After writing about GMOs and organic and biodynamic food options a few weeks ago, a few people have reached out asking about Biodynamic or BD food. In this article I will tell you about BD farming, and in next week’s article I will tell you more about the difference between BD and conventional farms. I am sharing information about farms because these are the source of our food.
1. A BD Farm Is a Living Unit
BD agriculture sees the farm as a living organism that is “self-contained and self-sustaining, responsible for creating and maintaining its individual health and vitality” (Demeter, 2014a, p. 6). A BD farm is “minimally dependant on imported materials, and instead meets its need from the living dynamics of the farm itself,” where “the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another” (Demeter, 2014a, p. 6). For example, animals are essential in a BD farm, and harmony exists when the farm has the right number of the right kind of animals, “such that the animal’s nutritional needs can be met by the farm and farm’s fertility need met by the animals’ composted manures” (Damery, 2011, p. 107). This and other system creates a structure where the farm has a “capacity for self-renewal [that] ultimately makes the farm sustainable” (Demeter, 2014a, p. 6).
2. BD Farms Use Life to Create Life
The BD approach believes that not just the farm, but also the Earth is a living organism, and as such, the farmer must relate the efforts in the farm to the movements of the sun, moon, planets, and cosmos (Steiner, 2005).
Treating soil and plant systems as an organism with life is fundamental to biodynamic agriculture. BD agriculture believes that the life of the soil has to be preserved, and the way to do this is by improving what is added to the soil, which results in pure food for human or animal consumption (Polito, 2006).
BD Farms Use Homeopathic-like Preparations. Nine preparations, BD #500 – BD #508, provide the life force or energy to the farm, and are some of the most distinguishing characteristics of BD farming (Steiner, 2005). These preparations are used in a specific manner, and in accordance to a celestial calendar, very different from traditionally known farmer calendars, such as the Farmer’s Almanac (Storl, 2013).
The preparations include herbs, mineral substances, animal manure, and others. For example, BD 500 uses cow manure packed into a cow horn; BD 501 uses pulverized quartz packed into a cow horn; BD 502 is yarrow Achillea millefolium blossoms packed into the bladder of a deer stag; BD 503 is chamomile Matricaria chamomilla blossoms packed into the small intestine of a cow; BD 504 is stinging nettle Urtica dioica enclosed in peat moss; BD 505 is oak bark Quercus robor placed in the skull of a goat, sheep, or cow; BD 506 is dandelion Taraxacum officinale blossoms placed in the mesentery of a cow; BD 507 is valerian Valeriana officinalis blossom juice; and BD 508 is horsetail Equisetum arvense decoction (Storl, 2013). I have described these preparations quite simply, but they require a great level of complexity to prepare and use them.
BD Fertility Systems Include Many Factors. The fertility system integrates livestock, compost, green manure, and nutrient catch crops. Crop rotation and perennial planting are required for BD farms, and create a productive and energy efficient system for the farm. The same plant cannot be planted in the same field for more than two years in a row (Demeter, 2014a).
BD farms limit the amount of external production factors, such as fertilizers, used in the farm. Use of pesticides is not allowed (Demeter, 2014a). Instead, the complex fertility systems, along with the combination of the 9 BD preparations, are applied to the fields (Damery, 2011). These have to be done in a timely and particular manner in order to keep the soil in a vital and fertile condition, stimulate root growth in plants, and enhance the development of microorganisms (Demeter, 2014a).
Neighboring Farms Also Play A Role. BD farm certification includes a description of the farm’s boundaries (Damery, 2011). An estimated 55% of chemical sprays spread beyond their target areas and into neighboring fields or other areas. Thus buffering zones are required to prevent possible contamination from neighboring farms and other areas.
Biodiversity. BD farms need to set aside at least 10% of the farm towards biodiversity preservation, which can include forests, wetlands, or other (Demeter, 2014a). It is not enough for this portion to be carbon neutral, but rater it has to be carbon sequestering, which means that more carbon dioxide is contained within the soil than released into the atmosphere; and it has to provide a habitat for pollinators, insects, birds, and other animals (Damery, 2011). Complexity is encouraged since “the more life there is, the more life than can be supported” and the healthier the farm and ecosystem (Damery, 2011, p. 108).
3. Origins of BD Are Traced To Rudolph Steiner
BD agriculture traces its origins to an Austrian philosopher, scientist, and artist named Rudolph Steiner (Scollan, 2006). Steiner became well known after editing and discussing the scientific works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German poet (Steiner, 2005; Storl, 2013). Goethe was a writer from the late 1700s and early 1800s, who studied the form of a plant or animal and coined the term morphology (Damery, 2011; Paull, 2011). Steiner had multi-disciplinary endeavors, and was credited with “contributions to medicine, architecture, drama, and poetry” (Steiner, 2005, p. 2). He also founded Waldorf education, the Camphill movement, and created Anthroposophy, a spiritual science that studies how spirituality in humans is connected to spirituality in the universe (Scollan, 2006; Steiner, 2005).
Steiner founded the practices of BD agriculture as a reaction to problems agriculture was facing at the time. The scientist Justus von Leibig created the Law of Minimum, which indicated to only use nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) as fertilizers. However, Steiner believed this created a majority of the problems in agriculture in the 1920s because the approach was too simplified, and instead he wanted to offer a solution (Steiner, 2005). He shared his discoveries in 1924 through a series of 8 lectures, laying out the foundation for BD farming (Storl, 2013).
There is some controversy around BD agriculture where some tout it as a dogma rather than a scientific approach (Turinek, Grobelnik-Mlakar, Bavec & Bavec, 2009). This stems from Steiner’s background as a philosopher. He did not practice agriculture, but was inspired by Goethe (Damery, 2011; Paull, 2011). Also, Steiner’s teachings connected the farm with the universe and cosmos, which many have found to be esoteric (Damery, 2011). In addition, the BD preparations are considered “muck and magic,” and their use and purpose is not well understood (Storl, 2013, p. 276).
Despite criticisms, Steiner’s teachings inspired many who published his philosophy and wanted to implement it (Paull, 2011). One of these people was Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, who referred to Steneir’s thoughts as “biological-dyanamic,” and eventually as the “bio-dynamic method of agriculture,” thus coining the term BD (Paull, 2011, p. 31). His teachings also inspired the formation of Demeter in Europe in 1928 (Demeter, 2014a).
4. Certification of BD Products
Demeter is an institution that codified Steiner’s farming principles and set up a strict certification process that has prevailed until today, and has spread to 45 other countries around the world, including the United States (Demeter, 2014a).
Demeter certifies farms and products in accordance to BD standards. BD certified products include dairy, wine, personal care items, and others, and the certification process is equally rigorous requiring the farm, processing center, and products themselves to be certified (Demeter, 2014b).
Biodynamic product certification is equally rigorous and involves certification of the farm that produced the raw product; the facility that used or packaged it, if not done at the farm; any other packaging or processing product and facility; and include testing for appropriate residue measures, flavorings, cleaning and disinfectant agents, storage, insect and pest control, packaging, and others (Demeter, 2014b). Products cannot contain GMOs. Textiles, wines, and cosmetics need to contain at least 90% ingredients from a Demeter certified biodynamic source, and the remaining 10% of ingredients should be certified organic and/or include ingredients approved by Demeter. If less than 90% but more than 70% of the ingredients are certified biodynamic, they can be labeled as including ingredients that are Demeter Certified Biodynamic (Demeter, 2014b).
It is difficult to find BD products, since there are only available seasonally. But, local farmer’s markets and health food stores are a good place to start.
Damery, P. (2011). The enclosed garden: Underlying principles of jungian analysis and biodynamic agriculture. Jung Journal, 5(2), 102-116. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/jung.2011.5.2.102
Demeter Association Inc. (2014a). Biodynamic Farm Standard. Philomath, OR: Demeter USA.
Demeter Association Inc. (2014b). Biodynamic Processing Standard. Philomath, OR: Demeter USA.
Paull, J. (2011). Biodynamic agriculture: the journey from Koberwitz to the world, 1924-1938. Journal of Organic Systems, 6(1), 27-21. Retrieved from http://orgprints.org/18836/1/Paull2011KoberwitzJOS.pdf
Polito, W. L. (2006). The trofobiose theory and organic agriculture: the active mobilization of nutrients and the use of rock powder as a tool for sustainability. Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências, 78(4), 765-779. Retrieved from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0001-37652006000400011&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=en
Scollan, D. (2006). Beyond organic; discovering the secrets of Biodynamic foods. E : The Environmental Magazine, 17, 42. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/229143317?accountid=158302
Steiner, R. (2005). What is Biodynamics? A Way to Heal and Revitalize The Earth. Great Barrington, MA: SteinerBooks.
Storl, W. D. (2013). Culture and Horticulture – The Classic Guide to Biodynamic and Organic Gardening. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Turinek, M., Grobelnik-Mlakar, S., Bavec, M., & Bavec, F. (2009). BD agriculture research progress and priorities. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 24(2), 146-154. doi:10.1017/S174217050900252X