January 23, 2017

Biodynamic Food: An Old, New Trend

Regenerative agriculture and gardening

 by Rob Fischer

Just when you thought organic food production was the standard, they raised the bar again. The new standard is called biodynamics and embraces the whole system of food production and more.

But I feel compelled to warn you, we can look at biodynamics through two different world views.

Biodynamics – Magic Potions

Some chase its beginnings back to Austrian philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of a philosophical theory called anthroposophism (man’s wisdom). Steiner attached a heavy spiritual aspect to biodynamic agriculture in which “farming can be attuned to the spiritual forces of the cosmos.”[1]

Many modern scientists consider application of Steiner’s philosophy to agriculture and other disciplines as pseudoscience.[2] After all, consulting the cosmos should never paralyze or unduly postpone one’s work. This spiritual side of biodynamics would find itself at home with New Age beliefs.

Biodynamics – the Art of Gardening

Another way to look at biodynamics is very pragmatic. Go back in time at least several centuries before the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. Farms were smaller and the majority of earth’s inhabitants had strong ties to agriculture. These family farms not only allowed their owners to sustain their lives from the food they produced, but agriculture itself was self-sustaining.

Everything needed for the farm was right there:

  • Seeds were harvested and saved for next year’s planting
  • Chickens had free-range and helped fertilize the soil and keep weeds and pests at bay
  • Cows and other farm animals produced manure to enrich the soil
  • Inedible vegetable matter was composted and returned to the soil
  • Crops were grown appropriate for the climate and available water

Biodynamic agriculture meets all the standards of organic practices, but it goes beyond those in a few distinct ways. For a farm or garden to earn the official title as biodynamic, it must meet stringent requirements and receive its certification from Demeter USA. Demeter is an international, non-profit organization established to promote biodynamic agriculture.[3]

Biodynamic agriculture views the whole farm as a complex organism that is self-contained and self-sustaining. Everything on the farm, including its people, live in a symbiotic relationship and everything goes back to the soil.

Biodynamic farmers must:[4]

  • Meet National Organic Program standards
  • Refrain from using any chemical pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides
  • Use farm-generated, natural solutions for pest control and fertility
  • Set aside at least 10% of their total acreage for biodiversity
  • Reduce continually any imported materials necessary to sustain the farm

With those tight standards, converting your garden or mini-farm to biodynamic agriculture can be difficult. So why would you want to convert to biodynamic gardening?

If you garden already, you know the difference between fresh green beans harvested from your garden and the frozen variety in the store. But the difference is not only in the taste, texture, and appearance. Commercially grown vegetables that are not organically grown have been exposed to numerous chemicals in the fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Unavoidably, some of those chemicals find their way into your body.

Those agricultural chemicals are typically petroleum-based and are therefore carcinogenic. They also leach and poison the soil, so that future crops become dependent on continued use of those chemicals.

Biodynamic farming shares with organic farming the elimination of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But unlike organic farming, biodynamic farming uses, in addition, a series of fermented manure, plant, and mineral-based preparations which are added to the soil, crops, and compost. Legumes, for instance, put nitrogen back into the soil. Nitrogen is a primary ingredient in chemical fertilizers.

Why Biodynamic Gardening?

Besides the obvious healthful reasons already mentioned, a huge advantage of biodynamic gardening is that you can grow a lot of food in very little space.[5]

Consider the following real life example. In 1966, the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus offered British horticulturalist, Alan Chadwick, the opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of biodynamic gardening. Chadwick was given four acres of barren desert to garden. With nothing more than hand tools, Chadwick soon transformed this desert plot into a beautiful, lush paradise brimming with vegetables and flowers.[6]

John Jeavons, Director of the Biointensive Mini-Farming program, further improved upon Chadwick’s methods. His goal was to create the optimum yield from any space however small. John’s biodynamic gardening methods produce between four and six times the average U.S. per acre yield![7]

Bring the practices of Biodynamic Gardening to your own garden[8], [9]

I assume that most reading this don’t keep cows and chickens or other farm animals. Additionally, if you garden, chances are your garden may be more of a hobby garden than one you depend on for sustenance or your livelihood. That being said, here are some tips for converting your garden to biodynamic principles:

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