Iowa School’s regenerative AG degree is more woo than woo-hoo

Imagine it. Farmer’s Daughter USA lectures companies about marketing’s disparagement of modern agriculture. She highlights how food companies use meaningless terms like “all natural” to sell their products. She points out that describing your product with terms like “clean” implies something negative about others like “dirty”. In short, she cuts through the bull to get to the truth.

And then your marketing guru decides to ask The Farmer’s Daughter USA to review your product, enroll in your ambassador program, or promote your wares. Except your company uses all the marketing gimmicks she criticizes. This won’t end well for you.

It. Happens. All. That. Time.

My inbox is constantly full of these offers, which usually start off by saying something like, “I read your content and thought you were a great match!” Some are spam and I ignore them. Others just want me to write “news” about their business as a form of advertising. (This article for AGDAILY was inspired by one of those requests.) But every once in a while, the offers are legitimate, and the companies give me freebies or pay me real money to get on their bandwagon. (And for the record, if I ever accept those offers, I always give them openly.)

My favorite example is Bakerly. Their marketing rep contacted me to review their products. I agreed but told her I had to be honest in my post. So if I didn’t like their bread I would have to say so. No problem! The company sent me a huge box with different types of bread, fun stickers, an apron and even confetti.

I wrote my review honestly (you can still find it here). The stuff was great, but all the marketing nonsense totally turned me off. And that’s what I said to my readers – I like the product but would never actually buy it. I was so mad I ended the article by saying, “Great product, bad marketing. Too bad.” Unfortunately, no one ever shared with me the aftermath, which I’m sure occurred. (Sorry, not sorry.)

I recently received an email that I initially thought might be one of those golden opportunities. Maharishi International University has offered to make me one of their referral partners for a new major: Regenerative Organic Agriculture. I would receive $550 for each referral that completes the program with a degree.

maharishi university regenerative agriculture

Honestly, the opportunity didn’t seem particularly lucrative (I have to wait to get paid while someone graduates with a four-year degree? No thanks!). But my complicated relationship to “regenerative” agriculture made me curious.

Regenerative is definitely the marketing buzzword of the moment and companies are scrambling to capitalize on it. But what the hell does it mean? The best I can say is that it is meant to imply agricultural production focused on soil quality, although there is no commonly accepted definition. But if that’s the case then the term seems unnecessary as most farmers care about healthy soils to keep their farm productive year after year. So while I support the goal in general, the term “regenerative” is just redundant.

And if regenerative is just a dreamy concept of sustainability, what exactly would the good professors at MIU teach aspiring regenerative organic farmers?

What I discovered was wild.

First, let’s talk about MIU itself. The Iowa school was founded in 1972 based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an Indian seer who promoted what is known as transcendental meditation. According to a 1992 New York Times article, yogi’s teachings “are interwoven with math, physics, and every subject taught there, much as Christian or Jewish ideas become part of the curriculum at colleges with strong religious affiliations.”

But here’s the part where everything fell into place for me. None other than John Fagan is associated with MIU. His name pops up in the non-GMO pro-organic circles from time to time. He is Chief Science Officer of Genetic-ID, a company that works closely with the Non-GMO Project, which tests for the presence of GMOs in certified foods. Fagan’s views on farming are quite… unconventional. He believes that plants grown according to the Maharishi Vedic Organic Method contain six to eight times as many vitamins and nutrients as conventionally grown plants. He attributes the difference to the Maharishi-trained Vedic pandits (er, a bit like monks?) who use the “sound of nature” from the “unified field” during certain life stages of harvest.

Uh, I have no idea what that means either. But it comes from the Chief Science Officer of a Non-GMO Project testing lab. So interpret that however you want.

MIU’s program in regenerative agriculture follows in the same vein. Students can take courses titled “Awareness in Agriculture” and “Awareness Exploration”. Electives include a history of organic farming and the cultivation, processing, and quality control of medicinal herbs. Of course, the students also take courses in Transcendental Meditation and learn within a consciousness-based educational system.

I mean, how can you even be a farmer if you don’t learn how to meditate with your crops, make your own homeopathic medicines, and become one with the soil? No, nothing to see here…

By the way, MIU, please consider this my refusal of your invitation to be a paid referral source. I don’t think I could keep a straight face while telling prospective students all about your incredible school and program.

Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Their goal is to empower farmers and fight the misinformation swirling around the US food industry.

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