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"Plenty" and the Philosophy of Organic Agriculture

Paull, John (2014) "Plenty" and the Philosophy of Organic Agriculture. Plenty, 1 (Winter), pp. 52-56.

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“The illusion of plenty” and “poverty in plenty” are notions that Lord Northbourne raised in his manifesto of organic agriculture, Look to the Land. At the launch of this new journal, Plenty, it is timely to revisit Northbourne’s reflections on the topic.
In the current epidemic of obesity, where 25% of Australians, 23% of British, and 34% of Americans are obese, we witness the manifestations of Northbourne’s notions of “the illusion of plenty” and “poverty in plenty”. We live in a time when the super obese may be extricated from their homes by a demolition team knocking down walls, may be transported to hospital in specially reinforced fat-mobile ambulances, and may be CT scanned in machines that are otherwise used for large zoo animals . Such developments are a wakeup call that perhaps all is not well amidst the prevailing feast of food.
For the present century, Northbourne could be paraphrased in modern parlance as: “The delusion is that cheapness leads to plenty. But of what use is plenty of junk food?” His book, Look to the Land, introduced to the world the concept of “organic farming”. It is a book of the philosophy of organic agriculture rather than of the mechanics of organic agriculture, it is a testament to the ‘why’ rather than of the ‘how’.
In his book, Northbourne laid down the foundational philosophy of organic farming. As well as philosopher of organics, he was also a practitioner, and a biodynamic farmer. He observed that: “the ʻbio-dynamic methodʼ, evolved in accordance with the recommendations of the late Dr Rudolf Steiner. The ... method has been highly developed in the course of some fifteen years' work on the Continent, and its effectiveness may be said to be proved, though its supporters would be the last to claim that there is no more to be learnt about it”.
Although Northbourne (1896-1982) and Steiner (1865-1925) were at Oxford at the same time, Northbourne as a young university lecturer in agriculture in 1922, and Steiner presiding over his conference on education, there is no evidence that they met. The biodynamics advocate Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961) and Northbourne met in both England and Switzerland. Northbourne was impressed with Pfeiffer’s book, Bio-dynamic Farming and Gardening (1938), and he invited Pfeiffer to present a biodynamic conference at Northbourne’s farm in Kent, which Pfeiffer did in 1939, just before the outbreak of WWII.
The following year, Northbourne’s book, Look to the Land, presented the arguments and ideas for a differentiated agriculture to an Anglophone audience at a time when such ideas, in a Germanic configuration, would have been less likely to meet a receptive audience.
Northbourne lamented that “qualitative deterioration is evident all around us ... Not only in food”. He declared that: “we have plenty - in the quantitative sense only - of food; but in the kind of food which is the absolutely indispensable basis for satisfactory living we are miserably poor”.
In Look to the Land, Northbourne raised many issues that remain contemporary and compelling today, and he wrote of them with great clarity and robustness. A selection in this paper reveals the prescience and farsightedness of Northbourne’s thoughts.

EPrint Type:Journal paper
Subjects: Values, standards and certification
Food systems
"Organics" in general > History of organics
Knowledge management
Research affiliation:Australia > University of Tasmania
Related Links:https://orgprints.org/18835/1/Paull2011OxfordEJES.pdf, https://orgprints.org/26110/7/26110.pdf, https://orgprints.org/10138/1/10138.pdf, https://orgprints.org/26547/12/26547.pdf, https://orgprints.org/19511/1/Paull2011BetteshangerJOS.pdf, https://orgprints.org/17060/3/17060.pdf
Deposited By: Paull, Dr John
ID Code:27540
Deposited On:10 Nov 2014 13:29
Last Modified:10 Nov 2014 13:29
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed
Additional Publishing Information:Published by Biodynamic Agriculture Australia
Editor: Rachel Grisewood

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