Biodynamic agriculture is a sustainable approach to farming and gardening which also involves a spiritual understanding of nature. It builds on the pioneering work of the philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). He also inspired new approaches in medicine, education, economics and the arts.
In 1924, Rudolf Steiner was concerned at developments in farming and gave a series of lectures on the subject, which led the way for biodynamic agriculture. He proposed a holistic view rather than a purely scientific approach, recognising a spiritual dimension to animal and crop production.
How does biodynamic differ from organic?
Biodynamic methods go further than conventional organic methods in that they involve an astrological and homeopathic element. Biodynamic farms aim to become self-sufficient in terms of compost, manure, animal feed and seed. External inputs are kept to a minimum. The soil is treated with special preparations of plant and mineral extracts.
When crops are harvested, biodynamic practitioners believe that their forces and vitality are also removed from the earth. Biodynamic agriculture seeks to redress the balance by adding therapeutic preparations of ground quartz and plant extracts to compost or manure. The plants extracts used are yarrow, stinging nettle, chamomile, oak bark, valerian and dandelion. These are fermented together with certain animal organs such as cow horn, intestines, sheep skull or deer bladder. Crops grown in soil treated with these special preparations are said to become more sensitive to their environment and respond to the rhythms of the moon and seasons. Biodynamic farmers also take note of these when sowing, cultivating and harvesting.
The best time to sow and harvest crops is determined by an astronomical calendar, produced every year since 1962 by authors Maria and Mathias Thun. They study the influences of the moon, planets and constellations on plant growth to produce the annual Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar. The lunar rhythm of monthly waxing and waning cycles forms the basis of the calendar. The twelve zodiac constellations are then associated with the four elements. Each element is associated with part of a plant. Earth is linked to the root, water to the leaf, air to the flower and fire is associated with the fruit. Sowing beans on a fire/fruit day or harvesting carrots on an earth/root day is therefore seen as most auspicious.
Why go biodynamic?
The biodynamic farmer takes a holistic approach to blend his crops and animals in a sustainable balance to his environment. The relationship of the farm to the land encourages biodiversity of wild bird and insect species, which are in turn beneficial to the farm. The farm uses its own seeds to give back to the soil. Animals are reared slowly and slaughtered humanely to cause minimum stress, which is said to result in high quality and tasty meat.
Biodynamic food is believed to be better for you as there are said to be less nitrates and more flavour. Research is being carried out to compare the benefits of biodynamic produce with organic and conventional agriculture. Anecdotal evidence already suggests that biodynamic food can reduce food allergies and increase vitality.
Biodynamics is a truly international movement. There are biodynamic farms and gardens in more than forty countries, including biodynamic vineyards in France, California and New Zealand. In the UK, biodynamic produce is marketed under the Demeter certification scheme. Demeter was the ancient Greek goddess of fertility and abundance. Growers have to undergo a three year conversion period and inspections to gain a Demeter certificate. There were 120 Demeter food producers in the UK in 2004, with a growing number in Wales. Celebrity supporters include the Prince of Wales, who is said to be experimenting with biodynamic methods on his land.