[permaculture] History of Organic Agriculture slide presentation

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at bellsouth.net
Wed Oct 24 12:37:28 EDT 2012

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [SANET-MG] History of Organic Agriculture slide presentation
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2012 11:37:07 -0400
From: Joel Gruver <jgruv at HOTMAIL.COM>

Hello Michael,

Almost exactly 13 years ago, I posted the following message to the SANET 

Hello to all...

While perusing a book titled Fauna in soil ecosystems: recycling 
processes, nutrient fluxes and agricultural production (edited by Gero 
Benckiser, Marcel Dekker, 1997,

ISBN 0-8247-9786-8) I encountered a very interesting quote attributed to 
  an individual somewhat infamous in sustainable ag circles. In 1855, 
Justus Von Liebig wrote:

"Unfortunately the true beauty of agriculture with its intellectual and 
animating principles is almost unrecognized. The art of agriculture will

be lost when ignorant, unscientific and short sighted teachers persuade 
the farmer to put all his hopes in universal remedies, which don't exist

in nature. Following their advice, bedazzled by an ephemeral success, 
the farmer will forget the soil and lose sight of his inherent values 
and their influence."

The original source of this quote is Liebig von, J. (1855)  Die 
Grundsatze der Agriculturchemie mit Rucksicht auf die in England 
angestellten Untersuchungen. Braunschweig.

Those are some interesting words to ponder in this age of biotech 
promises of "universal remedies"...

Joel Gruver

Center for Agriculture, Food and Environment

Tufts University

P.S. I have the original German if anyone is interested


Liebig was indisputably a great scientist and educator who made many 
landmark contributions to inorganic and organic chemistry and the 
teaching of these topics.

For some reason however proponents of both organic agriculture and 
industrial agriculture seem prone to circulating misinformation about 
the man.

The wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justus_von_Liebig) 
contains several obvious errors:

Liebig did NOT formulate the law of the minimum and for much of his 
career believed that all crops had access to N from the air and thus 
would not benefit from supplemental N.

I address some of these myths in the presentation at the following link:



JI Rodale was not a scientist... he was a publisher and public speaker 
who greatly increased public exposure to the ideas of A Howard, W 
Albrecht, L Bromfield, E Pheiffer, M Fukuoka, R McCarrison, W Price...

Howard and Albrecht did not have the same views... but they shared a 
common interest in relationships between soil fertility/management and 
crop, livestock and human health.

I emphasized this point in class last week when we discussed the slides.


Joel Gruver

School of Agriculture

Western Illinois University

jgruv at hotmail.com

> Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2012 12:57:44 -0400
> From: michael.astera at GMAIL.COM
> Subject: Re: [SANET-MG] History of Organic Agriculture slide presentation
> Joel-
> I enjoyed the slide show, but if its purpose is to trace the history of
> "organic" agriculture I think it's going too far afield and wrongly
> including some prominent researchers who don't fit under that tent,
> Bromfield and Albrecht. It is also repeating an old and scurrilous canard
> against Justus Liebig.
> Lebig first: From your slide show "Howard thought that Liebig led
> agriculture astray when he denounced the humus theory and promoted the NPK
> mentality." At the time of the first publication (1840) of Liebig's
> "Chemistry in its Application to Agriculture and Physiology" agricultural
> science had long been dominated by the idea that humus was the sole source
> of soil fertility.  Liebig definitively showed that was not the case, and
> provided evidence that the source of soil fertility was soil minerals.
> Although he showed that the elements N, P, and K were of major importance
> in growing food crops, and in human and animal nutrition, he emphasized
> that whatever needed element was in shortest supply would be the limiting
> factor in plant growth and health. The staves of the barrel you pictured on
> frame 28 of your slide show, Illustrating Liebig's law of the minimum, show
> ten or twelve minerals, not three. If Howard had bothered to actually read
> Liebig he would have known him as an ardent champion of soil conservation
> whose concern above all was to preserve and build the fertility of
> agricultural soils.  Liebig devoted a good portion of his energy over
> decades to promoting the idea of returning the fertility lost in sewage to
> the land.  The fact that some short-sighted and greedy industrialists used
> a small part of Liebig's work to promote harsh chemical fertilizers to
> "mine" soil fertility is not Liebig's fault or doing. This false criticism
> of Liebig has been repeated by many other writers who also, it seems, have
> not bothered to read Liebig themselves.
> Bromfield and Albrecht: Both were strong advocates of restoring and
> preserving soil fertility. JI Rodale had some contact with them in the
> 1940s, but as I heard the story, Rodale was adamant that organic matter
> alone was the source of soil fertility, and he strongly objected to the use
> of any chemical fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate; Bromfield and
> Albrecht were more pragmatic, and they knew that humus alone was not the
> answer. On one of the rare occasions that Albert Howard even mentioned
> minerals, he made the claim that adding some leaves from deep-rooted forest
> trees would provide all of the minerals needed to maintain and build soil
> fertility. This patently false claim was believed and repeated by Rodale
> through most of the 1940s and '50s. By the late 1950s Rodale had learned
> better, and started to emphasize the importance of minerals amendments such
> as rock phosphate, greensand, and lime, though he made a serious mistake by
> advocating only high-Mg dolomite lime. After Rodale's death in 1971, almost
> all mention of minerals disappeared from OG magazine, with the exception of
> using lime to adjust soil pH, again wrongly advocating only dolomite lime.
> Albrecht was not a supporter of Rodale's organic movement for the simple
> reason that he knew enough about chemistry, physiology, and nutrition to
> know that organic matter alone would not make or maintain soil fertility.
> That false claim is still heavily promoted by the Rodale institute, whose
> present "chief scientist" has gone on record many times saying and writing
> that no soils in the USA need any minerals, and that each and every soil
> has all of the minerals any crop could ever need, forever.
> I first came to this SANET forum to start a discussion of the importance of
> minerals in soil fertility and growing nutritious crops, in an effort to
> offset the exclusive focus on humus and organic matter. My contributions
> were not well received or appreciated.  The ideas presented were denigrated
> and dismissed by a number of people, including Prof Joel Gruver. All of my
> posts since early 2011 have been moderated; they must be approved before
> going up. As far as I can tell, not because of what I have said, but
> apparently due to the ad-hominem attacks against me, the forum moderator
> restricted my ability to post while leaving alone all except one of those
> slandering me or denigrating the importance of what I advocate for. Anyone
> questioning that is referred to the SANET archives from late Dec 2010 to
> Jan 2011.
> Including Albrecht in a purported history of organic agriculture is
> deceptive and intellectually dishonest, especially as it would give the
> impression to the uninformed that Albrecht accepted and supported Howard's
> and Rodale's ideas about soil fertility being based on organic matter. It
> also gives the false impression that Howard, JI Rodale, the Rodale
> Institute, or more than a small handful of organic gardeners and growers
> have or had any knowledge of Albrecht's work on soil minerals, soil
> fertility, nutrition, and health. To date they do not, and are for the most
> part continuing to actively denigrate or ignore it.
> I would refer anyone interested in Albrecht's understanding of organic
> matter in the soil to his chapter on that subject in the 1938 Yearbook of
> Agriculture. I would refer anyone interested in his opinion of Rodale's
> "organic matter is all" dogma to his collected writings published in four
> volumes by Acres USA.
> Michael Astera
> http://soilminerals.com
> On Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 10:34 PM, Joel Gruver <jgruv at hotmail.com> wrote:
> > Hello folks,
> >
> > About a year ago I posted a link for a presentation on the History of
> > Organic Agriculture that I created for my Sustainable Ag class.
> >
> > here is a link to an updated version of the
> > presentation:
> > http://www.slideshare.net/jbgruver/history-of-organic-agriculture-14808475
> >
> > the content is similar but I added some new pics and edited the text on
> > many slides.
> >
> > Joel
> >
> > Joel Gruver
> >
> > School of Agriculture
> >
> > Western Illinois University
> >
> > jgruv at hotmail.com

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