Since the 1960s, there has been a marked dissent against conventional forms of agriculture in certain American subcultures. Critics argue that industrial agriculture not only deteriorate the soil and ruin ecosystems, but also poison the food supply and destroy local value-chains. Marking opposition to these modes of production a growing subculture is turning towards alterative agricultural paradigms. California, the land of golden hills and silicon valleys also houses a booming industry of such countercultural modes of agriculture. Among these, organic and biodynamic agricultural practices are the most notable. Based on six months of participant fieldwork on a biodynamic vineyard in northern California this thesis explore the complex ways people conceptualize, give meaning to and organize around agriculture. In doing so, it draws on a wide literature on the spiritual and religious aspects of environmentalism. Presented as a part of the project Cultures and Biodiversity, perception and practices it seeks to explore the dialectics between practice and perception in regard to nature. The core question of the thesis is how the theoretical framework of biodynamic agriculture is used to create a new local knowledge and how this knowledge shapes an animist way of perceiving nature and informs agricultural decision-making. In turn it is argued that personal experience of nature and its sacredness is founded on a dialectic between experience and cosmology, and that both these underpin a moral incentive for farmers to adhere to biodynamic practices. Furthermore it is argued throughout this thesis against representationalist approaches to nature. Rather than taking the environment to be a neutral space occupied by human categorization, this thesis explores ways in which nature resists brute categorization. Drawing on the works of Tim Ingold it is argued that elements of landscapes such as skilled manipulation, biodiversity and ritual processes are better understood as emergent forms of meshworks; complex and diverse processes of growth and decay. It is through these meshworks that spiritual modes of experience and magic modes of control are explored.
Keywords: Biodynamic agriculture, organic agriculture, biodiversity, anthroposophy, identity, skill, perception, spirituality, magic, place.