January 21, 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.

principles of biodynamic farmingBiodynamic 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]

biodynamic gardening practices v2I 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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GMO Foods Pros and Cons

By Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

There is certainly a lot of hype over GMOs.  We have so many people yelling about how it will save the human race from starvation, while others scream that it will completely destroy us!  How are we to know for sure whether foods that are genetically modified are safe and healthy?

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but “caveat emptor” is still alive and well.  “Buyer beware” rules the market and we must be informed of all that we buy.  Information is still our best protection from all the toxic scams that are devised to take our money and give us only poor health in return.  I want to get past the hype and look only at the evidence.

GMO kidney damage by flickr Hey Paul StudiosThe GMO Home Case Study

My first experience with the GMO debate came from my wife.  She noticed that our youngest child acted very differently when he ate corn, but not when he ate organic corn.  I was skeptical, until I was home one day when he was given some non-organic corn by a neighbor.  The five-year-old child was literally “climbing the walls!”  He could not keep still!  I had seen many meth addicts act the same way, so I was shocked that our child would be doing this!  I even recorded it on video because the change in behavior was so drastic.

I started doing some research and found, at first, that GMO producers and the FDA were assuring everyone that GMO food was just like organic crops – but better, because the farmers didn’t have to spray for insects or weed their fields.  However, as I dug deeper, I began to see a different picture in the case surrounding GMOs.

Few GMO Studies Beyond 90 Days

Most of the “reassurance” that the FDA and GMO producers offer is based on results from 90-day studies.  That is, nobody died in three months — so it must be safe.  This isn’t very reassuring to me, because I know that it may take much longer than that to produce illness from food. I wanted some real science behind the safety of GMOs, so I went to non-industry studies.

GMOs Can Cause Liver and Kidney Disease

First, I went to studies on animals, because they may give us clues to what may happen in a human.  In 2010, a meta-analysis of 19 rats fed GMO soy and GMO corn found that 30-43% of the rats developed liver and/or kidney disease, compared to those who were not fed with GMOs.

I have read thousands of studies over the years, and the percentage ( 30-43%) of rats developing liver or kidney disease is very alarming.

Most pharmaceutical medicines are only approved on a less-than-10% (<10%) margin over placebo. This means GMO products have been approved despite the lack of rigorous safety assessments for GM crops and with the likelihood of organ damage. Wouldn’t you raise questions regarding GMO approval if it led to organ failure?

I’m not a fan of applying associated symptoms as a cause, so I wanted to know why liver and/or kidney disease might be a threat to humans. Before medical school, I was a microbiologist doing molecular biology and genetic engineering, so deciphering the biologically significant data was right up my alley.

GMO Gene Transfer

One of the most convincing arguments against GMO foods is the fact that

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