An Open Letter To Stu Smith of Biodynamics Is A Hoax

Ξ August 3rd, 2010 | → 29 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time |

Stu Smith is not a happy man. Besieged on all sides by fantasists, charlatans, fabulists, religionists, Greens, vegetarians, and a viral Double Rainbow video, he has had enough. He has bravely decided to take a stand against such pretenders and their intellectual deformations, and maybe just save the world. His target is more sinister than Monsanto, more damaging to the environment than the whole of the petrochemical industry; it is colder than the heart of a Wall Street banker, hotter than a sweatshop. What is his target, one that robs the young of innocence, leaves a trail of broken communities and bodies around the world? Well, Biodynamics, of course. You see, it turns out that ‘dynamizing’ water and burying cow horns are the greatest threats to Culture the world has ever known.
The story begins quietly enough. According to Mr. Smith’s well-informed reading of Western History, civilization was moving along swimmingly until a small, sickly man by the name of Rudolf Steiner opened Pandora’s box of miseries and plagues upon humanity. With the publication of a slender volume of agricultural thought experiments this one pied piper, Steiner, set back the progress of Reason and Enlightenment by centuries. Suddenly darkness descended. The mind of Man became infected with thoughts of ‘preparations’, compost heaps, spinning water, the destructiveness of synthetic fertilizers, of cows and manure, land regeneration and speculations on the unity of all life. Jehovah, Christ, Muhammad, even a laughing Buddha, are mere bit players when compared to the starring role Mr. Smith’s feverish imagination has given to Steiner in the eclipse of Reason. Indeed, Mr. Smith’s militant atheism has no use for art, music, or literature if it has been created by an author in the thrall of religious ecstasy or mere inspiration.
And that he claims to write in the name of Science and Rationality is all any of us really need to nail the coffin shut on this style of thinking. His is a shameless display of disrespect, of throwing elbows when civil exchange is what this world really needs.
Most galling is that he pretends to be an organic or sustainable farmer himself, though we never read any proof of this on his site. I’ve asked him many times to tell his readership the specifics of his practice. Silence. Besides, after a certain point, all certified farming practices are suspect. They’ve been legislatively constructed with plenty of escape clauses and exceptions. My suspicion is that Mr. Smith is sufficiently cynical of both the certifying agency and the consumer so as not to finally care what methods he uses. Only Biodynamics is at fault, not industrial agriculture.
So, after reading his latest bit of nonsense We Use To Burn Witches In America, wherein we read some wrong-thinking guy is “dumber than dirt”, I felt it important to respond. And I did. But Mr. Smith is no longer posting my replies. Censoring dissent has become the form of his latest insult. I’ve decided to post it here.
I’m trying to figure out how to live my life according to scientific principles. I know fantasy is not real, I’ve gotten that far. But I’m having trouble with completely banishing the former. Perhaps you can help me. For example, particularly perplexing is the fact that almost all of my relatives believe in a deity of some kind despite all of the excellent scientific evidence to the contrary. God this, god that… They are always whining about one dead family member or another. They tell me stories of when they were young, about their farming days, the Great Hail Storm of ’46, how they saved the world from communism. But between you and me, they always get the details wrong. They leave stuff out. Yet they insist their memories are real! Must be the Miracle-Grow they use on their flower beds. Judging by their memories, I think they drink the stuff as well.
The problem is huge. There are entire nations who organize their self-understanding around scientifically inaccurate fantasies. David slays some really big Goliath dude, Washington tells the truth about a cherry tree, I mean, WTF? The stupid stuff people believe!
Not too long ago a cousin of mine, a veteran, gave a part of his liver to his mother. Now, he needed his entire liver! I tried to stop him, telling him that his altruistic impulse was a fantasy; that his abiding love (another fantasy) for his mother was irrational. His health would be compromised (as has happened); the health of his mother… well, what is a mother anyway but a drag on the bank account, especially when they get old and have absolutely no rational purpose for hanging on? “What if you were adopted?!” I implored. Nothing I said worked. Now everybody is old and in debt, and the son has gained like a thousand pounds, lost his ability to work while the mother went back to baking cookies. Where is the rationality in that?!
I’ve written multiple times to the federal govt. to DO something! But each day I lose a little more confidence that our chronic mistaking of fantasy for reality may have a federal solution! So I’m turning to you, Stu. I’m hoping! Fingers crossed! Knocking on wood! I even went to the mall and had a bumper sticker made up. It reads, “What Would Stu Do?”

Please also see my Reflection On Biodynamics.


29 Responses to ' An Open Letter To Stu Smith of Biodynamics Is A Hoax '

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  1. 1WineDude said,

    on August 3rd, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    A compelling read Ken! I’m still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. I’m not going to say that BioD is perfect, or that it’s not kooky, but IMHO the verdict is in, and it DOES produce great wines. So, it’s at least a *viable* method of farming wine grapes for fine wines. Unless I’m missing a trick somewhere.


  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 3rd, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you, Joe. I completely agree with you. My contribution to the the site in question has been extensive. I simply don’t understand why brothers and sisters in a common cause must be put at odds.

  3. Donna Thirkell said,

    on August 3rd, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Modern agriculture is thought to have fully developed after the last major ice age where humans stopped wandering around looking for food and settlements became common. Cultivation could be relied upon barring the odd biblical disaster.

    Astronomy was used to predict when to plant crops when they could determine what we now know as spring was arriving and cultivating different species of plants which times were they best suited to grow.

    Astronomy was also used in the same way for seafaring communities for navigation. When certain fish important to the communities survival were likely to be more plentiful and such.

    What has now been termed “biodynamic cultivation” is just the same thing we have used throughout the millennium but with adjustments the same as our predecessors made adjustments to their soil and crops. They just didn’t have a name for it.

    Whenever someone says they don’t understand it, I tell them to pick up a farmers almanac. Since Ben Franklin put Poor Richards in publication many years ago, it wasn’t just to write another book. People were immigrating to the new world and while they understood the systems in the lands they came from, the new world was different and they didn’t have years and years to figure their crops out. BioD is just another version of the farmers almanac with ancient treatments documented for a modern society.

    It’s nothing new, nothing surprising, my family which is American Indian always were taught how to plant crops according to the stars with some old fashioned myths & legends with astrology mixed in.

    I even remember when my father layed our circular driveway with large man sized sandstone, lining up all the stones so the sun would tell us when the solstices and other key dates occurred.

    So, BioD is nothing new, it’s foundations has been around a very long time. And man survived and flourished using the stars to plant crops without using poisons to produce them. It’s extremely effective and it’s up to man to look back to our history, which is something mankind has a very hard time doing for some reason, and rediscover it’s efficiency.

  4. harvey said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 10:56 am

    in an industry so full of bs, it’s nice to see someone like stu trying to keep us real.

  5. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 11:38 am

    Thanks, Harvey. I my opinion Stu divides folks who share common cause. Rather than take on industrial Ag, he prefers to slam decent, hard-working people who’ve committed what Stu considers a ‘thought-crime’. His approach is needlessly destructive of a community which shares values similar to his own, far more values than he is willing to consider.

  6. Dan said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    What does a difficult decision about whether or not to undergo a dangerous but potentially life-saving medical procedure for a relative have to do with the fact that there have been no scientific studies showing that biodynamic farming has any effect at all? I don’t necessarily agree with Stu that this lack of proof is proof that biodynamics doesn’t work, but given that a lot of the things posited by biodynamics have no grounding in any of the laws of the universe we know of, it is at least a reasonable position.

    I would venture that this ridiculously irrelevant and poorly argued post contributes a lot less to the discussion than Stu’s (admittedly a bit over the top) blog does.

  7. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Dan, your comment is as consistent in both tone and quality as are the bulk of Stu’s ruminations. I’ve contributed numerous comments to his blog, and in numerous styles. Yet all of his replies have been uniformly rude. This is also sadly true of folks interested in asking simple questions of his positions. The point of my letter was that by Stu’s casual dismissal of all things spiritual, tarring them all as irrational fantasies, he condemns the greater portion of our culture and heritage to oblivion. Should you take an interest, I suggest you wander through his postings and read all on my comments that have led up to this point.

  8. on August 4th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Funny how a discussion about wine always morphs into something else. I get a real kick out of listening to both sides, but wish that those same two sides would kind of get over themselves.
    Everyone getting testy here needs to get a nice glass of something and take a heart pill.

  9. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Tracy, I don’t know about the heart pill, but the drink is well advised! Thank you for the comment.

  10. lynn said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Smith’s rantings have me somewhat baffled, especially in his insistance that “burning witches” was a desireable, all-American activity!

  11. Jason said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    Have to agree with Stu on this one. I’ve read through your comments on his site and it seems you’re the one being dismissive of him, plus the name calling on your part? Why? You essentially called him and his supports stupid.

    His blog isn’t about spirituality, it’s about the nuts and bolts of whether biodynamics works. Neither you nor anyone else that supports this will frame the debate this way. Your position seems to be “it could work and a lot of people support it so don’t knock it.” Did you follow Jim Jones too?

  12. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Jason. There is no ‘one’ point Stu makes apart from the over-arching claim that proponents of BioD are aligned with the forces of darkness. This to me is an unacceptable position. And, yes, those who hold that view, while not ’stupid’, have cast their lot in with the intolerant, the unthinking. Stu’s blog is about many things. I must insist on this point. He has more than intimated that the BioD community is suffused with a fascist spirit. He has accused them, whoever ‘they’ are, of being irrational, puppets of a malevolent master casting spells from beyond the grave. He’s accused them of being anti-science, opposed to the progress of Reason.
    His blog is about spirituality and his hostility to it; but the net he casts, the names and beliefs on his ever-growing list of cultural undesirables, is too extreme. I mean, am I the only one who reads him closely? Lastly, the Jim Jones crack is, well, stupid. Apologies, but really… I do, however, thank you very much for taking the time to read through my comments. That is, ultimately, all I ask.

  13. Jeff V. said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 4:33 pm


    I follow your blog often and have read your contributions to Stu’s blog. After reading his posts, responses to comments, to me his agenda seems clear. Stir the pot, piss people off, increase hits to his blog, gain some attention, etc.

    I’m starting to think that Stu is a master marketer. Drive wine sales by creating an enemy.
    However, he may just be a jaded member of the Napa/UC Davis Old Guard.

  14. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 4th, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Hadn’t thought of that possibility. Wouldn’t be the first time. Thanks for the comment, Jeff V.

  15. Mike said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Thanks for taking this on. I would have to agree with Jeff V on this. Stu, I believe, has been watching the press BD farmers have been getting and is using the blog to scream “what about me!!”. If you leave him alone he will go away like the nazis in Skokie.

  16. anon said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I have read Stuart’s blog and yours. I neither know nor care much about either of you, or biodynamics. Mr. Smith is clearly better educated and vastly more experienced on the subject of viticulture than you. He makes his argument cogently, rationally, and without hysteria or appeals to emotion. He wins.

  17. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Thank you, Anon, for taking such a brave stand. I think even Stu would agree that with friends like you… Wait, Mom? The SS check is in the mail. I swear!

  18. Jo Diaz said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Ken, you forgot to mention that Stu wasn’t breastfed. I think that’s the real underlining problem. That kind of love and tenderness bonding does so much to produce an empathetic human being, whose cycles of life follow the moon, stars, sun cycles, and openheartedness. Corazón de la piedra (heart of stone)

  19. Machairodus said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I agree with Anon and have the impression that those in favour of biodynamics, much like religious fanatics, cannot and will not hold rational arguments. It all boils down to spirituality, tradition and a series of lectures on agriculture given almost a century ago by a lunatic who never earned his living in farming. Clearly, you are just like the horns biodynamic farmers burry in the vineyard: Full of it.

  20. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Hello, Machairodus. Your ISP suggests you’re located in Buenos Aires. There are a number of well-regarded BioD producers in Argentina, among them Bodega Colome, Bodega Chacra, Finca Dimania, Bodega Biodinamica Kontriras. Go bother them. Cheers!

  21. Machairodus said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Jo, solid biodynamic reasoning. Smart girl! Adolf Hitler was breastfed. Ken, whatever. Cheers.

  22. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 5th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Hello again, Machairodus. I am deeply saddened to hear Hitler was breast-fed. That he also liked dogs and was a vegetarian are another two strikes against me! Not sure what to say… I feel so dirty. How is the weather there? We’ve had a very foggy summer on the Cali Coast. Ripening issues are a big concern. Hey, while I’ve got your attention, my son recently returned from a Spanish intensive course in your fair city. He loved BA. Well, that’s all for now. Take care.

  23. Anne said,

    on August 8th, 2010 at 9:04 am

    1) It is possible that “Biodynamics is a Hoax” is itself a hoax, or simply a publicity stunt. After all, it is not as though Stu Smith has been a voice of scientific reason in the wine industry… nary a whisper on the subject of “science” over the last 30 years. Stu’s wife is, after all, a public relations hack. Keep things in perspective.

    2) To assert that biodynamics is a hoax and ignores science is, at its core, scientifically ignorant. My scientific training (a chemical engineer with a master’s degree) leaves me respectful and curious. As an example, even a tiny amount of copper in the vineyard will make a difference in the wine. It MUST – simply because it is now there and it once wasn’t. Will it change wine quality? MAYBE – Depending on one’s site, and what else is in the vineyard to interact with it. Will first burying the copper in a cow’s horn make a difference? Certainly, because there are elements in the soil and in the cow’s horn that interact. Will it affect wine quality. MAYBE…. and so forth. A “scientist” would not unequivocally say “no” without a host of experimentation.

  24. Greg said,

    on August 10th, 2010 at 8:36 am

    BRAVO!!! That Blog is so terrible. He picks out random Steiner thoughts (in a book of ten’s of thousands) and says because of this thought Biodynamics is false. About time someone came out against his obvious ploy to promote his own wines.

  25. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 10th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Greg and Anne. It is all about a gentle hand in the vineyard. You can’t steal from Peter to pay Paul..

  26. Charlie Oiken said,

    on August 11th, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    I learned to love BioD when Oliver Humbrecht told a bunch of us that the single best thing that BioD had done for him was to make him more aware of the earth. That cannot be a bad thing. Grapegrowing is about the marriage of earth and plant and man, and while man’s intervention in whatever form is less than natural, intervening with things other than chemicals cannot be bad, and is arguably pretty good.
    However, the argument sort of ends there. Despite Joe Roberts’ (my adopted journalistic son by the way) claims that BioD makes great wines, the problem is that I cannot find in CA (my beat, after all) that it makes wines that simply put non-BioD wines to shame. On the contrary, what I find is that BioD makes about the same rate of great wines as other less stringent methodologies, and, that it makes about the same rates of ordinary wines and uninteresting wines. That is my answer to the question Anne poses above.
    But, if the wines are not worse, and being good to the planet is better than not being good to the planet, then we are yards, if not light years ahead by doing what we can to make our house a better, safer, cleaner place.
    I don’t know what set Stu Smith off, and I don’t see how his premise is more than an argument that BioD takes itself far too seriously. It does carry a certain religious fervor, as does Steiner’s work on education. That neither makes it right or wrong, but all of Steiners’ work comes with the message that he has the answers and the rest of the world does not if it fails to join the party.
    I can see that attitude bugging a lot of people. I take my religious beliefs seriously–damn seriously–but they are mine and, frankly, I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about them just as I don’t care what your beliefs are just as long as your beliefs do not tell me I am wrong for not agreeing with you.
    One can argue that the proof is in the soil or one can argue that proof is in the glass. So far, the soil says “Yes, I am healthier”. I am not able to say the same for the wines.

  27. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on August 11th, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Quite an elegant response, Charlie. Thank you for the comment.

  28. Rich said,

    on April 20th, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Steiner leaves us in freedom, enjoy.

  29. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on May 1st, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Rich. Steiner may leave you in complete freedom, but Demeter, the certifying agency for Biodynamics, does not. Cheers.

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