How horns filled with cow shit affect the way I cook

Words: Esben Holmboe Bang
Photo: Tuukka Koski
Mountains in Lom

First published on Vice Munchies

Rudolf Steiner first proposed the idea of biodynamic farming to a group of concerned farmers back in 1924. His idea of treating the farm as a self-sufficient living entity still is as current as it was back then.

I grew up in a similar background to the Steiner model, but not as concise as the philosophy of Steiner. I have strong feelings about these things. I lived for sometime with my mother in a commune; a short train ride from outside Copenhagen. There was no farming there, but the social aspect of multiple families living together in «harmony» was not far away from the ethos of Steiner. I also went to school where there was more focus in dancing samba and evolving with a creative mind rather than learning grammar and mathematics.

It was my father, though, who introduced me to the differences between conventional versus organic and biodynamic produce at an early age. This was back in a time when you had to visit some dusted up cellar in the «bohemian» part of town to find organic flour. There was no Whole Foods. So from an early age, I have had to make up my own opinions about natural produce and as I made a career out of cooking dinners for people, these choices and opinions started to shine through more than any other part of my life.

According to Steiner, everything on the farm should be co-dependant as though everything is connected to form an organism. Each facet of the farm should remain harmonious with the others to maintain a healthy growing environment; the plants, soil, animals, humans, and cosmos are all part of the whole. When everything is tuned correctly, the «terrestrial and cosmic energy» can then flow throughout the system.  

Esben Holmboe Bang by the sea
I, myself, am not convinced that harvesting according to the moon phases, burying shit-filled horns, or using fermented urine as fertilizer has any direct affect on the crops or the produce. But, the fact is that I have yet to meet a farmer who originates from a biodynamic strain of thought who does not love what he or she harvests. Esben Holmboe Bang — Head chef
Mountains in Lom

The trick is to find the right antenna. Although not as scientific as Michael Faraday´s magnet and coils, Steiner´s universal receiver was a lot more, shall we say, engrossing. One of his more eccentric theories was to take a large cow horn and fill it with the freshest of female cow manure. You were to then bury this in the spring for half a year, removing it in the fall. The contents would be mixed with warmed water and distributed over the field to broadcast `cosmic forces´to the eagerly awaiting plant lives below.

Suppose you are an amateur Astrologist. According to the cosmic and earthly poles from which Biodynamic Agriculture draws its rhythm, your crops should be planted based on which constellation the moon is passing through and whether it is an Earth day or a Fire day. Other such fabled practices include filling the bladder of a male deer with yarrow flowers and hanging it over the summer on the branch of a tree. If you wanted something a little easier, however, you could just ferment your own urine and use it as fertilizer for your nitrogen hungry crop.

Does any of this actually work? Well, it turns out there may be a glimmer of truth for all the starry-eyed followers. Humus producing microbes thrive in the manure from lactating cows, and humus contributes to the nutrient content and moisture retention in the soil. Just as the gravity of the moon affects the tides, it is thought that sowing seeds a few days prior to a full moon increases the level of ground water in the soil, resulting in greater plant hydration. Crop rotation eases the strain on the soil by alternating between periods of exhaustive, nutrient greedy crops and plants that have a restorative effect on the earth.

Mountains in Lom

Rudolf Steiner´s self-sufficient Biodynamic farming philosophy has extended to the infrastructure at many farms as well. Here in Norway, farms such as «Ramme Gård» are making the most of what nature has to offer. The buildings are being heated using bio-energy such as locally produced wood chips and are powered by Solar Cells. Rain water is collected and used for irrigation, washing the harvested crops as well as for the toilet or laundry water. The diesel engines of the tractors and farming equipment have even been converted to run on common rapeseed oil.

Whether our farmers fertilize their fields with stuffed horns or decide when to plant according to a celestial sign in the heavens is ultimately of no concern to us.

Straying from all the folklore, what really matters above all is the quality of the final product. At Maaemo, we have slowly learned that we cannot truly create anything unless we know where our produce comes from. So we have spent a great deal of time getting to know all of our suppliers so we can better understand how to showcase their products in the best possible way.

Visiting the farms and seeing where our products come from allows us as chefs and cooks to better understand and respect what we are cooking with. Most of all, we see the passion and excitement on the faces of our farmers as they talk about the season´s first peas or a newly planted crop.

I think, that to truly evolve as a cook who is running a restaurant, you need to be able to relate to what you put on the plate. This goes without saying. But for me, I need to be able to relate to everything that goes into the process before anything hits the plate.

It is up to us to cook, both with respect and diligence, to stay true to the offerings our suppliers have put their life into creating. We support them in their quest to produce the best possible produce just as they support us in growing certain varieties of vegetables and harvesting them at the exact shape, size or stage that we request. We are even happy to help with the harvest, getting our hands dirty picking the vegetables from the soil when they are at their very best.

I, myself, am not convinced that harvesting according to the moon faces, burying shit filled horns, or using fermented urine as fertilizer has any direct affect on the crops or the produce. But, the fact is that I have yet to meet a farmer who originates from a biodynamic strain of thought who does not love what he or she harvests. And it might just be the love and the passion that makes the difference.

We will gladly help fill the horns with cow shit, because at the end of the day, if this helps our beloved suppliers and farmers provide us with a better product, then we are all for it…

Mountains in Lom