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Written by Miranda Huey   
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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Biodynamic Agriculture: What? Where? How?

Biodynamic agriculture is one of the most sustainable methods of agriculture.1 It does so by incorporating organic farming techniques, composting, crop rotation, and attempts to integrate and reuse all of the natural resources on the farm. However, biodynamic agriculture is much more than just an agricultural method, it is a way of life. Biodynamic farmers treat their farms holistically, as a unique ecosystem, subject both to biological and metaphysical forces and rhythms that make the individual farm thrive.

The concept of biodynamic agriculture started in the 1920's, during the start of the Green Revolution, which advocated output maximization, standardization, and use of new artificial pesticides and fertilizers.2 Many farmers were unhappy with the harsh and exploitative nature of the new agricultural methods, which made the soil, plants, and livestock worsen in health and quality. In Germany, these farmers attended the lectures of Dr. Rudolf Steiner, who advocated a return to a more individual connection with the land, both physical and spiritual. Some of his followers then went on to publish his lectures and popularize his principles of biodynamic farming.3

The basic ecological principle has remained the same: to treat the farm as a single, living organism.4 Instead of treating the farm as an industrialized production center, as even “Big Organic” does, biodynamic farmers strive to be as self-sustainable as possible.5 This is done by planting a variety of crops and livestock and using the materials of each to help cultivate the materials of the others. One example of this is on the Ceago del Lago vineyard and winery, where sheep eat the weeds among the grape vines, benefiting both plant and animal while minimizing the use of artificial chemicals.6 These kinds of methods not only minimize the farm's dependence on pesticides or fertilizers, but also keep the soil, plants, and animals continually well-balanced and enriched.

Most biodynamic farmers practice these methods which nurture the “biological” side of the farm. Many continue to follow Steiner's spiritual preparations, which nurture the “dynamic” side, or the farm's life forces. These controversial practices include special compost preparations, planting by the lunar calendar, and foliar sprays. For example, the first preparation consists of fermenting cow manure in a cow horn, burying it in the soil for six months in fall and winter, and then spraying it onto the soil.7 While some still practice these spiritual rituals, others like Barney Fetzer, who works on the Ceago del Lago, remarks, “We can't take everything Steiner said at face value, we have to rely on what works and we have to update his teachings for what we learn.” 8

In the past 10 years, biodynamic agriculture has increased three-fold, largely due to its rapidly growing popularity among wineries.9 Alan York, a biodynamic horticulturist who works with the Benziger Winery, explains that wines are ideal for biodynamic agriculture. Tasters of wine enjoy experiencing the unique flavor of each individual property and winery and place a premium on quality, while most other agricultural products are grown to be as consistent and cheap and possible.10

Looking to taste some biodynamic crops of your own? Unfortunately, considering the shape of the economy, biodynamic agriculture's focus on quality over quantity may not become popular anytime soon. But you can still be on the lookout for the Demeter certification, which ensures adherence to biodynamic standards.11 Your taste buds will thank you.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 October 2012 )


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