10/24/2010

Poop Horn (Suspension of Disbelief)

One of the more exotic episodes in my recent visit to the Loire valley was a day spent assisting in the creation of some of the semi-mystical preparations used in Biodynamic farming. Practitioners of the Biodynamic method view earth, cosmos, farm, crop and land from a holistic perspective. The health of each, and therefore our own, such farmers argue, are indissolubly linked. A field that is endlessly fertilized with powerful nitrates and sprayed with pesticides in order to maximize annual yields across a monocrop topography is a field that is ailing and poisoned. In this world view, the way most farmers use their land, and the way most of our food is produced, is deeply wrong; the equivalent for a human would be something like an endless repetition of Morgan Spurlock's experiment in Super Size Me, when he eats nothing but McDonald's products for an entire month.


Biodynamics, based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher-shaman Rudolph Steiner, typically goes well beyond the basic prescriptions for organic farming, and it embodies many similar ideas about environmental and soil health. As a general practice, I find it deeply appealing. Bruno Allion's farm and vineyard near Thesee, in the Loire valley, which I visited last week, looks the way a farm ought to look. There is dirt and mud, weeds and trees and grass. There are flowers and bees and ladybugs, and a happy pig in a comfortably big pen. It looks nothing like the vast and sterile monocrop lots on which America's corn and beef is produced.

 Looking over the horns

But what to do when the general appeal of a philosophy promoting a loving stewardship of the land seems diminished by peculiar prescriptions that seem odd, irrational and altogether divorced from the scientific method? This, for me, is the conundrum of Biodynamics. Take, for example, the "cornerstone of the Biodynamic method," Steiner's preparation 500, or cow's horn manure. The basic recipe is simple, if creative. In the fall, fill empty cow's horns with cow shit, bury them underground for the winter, and then dig them up in the spring. Although I'm certain cow dung is a high quality all-natural fertilizer, and cow's horns make perfectly good vessels in which to mature or compost the manure, it now starts to get weird.

 That's the, uh, substance, with which we will shortly begin to fill the horns.

One horn's worth of the fermented dung, generally about 80 grams of the stuff, is mixed into a suspension with 20 liters of rainwater by stirring it in a whirlpool vortex for a full hour. It is then whisked or sprayed over the fields. One horn is used to treat about one hectare of land (roughly 2.5 acres).  Not to bore you, but I did the math, and that comes out to 0.00074 grams of poop per square foot. If you've ever done cocaine, you'll understand this to be a minuscule quantity unworthy of your attention, a speck of fallen dust so small as to be all but invisible. You may also recognize from your long nights crouched over the mirror the way in which the ritual of preparation dominates the event; the horns must be buried in a specific way, and the stirring activity should alternate from clockwise to counterclockwise, perhaps "attracting cosmic influences into the liquid." The spritzing of the fields appears in photographs to be not unlike the splashing of holy water from a Catholic font. Biodynamicists describe the use of Steiner's preparations as a kind of soil homeopathy, and there doesn't seem to be any more scientific proof of its efficacy than there is for most homeopathic medicine. Just like homeopathy, I'd love to believe it works, but it sure does stretch the imagination.

What are we doing? We're making pâté de poop a la corne, you dipshit. I promise I filled some horns up myself, between photographs. (That's my main man Amane Hagiwara on the left. Within a few years I expect that you'll be seeing his name on a wine label or two. If you do, I suggest you buy the bottles).

 Locked and loaded, and ready for burial.

Bruno Allion has a beautiful farm, and he grows some serious grapes. I know, because I spent my first three days in the Loire valley harvesting them.

Looking wistfully into the pit. You gotta believe...



Next week join us for Biodynamic Preparation #503, cow intestine stuffed with macerated chamomile flowers. No, I'm not kidding.

2 comments:

Gladly Lerne, Gladly Teche said...

But my horn shalt thou exalt like an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil. (Psalm 92:10)

Jody said...

Hey, I think it's great that they believe and continue to practice traditional rituals - however bizarre they may seem. It's very Garcia Marquez... in French, and everything has a purpose. There is no "away" so reclaim and reuse as seems fitting!
: )