Let me be clear. Agricultural chemicals play an important role in the degradation of the soil, that goes without saying. Organic agriculture offers great healing power, and chemical applications need to stop. Stop. Right now. Roundup, a Monsanto product now owned by Bayer, is the brand name of a systemic, broad-spectrum glyphosate-based herbicide, and though it is known that people develop cancers from contact with the chemical, Roundup is still for sale in garden centers around the country. Why do we allow this to happen?
But it is not just the farmer who is targeted for toxic chemical sales. Chemical companies, led by DuPont, started in the 1930’s to court the homemaker with new products, and major extractive and toxin producing industries constantly work to inject new substances and new materials into our daily lives.
We now have Forever Chemicals, called PFAS, short for poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, a class of more tan 4,000 different chemicals that are used in multiple household and commercial items. These chemicals break down very slowly and tend to stay with us, once released, for a very very very long time. They are in our oceans, they are in our drinking water, they are in our bodies. Interesingly enough, they seem to attach themselves to the proteins in our bodies, something that viruses do as well.
The companies that produce those now ubiquitous chemicals are responsible for a huge weight of the burden our poor earth carries trying to support us.
How Forever Chemicals Harm Ocean Life
“In 1946, “ Max Levy wrote,
DuPont introduced nonstick cookware coated with Teflon. Today the family of fluorinated chemicals that sprang from Teflon includes thousands of nonstick, stain-repellent and waterproof compounds called PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances.
PFAS are used in a staggering array of consumer products and commercial applications. Decades of heavy use have resulted in contamination of water, soil and the blood of people and animals in the farthest corners of the world. PFAS are incredibly persistent, never breaking down in the environment and remaining in our bodies for years.
DuPont invented the PFAS chemical patented as Teflon, but 3M became its main manufacturer. In 2001, a scandal erupted in Parkersburg, W.Va., after discovery of the Teflon chemical in the drinking water of tens of thousands of people near a DuPont plant. (The story is documented in the film “The Devil We Know.”)
A class-action lawsuit uncovered evidence DuPont knew PFAS was hazardous and had contaminated tap water but didn’t tell its workers, local communities or environmental officials. The lawsuit also triggered studies linking the Teflon chemical to cancer and other diseases.
–the revelator.org, reprinted on Reader Supported News, 8/26/20 readersupportednews.org
Already in the 1950’s, chemical companies knew these substances pollute human blood, farmers knew the substances in their applications pollute the soil, and coal companies knew that their toxic emissions poison the water and the air.
No farmer can stand in 2020 and believably say “I didn’t know that the health of my crops depended on the health of the soil on my farm.” But we have all been duped. Overwhelmed by the greed of big companies, by the finance industry in our times and the fatal flaw of our own human nature, we have chosen what appears to be an easier way to live but really is the path to destruction.
Human beings on earth are in an EMERGENCY now, on so many fronts. But we knew this was coming. One hundred years ago it was documented that people were noticing a loss in vitality in food crops coming from farmland world wide. The organic farm movement got its start in the 1920’s, and since then stalwart people have struggled to keep farms clean of toxic pesticides and herbicides as big business agribusiness operations have overblown the countryside. We have inspiring organic farmers and organic farming and marketing trade organizations. We have leadership and practitioners in urban farm settings, in composting businesses, and regenerative agriculture projects. We have writers and artists and activists.
They are tiny lonely voices in the wind shouting against the belching toxic presence of their fellow earth dwellers who see the planet under their feet only as something to support them while they make money.
And now we have a world wide pandemic. We have people all over the world getting sick, dying, and we are hustling and bustling around making money as we say we are developing a cure. We are trying to make a pill we can take that will make this whole thing go away. We are fighting with each other, but we are all caught in the materialist viewpoint that sees conflict and violence on every front and operates under the assumption that science can devise a solution.
In fact, quite a few people are depending on science to fix this whole muddle. And then again quite a few people think science doesn’t have the last word because God trumps all. And then that of course means another fight, science against not science, science against God, and none of it leads anywhere except that some people are slinging God’s name around and other people are wondering, why are they doing that?
In my work in journalism, agricultural work, and education, I have learned that a balanced mixture of essential ingredients is necessary for a healthy experience in any work place, any abode. And despite those who do care for and tend the earth, human beings have proved capable of releasing almighty destructive forces, and with these forces we are tearing apart the earth.
In this whole of our earth –north, south, east and west– human beings have so mined and poisoned our environment that we have created the disposition to be ill. And now, with weak fields and woodlands, with sick rivers and seas, with polluted air, and with people weakened from poor nutrition, the coronavirus has moved in. As is the way with viruses, it is wreaking havoc and leaving people in thrall to their immune systems.
We want life to be easy. We want our food to be blemish free in appearance, and we have given up thinking it would be better to look a little deeper and see that our food needs to be nourishing and strengthening. We want our fields to look uniform and green, and we have given up noticing that the ground holding up the plants is dead ground. Vitality does not present in poisoned ground, and we have been too busy to notice that life has left our farms.
We identify a virus rampant in the world and we say that virus is making us sick.
No. We have been sick, and the virus is just moving in for the kill.
In 1989 Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird released a book called Secrets of the Soil.
The main premise of early organic advocates was that in soil properly nourished with adequate supplies of humus, crops do not suffer from disease, and don’t require poisonous sprays to keep off parasites; that animals fed on these plants develop a high degree of resistance, and that man, nurtured with such plants and animals, can reach an extraordinary (and in fact quite natural) standard of health, able to resist disease and infection from whatever cause it may derive.
In their writings, Tompkins and Bird documented many people and projects who, through the years, have been steadfast in their personal practices to help feed and sustain a healthy population on a healthy earth. But even then, they saw that individual practices were not enough, and they called for the world’s air forces to overfly with homeopathic mineral applications to help bring balance world wide.
Such an operation never happened, of course, but to me it remained a picture of the magnitude of human response needed to heal massive earth abuse.
It is time now, time again, that we the people need to be calling for big movements from the big movers on earth. International conferences address the importance of working together and combating ravaging of the earth. Internationally, climate activists warn us we have to hurry to save the earth from overheating. They are opposed by climate change deniers who say who the hell do you think you are? Only God can destroy the earth.
In the U.S. we have lawmakers proposing “A Green New Deal.” They are ridiculed and opposed.
Is climate change killing the Earth, or is killing the Earth casing climate change?
We have passed the time that this is a drawing room conversation. It is time now to take care of our Earth. Demand our lawmakers act big to counter the ill health that comes to us from the ground up and will make any laboratory pill a bitter pill to swallow.
In his Agricultural Course, Rudolf Steiner said,
It can happen that plant diseases may appear on our farms. I want to speak about them right now in rather general terms. People today like to specialize, so they talk about specific diseases. In the pursuit of science, that’s all well and good, because you do need to know what each disease looks like, but in the end it is much the same as with a doctor; being able to describe an illness is usually not very useful — it is much more important to be able to cure it. Bringing about healing requires us to work from totally different points of view than we do when we are describing diseases. We can achieve the greatest degree of precision in describing illnesses, and know exactly what is going on in the diseased organism according to the principles of modern physiology or physiological chemistry, and yet still not be able to cure anything. You cannot heal according to histological or microscopic findings; in order to heal, you must understand the broad interrelationships.
Instead of tearing apart the Environmental Protection Agency, as forces in Washington are doing now, it is time to ramp up. It is time for strong federal laws protecting the environment, time to quarantine all toxic polluters.
It is time to demand that food, plant and animal, be grown with nutritive respect, and it is time to demand that human beings treat one another with that same respect.
Here is a partial list of active organizations who are working on behalf of the earth. This list grows as I discover new initiatives in related fields.
Earth First! earthfirst.org
Environmental Working Group. (EWG) ewe.org
Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics. jpibiodynamics.org
The Cornucopia Institute email@example.com
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute michaelfields.org
Southern Environmental Law Center southern environment.org
Rodale Institute rodaleinstitute.org
Kathy Fairchild says
Yes, you have captured the essence. Healing the earth and ourselves seems at times completely beyond reach; then again maybe if we started now… The divisive thought and aggressive actions seem so symptomatic of fear. People are marking off their “territory” trying to define what they can preserve and defend at all costs (mostly to others). Not a good feeling. The pandemic is a defining moment and so far not liking the definition at all. Will do what we can to connect with others and take care of the earth as it is all we have. Isolation at home has a lot of gardens and properties looking really good, perhaps organics will enjoy a boom as a result. We can only hope.
I have a favorite memory from a lecture on biodynamic orcharding about the orchardist seeing his healing applications travel across borders, benefiting more than just his own trees. Profoundly simple words, dear friend, “take care of the earth and each other, all we have.”
And keep singing.
Barry Jensen says
This is a great essay, so pertinent to the struggle we face here, small farms declining, agribusiness rolling over local legislative bodies like the road grader flattening the hillsides, fueled by Washington supported chemical corporations with monoculture mindsets. There is a continuing battle here with corporate farming versus small organic operations, obviously with imbalanced monetary support in favor of corporate profits, almost like they believe they are growing money, not food. As a matter of fact, they don’t really care about the quality of food, only quantity, and any diversity that removes profit from the bottom line is vehemently discouraged. With the unfortunate reality that money elects our representatives, wealthy corporations are in total control of our precious resources, and we face uphill battles trying to convince our “representatives” we are going in the wrong direction regarding agriculture; that the cyclical rejuvenation and diversity is what creates the soil that we depend on for nourishment, not a chemical spray that determines the one and only crop that will grow in that soil. I continue to try to be hopeful that somewhere in the future, common sense and science will drain the coffers that greedy egoists use to maintain control of the idiots now deregulating any chance of building a balanced ecosystem capable of maintaining life on this planet. Yes, we are sick as a country, in many realms, and need essays such as yours to point that out to us, over and over until the light bulb illuminates our cadaverous complexion and shows us how close to the edge we are.
I love you for trying to be hopeful.
If ever I have a need for a succinct elegant statement on our collective truth, may I use your words?