by Paige Lahnam
Everyone has heard of organic foods; we know that they are good for us and that they tend to be more expensive in the grocery store, but the term “biodynamic” is a new one for most people in America. Europeans and Australians are the pioneers of biodynamic farming and almost a decade after its inception, it is difficult to obtain biodynamic seeds in America and education on the topic is limited. The concept is much older than organic, but much less understood.
Biodynamic is the next leap in sustainable agriculture: the past, present, and future of growing.
Biodynamic is the big brother of organic. In order to acquire a biodynamic certification, an organic certification is needed. Matt Visser, representative of Territorial Seed Company’s Biodynamic Sero Seed says “organic tells you what not to do and biodynamic tells you what you should do,” meaning that organic regulates the use of harmful chemicals and biodynamic gives the alternative. Biodynamic is the next leap in sustainable agriculture: the past, present, and future of growing.
The USDA implemented the National Organic Program in 2002, while biodynamic farming has been around since 1924. This led to the founding of the International Demeter Biodynamic Certification, the oldest ecological certification organization in the world. After the industrial revolution, people moved from their farms to the city. Agriculture lay in the shadow of factories. Chemical fertilizers and sprays pushed for fast, controlled mass production and extreme specialization. No longer were farmers planting multiple crops, but rather a handful of cash crops, such as corn, wheat, and rye grass. Cattle farmers no longer grew their own feed, but had it brought in from feed specialized farms. Things began to fail.
Many farmers turned to Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and scientist who coined the term “biodynamic”. Steiner believed that the farm operated as an ecosystem, supporting plants, animals, and farmer in a cohesive, self-sustaining environment that did not negatively impact the surrounding land. He believed that when farmers separated themselves from the farm, everything else followed suit. A biodynamic farm is incorporated into the surrounding environment.
To create this seamless system, biodynamic certification requires 10% of the total area certified allotted to native plants and wildlife. The land is not reassigned, tilled beyond recognition. A farmer moves in to the native landscape, acknowledges and enters the existing ecosystem.
The certification requires all that the organic label calls for and then some. Access to the outdoors and room to lie down is a must for livestock, but biodynamic certification also specifies that animals be allowed to carry out normal social behaviors, such as young animals playing together, and appropriate water and perching space availability for waterfowl and poultry. All of the components of organic regulations are braided together so that every aspect of the farm interconnects. The fodder for cattle grows on site and relies on particular grazing habits for nutrients. All nutrients are recycled from the farm itself.
The biodynamic farm is meant to be a living, breathing organism that regulates itself.
The farmer is not out tilling the ground, breaking up the beneficial colonies of fungi and bacteria, regulating water usage and nutrient input. The farmer is covering the soil to hold in water and nutrients, building it up with compost made from farm waste, laying it on the earth for the insects and microorganisms to mix in. This farmer does not toil in the fields, but realizes that every member of the farm has a role to play and a time to play it. Moon phases dictate when to weed, when to plant, when to harvest. The biodynamic farmer moves with nature, never against it.
Agriculture has become a drain on our environment. Nutrient leaching, erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions are pressing concerns. 10% of greenhouse gasses in the U.S. come from agriculture. The focus of biodynamic farming and gardening is to mimic nature as closely as possible, to get away from the culture of mass production and to work towards reversing negative effects on the environment by building nutrient packed soil. This does not mean having a wild, out of control yard. This means that waste products are put to good use, covering the soil, and adding nutrients to it. It means supporting the beneficial wildlife in the garden, from fungi to insects. When we support the hard workers buzzing and creeping around us, we reduce our own labor. Beneficial insects control pest insects, and the same is true for bacteria and fungi. The concept is to go back to how we used to grow things: within a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic certification came about in a time of big change and big business. It was a cry for help when things weren’t working the way they used to and it is a 90-year-old movement to protect our food and our future.
“Biodynamic Farm Standard.” Demeter Association Inc. (2014): 1-50. Feb. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.demeter-usa.org/downloads/Demeter-Farm-Standard.pdf>.
“Agriculture.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
Tompkins, Peter, and Christopher Bird. Secrets of the Soil: New Solutions for Restoring Our Planet. Anchorage, AK: Earthpulse, 1998. Print.
Visser, Matt. “Matt Visser of Sero Biodynamic Seeds.” Telephone interview. Spring 2015.
“Guide to Organic Certification.” Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Food Program (2008): 1-54. WSDA Organics. Washington State Dept. of Agriculture Organic Food Program, 2008. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. <http://www.agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/Organic/Certificate/2009/Reference_Material/237_Guide_OrgCertification.pdf>.
Paige Lanham is a recent graduate of Western Washington University. She has earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in English and is a seed buyer, plant receiver, and blogger at Garden Spot Nursery. She is a newcomer botanist and writer and likes to play in the dirt.