Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 24, Issue 6, pp 601–628 | Cite as

Experiential Science; Towards an Integration of Implicit and Reflected Practitioner-Expert Knowledge in the Scientific Development of Organic Farming

  • Ton Baars


For further development of organic agriculture, it will become increasingly essential to integrate experienced innovative practitioners in research projects. The characteristics of this process of co-learning have been transformed into a research approach, theoretically conceptualized as “experiential science” (Baars 2007, Baars and Baars 2007). The approach integrates social sciences, natural sciences, and human sciences. It is derived from action research and belongs to the wider field of transdiscliplinary research. In a dialogue-based culture of equality and mutual exchange the principal of a “bottom-up” experiential learning process can be stimulated and fully reflective. It provides an opportunity to develop organic agriculture as multiple best-practices based on transdisciplinary projects, cases studies, and case series. The aim of the article is to describe the methodological characteristics and the theoretical and practical potential of experiential science for research in and development of organic farming. Three characteristic projects are outlined to illustrate the main elements of the methodology: the retrospective reflection on intuitive and experiential knowledge held by farmers; the knowledge derived from on-farm experimentation; the exchange of knowledge and experiences between farming pioneers within a “masterclass” setting. The study concludes that experiential science offers an important philosophical reconciliation process whereby a synthesis of different approaches to research becomes possible in solving real-life problems: quantitative and qualitative, subjective and objective, reductionistic and holistic, practice and science. Recognizing that there are multiple elements contributing to the process of acquiring knowledge, experiential science draws on a broad field of scientific methods thereby integrating the hermeneutic approach of social sciences and the Humanities with the established methods of contemporary natural science.


Innovation systems Transdisciplinary research Decision making Philosophy of science Co-production of knowledge 



The scientific work was financed by private funding providers, farmers, banks, and state funding from the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. I am grateful to Elisabeth Alington, New Zealand for editing the English text. Great thanks to all the farmers and research colleagues who were my partners in the step-by-step, experiential development of this concept. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


  1. Baars, T. (1990). Dirk Endendijk–21 jaar familiteelt 1967–1988 (80 p.). Driebergen, NL: Louis Bolk Institute.Google Scholar
  2. Baars, T. (2002). Reconciling scientific approaches for organic farming research (346 p.). Wageningen NL: Dissertation Wageningen University.Google Scholar
  3. Baars, T. (2005). How biographical experiences affect a research and training programme in biodynamic agriculture at Kassel University In: B. Haverkort & C. Reijntjes (Eds.), Moving worldviews, reshaping sciences, policies and practices for endogenous sustainable development (pp. 364–380). Leusden, NL: ETC./Compas.Google Scholar
  4. Baars, T. (2007). Konturen einer Erfahrungswissenschaft. Praktische Elemente zur Ergänzung der naturwissenschaftlichen Betrachtungsweise. Lebendige Erde, 5(2007), 44–47.Google Scholar
  5. Baars, T., & Baars, E. (2007). Erfahrungswissenschaft und Expertenblick—Eine Forschungsmethode inspiriert von der biologisch-dynamischen Landwirtschaft. In S. Zikeli et al. (Hrsg.), Zwischen Tradition und Globalisierung, Beiträge zur 9. Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau (pp. 791–794). Berlin: Band 2, Verlag Dr. Köster.Google Scholar
  6. Baars, T., & De Vries, A. (1999). De Boer als Ervaringswetenschapper; Weten uit ervaring (166 p.). Doetinchem: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  7. Baars, T., Iepema, G., Van Eekeren, N., & Baars, E. (2005b). De Bioveemaanpak, werkwijze en methodiek. Bioveem rapport 10, Lelystad, NL.Google Scholar
  8. Baars, T., Schmidt, G., & Olbrich-Majer, M. (2005a). Linienzucht mit Kuhfamilien, Basis für eine biologische Rinderzucht (158 p.). Darmstadt: Verlag Lebendige Erde.Google Scholar
  9. Baars, T., Van Eekeren, N., & Pinxterhuis, I. (2009). Gestaltung einer partizipativen Forschung und Beratung innerhalb eines Projektes in der ökologischen Milchviehhaltung. In J. Mayer, T. Alföldi, et al. (Hrsg.), Beiträge zur 10. Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau, Zürich (pp. 490–493). Berlin: Verlag Dr. Köster.Google Scholar
  10. Baars, T., & Veltman, L. (2000). Adapted grass/clover mixtures for ley farming—a participatory approach to develop organic farming systems. In: K. Søegaard, C. Ohlsson, J. Sehested, N. J. Hutchings, & T. Kristensen (Eds.), Grassland farming—balancing environmental ands economic demands. 18th General Meeting of the European Grassland Federation, pp. 542–544.Google Scholar
  11. Bammer, G. (2005). Integration and implementation sciences: Building a new specialization. Ecology and Society, 10(2), 6.Google Scholar
  12. Bawden, R. (1997). The community challenge: The learning response. Keynote plenary adress to the annual international meeting of the community development society, Athens, Georgia.Google Scholar
  13. Bawden, R., & MacAdam, R. (1991, May). Action researching systems—extension reconstructed. Workshop Agricultural knowledge systems and the role of extension. Stuttgart: University of Hohenheim.Google Scholar
  14. Bockemühl, J. (1981). In partnership with nature. Biodynamic literature, wyoming, Rhode Island, USA, 242 p.Google Scholar
  15. Bockemühl, J. (1992). Towards a phenomenology of the etheric world. Investigations into the life of nature and man. Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic Press.Google Scholar
  16. Bosma, R. H. (2007). Using fuzzy logic models to reveal farmers’ motives to integrate livestock, fish, and crops (144 p.). Dissertation Wageningen.Google Scholar
  17. Brockmann, D. (2003). Planung eines Versuchsstalls für Untersuchungen der mobilen Legehennenhaltung. Witzenhausen: Diplomarbeit Universität Kassel.Google Scholar
  18. Cazemir, C. H. (2008). Fundamentfokkerij 1992–2007. De Nederlandse Koekrant, Aug 2.Google Scholar
  19. Daston, L., & Galeson, P. (2007). Objektivität (521 p.). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.Google Scholar
  20. De Vries, A. (2004). Ervaringsleren cultiveren. Onderzoek in eigen werk (280 p.). Delft, NL: Dissertation Uitgeverij Eburon.Google Scholar
  21. Dijksterhuis, A. (2008). Het slimme onbewuste, denken met gevoel (239 p.). Amsterdam, NL: Uitgeverij Bert Bakker.Google Scholar
  22. Doppenberg, M. (2002). Familieteelt op acht fundamentbedrijven, internal report (35 p.). Driebergen, NL: Louis Bolk Institute.Google Scholar
  23. Fleck, L. (1979). Genesis and development of a scientific fact. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  24. Fry, P. (2001). Bodenfruchtbarkeit: Bauernsicht und Forscherblick. Weikersheim (D): Margraf Verlag.Google Scholar
  25. Goethe von, J. W. (2002). Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen (80 p.). Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben.Google Scholar
  26. Graham, P. (2005). What you’ll wish you’d known (
  27. Hoffmann, V., Probst, K., & Christinck, A. (2007). Farmers and researchers. How can collaborative advantages be created in participatory research and technology development? Agriculture and Human Values, 24, 355–368.Google Scholar
  28. Iepema, G. (red) (2006). Inspirerend boeren! Tien systemen die werken in de praktijk (128 p.). Alphen aan de Rijn, NL: Bioveem.Google Scholar
  29. Ison, R. (2008). Methodological challenges of trans-disciplinary research: Some systemic reflections. Natures Sciences Sociétés, 16(3), 241–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ison, R., High, C., Blackmore, C., & Cerf, M. (2000). Theoretical frameworks for learning-based approaches to change in industrialised-country agricultures. In LEARN Group. M. Cerf, D. Gibbon, B. Hubert, R. Ison, J. Jiggins, M. Paine, J. Proost & N. Röling (Eds.), Cow up a tree. Knowing and learning for change in agriculturecase studies from industrialised countries (pp. 31–54). Paris, France: INRA.Google Scholar
  31. Jiggins, J. (2002). Learning through stakeholder participation, the implications for research. In Challenges of international co-operation, communication with all stakeholders, COST 850, 10–12 January, Einsiedeln, CH.Google Scholar
  32. Kaufmann, B. A. (2003). Differences in perception of causes of camel calf losses between pastoralists and scientists. Experimental Agriculture, 99, 363–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kaufmann, B.A. (2007). Cybernetic analysis of socio-biological systems. The case of livestock management in resource-poor environments (215 p.). Kommunikation und Beratung, 81. Weikersheim: Margraf Publishers.Google Scholar
  34. Kiene, H. (2001). Komplementäre Methodenlehre der klinischen Forschung. Cognition-based medicine (p. 193p). Berlin, NY: Springer Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Klein, G. (2003). Intuition at work. In Dutch as: Intuitie in het werk (347 p.). Het Spectrum, Utrecht, NL.Google Scholar
  36. Krohn, W. (2008). Epistemische Qualitäten transdisziplinären Forschung. In M. Bergmann & E. Schramm (Eds.), Transdisziplinäre Forschung, integrative Forschungsprozess verstehen und bewerten (pp. 39–68). Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.Google Scholar
  37. Looijen, R. (1998). Holism and reductionism in biology and ecology. The mutual dependence of higher and lower level research programmes. Groningen, NL: Doctoral thesis University.Google Scholar
  38. Lyon, F. (1996). How farmers research and learn. The case of arable farmers of East Anglia, UK. Agriculture and Human Values, 13(4), 39–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Maier, E. H. (2009). Der Rinderflüsterer. Was ich von meinen Tieren lernte, wie ich für sie kämpfte und warum auch Nutztiere zufrieden leben müssen (192 p.). Franckh-Kosmos Verlag.Google Scholar
  40. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding (269 p.). Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  41. Millar, D. (2005). Reconstructing epistemologies of African sciences. In B. Haverkort & C. Reijntjes (Eds.), Moving Worldviews, reshaping sciences, policies and practices for endogenous sustainable development (pp. 290–301). Leusden, NL: ETC./Compas.Google Scholar
  42. Miller, A. (1985). Technological thinking: Its impact on environmental management. Environmental Management, 9(3), 179–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company. how Japanese companies create the dynamics of innovation (284 p.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Nørretranders, T. (2000). Spüre die Welt, die Wissenschaft des Bewusstseins, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 3. Auflage, 655 p.Google Scholar
  45. Pohl, C., & Hirsch Hadorn, G. (2008). Methodenentwicklung in der transdisziplinären Forschung. In M. Bergmann & E. Schramm (Eds.), Transdisziplinäre Forschung, integrative Forschungsprozess verstehen und bewerten (pp. 69–92). Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag.Google Scholar
  46. Pohl, C., Rist, S., Zimmermann, A., Fry, P., Gurung, G. S., Schneider, F., et al. (2010). Researchers’ roles in knowledge co-production: Experience from sustainability research in Kenya, Switzerland, Bolivia and Nepal. Science and Public Policy (pp. 267–281).Google Scholar
  47. Polanyi, M. (1985). Implizites Wissen. Suhrkamp (94 p.).Google Scholar
  48. Reichert, D., Fry, P., Heid, C., & Steinemann U. (2000). Wissenschaft als Erfahrungswissen (383 p.). Deutscher: Universitäts-Verlag.Google Scholar
  49. Rist, S., Chiddambaranathan, M., Escobar, C., Wiesmann, U., & Zimmermann, A. (2007). Moving from sustainable management to sustainable governance of natural resources. The role of social learning processes in Rural India, Bolivia and Mali. Journal of Rural Studies, 23, 23–37.Google Scholar
  50. Röling, N. G. (1997). The soft side of land. Socio-economic Sustainability of land use systems. ITC Journal, 34, 248–262.Google Scholar
  51. Röling, N. G. (1998). Science, development and culture. In. B. Haverkort & W. Hiemstra (Eds.), Experimenting within farmers’ worldviews (pp. 76–77). Report of the inception workshop COMPAS, ETC. Leusden, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  52. Röling, N. G. (2000). Gateway to the global garden-beta/gamma science for dealing with ecological rationality. Eight annual Hopper Lecture. Canada: University of Guelph.Google Scholar
  53. Röling, N. G., & Wagemakers, M. A. E. (1998). Facilitating sustainable agriculture. Participatory learning and adaptive management in times of environmental uncertainty (318 p.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Schneider, F., Fry, P., Ledermann, T., & Rist, S. (2009). Social learning processes in swiss soil protection—The ‘From Farmer—To Farmer’ project. Human Ecology, 37, 475–489.Google Scholar
  55. Scoones, I., & Thompson, J. (2009). Farmer First revisited: innovation for agricultural research and development. In I. Scoones & J. Thompson (Eds.), Farmer first revisited (pp. 3–29). UK: Practical Action Publishing.Google Scholar
  56. Seamon, D., & Zajonc, A. (1998). Goethes’ way of science, a phenomenology of nature (340 p.). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  57. Sennett, R. (2008). Handwerk (432 p.). Berlin: Berlin Verlag.Google Scholar
  58. Stijkel, A. (2005). How ‘Cocreation and Cocreation Sciences’ can help to make the transition towards endogenous sustainable development. In B. Haverkort & C. Reijntjes (Eds.), Moving Worldviews, reshaping sciences, policies and practices for endogenous sustainable development (pp. 381–390). Leusden, NL: ETC./Compas.Google Scholar
  59. Swagemakers, P. (2003). Novelty production and multifunctionality: New directions for the activities and role of farmers. In G. Van Huylenbroeck & G. Durand (Eds.), Multifunctional agriculture: A new paradigm for European agriculture and rural development (pp. 189–207). Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishers.Google Scholar
  60. Swagemakers, P. (2008). Ecologisch Kapitaal, over het belang van aanpassingsvermogen, flexibiliteit en oordeelkundigheid (228p). Wageningen, NL:Dissertation Universität.Google Scholar
  61. Swagemakers, P., & Wiskerke, J. S. C. (2010). Farmers building alliances. Learning from and with local experts—Novelty production in the Friesian Woodlands. In: I. Darnhofer & M. Grötzer (Eds.), Building sustainable rural futures. The added value of systems approaches in times of change and uncertainty, IFSA Conference, Vienna.Google Scholar
  62. Van der Laan, G. (2006). Maatschappelijk werk als Ambacht, inbedding en belichaming (p. 95p). Amsterdam, NL: Uitgeverij SWP.Google Scholar
  63. Van der Ploeg, J.D. (1994). Styles of farming, an introductory note on concepts and methodology. In J. D. Van der Ploeg & A. Long (Eds.) Born from within practices and perspectives of endogenous development (pp. 7–30). Assen, NL: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  64. Van Elzen, D., Baars, T., Beldman, A., Wagenaar, J. P., & Water, K. (2003). De ondernemers in BIOVEEM: drijfveren, doelstellingen en strategie bij de start van het project. BIOVEEM Rapport 2, Lelystad.Google Scholar
  65. Van Veldhuizen, L., Waters-Bayer, A., & De Zeeuw, H. (1997). Developing technology with farmers (230 p.). Leusden, NL: ZED Books in association with ETC.Google Scholar
  66. Verhoog, H., Matze, M., Lammerts van Bueren, E., & Baars, T. (2003). The role of the concept of natural (naturalness) in organic farming. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 16, 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wagenaar, J. P., & Langhout, J. (2006). Rearing calves with cows; nature works! Louis Bolk Institute, Driebergen, NL, 12pp (
  68. Wilhelm, B., Baars, T., & Kaufmann, B. (2009). Konservierende Bodenbearbeitung im Ökolandbau—mit qualitativer Sozialforschung erfolgreich Systeme wissenschaftlich erfassen und naturwissenschaftlich ergänzen. In J. Mayer, T. Alföldi, F. Leiber, et al. (Hrsg.) Werte—Wege—Wirkungen. Beiträge zur 10. Wissenschaftstagung Ökologischer Landbau, Zürich, Band 1, pp. 49–52.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biodynamic AgricultureUniversity of KasselWitzenhausenGermany

Personalised recommendations