Biodynamic Farming awakens and enlivens co-creative relationships between humans and the earth, transforming the practice and culture of agriculture to renew the vitality of the earth, the integrity of our food, and the health and wholeness of our communities. – The Biodynamic Association
In actuality, biodynamic farming began in the early 1920s having been rooted in the philosophy and ideas of Rudolph Steiner. Organic farming was coined by Lord Northbourne in the 1940’s but evidence shows that it began as early as the 1800s.
While on vacation in Costa Rica recently, we had an opportunity to visit a small family run vanilla farm who not only produced vanilla but also chocolate and other spices, these topics to be saved for another article, and they also used biodynamic farming. It was on this visit that got me thinking about what I don’t know about biodynamic farming.
Biodynamic farming is a form of alternative agriculture as is organic farming but it includes various esoteric concepts that don’t exist in organic farming. Biodynamic agriculture treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical thinking.
The similarities between the two alternative forms of agriculture are in the approaches emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excludes the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Processes unique to the biodynamic approach include its treatment of animals, crops, and soil as a single system, an emphasis from its beginnings on local production and distributions systems, and its use of traditional and development of new local breeds and varieties.
In the vanilla/spice farm that we visited, we discovered that they are a wholly integrated unit. The cattle they have are unique to the agricultural environment for the rainforest and the location where the farm is located, the cattle are provided the feed and herbs they need to produce the manure that is required as compost to fertilize the soil for producing the best variety of vanilla as well as other spices. They grow their own plants to be used as natural pesticides, such as a variety of ginger, not for human consumption, but for insects to ingest the leaves so that they do not eat the producing plants.
Biodynamics works in conjunction with the Earth and the Cosmos, or so those who use this means of farming believe. Biodynamic farmers and gardeners observe and use the rhythms of the earth, sun, moon, stars and planets to understand the ways in which the environment and cosmos influence the growth of plants and animals. There are biodynamical calendars that support this awareness and understanding of the best astronomical times to begin sowing, transplanting, cultivating and harvesting.
Biodynamics has its own standard of certification named the Demeter Biodynamics Standard for certification and is managed worldwide by Demeter International. Over 5,000 farms covering my than 400,000 acres are certified in 60 countries. They utilize the USDA organic standard and then carry it a bit further. The requirements to be a certified as a biodynamic farm are; the whole farm and not just a specific crop is certified, crops and livestock are integrated and animals are treated humanely, imported fertility is kept to a minimum, biodynamic preparations are regularly applied, at least 50% of livestock feed is grown on the farm and at least 10% of the total farm acreage is set aside for biodiversity and the farm upholds the standards of social responsibility.
Tea plantations, cocoa plantations, spice plantations, and vineyards are all beginning to use biodynamic farming as a means of self-sufficient and holistic farming. At present we sell some biodynamic tea at the Frenchman’s Corner, both Biodynamic Ginger and Biodynamic Chamomile. Now you know how these teas were produced.
The principles of biodynamic farming can be applied anywhere that food can be grown or raised with thoughtful adaptation given to scale, landscape, climate and culture.