Organic Agriculture – Invented in Kent

Kent was ground-zero for the concept of organic farming. Amidst the pandemonium of World War II, Kent farmer and estate owner, Lord Northbourne (Walter James) (1896-1982) published ‘Look to the Land’ (30 May, 1940). The book introduced to the world, the term ‘organic farming’ along with the philosophy and rationale of practice. Northbourne’s terminology and philosophy were rapidly adopted and championed globally, notably in the USA by the publishing entrepreneur Jerome Rodale (1898-1971) and in Australia by the grazier Colonel Harold (Bill) White (1883-1971) and the Australian Organic Farming & Gardening Society. Organic agriculture is now a worldwide phenomenon which is reported from 186 countries, and globally accounts for 71 million hectares of farmland and GBP86 billion of retail sales per annum. A multinational sequence of events led to Northbourne's 1940 manifesto of organic agriculture. In 1924 the Austrian New Age philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) presented his Agriculture Course at Koberwitz (now Kobierzyce, Poland). In 1938 the German chemist and acolyte of Steiner, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961), working in Switzerland, published his ‘Biodynamic Farming and Gardening’. Northbourne was keen to introduce these ideas to a British audience. He visited Pfeiffer in Switzerland in January 1939 to recruit him to present a conference on Biodynamics at Northbourne’s farm in Kent. The outcome was the Betteshanger Biodynamics Conference (1-9 July, 1939), with lecturers from Switzerland and Holland, and attendees from Britain and New Zealand. Northbourne recalled “the spirit of friendliness, happiness and unity which prevailed … for nine days the possibility of war was scarcely alluded to; things more real and more constructive absorbed attention”.

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Organic Agriculture – Invented in Kent


Sustainable farming

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Dr John Paull

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University of Tasmania


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