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Published April 06, 2009, 02:17 AM

AG AT-LARGE: Mother Nature is cruel and cold or a sustaining life force

FARGO, N.D. — It’s inevitable. When something bad happens in the environment — especially flood or storms — the blame usually goes to “Mother Nature.” I’m not sure what your mother was like, but mine wouldn’t have liked being held responsible for something like a flood.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — It’s inevitable.

When something bad happens in the environment — especially flood or storms — the blame usually goes to “Mother Nature.” I’m not sure what your mother was like, but mine wouldn’t have liked being held responsible for something like a flood.

The Mother Nature reference always seems a bit curious to me, when the term comes from the mouths of farmers who other-wise adhere to the Judeo-Christian culture of a creator God.

I did some research on the origin of the Mother Nature reference and found that the female representation of nature is prehistoric, with goddess references to fertility and agricultural bounty. Slavics, Romans, Greeks, aboriginal and indigenous peoples — they all had priestess or female embodiments of the life-giving nature.

The word nature itself comes from the Latin word “natura,” or giving birth.

The earliest Mother Nature references were in the Middle Ages and ancient Greece, according to the sources I found. This Mother Nature simply was an anthropomorphic “personification,” not a goddess.

The Greeks had their Demeter and Persphone myths. According to the myth, Demeter discovers her daughter Persephone in the underworld. Demeter, goddess of the harvest, whose name originally meant “earth mother,” was so angry, she refused to provide any crops so the “entire human race would have perished of cruel biting hunger.”

In Hades, her daughter, Pesephone was forced to eat pomegranates — the food of the dead — and later Zeus made a deal with Hades that she’d have to live in the Underworld for every seed of the pomegranate that she ate. She ate six seeds, so had to live away from her mother for six months — a period of ice and snow.

Biodynamic farming

Demeter USA is the only certification agent for “biodynamic” farmers, some of whom live in North Dakota.

A few years ago, I wrote a story for The Fargo (N.D.) Forum about Fred Kirschenmann of Medina, N.D., a noted philosopher and organic crops grower who famously started national and international organic certification organizations.

One spring in the 1990s, I’d happened upon Kirschenmann as he was preparing his manure pile with the “biodynamic” preparations — extracts of “cosmically important” plants.

Biodynamic farming, he explained, is a “movement.” It started in 1924 when European farmers approached an Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, to explain a perceived decline in seed fertility, crop and animal health.

Steiner saw the farm as a “living organism: self-sustaining, entirely responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality,” says Demeter USA.

In 1928, the movement was named biodynamic and now describes itself as “the highest paradigm of sustainable farming” and “offering one of the smallest carbon footprints of any agricultural method.”

Biodynamic farmers use nine homeopathic preparations made from mineral, plant or animal manure extracts, fermented and used to care for soil, compost and plants, and uses “cosmic rhythms” to dictate farming, including new and full moons. Some of these extracts include yarrow, chamomile stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion flowers and valerian flowers. Kirschenmann was placing these preparations in holes he was making with a steel bar — no doubt in the prescribed ratio of 1/16 ounce — a level teaspoon — in a

7- to 10-ton pile of compost.

Some of this had to be packed in cow horns, in a shed for six month through autumn and winter, made into a “tea” and spread onto the soil to promote root growth. Kirschenmann showed me some photographs of soil cutaways, and the root growth.

“Huh,” I said. “This sounds something like a religion to me. Does a fellow have to believe in this in order to be a biodynamic farmer?” Kirschenmann paused, stroked his chin and smiled, “Well, I believe they pay more for it.”