Interview with Carlo Noro – La Raia
Immediately after Christmas, our friend Francesca Ciancio from the biodynamic farm LA RAIA came to visit us at our headquarters in Labico to have a chat with Carlo.
We report the article below:
Carlo Noro is a kind and calm man, in his sixties, who lives and works in the Roman countryside in Labico. Biodynamics – according to the most widespread definitions – is a cultivation method based on the spiritual and anthroposophical vision of the world developed by Rudolf Steiner.
Pragmatism is the connection between knowledge and action. The connection between these three dimensions emerged from a long chat with Carlo, immediately after Christmas, in his countryside, in the large room built according to the principles of green building. A cold but beautiful day, a piece of winter full of colors in these five hectares cultivated according to the principles of biodynamic agriculture.
Carlo Noro is the largest Italian producer of biodynamic preparations, probably among the largest in Europe, with over 40 thousand corn manure produced.
This meeting was born from the desire to better understand how pragmatism, which guides Carlo Noro in his studies and in his work, has helped the understanding and diffusion of biodynamic practice and how this can free itself from esoteric interpretations.
How do you become a biodynamic farmer?
In my case due to malaise and discontent. Before biodynamics and agriculture there was a young man of not even 30 years old who was not happy with what he had and what he did. Yet I had started working early with good results, first with my own printing company and then with a secure and well-paid job in a bank. But I was sick. After several doctors, I met a doctor expert in anthroposophy who simply asked me “Carlo, what do you want to do in life?” The answer was simply: “Take care of the land.”
A hidden or repressed desire perhaps?
At all. My parents had always been involved in agriculture in Piglio in the Frusinate area, but I had escaped from those lands. After the first years in the bank I decided to go and live in the countryside and I began to think that I wanted to do something for myself, but also for those who would come after, to leave a conscious trace of my experience. Because the central point is this: to leave as best we can what does not belong to us and which was there before us. It is a duty rather than a choice. I understood this when I started reading anthroposophic texts.
So yours was first and foremost a philosophical approach?
But I have never experienced disjointed things, experience on the one hand, study on the other, because they are not. Anthroposophy believes in the existence of a spiritual world which however is comprehensible to reason and which offers verifications. Starting with internal change. I have changed and this is something verifiable. There was an uneasiness that weighed me down and that is no longer there.
What if we wanted to bring this thinking back to agriculture?
Think about a seed, in a very small thing there is knowledge that is millions of years old, and yet even today we do not know the structure of the seed completely. Does this stop us from using it and seeing the results or worse yet label it as something mystical?
How to say that the path matters more than the result?
I believe that nothing is random and that my discomfort was necessary to put me on a different path, in search of a meaning that was already there. Our commitment is to search for that meaning.
So you had to become a farmer.
There is a saying that I love very much: “There is no leaf that falls that God does not want”. I’m talking about predestination, not belief in some god. I have been involved in biodynamics for more than 30 years and I am constantly learning new things. But I know it’s my path.
And when did he put his hands in the dirt?
I understood that she was polluted, like me. In the last 50 years we have disfigured the entire agricultural territory by applying conventional agronomy to it. Human beings have not understood that we should not deal with nature with the laws dictated by the mechanistic science connected to agro-industry. In 1924 Rudolf Steiner gave us a new impetus to replace the chemical agricultural method, which was then becoming popular throughout Europe. He gave us the tools to understand and intervene, respecting the wisdom and mechanisms of nature that exist and have been repeated for millions of years. I have never shared the saying “the garden makes a man dead”, according to which the cultivation of the land ends up exhausting man because it is so demanding. For me, cultivating the land is a passion that pleases our soul.
And instead does the use of preparations change the relationship with the earth?
Biodynamics is an agronomic science. What’s unscientific about putting manure in a horn? The term “biodynamic” itself is nothing more than the portmanteau between organic and dynamic agriculture. Yet no one suspects organic farming of esotericism.
But then why is there still so much skepticism and even a certain irony on the subject?
Here there is a big mea culpa to be made, from me and from biodynamic scholars. At the beginning I also held courses in which I spoke about philosophy and theoretical dictates. Instead we need to bring the results of this correspondence between the phenomena of nature and those who experience them. I teach agronomic techniques to the farmers who follow me and I do it together with Michele Lorenzetti, who is an oenologist and a biologist. I care a lot about the pragmatic aspect of what I teach. I’ll give you an example, dynamization, which some still explain by bringing up supernatural forces, is nothing more than a simple microbiological process: a vortex of water which, as it spins, takes in oxygen, activating the microbial mass.
Yet you believe deeply in what Steiner calls “spiritual science”, how do you reconcile this with pragmatism?
Science is knowledge and knowledge is growth. And there is no growth without an enrichment of the spirit. Here spirituality is understood as a path. Steiner’s strength lies in this: that he conceived his methods in a dynamic way. There is foresight in his vision of him, so he matters not only what we do for ourselves, but also what we do for others, for those who will come. Science without knowledge is chemistry, it is the dictatorship of the pharmacopoeia that has occluded the vitality of the earth, has necrotized it.
You are the first to have experimented with this method on your land. Does he tell us about it?
My children are building a small cellar to make wine from the two hectares of vineyard we have on the farm. Observing the excavation we noticed that there is one meter and twenty of dark earth, or humic and colloidal substance, in a word, life. Biologically this would not be possible because agronomy explains that the fertility of a soil rarely goes beyond fifty centimeters. What did it depend on? My answer is from the prepared. In my garden I planted some cabbages, which are attacked by the cabbage moth. A few years ago, without my having done anything, its antagonist, the apantheles, appeared, and so the loss of the product was enormously reduced. There has been a lot of talk about the oil fly and the damage caused to olive groves, but little has been said about the fact that this fly has four antagonists, almost completely extinct by now.
So has your company been enriched over time?
Now yes, but the first years were terrible. The old owner told me that this was an area of intensive planting of apple orchards, peach orchards and Italian grapes. Imagine the amount of herbicides used. I went ahead with the compost but nothing came out, everything was burned. At that point I began to use the recommended doses of the preparation, around 200/300 grams per hectare. It didn’t take me long to understand that they weren’t enough and so I started increasing the dosage, up to one kilo/one and a half kilos per hectare at different stages of the year. In three years my five hectares of land came back to life. This issue of quantity has always been a delicate issue because, by producing preparations, I could be accused of pushing for economic reasons. For this reason, for a long time, I kept the results of the experiments to myself, but I have many customers, in Italy and abroad – almost 500 – and it is normal that I have to help them find solutions. Personally, I am also against the homeopathic use of biodynamics, because it weakens it. Homeopathy is not matter that you introduce into the ground, but an infinitesimally split force of a molecule, while biodynamics is a ponderal action that introduces substance into the field.
Let’s come to wine and biodynamics in viticulture: is it an activity that has limits in itself compared to other crops?
Viticulture is very often a monoculture, which is exactly the opposite of biodiversity, the basic concept of biodynamics. Furthermore, the vine is a plant which, after the spread of the American rootstock (the grafting of native plants onto the roots of North American plants which had proven resistant to phylloxera, ed.), has suffered a strong physiological trauma. To winemakers who ask me for advice, I first of all say to plant trees and plants in the vineyards, to create an environment rich in varied forms of life. In my children’s vineyard, two hectares on the Lazio Apennines, despite frequent afternoon storms until July, thanks to intensively applied biodynamics, we managed to use a low dosage of copper, below what is allowed by the Demeter specifications. I know it sounds like a cliché, but with healthy grapes, work in the cellar becomes secondary. The winemaking process is something simple, consisting of just a few steps if the starting material is good.
Let us rather ask ourselves if we have not taken viticulture to extremes, with perhaps excessive attention on the part of the wine entrepreneur. We have placed viticulture on a pedestal. We said that viticulture is cooler than other crops. Perhaps it would be enough to scale it back a bit and everything would become simpler, more according to nature.
by Francesca Ciancio