What is biodynamic farming?
I started this blog at Finny From Scratch to research and learn different ways to think about food and the systems we live in while sharing my research with my readers. Today, we are diving into biodynamic farming to look at it objectively and decide for ourselves what we believe. There is a lot of jargon thrown around in the media telling us what to think, and what to eat, often without concrete explanation.
You may remember the term ‘biodynamic farming’ from the blog post about the documentary Biggest Little Farm and why you should watch it. It’s a nice and easy introduction into the complicated topic of modern farming. So, we will start by talking about what biodynamic farming actually is.
Biodynamic farming breakdown
In Biggest Little Farm, biodynamic farming is described as using multiple forms of farming (animals, soil, and crops) that are treated like a single, interrelated system. Demeter, the certification body for these farms, defines biodynamic farming as a system that uses regenerative farming techniques (cover crops, compost, crop rotation, fair treatment of animals, etc), various biodynamic preparations, and the celestial/lunar calendar for planting and harvesting.
These farms don’t use chemical fertilizers or pesticides to increase yield or destroy pests. A major aspect of this type of farming is self-reliance, meaning the system as a whole is self-contained and produced almost exclusively on the farm, which is why it is so important to also have animals on the farm for manure production.
The history of biodynamic farming
This type of farming first began as a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, in 1924. He believed that modern farming removed agriculture from its spiritual and physiological connection to the earth and sought to bring spirituality back into the practice of farming. He advocated the importance of the Biodynamic Calendar, which includes not only the phases of the moon (like the Almanac calendar does) but also the phases of celestial bodies (the position of the Sun relative to other planets, constellations, etc). Steiner included eight necessary preparations for increasing soil vitality and growth, with some of the strategies mentioned above.
Peter Proctor, from New Zealand, is often known as the Father of modern biodynamic farming, picking up the torch, so to speak, from Steiner’s lectures and as a longtime student of Steiner. He has since traveled to India and other countries spreading the message that biodynamic farming is the way forward. In 1997, he published a book, along with Gillian Cole, on biodynamic farming called Grasp the Nettle, recently updated in 2012.
Before reaching certification status, it is recommended farms be certified organic, which means they must not use synthetic fertilizers or chemical pesticides and additives, along with other requirements. In order to become certified, farm owners must fill out a lengthy application that describes their farms (acreage and buildings), soil, crop, and animal health, and how they will increase awareness of biodynamic farming in their community. Because soil health is a big part of the framework, applicants must also describe in detail the topography of the farm, the status of the soil, and how they will maintain and increase soil health. After describing their harvest and how it is stored, the use of biodynamic preparations is discussed in detail.
How does it differ from organic farming?
All biodynamic farms are organic (and qualify for the certification) but not all organic farms can be qualified as biodynamic. This type of farming is often pitched as better than organic because of the spiritual and astrological aspects included. Biodynamic farms focus on the health of the soil, animals, and plants as part of a whole system. In this type of farming, special preparations are often made using manure, plants, and ground quartz that are then mixed with water and sprayed on the crops to increase soil health. These farms also rely on planting during the correct alignment of planetary bodies and lunar phases to increase fertility, which organic farming does not. Organic farming does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides to control pests or increase yields. It is easiest to think of biodynamic farming as organic farming plus spirituality and astrology.
Does biodynamic farming work?
There is no doubt this type of farming is good for the soil and better for the environment than conventional modern farming, though yields are lower and not as guaranteed as with conventional methods. As for whether the special preparations and lunar calendar help remains to be seen. Most of the evidence is anecdotal, written by the farmers themselves. A study conducted in 2006 on chili peppers could not prove or disprove the preparations and calendar made a difference, but concluded that the shift from chemical to organic practices has a beneficial impact on crop production and quality of produce.
What did you think of biodynamic farming? Comment below with your thoughts!