IGNORANCE IS BLISS

December 1, 2010

 Unlike Glenn McGourty who has been the Mendocino and Lake County Farm Advisor for many years, Dr. Monica Cooper is relatively new to Napa County and new to viticulture.  I seriously doubt that she knew much, if anything, about Biodynamic farming.  I don’t know what transpired in the back room when decisions were made, but I find it very interesting that the very well respected Sonoma County Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, Rhonda Smith, isn’t participating and isn’t a sponsor. 

 As much as I’d like to give Dr. Cooper as much slack as I can, the fact of the matter is that she is both the Director and Farm Advisor for the Napa County Cooperative Extension and the buck stops with her.  IMHO, it is completely unacceptable for her to ignore my direct questions concerning the ethics of NCCE sponsoring this event.  

 Dr. Monica Cooper and I had several exchanges. I’m including only the last one dated Nov. 11:

 Stuart:

Again, I appreciate your concern. I have had limited access to email all week, as I was participating in the Technical Working Group meeting for the European Grapevine Moth. This meeting was critical to determine EGVM policy in the coming years. I was invited to share my research results and to help shape that policy, along with a group of local, national, and international scientists.

Glenn McGourty worked with Demeter to develop the day’s schedule and to suggest appropriate speakers. As I mentioned previously, I am an invited speaker at the event. I previously elucidated the reasons for that involvement.  As Advisors, we are frequently called upon to suggest speakers, develop appropriate topics, and often to organize schedules for events. For example, I just organized the seminars for the Napa Vit Fair, and am headed to a meeting this morning at the NCFB regarding the program for their Farm Safety day. Organizations that we work with may then recognize us in the program. Typically, the monetary sponsorship is provided by the organization (public or private), and the University contribution to sponsorship is to guarantee a technically sound program. This works nicely for us, because these collaborative relationships allow us to enhance the quality and quantity of our programs, especially in the current budget situation.  (Bolding and underling added)

The following are Glenn’s comments. I am also attaching an article from AJEV on which Glenn is an author. He will likely discuss this work at the conference.

 We work with a wide array of clientele in our counties (Lake,

Mendocino, and Napa) and among them are Biodynamic Winegrowers. In my 2 counties, we now have over 600 acres of Biodynamically certified vineyard acreage. The Demeter Association has over 70 wineries that are either certified or in transition, so there is tremendous interest in this alternative farming system. The Demeter Association is a nonprofit, and is not a business per se.

 The University of California has among its priorities the support of sustainable farming systems. This includes ways of farming that put emphasis on improving water, air and soil quality, reducing the use of pesticides, promoting biodiversity and conserving habitat, and farm worker safety among many other issues. These are similar goals of Biodynamic Farming. The practices that are required for Demeter Certification are published in the Demeter Farm Standard which you may find on their web site. I don’t believe that there is any mention of paganism or religion in the Demeter Farm Standard, unless I missed it.

 I have worked with other land grant scientists and we have published an article about our observations over time of BD winegrowing compared to organic farming, which I have attached as PDF document for you to read.

 The mystical aspects of biodynamic farming (ie, the preparations) remain beyond explanation of reductionist science and we are wise to remain skeptical of their supposed effects until we have more information. But the organization of their farming systems and the practices that they use are well documented to improve soil quality, grow productive crops, reduce the need for petrochemical inputs, recycle farm byproducts in a safe and effective way, and provide a gentler footprint on nature compared to some practices used by conventional growers. 

I don’t expect everyone to become biodynamic farmers who attend this seminar, but I am hoping that they may be inspired to investigate some of the practices that are useful in producing high quality fruit and wine that are also environmentally friendly.

 Finally, we work with a wide array of cooperators and allied industries that not everyone approves of.  I have been taken to task at public meetings because some of my colleagues test chemical pesticides for efficacy. (I have also done such experiments in the past, and would do them again if there was a specific need in my region). There obviously is a wide range of personal values that the people of California have. I still believe that it is important for us to work with as broad a potential clientele group as possible, and shine the light of science on techniques that we can show to be helpful in the production of food and fiber that have a minimal impact on our public trust resources.

Dr. Monica L. Cooper

 I responded the same day, Nov. 11:

 Monica,

Thank you for your efforts in controlling EGM.  I know the fight is not over, but all of you involved in this effort have done a magnificent job – well done!   .

The fact that you believe you are just an invited guest, and not a sponsor, is at the very core of this issue.  Napa County UCCE is the official sponsor of this event and you are the person that represents Napa County UCCE.    Please look at your own web-site. 

I humbly suggest that you start viewing this event with the eyes of the sponsor that you are.

 Thank you for forwarding Glenn’s comments.   Like many supporters of Biodynamics, Glenn slides over the preparations with a dismissive hand that they “remain beyond explanation.”     Preparation 500 is the burying of cow horns, probably the most visible and controversial of the nine preparations.  To be a Biodynamic farmer you must be certified by Demeter USA, and Demeter USA is an absolute follower of Rudolf Steiner.  Demeter USA requires the use of preparations 500 and 501 at least annually.  There is no such thing as being “Biodynamic lite.”

 Unfortunately, you, Glenn or Dr. Waterhouse have not offered any cogent arguments that changed my opinion that UCCE is violating its ethical mandate by sponsoring this event.  While it pains me to do so, I once again, ask the Napa UCCE withdraw sponsorship of this event. 

Stuart Smith

Dr. Cooper never responded.


HORSE SHOES AND HAND GRENADES

November 30, 2010

Here’s an update on my effort to get UCCE to withdraw its sponsorship of the Shortcourse on Biodynamics.  The cast of characters includes:

  • Dr. Monica Cooper, Farm Advisor for Napa County
  • Glen McGourty, Farm Advisor for Mendocino County
  • Pam Kan-Rice, Assistant Director, News & Information Outreach, University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources and gatekeeper to Dan Dooley, V-P of ANR and thus head of the UC Cooperative Extension. 

 V-P Dooley never responded or even acknowledged receipt of my emails.  I’m not sure he saw my email because it was redirected to Pam Kan-Rice.   As his gatekeeper, Ms. Kan-Rice was very nice and responsive to my inquiries, and while it took some time for her to get it, she gave the impression that she finally understood the issues and cared.  Of course, that’s her job.  She is also the only one that I actually spoke with.

 In a Nov.17 email I asked Ms. Kan-Rice if UCCE had ethical guidelines governing sponsorship of events.  Yesterday, Nov. 29 I received the following email:

  “Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing in response to your query about UC policy on sponsorship. UC policy prohibits us from endorsing or sponsoring commercial products and services. The intent of UC Cooperative Extension cohosting the meeting on Dec. 2 is to encourage the exchange of science-based information and ideas, not to endorse a farming system.

We recognize that there can be a fine line between collaboration and the appearance of sponsorship. After having some administrators look at the meeting flyer, we can see how one might misconstrue the intent of UC Cooperative Extension’s participation in the biodynamic farming meeting.

While we will honor the commitments we have made, we intend to make UC Cooperative Extension’s role clearer in the future. Because we collaborate with non-UC groups and organizations on several events and activities, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources  is working on developing a set of guidelines to clarify the issue for its employees.

Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. We appreciate your support of UC as a UC Davis alumnus and UC Cooperative Extension stakeholder.”

Sincerely,

Pam Kan-Rice

Getting close is only important in horse shoes and hand grenades.  It seems like I got close, that UCCE at least has a document that prohibits sponsoring commercial products and events similar to this shortcourse.  It also sounds like they needed to dust off that document and actually read it to understand what it said.  And, of course, there was the sop that they are working to update the document…. 

 It’s clear to me that this is the end of it with UCCE and that there was nothing to gain by continuing to argue the merits of the case.  The wagons are circled and the organism needs to be protected  at all cost.  Continuing with the clichés, call it a Hail Mary pass if you will, I did try one last time with the following email.

 Over the next 36 hours I will update you on both Glenn McGourty and Monica Cooper’s correspondence.   BTW, I will be attending.

My response to Ms. Kan-Rice the same day:

Pam,

I’m pleased that the University has an ethics policy that prohibits sponsorship of commercial products.   Your characterization that I and others might have “misconstrued” that this Shortcourse in Biodynamic Farming is anything other than a blatant sales and marketing event for Demeter USA, a private company, is disingenuous. 

It’s clear that the University refuses to acknowledge its mistake and to take responsibility for its actions.  It’s not too late to assert the moral leadership the University of California promotes in educating our youth and cancel your sponsorship of this event. 

Stu Smith


A Tempest in a Wine Glass

November 28, 2010

On Friday, November 26, 2010 The Napa Valley Register ran A Tempest in a Wine Glass, an article by Paul Franson on my dust-up with the University of California Cooperative Extension over their sponsorship of the December 2nd Biodynamic workshop.   It is an excellent and balanced article.   I’d reprint the article but it seems that may be an infringement of their copyright.

Stuart Smith


WHAT DO FAIRIES AND BIODYNAMICS HAVE IN COMMON?

November 21, 2010

 

In the November 7 New York Times was the obituary of Geoffrey Crawley, the Englishman who proved the Cottingley Fairies were a hoax.   The Cottingley Fairies have a great deal in common with Biodynamics.

 In the summer of 1917, two young girls in England, cousins Frances age 10, and Elsie age 16, liked playing by a stream near their home which annoyed Elsie’s mother because they came home dirty.  The girls said they played by the stream because of fairies, and to prove it,  they borrowed a camera and made five photographs of cardboard cutouts of fairies.  While Elsie’s father thought the photos were fakes, the mother did not, and in 1919 the mother went to a Theosophical society meeting on “Fairy life” and showed the photos.  Edward Gardner, a prominent member of the Theosophical Society, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes) became convinced that the photos were real.  The controversy continued into the 1970s until Geoffrey Crawley both proved that the photos were fakes and got the cousins to admit it was all a lark that got out of control. 

Here’s the connection and the parallels with Biodynamics.  Rudolf Steiner was the leader of The Theosophical Society from 1902 until 1912.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the rock star of his era for his creation of the Sherlock Homes stories; he wrote an article defending the fairies as real.  On one of his many visits with the girls Edward Gardner brought Geoffrey Hodson, a clairvoyant who saw many, many fairies.  Both Gardner and Conan Doyle went on to write books supporting their belief in the Cottingley fairies and two Hollywood movies were made about them.

 So there is the parallel to Biodynamics: Rudolf Steiner and Theosophy, the support by world famous people, field confirmations by eye witnesses and the “scientific proof” of the photographs, what more could you want?  

 Yet it was all a hoax, just like biodynamic farming is a hoax.  Unfortunately, Rudolf Steiner didn’t fess up before he died. 

Stuart Smith

 


WHY IS UCCE PROMOTING BIODYNAMIC FARMING?

November 16, 2010

On December 2nd there will be a “Shortcourse on Biodynamic Farming” at the Rutherford Grange Hall, Rutherford, Napa Valley.  What has made me spitting-mad is that the event is being sponsored by both Demeter USA and the Napa CountyUniversity of California, Cooperative Extension (UCCE). 

Two speakers are employees of Demeter USA—the Executive Director and the Marketing Director—three Biodynamic consultants, 11 wineries that farm Biodynamically, one organic farmer along with two UC Cooperative Extension Folks—Dr. Monica Cooper, Director and Farm Advisor for Napa County and Glenn McGourty, Farm Advisor for Mendocino County.  With seventeen out of 20 speakers directly involved with Biodynamics, this is clearly a marketing, promotional and sales event by Demeter USA, with no pretense of a balanced program.  No one is supporting conventional or sustainable agriculture and no one is presenting an alternative viewpoint to Biodynamics.  This is not a balanced presentation and UCCE should not be a sponsor.

 It would be ethical for UCCE to sponsor an event that discussed the various farming paradigms, a compare and contrast if you will, that would include advocates for all the various methods of farming.   I see no issue with UCCE agents, scientists or Farm Advisors attending any Biodynamic sponsored event. However, being a speaker or panel member at this event is essentially an endorsement of Biodynamics—-remembering that the entire program is devoted to Biodynamics. 

On November 7, I sent an email (see below) to Dr. Monica Cooper and Glenn McGourty. I copied Dr. Andy Waterhouse, of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, and forwarded a copy to Dan Dooley, Vice-President of UC Agriculture and Natural Resource, which is the controlling agency for the Cooperative Extension. 

What are your thoughts?  I’ll share what the responses have been with my next post.

Stuart Smith

Email addressed to: Monica Cooper and Glenn McGourty, 

“I am shocked and outraged that UCCE is sponsoring the “Shortcourse in Biodynamic Winegrowing” to be held on December 2 at the Rutherford Grange Hall. I am requesting that UCCE withdraw its support from the event and that you cancel your appearances. 

 Why and when did UC Davis and UCCE begin promoting Biodynamic farming?  You are being used by a private company (it doesn’t matter that they are a non-profit), Demeter USA, to gain respectability, promote its message and to recruit clients for Biodynamic farming.  Your support gives Biodynamic farming the credibility that it doesn’t have otherwise.  It is entirely appropriate for you to attend such an event, questionable as to your participation and completely wrong to sponsor/host and thus become a promoter of Biodynamics.  Clearly this event is intended to be a promotional sales event for Demeter USA.  Biodynamics is trade-marked by Demeter and all money required for certification flows into Demeter’s bank accounts.  Following a link from the UCCE website I found the fact sheet for the event that claimed “You’ll get a practical hype-free introduction to Biodynamic principles and practices for framing and winemaking from experienced vintners who have put them to the test” and yet hype is all that Biodynamics is – there is not one shred of evidence, one peer-reviewed replicable experiment proving the efficacy of Biodynamic farming!  I know many of the speakers and all they can muster for proof is an anecdotal “I know it works, because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”    Ed Weber and I had many conversations about just this type of Biodynamics hype and I have no doubt that he would be as horrified as I am that UC Davis and UCCE has any involvement with this program. 

The UCCE website lists a Mission Statement and above that in large and bold type is “Bringing UC research to Napa County” – so let me ask, what UC research do you have that supports Biodynamic farming?  Have you read Rudolf Steiner’s book AGRICULTURE, do you know that he hated modern science and that he created the concept of “Spiritual Science” which cannot be challenged and is based on intuition and perception?  I created biodynamicsisahoax.com  to provide an alternative view to Rudolf Steiner and Biodynamic farming. 

 Biodynamics is the antithesis of what the Department of Viticulture and Enology has stood for since its creation by the California State Legislature in 1880.   I had the good fortune to have had Dr. Winkler sign my General Viticulture textbook.  I studied under professors such as Lloyd Lider, Jim Cook, Harold Olmo and Mark Kliewer. I was the Department’s first teaching Assistant for Professors Amerine and Singleton.  The California premium wine industry has gone from a tiny industry 60-70 years ago to world pre-eminence because the industry ignored European reliance on tradition and embraced science.  U.C. Davis, staffed with scientists, did the basic scientific research to find the truths of Enology and Viticulture. They used science and the scientific method to test old assumptions and new theories and then offered up their results for peer review. They taught their students what they had learned in their research and as importantly they taught their students how to think critically and evaluate research. California wine quality soared.  Your support for Biodynamic farming is a repudiation of everything the Department has stood for during these last 130 years. 

 How do you reconcile the following quote by Rudolf Steiner and the UCCE’s fundamental role of continuing education to industry professionals of the “scientific principles” that underlie growing grapes? 

The following are direct quotes from Steiner’s book AGRICULTURE, page 128, lecture six, on disease control, originally given on June 14, 1924:

         “Let us assume, however, that the Moon’s influence is too strong, that the soil is overly enlivened.  In this case, the vitality works up too strongly from below, and something that should occur only in seed formation starts to happen earlier.  When the vitality is too strong, it doesn’t reach all the way to the top; its very intensity makes it start working lower down.  Thus, because of the effect of the Moon, there is insufficient force for seed formation.  The seed incorporates a kind of dying like into itself, and through this dying life a kind of second ground-level is formed above the level of the soil.  Although there is no actual soil up there, the same influences are present.  As a result, the seed, or the upper part of the plant, becomes a kind of soil for other organisms.  Parasites and all kinds of fungi appear – blights and mildews and the like…  Direct perception reveals what I have just described.”

         “So what should we do now?  We need to relieve the soil of the excessive lunar force; we need to find some way of reducing the water’s mediating capacity, of giving the soil more earthiness of the water that is present does not absorb the excess lunar influence.  We accomplish this – though outwardly everything remains the same – by making a fairly concentrated tea out of Equisetum arvense, which we then dilute and use as a kind of liquid manure on the fields where we want to combat blight and similar plant diseases.”

 DISCUSSION FOLLOWING LECTURE SIX, page 134:

 QUESTION: “Can these methods for alleviating plant diseases be applied to vineyards too?

STEINER: “I can only say that I am convinced that the vineyards could have been protected (from Phylloxera devastation) if people had gone about it in the way I have indicated.”

QUESTION:  ‘What about downy mildew?”

STEINER: “That can be treated just like any other blight.”

 When you support/promote a course in Biodynamics you are also validating the foundations of Biodynamics which, in this case, are the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.  Please minimize the damage you have already done and immediately withdraw your involvement with this project. 

I look forward to your response.”

 Stuart Smith

 CC: Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, Chairman, Department of Viticulture and Enology.